Mosques, mausoleums and medressas – the marvels of Uzbekistan

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The amazing Registan in Samarkand is a complex of medrasses (Islamic academy/seminary) and a large mosque

When we flew into Tashkent from Istanbul a little bleary eyed at 4am we were already a tad hot under the collar. From what we had heard of the Uzbek immigration/customs process we thought it was going to be complicated to say the least and we had a connecting flight to catch at 7am. Every piece of cash on us was accounted for on our forms along with a full declaration of our ‘radio communication devices’ (our mobile phones) and ‘printed matter and data carriers’ (books and our laptop).  When we were first met by people in white coats and face masks  wielding thermometers for the inevitable Swine flu screening we crossed our fingers that we were really cool customers underneath our sweaty, stressy exteriors.

We passed through the health and customs check in flying colours and we made it to the domestic airport in super early time for our next flight to Urgench. Mission accomplished!

Having thought it would be a bit of an earnest backpacker scene we have been surprised to find rather it is THE hotspot for hordes of French empty-nesters on tour. Who knew? We were clearly wasting our time researching  on the internet when we could have just given my sister’s French parents-in-law a quick call for all the top tips!

So all the talk of it being  being a hard place to get into and around is obviously greatly unfounded. People couldn’t be friendlier or more accommodating and we always seem to find someone who can speak some English. Language here is a diverse concept – the official language is Uzbek but most people also speak Russian along with some of the other ethnic tongues of Tajik or Karakalpak. Elizabeth is swotting up on the Cyrillic alphabet so we can at least make out some of the Russian signs on marshrutkas (little public minibuses) etc.

The Uzbekistan we have seen so far is a mix of the old and the Soviet, jammed up against each other. Ancient Muslim mosques, medrasses and mausoleums are here in amazing glory, restored to reflect the grandeur they once exhibited in antiquity. Apparently some historians and bleeding heart Lonely Planet authors have taken offence at this preferring to leave the structures as they were. Not me though. The big ticket items (like the Registan above) are stunning. In my mind providing ongoing maintenance to reflect how the original creators had intended a structure to be is in no way a bad thing. But each to their own I guess.

So far we have visited the ancient khanate (kingdom) capitals of Khiva, once a bustling slave trading centre, Bukhara and the ancient and the legendary Samarkand, where I am writing this post. All have had their charming old town centres and Soviet built new towns. We have spent most of our time in the old towns, but next up is Tashkent where by all reports there is oodles of Soviet architecture to enjoy. Now enormous Soviet style, concrete heavy, monuments aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for me they are heaven. I am very much looking forward  to getting up early and photographing these without too many people around.

There is more to tell you, but I might save some of that until we are in Kyrgyzstan. Enjoy some images until then – I will post more on Flickr, once I find a fast internet connection.

NOTE – I am not sure when this post will appear on my blog. WordPress appears to be blocked here, along with a few other things.

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Islam-Hoja Minaret, Khiva

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Uzbek women in Khiva. We only wish the woman on the left had flashed us her full set of gold teeth – quite the thing here

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Sunset over the West Gate in Khiva

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The beautiful Kalta Minor Minaret.

Apparently this minaret was started with the intention that it would be well over 100 metres tall. The khan who commissioned it, Mohammad Amin Khan,  died before it was finished. The tradition was that the tower was credited to the ruler who finished it. Not wanting his dad discredited with the tower the new khan, Amin Khan’s son, halted construction so that it retained his dad’s name. Nice.

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Elizabeth researching transport connections on a tapchan (tea bed) in Khiva

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Cleaning time at Guri Amir Masusoleum in Samarkand

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Korean lady at the Bukhara bazaar.

After a lengthy interaction that involved a lot of miscommunication due to language difficulties we purchased some tasty noodles from this lady. We have learnt to seek out the Koreans, locals here following a large forced migration after the second world war, who sell items that do not consist solely of meat and carbohydrate.

I think she enjoyed the experience, they don’t get too many westerners in the bazaars.

Technorati Tags: Registan,,Islam-Hoja Minaret,Khiva,Kalta Minor,Guri Amir Masusoleum,Bukhara

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  • Ginny

    You sure have learned a lot about Uzbekistan. How long were you there? The Uzbeks are especially warm and welcoming.
    Every couple of years I spend a few months there and invite several Uzbeks here for shopping and touristing after the annual juried Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

    I didn't notice any mention of Uzbek crafts — they are myriad and great quality – especially in Bukhara where gorgeous ceramics, copper, jewelry, hand-woven silk, embroidery, carpets, decorated items, jackets, etc. are sold in the ancient Trading Domes formerly used for trading along the Silk Route.

  • Jess

    I am playing catch up with the blog and just had to leave a comment on this one. Your photos are amazing, particularly love the colourfully dressed old birds. Will make an amazing album – please promise to develop and not let languish on a memory stick!

    Also, Elizabeth looks so relaxed (well as relaxed as Miss Uber-Organised would allow herself to be when there are connections to plan and visas to worry over).

    Love it.

  • Maz

    Hi, I found your blog on Lonely Planet website. I'm currently looking at going to Uzbekistan will a tour. Do you have any to recommend? since I'm travelling alone, is there any pointers you can give me?


  • matthewgain

    Hi Maz,

    I didn't do a tour when I was there, but instead travelled independantly. As such I can't really recommend and tour operators.

    What I would say is that you ensure any tour you do select includes, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Sorry I can't be of more help.