The transport options have improved somewhat since the days of Silk Road camel trekking. All of Uzbekistan’s main draws are served by low-cost domestic flights, great road links and high-speed trains. You’ll find shared taxis and bus services in all the cities, plus Tashkent has a decent metro with some wonderfully ornate St Petersburg-style stations.
Not many people can find Uzbekistan on a map, so make it your first job to pinpoint its location with ease. Then you can gleefully point it out to everyone who’s bamboozled by your choice of holiday destination, and wow them with the trivia that it’s one of the world’s only two double-landlocked countries (the other is Lichtenstein). You’ll also be asked repeatedly why on earth you’d want to go to a ‘Stan. What about terrorism, they’ll bleat. Surely there’s nothing to see? Direct all naysayers to this guide.
Timur and his descendants called on ceramicists, artists and architects from all over the empire to beautify the cities of Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara. Their mosques were adorned with the finest murals and mosaics, with techniques and materials imported mainly from Persia. Happily, Uzbekistan’s artisan skills live on and you can pick up handmade ceramics, needlework, silk cloth and miniaturist paintings for just a few dollars in most madrassas, which have largely been transformed into bazaars.
The cities of Tashkent and Bukhara in particular have a rather European vibe – think lakeside beer gardens, landscaped public parks, and cafés next to most of the main tourist attractions. Fuelled by ice-cream, cold beers, and endless pots of green tea, sightseeing in Uzbekistan is all rather jovial.