Uzbekistan round up 🇺🇿

Over 19 days, we travelled 2,457 km across the full width of Uzbekistan from the Tájen/Daut-Ata border crossing in the west to the Chernayevka border crossing in the east.


Between cities, we travelled almost exclusively by train in Uzbekistan, with the exception of the short link between Nukus and Khiva, which we covered by shared taxi. While we’d heard a lot about Uzbekistan’s modern high-speed rail links, we ended up travelling most of the distance by old, slow, Soviet-era sleeper trains due to lack of ticket availability. While they weren’t the fanciest trains we’d ever ridden, they always provided a chance to get to know our fellow travellers, which was mostly a great experience!

Once in town, we largely used buses and marshrutkas to get around. The trickiest part was planning these connections, since little information was available online, and most guides suggested we “ask around”. Given that we don’t speak any local languages, nor do we speak Russian, this was no easy task. Still, we did come across a handful of young adults who were happy to help – sometimes so that they could practice their English but mostly just out of the goodness of their hearts.

In smaller towns, marshrutkas took the form of cute little minibuses. These typically had space for 1 driver, 7 adult passengers, plus luggage and children, although the limit seemed to based on ambition rather than comfort.

A marshrutka plying the roads of Bukhara


We travelled a long way through Uzbekistan, and because much of this was on less green, low-speed rail, this part of the journey represented our second-highest carbon emissions to date: 206 kgCO2e.

This brings our total emissions to 993 kgCO2e. This was close enough to a tonne of CO2 that we’ve gone ahead and offset this carbon through Gold Standard’s Climate+ Portfolio – our first offset since leaving London! You can find the retired carbon credit in the Gold Standard Impact Registry. This means that as much CO2 has been prevented from entering the atmosphere as was emitted by our modes of transport, and consequently the net carbon emissions are zero. The Climate+ Portfolio achieves this by supporting a variety of emissions reduction projects – from clean cooking solutions and household bio-gas to renewable energy, like wind and solar. While carbon offsetting isn’t as good as avoiding the emissions in the first place, it is a way of taking responsibility for emissions that couldn’t be avoided otherwise.


We spent less money per day in Uzbekistan than in any other country except Georgia, making it pretty good value for money. Accommodation constituted the largest proportion of our spending in Uzbekistan compared to any other country, but this was largely due to a splurge on a fancy hotel in Tashkent (not the Hotel Uzbekistan though!). Conversely, food and drink constituted the smallest proportion of our spending compared to any other country, despite us eating in some high-end restaurants.

Prior to arriving in Uzbekistan, we’d read that many restaurants and hotels required payment in cash, and that working ATMs were few and far between, even in major cities. To prepare for this, we withdrew a fair amount of USD before arriving, which is much easier to change into UZS than withdrawing cash from an ATM. However, electronic payments and ATMs seem to have come a long way in the past few years, and we ended up leaving Uzbekistan with every USD that we carried into the country. Still, better safe than sorry!


We saw 79 cats in Uzbekistan, giving it a slightly sad total of 4.16 cats per day, and coming in second-last in the league of countries to date. This feels like a bit of a shame, as Uzbekistan got off to a strong start in Nukus and Khiva, but then fell behind as we moved onto the big cities of Samarkand and Tashkent.

Still, what Uzbekistan lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality…

🏅 Most knowledgeable historian

🏅 most pampered restauranteur

This lovely lady kept sneaking into a restaurant in Tashkent and the staff were frequently escorting her out. At least, we thought they were putting her outside until we realised she was being tucked up in a blanket on a chair in the porch! The staff were taking it in turns to visit and make a fuss of her.

🏅 Sneakiest fare dodger

Despite the language barrier, Baron’s owner fully understood how delighted Sara was to meet him on a bus in Tashkent, and briefly let him out of his carrier to say hello. Apparently he was on his way to the “doctor”. Get well soon, Baron!

🏅 smallest tour guide

🏅 least subtle hide-and-seek participant

Architecture & renovation

Many of Uzbekistan’s historical buildings had been extensively renovated to how they might have looked when they were newly built (or maybe even newer, since we read that traditional building practices aren’t always followed). While this undoubtedly gave the buildings a beautiful and pristine appearance, we found it pretty incongruous to be learning about their long histories while looking at recently (re-)constructed buildings.

