Monday, 4 February 2019

Glimpses of Uzbekistan - the Itinerary

Glimpses of Uzbekistan - the Itinerary
Uzbekistan is an exceptionally beautiful and culturally gifted country of Central Asia. The geography of Uzbekistan is an amazing blend of flat and mountainous terrain. There, the green plains, like oriental beauties are delicately guarded by the harsh mountain giants which are covered eternally with thick snow. With its colorful mosques, madrasas and markets, a trip to Uzbekistan offers you a fascinating glimpse of a beautiful part of the world that most travelers miss. It's a shame, how seldom we consider this country while brainstorming on our upcoming international travel destination! Seasonal variations in Uzbekistan are no less remarkable than what we enjoy here in India. Let me clarify, it was not a planned winter trip, and my knowledge on Uzbekistan was probably lesser than what you know right now.

2018 was literally very dull and rich with negative vibes. Keeping all personal screw-ups, loses and failures aside, I was consciously contemplating on inaugurating 2019 diary with optimistic notes. Initial plan was to backpack Vietnam in mid February. A comprehensive itinerary for two weeks was chalked out. Just when everything was falling into place, my travel mate backed out due to her unforeseen professional call. That's how our backpacking Vietnam got postponed. In an attempt to kill the frustration associated with an aborted trip, I hiked to Parasnath Hill. Clearly, it didn't work out. I kept scavenging for travel ideas desperately till images of Uzbekistan captured my attention. Apart from sharing our itinerary, at the end I'll recommend you a more ideal 7 days Uzbekistan itinerary which is feasible even to solo backpackers.

Glimpses of Uzbekistan - the Itinerary
One of those old markets in Bukhara
I found an affordable travel deal to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Despite being a fast developing metropolitan, Tashkent is a huge treasure of history and traditions. Blue domes, minarets of medieval architectures, eastern markets are organically interwoven into the canvas of the most modern metropolis in the city center. Apart from Tashkent, most popular cities of Uzbekistan are- Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, which strategically fall on the great Silk Road map (the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean) and form the "Golden Triangle" for tourists visiting Uzbekistan.

Although the travel package was entirely Tashkent-based and had very little to offer to curious backpackers, I decided to exploit its inclusions (accommodation, air-tickets and visa) and modify the itinerary at personal expense. My friend hopped onto the plan. Technically, it turned out to be expensive at the end. But , trust me, practically it was worthy. Let me tell you why. We flew in a direct flight, stayed in a 4-star hotel for four nights, traveled on high-speed trains, savored Uzbek cuisines like starving goblins, explored the tourist triangle except Khiva, and ended up grabbing few souvenirs from local markets. Moreover, now we've gained enough confidence to backpack rest of Central Asia on our own, and intend to visit Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and also Russia sometime soon.

Glimpses of Uzbekistan - the Itinerary
Who can make out that Charvak is an artificial lake?
Have a look at our "not so ideal" Uzbekistan itinerary:
Day 1: Night flight from Kolkata to New Delhi. Overnight halt in a hotel at Mahipalpur.
Day 2: Afternoon flight from New Delhi to Tashkent. Checking in Hotel Le Grande Plaza.
Day 3: Day trip to Chimgan Mountains and Charvak Lake.
Day 4: Tashkent full day city tour (Nobody will tell you about the nice Zoo Park)
Day 5: Day trip to Samarkand on Afrosiyob high-speed train.
Day 6: Day trip to Bukhara on high-speed train. Midnight return flight from Tashkent.
Day 7: Early morning flight from New Delhi to Kolkata.

Climate in Uzbekistan is categorized as sharply continental, with very hot summer and quite chilly winter. Northern part of the country is the coldest. Winter temperature averages about -8 degree Celsius, and voila, we were there in winter! The territory of the modern Uzbekistan is one of the centers of the birth and the development of human civilization which dates back to 3,000 years. Uzbek culture is very bright, distinctive and diverse. Although the snowy landscape that constantly accompanied us throughout our road trip to Chimgan and Charvak was picturesque enough to compete with Indian Himalayas in winter, we found our trips to Samarkand and Bukhara much more fulfilling. With whatever little I learnt, let me propose a more ideal Uzbekistan itinerary for you.

Glimpses of Uzbekistan - the Itinerary
The high-speed train which connects Bukhara and Samarkand with Tashkent.
Check the official portal of Uzbekistan Airways and block your air tickets judiciously, so as to maintain perfect harmony with your international flights. Unless you're traveling from India I can hardly predict your international arrival/departure timings, so my recommended itinerary would take off from Islam Karimov Tashkent International Airport. Remember, this is not a comprehensive backpacking itinerary, but good enough for travelers short on time, yet eager to get the flavor of real Uzbekistan:

Day 1: Arrive at Tashkent. Take the evening flight to Urgench. Take a cab and reach Khiva for overnight halt.
Day 2: Explore Khiva.
Day 3: Hire a taxi (shared cab is also an option for solo backpackers) for Bukhara. Direct trains have connected these two cities lately, but I would strongly recommend to experience the historical Silk Road for few hours on a cab. It should take around 5-6 hours. Check in your hotel at Bukhara, have lunch and rest a while. Get a whiff of the old market area in the evening.
Day 4: Explore Bukhara.
Day 5: Board the early morning high-speed train to Samarkand. It'll be merely a 1.5 hours journey. Check in your hotel at Samarkand. Freshen up and start exploring the city.
Day 6: Board the early morning high-speed train to Tashkent. You'll reach the capital in 2 hours. Check in your hotel at Tashkent. Freshen up and start exploring the city.
Day 7: Day trip to Chimgan Mountains and Charvak Lake. Well, tag this as 'optional' day.
Day 8: Depart from Tashkent. You could have done it the last day too.

Glimpses of Uzbekistan - the Itinerary
Nobody will tell you about the nice Zoo Park in Tashkent.
Despite 90% of its population being Muslim, Uzbekistan is still a secular nation. Uzbek people are very friendly. Added to that, Uzbek Government is actively promoting tourism and wholeheartedly welcoming foreign investors. It is encouraging to see that a country which got its independence in 1991 has picked up the idea of development so fast. If you're an Indian, or hail from any other SAARC nations, you'll perceive it more strongly. Although the language is a big barrier, investing 10 USD on a local SIM and using the online translator might prove beneficial at several instances. Uzbek script resembles English but pronounced way differently by locals. New generation is taking more interest in learning English. There were few instances when high school boys came to us and happily communicated in English. Every time we were asked if we're from Pakistan. Probably, our beard made the confusion in an otherwise clean-shaved Uzbek society. 

I am okay with winter but many of you might find the frozen air bit intimidating. The most pleasant time for a trip to Uzbekistan is from March to June, and from August to October. As a bonus, you'll be greeted with markets full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fuel your gastronomy. Everything is organic out there! Bargaining to the bottom of your balls is not necessary when you are in Uzbekistan. Even the taxi drivers quote sensibly. Once you book your flight tickets, train tickets and hotels online from home, the itinerary that I suggested you is very much manageable by yourself. At most, hire a licensed guide at Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. You'll definitely find the history more intriguing than what guidebooks would tell you. I'll end this itinerary blog here, as Monday office chores are cynically staring at me from a distance. But, I'll be back with lot more glimpses of Uzbekistan pretty soon. 

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