Uzbekistan is the most travelled country among the 5 “stans” – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, making it the Pearl of the Orient.
Local currency is Cym (pronounced as Soom: similar to “book”). The country is known to devalue its currency from time to time. The time when I visited, US$1 was equivalent to 8000 Cym.
The country has four seasons. The best time is known to be spring or when Uzbeks celebrate Novruz, their new year. I visited the country in autumn – from 27 Oct to 9 Nov. The temperature ranged between 20-24 degrees. It did however cool down in the night time.
Safety wise, Uzbekistan is very safe. I travelled solo and did not encounter any bad experiences – whether it was while shopping or walking around or even when using their transportation. People are curious and will request to take pictures with you or may want to practice their English with you, but that is it. Nothing more than that.
In Uzbekistan, “Ubering” is common, except the company hasn’t yet set up operations there. You can hail down any car and be driven to your destination based on the pre-agreed fare.
In Tashkent, I chose a hotel called Ichan Qala. It was very close to the airport and a good choice considering I made a long flight into Tashkent and left early morning the day after I arrived.
The place was spotlessly clean with hot shower and clean towels and sheets. It had a good spread of breakfast from cereal, yougurt, fruits, juice, tea/coffee, hot entres and even cakes.
The only negative was that the windows could not be opened and the a/c didn’t function well so it did get clammy.
The other drawback could be the reliance on taxis if you are planning to go into the city for dinner, as there is no mode of public transport available.
In Tashkent, I ate lunch in a restaurant called Afsona. My guide told me later that only the rich and wealthy dine there. A meal for us both including shurba, plov, kebab, naan with chakka and tea for two came to be US$12.50.
Nukus was my second port of call. Here, I chose a hotel called Rahnamo. The quality of hotel was very basic but it was squeaky clean. The bed was comfortable and an elderly lady made me a breakfast of pancakes with poached apricots, tea and naan. The meat eaters would have got sausages and eggs too. Size of the room was good. The only downside here was the internet. It was very choppy. Also, when it comes to English, there were not very conversant. As stay in Nukus is typically only 1 night, I think these are minor things to be concerned about.
My third halt was Khiva. Here, Hotel Orient is inside the Ichan Qala fortress. As with many madarassahs inside the old city, Hotel Orient was also converted into a hotel. It has a large courtyard where internet is available and is the strongest. Rooms are clean with a small balcony adjoining the bathroom that gives the room some light during the day. There are no windows and the beds are tad uncomfortable. In the night, it was hard to sleep because of lack of ventilation and the hard bed. There is a/c in every room but I didn’t want the noise and artificial ventilation in a small enclosed room.
Cleanliness wise and charm, it is quite appealing. They even turn on the balcony lights in the night that makes the hotel look really special.
There is also no phone in the room. This means, your window to the world is the internet. If you want to receive a phone call from your loved ones to say you are doing well, you might have to resort to emails and WhatsApp but not phone.
Breakfast was decent. There were pancakes, eggs, cheese, Uzbek porridge, toast, juice, fresh fruits, nuts, tea and coffee.
In Khiva, I tried a variety of dishes. Dimlyama is a stew of garden vegetables typically cooked with lamb though mine was vegetarian consumed with a pot of tea and naan. Manti is like ravioli. It comes with a variety of fillings, predominantly meat. Mine was with pumpkin.
My hotel in Bukhara was Hotel Amulet, a charming little place that was formerly a madrassah (my favourite in all of Uzbekistan) The room smelled of clean sheets and toilet was clean. Internet was strong. I even got my pants laundered for 3000 Cym and it came back smelling like fresh cotton sheet I was sleeping on.
The breakfast was lavish. Breads, Uzbeki pastries, sweet melons, potato latkes, yogurt, cheese, honey, pancake, jams, tea, coffee and juice.
The place is very close to Lyabi Hauz and hotels like Hotel Kabir, Minzifa, bread sellers and an absolutely delicious somsa place which only locals know of.
One of the nicest things about travelling by road in Uzbekistan is the ability to stop by the roadside and eat like the locals. One one occasion, my driver stopped by a somsa place. It had a tandir where somsas were baked using coal fire. They are traditionally made using beef and going by the pleasurable sounds, I knew my driver was in somsa heaven. He almost felt sorry that I didn’t partake in such pleasures.
If there was one thing you must eat when in Uzbekistan are its melons. Succulent. Sweet. And it goes with everything. I had mine with hot naan straight from the tandir and a pot of green tea, making loud, slurpy sounds trying in vain to stop the honey-sweet juice from flowing down my sleeve.
In Bukhara, I also ate in a private home, Rustam House. You have to make prior reservations here but be sure to be treated to warm Uzbek hospitality and home-cooked food.
My last and final stop was Samarkand. Here, I chose a slightly upmarket hotel: L’Argamak. It is run by a Tajik woman married to a Frenchman. The hotel often receives VIPs as guests like presidents of companies, TV crew, diplomats and airline pilots (I saw Georgian pilots who were staying here).
Restaurant wise, I managed to eat in Platan on Pushkin Street, which is quite highly recommended. Food was good. My most memorable dish was its lemon cake. I remember it most because as soon as the waiter set the creation on my table, the stereo started to play Mozart and once I had finished the sublime delicacy, the music stopped. It was an experience every bit worth remembering.