Uzbekistan is valued for many things, but its most precious treasures are its historical heritage, rich culture and, of course, its people. The cordiality and hospitality possessed by local citizens make acquaintance with them an unforgettable experience for people in Uzbekistan who have come from abroad. Travellers who really get a chance to meet closely with locals, especially those of the elder generation, like the gentleman in the photograph below, are charmed by their wisdom.
It is usually quite easy to meet representatives of the elder generation on the ancient streets of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. This photograph of an old man was taken in Samarkand in 2006 during a tour by one of our groups. He was resting at the entrance to the Bibi-Khanum Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the Islamic world, built between 1399 and 1404.
Like many other people of his generation, this man considered this place holy – as he would other mosques and mausoleums in Uzbekistan – and visited them regularly to pay respects to his ancestors.
The man is wearing traditional headgear called a sallah. The history of this head covering is long and dates back to nomadic times. Merchants travelling along the Great Silk Road used to wrap long pieces of material around their heads that could be used as grave cloth in case someone died during the journey. The material also served as a protective covering from the hot sun. Although nowadays this tradition has lost its original meaning, you can still see elderly people wearing this garment especially on hot sunny days.
Although not many Uzbeks speak English, the cordiality and openness of the locals make it easy to find a common means of communication with foreigners; the language of gestures and facial expressions overcomes the so-called language barrier. However, you will easily find English speakers among the workers of the travel industry. With the help of our guide, visitors were able to talk with this honourable old man. During a short conversation, he shared a couple of legends about the grand mosque, built by the order of Amir Temur for his wife and meant to outshine everything seen before by the mighty sovereign.
The discussion with this man left a warm feeling in the hearts of our travellers; it became, for many, one of the the most memorable moments of their time in Uzbekistan. This is why we try to include a lot of interaction with local people in our tours. Locals provide the most precise and lively impression of Uzbekistan.