Excited to visit the land of Tamerlane which also harbours the ghosts of the old Soviet era and was once significant stop along the Silk Route.
The first part of the journey is the customary stop to the Uzbek High Commission for a tourist visa – a process regulated by the country. The embassy is located inside a rather modest building along Singapore’s famed Orchard Road, a far cry from the grandeur of its past era.
Virtually empty, it is serviced by someone who might like a visitor or two occasionally. Each time I told people where I was heading, many hadn’t even heard of the country, and those who did, asked me “Why”. Quite understandably, for a country like Singapore where people often choose destinations like Bali, Margaret River, Phuket or even countries in Europe, Uzbekistan is not ever on their radar.
The visa requires a Letter of Intent for travel and from what I have been told/read, visitors do need to confirm hotel bookings in advance to record your stay.
I used an agency called Advantour for my travels who were recommended in a number of travel forums (they were 50% cheaper than a tour company in Singapore). Based on the destinations chosen, they prepared the itinerary, arranged for the LOI to obtain visa and also make hotel bookings.
My trip includes Tashkent, Aral Sea, Khiva, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara and Samarkand. The ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand along the old Silk Route were at the crossroads of culture for over 200 years before the Maritime Silk Route was established (read my blog on Malacca and adventures of Zheng He). These old sites saw caravans ploughing between China and the West, trading precious silk, tea, spices, dry fruits; and even religion.
But then the Soviets came. They took away religion and gave Uzbekistan their culture – ballet, art (in its politically correct form) architecture and language. The country has been slowly rebuilding its identity and the Timurid conqueror Tamerlane, is the national hero.
Uzbekistan has been beckoning to me for years and while I might have a romaniticised version of traversing the old Silk Route, the Central Asian destination is much more or much less from what it was at its height of importance.
But then again, such is the case with many other countries of the past and present too.