Uzbekistan, one of the only two double-landlocked countries in the world, is wedged obscurely between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Most have a hard time locating it on a map. I don’t blame them; had I not followed my parents there as a child, I doubt I would have known where it was either.
Having spent years living there, I know Uzbekistan like a close friend or a family member. It is a country torn between the traditions of the past and innovations of the future. The city of Tashkent itself is representative of this conflict. Old Russian Lada cars, hinting at the Republic’s time in the former Soviet Union, are parked next to shiny new sedans. Tall office buildings stand just blocks away from dilapidated, half-built structures. It’s jumbled, but it’s beautiful.
Below are five reasons Uzbekistan captivated me and will captivate you, if given the chance:
1. The architecture is incredible.
For those who are fascinated by intricate details and colorful architecture, Uzbekistan’s is the place to be. Known for the blue and yellow mosaics that cover its mosques and museums, Uzbekistan reflects centuries of religious creativity. Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara in specific are three cities with distinctly well-crafted architecture.
2. The history is multi-faceted.
Uzbekistan was a stop along the Silk Road route, an ancient trading route taken by people from Europe to Asia. This created a medley of many different cultures as people traded spices, fruits, religions and philosophies. Over the course of its history, Uzbekistan became a blend of different ethnicities and languages with the invasion of Genghis Khan and the Soviet Union.
3. The food is delicious.
Food is central to Uzbek culture. There is nothing quite like tearing off a piece of hot naan bread or eating spiced lamb skewers with a group of friends. Make sure to take time to pull off to the side of the road and buy bread from a small bread shop. You don’t want to miss out on the clay-oven baked goods or a friendly chat with the bakery.
4. The culture is hospitable and warm.
The generosity of Uzbekistan is unrivaled. Make friends with locals and you’ll find yourself gathered at a table with their 10 closest neighbors and friends. They are a people who do not hesitate to go out of their way to help others. They’ll even offer to give you language lessons.
5. The pace is refreshing.
Uzbeks were pastoral, settling into the land and raising livestock. The way they look at time now seems to reflect that heritage as they sit on stools out of their apartment, spitting sunflower seeds as they leisurely talk and watch the neighborhood children scamper. They will not be hurried. Even their language suggests comfortability with being wholly in the present. It might be hard at first to understand the way Uzbeks see time, but here you will learn to stop, relax and enjoy fully expanding your soul to your surroundings.
Uzbekistan is a beautiful and underrated country, its culture largely intact and unaltered by tourism. If you have the chance to visit, don’t pass it up.
What have you heard about Uzbekistan? Would you visit?
Images provided by Iona Brannon