Having been taught to love and appreciate travelling from a young age, exploring new cultures and countries has always been a big part of my life. And I’ve enjoyed every second of it: learning about different cultures and their history, tasting new food, seeing sights otherwise unseen in any other part of the world, it’s almost always a new and enchanting experience. This holiday, heeding teachers’ warning that, “this would be the last holiday we’d get to relax in”, I ventured blindly into a country I had heard of once or twice before. Without knowing what to expect, and without wanting to document myself in order to not ruin the air of mysticality around the country, I travelled into the enticing unknown; into Uzbekistan.
Nothing could have prepared me for the unbridled beauty of the people, the landscapes, the culture and history that Uzbekistan had to offer, a sanctuary of peace, relaxation and charm. And so, I accidentally discovered one of my new favourite travel destinations.
Fasten your seatbelt and get ready for arrival at the dream destination, Uzbekistan!
To begin with, Uzbekistan is considered an LEDC, situated in Central Asia, so its architectural beauty does not come from Dubai-like skyscrapers, or Gothic buildings of Europe. Instead, Uzbekistan impresses with the array of ancient architecture based on religion and culture. Mosques, palaces, mausoleums and minarets are peppered through its cities, buzzing with history and life! Uzbekistan is also renowned for their usage of colour, geometrical patterns, mosaics, and other clever techniques that give monuments (and even regular building) their value and elegance. In cities such as Samarkand or Bukhara, the influence for constructions is much more religious, while in the capital, Tashkent, the influence of the Soviet Union (which it was a part of up until 1991) is clearly visible in the communist-style architecture. Featuring constructivist traits, it is delineated as geometric, less colourful, but just as enthralling and intricate. One such example would be the Uzbekistan Hotel, a hypnotizingly complex building that assimilates a bee comb in its geometric pattern. The contrast between styles and colours, ideologies and beliefs, accentuates the beauty in both!
But it isn’t only the visual aesthetics of the country that draw you in. Uzbekistan also offers a diverse array of food, a cuisine so exquisite that it will satisfy even the pickiest palate! Once again, depending on the region, the food, together with its origins and influences, can vary, but it is said that most of Uzbekistan’s culinary traditions draw from Turkey. Some dishes are also similar to those in Nepal or China, but these are less in number. The country is also renowned for the amount of meat dishes they serve, all prepared to perfection in Uzbek culture. Some of the most mouth-watering and famous dishes include (but are definitely not limited to!): Plov, Shashlik and Dimlama.
We were lucky enough to get to enjoy their annual food festival and try some of the traditional foods from the many stands lining the venue – which, in and of itself, was a stunning, viridescent park! The steam rising off of the Plov, dissipating into the evening breeze, the tender lamb mixed with the perfectly steamed rice, the light and enjoyable chatter coming from the many mini-restaurants, it all combined to form the perfect atmosphere which now remains one of my most cherished experiences in Uzbekistan.
To me, a country must also be judged by how safe it makes you feel; in some countries you feel safe walking the streets, and as a young girl travelling, that is of immense importance. I spent two weeks in Uzbekistan, and at no point in my experience did I feel unsafe, or had doubts regarding the integrity of the citizens. They treated us with kindness and politeness; giving up their seats in public transportation to let women and the elderly sit, offering help with directions even though we couldn’t understand Uzbek or Russian, and one of the most marking experiences in my whole trip, arguably even my whole life, was when a stranger offered to drive us to the train station across town because our train was leaving in half an hour, and we had unfortunately mistaken the two train stations and arrived at the wrong one. And when he dropped us off with five minutes to spare, and we asked him how much he’d want for the act of kindness, he responded with a curt but gentle, “Nothing.” The smile on his face and warmth was unmistakable, to us it meant a genuine humanity that had compelled him to help strangers in need of aid.
This attitude of respect and kindness also reflects on the cleanliness of the country. The parks, streets, shop floors, and monuments were all impeccable, especially in Tashkent. To us, it proved once again how considerate of the environment the country was, cherishing what the land had to offer by not littering it, and instead helping it grow by cultivating lush, verdant parks filled with countless assortments of flowers and trees. Public transportation was always extremely clean, people rarely ate on the street, and even more rarely threw things carelessly on the floor. The effect of this was unmistakably striking on the country, rendering it spotlessly clean and inviting.
But don’t let this fool you into thinking Uzbekistan was an uptight, “no-fun-allowed” country. Quite the opposite, Uzbekistan was filled with activities, tours, and amazing places to both visit, learn from and enjoy! Outdoor carnivals stretched on for streets on end, filled with the joyous giggles of young children trying their luck at the games offered, or squealing in delight at the tasting of the treats and specialities sold along the way. Flea markets sold mesmerising antiquities, some objects decades of years old, an indoor amusement park offered rides for thrill-seekers, these rides found inside a majestic, royalty-themed shopping centre. Topped off by aquariums, museums and sunny zoos, Uzbekistan never failed to surprise us.
The last thing I’d wish to talk about is the incredibly rich history of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, because Eurocentrism is, for the people of Europe, a normality, many are ready – and very foolishly so – to dismiss the Middle East’s history. Some of the greatest intellectuals and scholars originate from Uzbekistan, and the West chooses to deny or invalidate their existence. For example, many believe that Avicenna was a great European physicist, astronomer and philosopher, when in fact he was born in Uzbekistan and died in Iran. His real name isn’t even Avicenna, it is Ibn Sina! Yet another example would lie with Timur Lenk. The western world portrays Timurk Lenk (a conqueror who founded the massive Mongol empire in a significant part of Asia) as a vicious killer, when in fact he was one of the greatest military leaders, being seen as an undefeated commander and an extremely gifted strategist.
Drawing the article to its end, I enjoyed my trip to Uzbekistan more than almost any other trip I’ve been on. It’s a destination that has so much to offer and surprise you with, all while teaching you about a culture and country unlike any other. The people and places are inviting, kind and beautiful, making for a sublime and unique experience, but I understand that not everybody is looking for the same things in a holiday. Uzbekistan can offer the calm, the fun, the quiet, the loud, but there may still be other things that some people look for in a dream destination, that Uzbekistan isn’t perfectly fit for. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend at least one trip to Uzbekistan; giving the country a chance to impress you has high chances of taking your breath away and sweeping you off your feet! Even if it doesn’t, you will have learned of a different culture made up of diverse architectural styles, stories, mannerisms and people. No matter the outcome, you will have won in one way or another!