Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Fergana, Kokand
16.05.2016 - 04.06.2016
Many locals continue to live inside the walled city, although I imagine the remaining residential areas will eventually be squeezed out for hotels, B&Bs and restaurants. Not only was I struck by the amazing architecture and turquoise tiles, it was interesting to see it was also quite popular with package holiday tourists - there were a few buses each day of (mainly) European tourists visiting and staying there. Khiva is one of the three main dazzling Silk Road cities, along with Bukhara and Samarkand. My second day in Khiva involved a day tour in the countryside where dozens of ancient mud forts remain, the main one consisting of two forts side by side, one higher than the next, and famous (for at least the excited local driver) for being the location of a Schwarzenegger movie. I still don't know which movie - Conan?! One of my favourite sights was seeing a cute little owl peeking out at me from a crevice at one of the forts.
The following day I continued on to Bukhara, and shared the ride with two lovely German women with whom I was lucky enough to join for dinners in Bukhara and even later in Samarkand. The three of us even survived a live, easy listening version of My Heart Will Go On played at full volume during one dinner.
Bukhara has fantastic Timurid and Islamic architecture, particularly the stunning Kalon minaret. It is a more sprawling/mixed cityscape than Khiva, but on the flipside this meant it felt a little more 'integrated' rather than just being a living museum. Bukhara was one of the liveliest cities in Uzbekistan I experienced, with whole families out in the evening enjoying drinks, kebabs and music. With many men in shorts and flip flops, drinking beer, it wasn't too different from my own Queensland, Australia!
Like much of the region, much of the food was 'shashlyk' (meat on skewers), along with noodles or dumplings, or plov (rice) but despite little variety, it was extremely affordable. I did enjoy some more exciting food in Samarkand, as there was a fantastic jazz cafe with great burgers etc, as well as restaurants that even ventured into salads! I spent a few days in Samarkand, being most impressed with Shah-i-zinda. This is a walkway that heads up a hillside with large incredibly tiled tombs. An ocean of beautiful blue and green tiles. Some tombs have lasted so well naturally that little restoration has been required, so it was nice to have a few sights that were original, as many other Uzbek sites have been either 'touched up', or completely overhauled by Soviet or Uzbek restoration. Like Khiva, both Bukhara and Samarkand were extremely easy cities just to walk and explore by yourself, although plenty of guides are available as well.
The last of my time in Uzbekistan was in the capital, Tashkent, and two cities in the east - Fergana City and Kokand. Tashkent is a much newer city, and where I was able to recharge with good coffee and food, including some rather excellent gelati. The impressive architecture was now Soviet Brutalist style. The tile work in the metro system is one of the most amazing work I've seen, although unfortunately there are strictly no photos allowed - in fact, bags are searched every time, and even passports inspected sometimes, when you enter the metro.
Fergana City was much smaller and quieter, except for the bustling bazaar, and I also included a day trip out to Margilan, which is famous for its silk market, with rows and rows of beautiful silk design. Kokand was my final Uzbek city, and despite the odd wind storm (I hid under apricot trees for one, as impossible to walk back to hotel with sand in eyes!) it actually was quite green too, and had an impressive palace from its former glory days in the centre.