In fact, we learned that many of the buildings had been renovated (and even extended) many times over the years, following various sackings or natural disasters. This made us realise that there’s no right or wrong way to maintain such buildings (cathedrals in the UK have surely had many a new roof, for instance), but the level of polish we experienced in Uzbekistan was well beyond what we’d seen elsewhere.

We felt lucky to have seen as much local life as we did, since we read that traditional markets were next on the government’s hit list because of a perception that visitors would find them unsanitary. Indeed, we spent quite a while in Khiva searching for a local bazaar that we’d read about, before we eventually realised that perhaps it had been razed in favour of the huge, sterile plaza which extended all the way to the train station.

To get to Uzbekistan, we took a short flight across the Caspian Sea and two trains across western Kazakhstan. Following our stay in Uzbekistan, our journey circles back into Kazakhstan, to visit the cities of Shymkent, Astana and Almaty. We’ll round up both visits to Kazakhstan in a single post once we leave Kazakhstan for the second time.

Putting the silk in Silk Road (a side trip to Margilan)

Margilan is a town in the Fergana Valley that borders Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the south-eastern corner of Uzbekistan. Although it’s often listed as a highlight of the country because of its links to the silk trade, it actually felt well off the tourist trail – probably because it is in the opposite direction from Tashkent to other big-hitting sights such as Samarkand.

The journey involved taking a 7-hour train from Tashkent. Although it was an afternoon train, we were in a sleeper compartment because this was only one part of the train’s much longer route across Uzbekistan. We felt fortunate that we did the journey in the daytime, as the views across the border to the snow-capped mountains in Tajikistan were stunning.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best journey because our compartment-mates weren’t exactly welcoming. They had already commandeered one of our beds before we arrived (we never got this back) and at one point they banished Oli from where he was sitting (on our other bed) because they wanted to eat lunch at the table. He was so taken aback that he actually moved for them! There were other things, too, but maybe I won’t get started….

We’re pretty sure that they felt able to behave like this because they were older than us; respect for elders, particularly men (eye roll 🙄), is very important in Uzbekistan. We’ve seen lots of deferential behaviour on buses, but we didn’t realise that the expectation would extend to us not being able to sit in our booked seats! Or perhaps they just thought we were pushovers – who knows? Either way, it was another thing to add to the growing list of frustrations in Uzbekistan. On a happier note, we played an excellent round of Public Transit Roulette on the local marshrutkas when we arrived in Margilan, so things were looking up!

We had one full day in town and our main aim was to explore the Kumtepa Bazaar, 5 km out of town. As far as we understood, this ran every day, but was particularly buzzing with sellers of locally-produced silk on Thursdays and Sundays. Much like in Tashkent, the bazaar was arranged into zones, but these were even more fascinating. There was a whole zone dedicated to sewing machines and overlockers (Oli had to hold me back) and an area for used car parts and all sorts of unidentified (to us, at least) mechanical paraphernalia. Sadly, I wasn’t that inspired by the fabrics for sale (I had a very specific idea of what I wanted – which will be no surprise to anyone who knows me well!) but this was probably for the best, given I’d have to carry any purchases for the next few months.

Without a doubt, our favourite part of the bazaar was discovering a BBQ zone, where we had an exceptional lunch.

In the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, where we had a similar meal, the staff were at least cooking in rudimentary kitchens (below left), but in Margilan we saw the real deal: even the deep fat fryer was wood-fueled (below right)!

Unsurprisingly, the chefs really knew what they were doing and the food was cooked to perfection – it was such a good demonstration of how simple ingredients combined well can be SO delicious. The chicken was smoky, salty and succulent, with just a hint of cumin, and the slaw was crunchy, tangy and fresh.

We also couldn’t resist trying what was being churned out from the deep fat fryer as there was a constant queue of people buying up bags of fried snacks. Some Googling after the fact suggested that they were probably baursaki, most associated with Kazakhstan but eaten across Central Asia, and they were savoury, crunchy and very satisfying, much like deep-fried Yorkshire puddings.

