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GEM ON THE SILK ROAD

Uzbekistan offers a rich experience of art and culture.

A landlocked country in Central Asia, Uzbekistan was once part of the oldest and most prominent empires and is inexorably linked to the ancient caravan route – the great silk road. I had the opportunity to visit the country in late July at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism of Uzbekistan. Organised along with the Bukhara based Asia Tour, I had the opportunity to see and experience a country just emerging into its own, and making its way into the world at large. To say I was excited at the opportunity would be an understatement.

Landing along with my fellow tour companions on a flight specially chartered by Uzbekistan Airways from Kuala Lumpur to Bukhara (flights usually connect Malaysia with the capital, Tashkent), we ate dinner outdoors at Nodir Devonsegi and watched a traditional folk dance performance, a wonderful welcome to Uzbekistan indeed. Being here gave me a sense of the rich history and diversity of this nation. This was going to be a truly unique experience.

The following day I visited the Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace, the residence of the Emir of Bukhara. The palace’s main building consists of several reception halls and the Emir’s private rooms. Here one can also see walls covered with mirrors, in particular Venetian mirrors, Japanese mirrors set in fancy frames, and even trellis. The following day I visited the Po-i-Kalyan which means “The Foot of the Great”, an Islamic religious complex located around the Kalyan minaret in Bukhara.

The complex is located in the historic part of the city. Since 713, several ensembles of main mosques were built in this area, to the south of the Ark citadel. One of these complexes, burned down by Genghis Khan during the siege of Bukhara, was built in 1121 by the Karakhanid ruler Arslan-khan. The Kalyan minaret is the only one of the structures of Arslan-han complex that was kept safe during that siege.

One of the other interesting sites here is the Bolo Hauz Mosque. One of the most elegant-looking mosques in Bukhara, the carved stalactites of its elegant wooden pillars still carry echoes from the royal court mosque in the Ark and the high carved and painted decoration of the Bolo Hauz (1712) still draws an admiring faithful after its brief Soviet interlude as a proletarian worker’s club. The mosque’s facade again attracts the eye with a veritable riot of restored primary colour and its 12-metre high iwan still stands as one of the highest, most graceful and most beautifully decorated in Central Asia. The 12m-high pillars, 20 in all, that support the iwan (rectangular space in a mosque) are so slim that they look like super-sized chopsticks. They are made from elm, poplar and walnut wood.

 High speed railways have come to define the essence of development and Uzbekistan’s newly introduced bullet train is no exception. I boarded this train to Samarkand and marvelled at the speed at which one can travel.The 344-kilometre high-speed line is capable of speeds up to 250 kmph, with a total travel time between Tashkent and Samarkand of about two hours. In service for the past six years the high speed rail is one of the country’s technological developments and connects Uzbekistan’s most important cities, efficiently. I must note here that the architeture of the train stations is worth highlighting. Beautiful art work and construction line the station which is a destination in and of itself.

One of the most significant architectural ensembles is the Maqami Imam Bukhariy Gur Emir Mausoleum which was built in the southwestern part of Samarkand at the beginning of the 15th century. This majestic complex consisted of a khanaka, the madrasah of Muhammad Sultan - grandson of Amir Timur, and, later, tombs of Amir Timur himself and his descendants.

The madrasah, a small building with a typical yard composition was meant to teach the children Samarkand nobility.

For those interested in nature, there is the mountain range of Beldersay which is a popular ski resort. It is situated in Gazalkent district of Tashkent. The surroundings of the Beldersay recreation zone attract many guests by magnificent mountains and evergreen firs. The Beldersay area captivates with its beauty and extraordinary natural landscape. The resort visitors will find here all the conditions for a wonderful holiday.

Nature here is diverse and picturesque. From moutains, forests, waterfalls, caves and lakes – and deserts, there is someone for everyone. There is even the opportunity to ski in the mountains here with a number of resorts emerging. There is also the desert safari through the sand dunes.

 Of particular note when traveling here is the Art and Culture of this country. There’s carpet weaving which is perfect in terms of technique, wood carving and gold embroidery among others. There’s also pottery and jewellery making which is known for its artistic flair and taste.  The beauty of its architecture is also not to be missed, especially with regard to the mosques which are indeed works of art with beautiful carvings and structures all around.

For culinary enthusiasts there is the traditional Plov which is a rice dish with meat and vegetables. Bukhara’s Doston House, a traditional Uzbek restaurant housed in a 19th century building is highly recommended. Beautifully decorated in traditional design, with carvings along the walls, the food served here keeps to tradition. The Plov is delicious here as are a variety of baked goods, and fresh produce. The quality is excellent and the taste divine. It certainly is Uzbekistan’s contribution to the culinary world.

The bazaars of Uzbekistan are a sight unto themselves. A modern social club of sorts, the bazaars, particularly Chor-Su bazaar has been around since the great silk road passed through Tashkent. Located in the heart of the Old City under the bright turquoise dome is a place where varieties of spices, fruits and vegetables are sold as are traditional carpets, arts and crafts items.  Through the ages these bazaars have been the centre of people’s lives connecting communities, bridging lives.

Uzbekistan is a country that combines the ancient with the modern. Its location makes it easily accessible while its cultural preservation has ensured that its riches are there for all to enjoy. For a trip focused on history and culture, food and art, this is a place that should certainly tick all boxes.

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