from livestock on flights to the next top travel destination
The Silk Road is the world’s oldest and longest trade route. Right in the heart sits Uzbekistan, a country with monumental architecture, fascinating culture and a world-changing history, as well as five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
My first trip to this unique destination was in 1993. The Soviet Union had just broken up, throwing the world stage into confusion. Uzbekistan, previously behind the Red Curtain, was finally open for intrepid explorers.
I arrived in Tashkent with the names of a few local contacts scribbled on a piece of paper. It quickly became clear that street names and addresses were unreliable, and I found myself lost. By pure luck, a local gentleman I asked for help happened to speak English. He agreed to help me - but only if I signed a 12-page business contract in Russian! The contract would help him get the much desired foreign exchange to import items from abroad.
The adventures continued when I flew to Urgench. As the only foreigner on the flight, I was the first one to board the plane, before even the airline staff. I entered an empty aircraft and started searching for a seat with a working seatbelt. Then, I waited 20 minutes in a haunted aircraft. Finally, other passengers started to board - along with their goats, chickens and other livestock! During any moment of turbulence on the following flight, their cries would fill the plane.
All was worth it for the unique window I got into the legendary Silk Route. Uzbekistan is known to be the most interesting region of the 6,400-kilometer-long Silk Road, which spans from Xian, China, across Central Asia and all the way to Europe.
The hangover of Soviet rules and bureaucracy continued to make Uzbekistan a sometimes challenging place to travel until the death of President Karimov in late 2016. However, the new government is looking at tourism in a very different manner.
The government is making efforts to promote travel to this extraordinary country, starting with simplifying the visa process. As of February this year, citizens of select countries, including Canada, U.S. and the European Union, are now able to get an Uzbekistan visa in only two working days. Visas will be good for 30 days, where before only 7- or 15-days visas were available.
What’s more, there are also plans to introduce an easy-to-use e-visa system this July, so that travellers can apply for and receive their visas completely online.
Getting around within the country is improving too. An all-new fast train means travel between the cultural hubs of Khiva and Bukhara is both more comfortable and hours shorter than before, while the opening of nine checkpoints along the Tajikistan border has created all-new touring possibilities. Just last week, the border of Penjikent, a tourist favourite, has also been reopened.
More flights within the country have also been introduced, including the very popular route Urgench (Khiva) to Bukhara, as well as flight connections with other Central Asian cities.
All these changes make Uzbekistan a top travel choice for 2018. Though there won’t be livestock on your flight, this country still provides a once-in-a-lifetime window into the legacy of the Silk Road.
Splendours of Uzbekistan
Discover Uzbekistan, the jewel of the Stans, with this 12-day journey through the country’s legendary history, intimately intertwined with that of the Silk Road. Dive into the thousand-year-old legacies of Khiva and Bukhara, then explore the mesmerizing ruins of Shakrisabz. End in the unequaled World Heritage city of Samarkand.
Route of the Caravans: The Silk Road
Retrace the Silk Road on this epic 18-day journey through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan. Embark on an exploration of thousands of years of history as we rediscover the highlights of this ancient trade route, including monumental architecture and fascinating local culture.
Legendary Silk Road by Private Train: From Ashgabat to Almaty
Traverse the jewels of the legendary Silk Road in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, enjoying spectacular scenery and historic surroundings from the comforts of our private train. This 14-day journey can also be done in reverse.