This lunch was a real highlight – other than this, we ate without a doubt the worst run of meals in Margilan that we’ve ever eaten, anywhere! The less said about them the better…

While we were sipping our tea after lunch, two chaps on a neighbouring table beckoned us over, so we joined them for several more cups of tea. Communication was a little tricky, but we gleaned that one of them had worked in Germany for several years. This gave Oli the opportunity to test out his secondary-school German skills, and this may be the first time ever that they have helped, rather than hinder, communication!! The chaps were baffled at the concept that we were married and didn’t have children – by their estimation, we should have had ten by now (this seemed a little ambitious, as we’ve been married for seven years…) Oli was highly amused that I showed them a picture of Thomas when they asked about children!

Gratuitous Thomas picture

There was an awful lot of gesturing about how I should be producing children, cooking and doing the cleaning. While I understand that they have a very different worldview and so I wasn’t offended as I may have been in another circumstance, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to question their assumptions about my and Oli’s roles, so I told them that Oli also cooks and cleans. They roared with laughter, but Oli also said that they wouldn’t look him in the eye after this, which I thought was fascinating. We did realise afterwards that perhaps we didn’t make it quite clear enough that in normal circumstances (i.e. when we’re not travelling), I would also be working full time and not sitting idly around the house with no children to care for while Oli earned all the money AND did the cleaning! Oh well.

After we said farewell to our new friends, we stopped off at the Yodgorlik Silk Factory. If we had been short of time, we probably would have skipped this because we’d read very mixed accounts of people’s experiences online, but as we were passing we thought we would pop in.

The one thing I did know about Ikat fabric in advance of our visit is that it is yarn-dyed (i.e. the threads are dyed before being woven), and it was really interesting to see how this works in practice to produce a print: the threads are wrapped around a huge frame and hand-sorted to keep the pattern roughly in line. We also saw how the silkworms’ cocoons are unravelled to produce the silk threads, how the dyes are produced from natural materials (such as walnut shells), and how the threads are woven into silk, cotton and blended fabrics on hand and machine looms.

Although it was nice to see the traditional hand-loom method, the machine looms were the real stars of the show – the noise was incredible, even though only two were running in a room of around 18!

We had mixed feelings about this visit. For a sewing fan like myself, it was cool to see the traditional methods used to produce the fabrics, but it was abundantly clear that the factory was no longer operating at any kind of scale. We strongly suspected that the workers started just as we entered each room and stopped as soon as we left. It felt a bit like being in the Truman Show!

On our return journey to Tashkent the following day, we had a compartment to ourselves and a very relaxed journey. That is, it was very relaxed until the conductor tried to extract a payment from us for keeping our compartment empty (which we didn’t ask him to do – and we’re sure that the seats weren’t booked as the carriage was patently half-empty). In frustrating moments like these, we really had to remind ourselves that we’ve also experienced real kindness from a lot of people in Uzbekistan – like the cafe owner who wouldn’t accept any money for a pot of tea the previous day, or the marshrutka driver who I accidentally rerouted to drop us off directly outside the station entrance that morning, and who did so with a smile and a flourish!

All in all, we were a little relieved to be leaving Uzbekistan the following day. We were just hoping against hope that our paperwork was enough in order that they would actually stamp us out of the country! Spoiler alert: they did, and more on that soon.

The “Stone City” of Tashkent

Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, is a large, modern city of imposing buildings and vast public squares. To our relief, the grid layout of roads were frequented by proper city buses that made it easy to get around by public transport. For once, we felt like we’d won Public Transport Roulette on the route between the train station and our hotel.

Tashkent’s closest thing to a city centre is Amir Timur Square, a circular park at the intersection of the ancient Silk Roads connecting Asia to Europe. Over the years, statues of various historical figures have occupied the plinth in the centre of the park, including Joseph Stalin and Karl Marx. Today, the park’s focal point is a 48m statue of Timur (Tamerlane), with the conqueror shown riding a horse with his hand raised and cloak blowing out behind him. As impressive as the statue is, the horse turned out to be missing an important body part, the whereabouts of which is apparently one of Tashkent’s great mysteries. When recounting this anecdote in a family group chat, we got the response: “People are the same wherever you go, aren’t they?” So true!

