Exploring Uzbekistan is like leafing through the pages of an Eastern fairytale. During your journey you come across ancient fortresses, emirs’ palaces, tall minarets, noisy bazaars, fragrant cuisine and myriads of legends. The ancient cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara are popular must-see destinations for travellers coming to Uzbekistan, however, beyond some of the more better-known highlights there are distinctive aspects of each place that should not be overlooked.
Legendary Samarkand Non
An inseparable part of Uzbek culture is non, the traditional bread made in special earthen ovens. There are over 20 kinds of non, yet the most famous comes from the village of Gala-Osiyo near Samarkand. The secret recipe has made Samarkand the home of the best non in the region.
Although it’s sold everywhere in the city, there are three main places where you can buy genuine Samarkand non. First is the main bazaar of Samarkand – the Siyob Bazaar – which has a special section of seemingly endless bread stalls. Less well known is the area near Registan Square, behind the Museum of History and Culture of Uzbekistan, where Registan Street turns into Pendjikent Street. Lastly, delicious non is available in the area of Ulugbek’s Observatory.
Keep in mind that local sellers may be quite pushy, but don’t panic. Take your time and always bargain a little. Expect to pay 2000 Uzbekistan Som (approximately US$1.50).
* Non Etiquette: Samarkand non should be divided into pieces with your hands (not with a knife) and also should not be placed bottom-side up when served. Don’t forget to drink hot tea after traditional meals, as the local food is rather greasy.
Ichan-Kala of Khiva
Ichan-Kala, the inner city of Khiva, is an open-air museum of unparalleled examples of ancient Oriental architecture. It comprises a collection of minarets, mausoleums and 10th-century mosques. In the summer the best time to visit is from 9-11am and in the evenings from 4-7pm. The hot afternoons should be spent in a chaihona (local teahouse) or in your hotel.
For a truly authentic overnight experience, travellers can stay at the Hotel Orient Star, situated in the Muhammad Amin-Khan Madrasah, a 19th-century theological school boasting remarkable architecture. Guests can say stay in actual hujras, or student rooms, which have retained the detail of its original interior.
Plan to spend no fewer than two days at Ichan-Kala and make sure that you wander around Khiva at night, when the moonlight creates magical silhouettes of the ancient city.
*Mosque Etiquette: Always take off your shoes and make sure not to interrupt a prayer. Women should visit the area conservatively dressed and with their heads covered. Avoid raising your voice in the visiting area and smoking is never permitted.
Mysteries of Naqshandee
One of the main trading centres of the Great Silk Road is legend-laden city of Bukhara, a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, one of the most mysterious and sacred places in Uzbekistan is situated 12km northwest of Bukhara, at the mausoleum of Bahouddin Naqshbandee (1318–1389) in the village of Qasri Orifon.
The founder of Sufism and the Naqshbandiya order, Bahouddin is said to still be alive in the complex surrounding his tomb. Some claim to have seen him appear. The tomb of the Sufi is a popular pilgrimage destination and it is believed that walking around the tomb anticlockwise three times will bring you good blessing.
To get to the mausoleum of Bahouddin Naqshbandee from Bukhara, travellers should arrange with a local operator.