Imagine a city as old as Paris with just as attractive sites. Imagine a place where the locals are gracious, hospitable and kind. It gets even better. It’s a place where a dollar gets you a taxi ride to anywhere in town. Plus shopping is cheap, and food is delicious. Give up? Uzbekistan. It’s located in vast Central Asia, with some of the world’s finest Islamic architecture and exotic bazars, and has the virtue of being a traveller’s dream.
This is the most popular topic among people so I figured I would attend to it first. The Uzbeks eat on a square shaped wooden or metal piece of furniture called topjon. Bread called non is served and eaten with every meal. Generally, the Uzbeks prefer mutton to other kinds of meat. But Kazi-a special sausage made of horsemeat, fat, and special spices-made according to well-preserved ancient recipes is a delicacy served during special occasions. Fruits and vegetables grow in abundance in Uzabekistan, so naturally they are widely used in cooking all year round.
Once there, try the meat and vegetable soup called Shorpa, or the Uzbek noodle soup called Laghmon. The most traditional Uzbek main dish is the Plov that is suitable for daily meals as well as celebrations. There are variations of this dish, but usually it is made with chunks of mutton, shredded yellow and orange carrot for colour and taste, and rice all of which are cooked in a cast iron pot. The meat is usually eaten with the fingers.
Dumplings are also very popular. Manty are steamed dumplings stuffed with chopped onions and lamb or mutton. Chuchvara is another dumpling stuffed with minced meat, onion and spices served with sour cream or yogurt. You might also like Samsa-pastry stuffed with meat, onion, and a variety of vegetables-fresh from a clay oven. Or how about skewered chunks of mutton barbecued over charcoal known as Shashlyk over a bed of raw sliced onions.
Tea is consumed with every meal. And Chai-khanas (teahouses) full of old men chatting the afternoon away over a pot of tea are everywhere in Uzbekistan. Usually tea is served with samsa, bread, halva, and a variety of fried foods. Samarkand and Tashkent have a variety of places to eat, ranging from small local establishments around bazars, to fancy international joint venture restaurants. Take your pick.
If you are in Bukhara seize the opportunity to visit its mosques. Kalyan Mosque with its intricately decorated portals is located in the heart of the city. It is the largest mosque in Central Asia, able to accommodate around 10,000 worshippers. It is towered over by the Kalyan Minaret with its bands of decorative brickwork that was said to have impressed Genghis Khan. Magoki-Attori Mosque constructed in the ninth or tenth century is the most ancient architectural masterpiece in Bukhara It was rebuilt in the twelfth century, but only the southern façade and portals remain to this day. An earthquake in 1860 caused the double dome to fall and the mosque destroyed, but it was rebuilt in the twentieth century. It remains one of the most sacred places in Bukhara because its architecture summons up spiritual longing for the Afterlife. Balyand Mosque is for those of you who prefer a small district mosque. It is located in a quiet residential neighborhood southwest of the old city.
If you are in Tashkent you can visit the Teleshayakh Mosque-an interesting ensemble erected in a place called Khast Imam. The ensemble comprises the Barak-Khana Madrassa of the sixteenth century, the Teleshayakh Mosque, a rich religious library, the 16th century Kaffal-Shashi mausoleum built on the grave of Abubekr Mukhmmad Kaffal-Shashi, and the Imam Al-Bukhari Institute.
The minarets of the Juma Mosque dominate the city of Khiva’s skyline, appearing like lighthouses from afar. The mosque has 218 amazingly ornate carved wooden columns.
Cities for Sight Seeing
The city of Bukhara, once a renowned Islamic center of learning, is now an inhabited museum with 140 impressive architectural monuments dating back to the Middle Ages. Today, 2,300 years later, ensembles like the Poi-Kalon, Kos Madras, Ismail Samani Mausoleum and the Kalian Minaret are still favorite tourist attractions. .
Or you may take a break from sightseeing by hanging out at the Laub-i-Hauz. It has a teahouse where you can get refreshments or a hearty meal. Or if you are a shopper, you may want to visit the three remaining dome-covered bazars called toks.
Poets and historians of the past called it the “Rome of the East, The beauty of sublunary countries. The pearl of the Eastern Moslem World.” Its memorial and research complex has become a holy site because of the theologian Imam Ismail Al-Bukhari who has been revered among Muslims for many years.
On the southeast slope of Afrosiab is the burial vault Shahi Zinda, the famous ancient architectural ensemble of Samarkand. The keepers of Shahi Zinda are sure to tell you of the ancient legend of Kussam ibn-Abbas who once lived there. After finishing a sermon one day he removed his own head, tucked it under his armpits and hid in a narrow opening of a cave where he is still thought to live today, hence giving it its name “A Living King.”
Tashkent has always been an important international transport junction. Unfortunately, the destruction caused by the revolution of 1917 and the massive earthquake of 1966 has left us with only a few architectural monuments.
For museum lovers, Tashkent houses many museums of Uzbek and pre-Uzbek culture such as The State Art Museum that houses a collection of paintings, ceramics and Bukharian royal robes; and The Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts with its exhibits of embroidered wall hangings and antique jewelry.
Fairy-tale like city Khiva has managed to retain its exotic and oriental image. The old part of the city called Ichon-Qala is where all the architectural monuments are located.
No doubt there is a lot to see and do in Uzbekistan so I do not want to give away all the surprises in store for you there. So, I’ll just leave the rest for you to experience. Happy and safe travelling Insha’Allah.