We spent some time exploring Tashkent’s monuments and memorials the evening after we arrived, starting at the Senate building (below left) and Independence Square (below right). The latter’s Independence Monument replaced a statue of Lenin following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Later, we came across the incredibly moving Crying Mother Monument, which depicts a seated woman facing an eternal flame (below left), flanked on either side by plaques containing the names of approximately 400,000 Uzbeks who lost their lives during the Second World War. To try to put this into perspective, I counted 240 names on a single plaque (below centre), then stepped back to take in the full magnitude of the row of 28 books, each containing 52 plaques (below right).

We also learnt about the earthquake of 1966, which destroyed most of the buildings in the city. Following the earthquake, men and women travelled to Tashkent from many surrounding Soviet republics to assist in the massive rebuilding effort. This provided an explanation for the modern Soviet appearance of this ancient “stone city” (a literal translation of Tashkent). These men and women are honoured in the statue below, standing atop a pile of rubble, and connected to a clock by a fissure recording the precise date and time of the earthquake.

Earthquake memorial

After this crash-course in Tashkent’s history, we were keen to experience some of the city’s present day life, and for this we headed to the Chorsu Bazaar. Now, Sara sees herself as a bit of a market connoisseur, and yet this was still the largest bazaar we’ve visited to date. With its colossal turquoise domes, it certainly gave Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar a run for its money in beauty, then blew it out of the water for authenticity.

We found ourselves squeezing through alleys of clothing and shoes one minute, and dodging past trays of raw meat and huge piles of vegetables, cheeses, prepared salads, nuts and spices the next. If you wanted a medical uniform, a birthday cake, gardening supplies or a new sink or toilet, you could find these here too. Exploring the market was thirsty work, so we took advantage of one of the stalls selling fresh pomegranate juice. And to top it all off, we discovered a huge multi-restaurant conglomeration, where we happily sampled some shashlik through the thick barbecue smoke blowing across every table.

Old Tashkent was most visible at the Hazroti Imom complex, a collection of medressas, mosques and mausoleums surrounding yet another vast and largely empty square. The small Moyie Mubarek Library Museum, which holds what is said to be the world’s oldest Quran, lies stranded towards the centre of the square. Despite the considerable size of some of these buildings, they were still somehow overshadowed by the Centre for Islamic Civilisation, currently under construction. While hugely impressive (it must be one of the largest buildings I’ve ever seen by volume), we couldn’t help wondering what had to be cleared to make way for its massive footprint.

We were delighted to find that Tashkent’s metro not only provided an efficient and comfortable means of transport, but its stations were also an attraction in themselves, with each station boasting a unique theme. We entered the Metro at Chorsu, but hopped off at Kosmonavtlar station to marvel at the astronaut-themed decoration, before jumping back on the next train seven minutes later. We’d read that photography in the metro stations had been strictly forbidden since the 1999 terrorist attack, although we’ve since learnt that these rules have been relaxed in recent years. Still, this BBC Article covers the artwork way better than we ever could.

The metro ride however was merely a warm up for what was to follow – a visit to Tashkent’s open-air railway museum. While information on the exhibits was light, the experience itself was very much hands-on. We happily clambered onto, into and around many of the locomotives, with their splendid exterior paint-jobs contrasting heavily with their rusted and rotten interiors. I’ve since read that the museum contains steam locomotives from the Russian Empire, the USA, and even Nazi Germany!

At this point, the rain set in and didn’t stop for a couple of days. We eventually ventured out with two goals: to explore the Soviet architecture of Navoi Park and to complete a bit of clothes shopping to prepare us for the fast-approaching winter. However, when we hopped off the bus, we were confronted instead by a rather unexpected slice of Disneyland. It featured little recreations of London’s Houses of Parliament and Samarkand’s Registan, which was a nice summary of our journey to date. In the end, this slightly surreal corner of the park overshadowed the architecture and statues we’d come to see in the first place, while also providing a handful of much-needed clothing shops.

With our time in Uzbekistan almost over, we managed to squeeze in one last trip to Margilan, the source of the silk that gives its name to the ancient trade route we’d followed since leaving central Europe.