Uzbekistan used to be a Soviet Socialist Republic from 1924 until 1991. It declared its state sovereignty in 1991 and since then it has been a secular state, with a presidential constitutional government in place. There has always been a curiosity around Uzbekistan for its stunning Islamic architectural marvels, cultural diversity and rich history. It has also been on traveler’s radar for being a major trading centre along the Silk Road. Travelling to Central Asia was a distant dream for many-many decades but now with simplified visa processes and several flight options, it is no more an undiscovered gem. My recent trip to Uzbekistan turned out to be super fun and I can’t wait to share all the details. My friends and followers have been asking me about my observations, experiences and tips that would be of use for their travel to Uzbekistan. This blog answers all of their queries and will guide everyone to have an unforgettable experience in Uzbekistan. You can also extend your trip to 10 days and include Khiva where I did not go. But Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara must be on every travel plan. 5 to 7 days is an optimum time to plan an unforgettable trip to Uzbekistan.
1.Easy and Simple Visa Process
There is an official electronic visa portal of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Filling your application form will hardly take 5-10 minutes. The visa approval takes 3 working days. I got mine in my mailbox on the third day. When you are making the payment from your credit or debit card, make sure that it is enabled for international payments. So this answers your question that whether Indians need a visa for entry to Uzbekistan. Yes, they very much do need it but the process is smooth. Also, the immigration officer in Tashkent was very friendly and welcoming.
2.Cost Effective Flights
With our very own Indian carrier, Indigo flying to the capital Tashkent in Uzbekistan, things are definitely looking up. You can also take Uzbekistan Airways, Batik Airways and others. A lot of travellers also prefer flights from Dubai because of its direct and easy connectivity to Samarkand. Keep an eye on the ticket prices and don’t miss the big saving days. It takes only 3 hours from New Delhi to be in a fascinating new country.
Here is a tip that I got from a friend. A day flight will get you fetching views of the snow laden Hindu Kush mountain ranges. A window seat on the right is all you need to take in those views.
3.Good Hotels in Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara
You will find hotels in all ranges. Tashkent has more city-type big hotels but in Samarkand and Bukhara, it is advisable to stay in boutique and family owned hotels. The latter may not be grand but they are very cozy. The owners are also very accommodative to special dietary requests or early and late check-ins. The boutique hotels have more local feel about them. I have some very good hotels to recommend in all the three cities but do email me if you want the names. Also, I travelled in the first week of December. It was not a peak season and thus the hotels were available at a very good price. All the hotels were very clean, fully heated and equipped with all the essential amenities. Also, they arranged veg breakfast as we had informed them before hand.
4.Local Sim was a boon
Buying a local sim turned out to be very convenient. Initially, it was not part of my plan because I thought I wouldn’t need it much. However, we really can’t do without internet in today’s times. I felt the need for it at the Tashkent airport itself. I had a few hours to kill before my train to Samarkand and to my surprise, there was no free wifi at the airport. Yes, it may sound weird but that is how it is. Thus, I decided to buy a local sim. My package had 20 GB data and I used it generously throughout my trip. It also turned out to be very helpful in locating nearby attractions, restaurants that served vegetarian food and in booking taxis. I also used it for reading blogs about Uzbekistan during the long train journeys. On the last day, I had enough time at the airport and I did not get bored because I had data to use.
Also you must know that if you have already been to Uzbekistan once and used a local sim, you will not be able to use the sim for the same phone until you get the IMEI of the phone registered. This is a government policy. Either you have to visit the center to get it registered or pay extra bucks at the airport to meet this compliance.
5.Taxi Rides are very pocket friendly
Yandex Go is a taxi service that will help you quickly order an inexpensive official taxi using the site or mobile app. And it is very very good. I used its services extensively from airports to train stations, train stations to hotels, hotels to city centers or other attractions and back to the hotel. They are super cheap and very punctual. Pinning the location is also very easy. The premier cars are better and they are very affordable. You may be lost in conversations initially but once you convert it in Indian rupees or dollars, you will realize that it costs you peanuts. You must download this app and see for yourself. Here, the local sim came in handy for booking taxis from anywhere to everywhere. Even though the taxi drivers speak only Uzbeki or Russian and you may not be able to make conversations with them, they like Indian travellers. They will try and help in whatever way they can. Also, they reach the pinned location without any hassles.
At the airport and train stations, you may have face difficulty in locating your taxi in the crowd, it is best to seek help of the locals. Someone will definitely guide you. I found the locals very friendly. Also, keep a watch on the location of the driver and look around. It is easy to find them.
6. Afrosiyob– High Speed Trains are the best deal of Uzbekistan trip
The high speed trains of Uzbekistan are one of the major highlights of the country. This 600-kilometre high-speed rail connection between Tashkent and Bukhara, two major cities in Uzbekistan has made travelling within the country very simple and efficient. The highest operating speed goes to 210 -250 km/hr or 160 miles per hour. The experience is fabulous and unmissable. I did three train journeys, Tashkent to Samarkand, Samarkand to Bukhara and then Bukhara to Samarkand. And trust me, the tickets sell like hotcakes so book them in advance. There are other trains available but Afrosiyob runs at the highest speed and promises a great experience with spacious carriages, cushy seats, plenty of legroom, generous luggage space, big panoramic windows and restaurant car. Overall, it is a very comfortable and hassle free journey. I loved their railway stations too. My favorite has to be Samarkand.
7. Veg Food is available
A lot of people have asked me about vegetarian food. If you are experimental, you will not face any issues. If you only like Indian food, your options may become limited. But if are up for trying out Uzbeki dishes which have pumpkin and potato and local veggies, you must look for Samsa, Manti, Langman and Uzbeki bread. You will also get lentil soup, tomato and other veggies salads, lots of fruits and sweet pancakes. Kasha is a kind of porridge made from various grains, or a sweet milky rice porridge. Some of the small shops also sell fried bhaturas with potato fillings. I quite liked it. In family homestays and boutique hotels, they also serve home-made marmalades, pancakes, and variety of cheese that can be had with breads. At the Tashkent airport, I also tasted Khachapuri (a bit like a very cheesy pizza puff) and Kinkali (dumplings filled with cheese and mushroom). I did miss out on trying rice pilaf with mutton (plov), meat kebabs, and meat-filled pastries (somsa) but that was entirely my choice. You must try out the amazing dry fruits and the variety of fruit teas there. I bought lots of tea and dry fruits from Chorsu bazaar in Tashkent.
Do check out the next blog for my itinerary and the experiences that I loved most in Uzbekistan.