• Rhizaldy Manalo

Uzbekistan: The Land of the Free

I've been to a lot of places and countries from around the world.

Throughout my travels, I've heard of this mystical country, which in all honesty sounded unreal to me. A small country roughly the size of California but boasting of beaches, forests, mountains, and deserts. I've always wanted to travel there, and right here I'll detail all the things I've experienced in this beautiful gem of the ancient world - Uzbekistan.

Quite honestly, this country is generally unknown to the western world. Come to think of it, Central Asia as a whole seems non-existent in our pop-culture society. Everyone knows about China, Korea, and Japan, as well as, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. People know about Mexico and Brazil, Western Europe and South Africa, but nobody speaks of Central Asia or the countries in it.

Central Asia is a unique center of trade throughout the ancient world, more than that, it is unlike any other cultural region of the world. Some of the citizens of the countries in Central Asia look East Asian, while some look caucasian, yet we are totally different from them. Also, I noticed that their cuisine is a blend of middle-eastern and Indian cuisines; and I love it!

A combination of the Turkic words "Uz" (self) and "Bek" (master) with the Persian suffix "-stan" (country) to give the meaning "Land of the Free". Uzbekistan is certainly a land with people of a free spirit. In the olden days, and by old I mean between 2,700 and 800 years ago, Samarkand was like a Paris of the East, while Bukhara served as Rome (many Islamic madrasas were located there).

Both cities are centers of the information and trade superhighway connecting far eastern China to the precipice of Europe called the Silk Road. Whereas Samarkand has some of the most beautiful architecture in Central Asia, we have Bukhara serving the role of the academic and religious center of the region. Among the achievements of the scholars during this era in time were the development of the modern form of trigonometry (applying it to calculate the phases of the moon), advances in optics, in astronomy, as well as in poetry, philosophy, art, calligraphy and many others, which set the foundation for the Muslim Renaissance.

Yes, without the advances that happened in Uzbekistan, the west's renaissance would not have been possible, because many of the discoveries done by Isaac Newton, Gallileo, and the other brilliant minds of their time were founded upon the principles that were discovered and honed in Uzbekistan.

I traveled solo male to Uzbekistan for a week and had a blast! It is a safe country to visit, in general - apart from Tashkent, the cities are all fairly small and relaxed, while Tashkent has an enormous police presence which seems to deter petty crime. However, traveling without a tour could present some issues.

Uzbeks are not the most straight-forward people, particularly when you're a tourist and want to do something like hire a taxi or change money. Probably owning to how polite the people are, there's always an opportunity for misunderstanding as there's a certain lack of straightforwardness in business dealings between foreigners and locals. I highly recommend you visit as part of a tour, together with a translator in tow.

As for language barriers, you'll have little problem finding accommodation where English is spoken, and people working in the tourist centers of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva generally speak at least a little English.

There are 32.96 million people living in Uzbekistan as per the 2018 census conducted by its Republican government. Uzbeks constitute 81% of the population, followed by Russians at 5.4%, Tajiks at 4.0%, Kazakhs at 3.0%, and others nationalities at 6.5%. Religiously, Uzbekistan has a large Muslim population constituting 79% of the population while 5% of the population follow Russian Orthodox Christianity and 16% of the population follow other religions or are non-religious. Interestingly though, a large population of Muslim Uzbeks is non-denominational. This means that a vast majority of them do not adhere to either Shia or Sunni beliefs and are rather solely adherent to the Qur'an alone.

To give you a little help on when you might want to visit Uzbekistan, just follow this guide:

  • January and February are the coldest months in the country. There wouldn't be nail-biting and finger-falling moments but chilling winds can often make it feel really cold. However, it tends to be dry and bright during this time owing to the tilt of the angle of the Earth in relation to the sun and the winds that come with it. In spite of the cold climate, this is also the period of the year when clean air and blue skies dominate the horizon providing an excellent backdrop for photographing the country’s impressive mosques and minarets. You're likely to have the various sites to yourself as the winter months don't see many visitors to the country.

  • Temperatures start to warm up from mid-March, but the chance of rain increases. Late March and early April are still quiet times to visit, and the country’s main sites of interest will continue to be relatively uncrowded.

  • Mid-April through to early June is one of the most popular times to visit Uzbekistan, as temperatures are warm without being too high – typically mid to high 20 degrees Celsius. Consequently, hotels and sites will be at their busiest. The Silk and Spices Festival is occasionally held during May, which highlights the country’s culture and traditions, as well as its local arts and crafts.

  • July and August are the hottest and driest months of the year in Uzbekistan, with temperatures in the mid to high 30s Celsius (above 80 degrees Fahrenheit). Visiting during this period can be quite uncomfortable, particularly with any long overland journeys, as the sun is extremely strong.

  • From September onwards temperature begins to cool down. You can expect mid-20s Celsius (mid-70s Fahrenheit), making it more enjoyable to explore the country’s intriguing old towns and Islamic architecture. The autumn months are typically drier than spring and are also when the country goes to harvest, meaning markets are ripe with fresh fruit and vegetables.

  • As winter falls on Uzbekistan both its temperatures and visitor numbers drop. This can be a wonderful time to make your trip if you don’t mind dressing up warmly.

There are still so many things I'd like to share about this doubly landlocked country, but I'll need to save that for another blog article. I hope you visit this wonderful country.

Rhiz Manalo is the co-partner to CentrAsia Tours a Central Asia Tourism Agency, Managing Partner of Digital Kitchen Philippines, experts in corporate and SMB digitization. He is a seasoned digital marketing expert, an experienced blogger, systems architect, web designer, and a loving father to a beautiful 7-year-old girl whom he misses so much!

Check out his portfolio here.

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