Uzbekistan is one of those underrated countries buried deep within the ancient Silk Route. Over the last couple of years, this country has piqued the world’s curiosity, and now stands proudly in many travelers bucket list. At the very top of the list of places to see in Uzbekistan is Samarkand. One of the most ancient cities of the world, Samarkand is as old as the ancient cities of Babylon and Rome. Just like the other countries along the Silk Route, Samarkand faced many foreign invasions including those of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan conquest, Arab invasions and lastly Amir Timur. What is now left behind is a beautiful potpourri of Iranian, Indian, Mongol and a bit of Western cultures.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO UZBEKISTAN
The best time to visit Uzbekistan is either in Spring from April to May or Autumn from September to early November. The weather here is typically warm and dry but during these months it is bearable. Winter months from late November until March are very cold, but the skies remain clear and bright during this time, making it an excellent time to click photographs. Winter & peak Summer months are the quietest time of the year.
HOW TO GET AN UZBEKISTAN VISA
The country has currently relaxed its visa restrictions. Citizens of 108 countries can now get a single-entry e-visa, valid for 30 days. The processing time is 10-14 days. We applied through a travel agent in Dubai and got the visa in 3 days.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY IN SAMARKAND (1-2 DAYS)
We were short on time so did a day trip from Tashkent by the 8:30 AM bullet train and returned on the 5 PM train. We still managed to see all the highlights here and spent a good amount of time at each location. If you prefer a guided tour of each location, you should ideally spend 2 days here.
Uzbekistan in general and Samarkand in particular are filled with mausoleums, mosques, minarets and more of mosques. The landscape of Uzbekistan is barren and dry and unlike its neighboring countries, do not have much to offer. As Uzbekistan is a double land-locked country, they do not have any natural water bodies except for an artificial reservoir-Charvak lake. This reality check is just to set your expectations right!
HOW TO GET TO SAMARKAND
There is an airport at Samarkand (SKD) and you can directly fly in without touching Tashkent. The flights that operate out of Samarkand are Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Royal Jordanian, Oman Air. If you are flying from Tashkent, Uzbekistan Airways has direct flight and takes under 1 hour to reach.
BY BULLET TRAIN
The bullet train leaves as early as 8:30 AM and reaches in 2 hours. The trains are super luxurious, similar to the trains in Europe. The train has Economy, Business & VIP carriages. An Economy return ticket costs approx. $10 for two and includes breakfast and coffee served on board. You can book your train tickets with Advantour
We did consider renting a car and driving down to Samarkand, The journey takes about 4 hours. After reading blogs on the shortage of petrol stations as you move further from the capital, we decided otherwise. In the most interior places, people sell fuel in bottles on the road and these fuels can wreck havoc with your car.
If you are traveling from Tashkent, the best option is to take the bullet train. It is the cheapest and the fastest option. Be sure to book your tickets in advance, as during peak season, tickets are sold out a week in advance.
GETTING AROUND SAMARKAND
Though the attractions are pretty close to each other, the best option would be to hire a car with driver. As soon as you leave the train station, you will find these private cabs drivers waiting outside with tour package brochures. You can hire a driver for the entire day for anything between $20-$30. Try to haggle as much to get a good deal.
If you prefer to use public transport, Lonely Planet has some excellent suggestions.
MUST SEE PLACES IN SAMARKAND
All the attractions we now see in Samarkand are legacies left behind by the great king Timur. After the invasion by Genghis Khan’s troop, all of Samarkand was in ruins and it was Timur who brought the city to its current glory.
The great traveler, Ibn Battuta described Samarkand as “one of the greatest and finest of cities, and most perfect of them in beauty“.
• REGISTAN – The centerpiece of Samarkand, this azure mosaicked wonder was believed to house wall to wall bazaars in its hey day. This structure has stood the test of time and earthquakes, a testimonial to the outstanding craftsmanship behind it. Registan has an impressive presence and is a photographers dream.
• GUR-E-AMIR – A mausoleum that marks the final resting place of Timur, this stunning building was the inspiration behind Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan was related to Amir Timur.
• SHAH-I-ZINDA – This site is covered in a hue of liquid blue and is a complex of masoluems and temples. Shah-I-Zinda is considered to have the richest tile works in the world.
• BIBI-KHANYM MOSQUE – Legend says that Bibi-Khanym, Timur’s Chinese wife, ordered this mosque to be built as a surprise while he was away.
• ULUGH BEG OBSERVATORY – it showcases some of the world’s most advanced astronomical studies led by a Timurid ruler. The observatory was ahead of its time and the exactness of observations recorded here by the Samarkand astronomers was amazing because they were made without the help of optical instruments, with the unaided eye.
After a busy day filled with sightseeing activities, time to indulge in some delicious Uzbek food :)
WHERE TO STAY IN SAMARKAND
Though you will not find any popular hotel chains in Samarkand, there are plenty of guest houses and B&B’s that will give an authentic Uzbek experience.