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Around Uzbekistan by coach

Tashkent city

Amazing nature of Uzbekistan, its centuries-old history, unique monuments of Oriental architecture, hospitality of its people attract tourists from all over the globe. While preparing for a journey and choosing an itinerary in an unknown country, a keen and curious  traveler will certainly consider  such factors as tour price, its comfort and safety, ecological conditions of the destination, possibility of sightseeing and photography, and many other things.

It should be noted that priority factors are those associated with safe transportation. It’s a well-known fact that majority of excursions in most tourist destinations, and in Uzbekistan in particular, imply the usage of transportation means, and two-thirds of these trips account for coach journeys.  Such journeys have many advantages over other types of traveling. First of all they are relatively cheap, and are affordable to broad sections of public. The travel from one destination to another is carried out in no less comfortable conditions as those while traveling by plane. Moreover, from coach window one can view the surrounding nature and beautiful countryside landscapes with nearby settlements.

A coach slowly drives up to the central entrance of the hotel.  It resembles an evening suit: varnished side panels of the coach are shining, broad window glasses are sparkling in the sun. Now the door opens noiselessly and the passengers easily climb the steps and enter the passenger compartment of the coach. They take their seats enjoying the comfort of soft coach seats with high reclining back and folding armrests. The seats are upholstered with elegant blue cloth, the wide aisle is covered with a rug. Matt ivory-beige ceiling pleases the eye. Large window, equipped with curtains and sun blinds, ensure good views. The coach is equipped with video and audio systems and air-conditioning. Soft suspension ensures smooth and noiseless motion of the coach, whereas capacious fuel tanks make it possible to cover the distances of hundreds of kilometers without additional refueling. Baggage compartment underneath the coach, overhead compartments for carry-on luggage, WC, wash sink – all this allows the tourists to enjoy the discomfort-free trip. Without leaving the coach, travelers can have a snack, as there is a mini-kitchen with coffee-machine, a bar, a refrigerator with supply of food and drinking water.

Let’s take a coach tour “Along the Silk Road trails”. Professional guides escort the tourist group throughout the journey and give excursions in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese or any other language appropriate for the tourists.

Tashkent TV tower

The acquaintance with the country starts with its capital. Tashkent is a modern metropolis with the population of 3 million people. Today Tashkent features high-rise buildings, broad avenues, heavy traffic. Tashkent TV tower is 375 metres high, which is 75 metres higher than the famous Eiffel Tower. Tashkent underground is rightfully considered one of the most beautiful in the world.  In 2009 Tashkent celebrated its 2200th anniversary. However the urban settlement, which centuries later turned into the Uzbek capital, developed in the Chirchik valley more than twenty-five centuries ago. In ancient manuscripts the city was known under the name of Yuni, Chach, Shash… As early as the 2nd century CE Tashkent was one of the stopovers on the junction of the Silk Road trails.

There are more than 200 archeological, historic and architectural monuments on the territory of Tashkent.  The tourist coach rides along Navoi avenue, one of the broadest arterial highways of the city, to the memorial of a highly hallowed figure in Muslem world – sheikh Havendi at-Tahur.  The mausoleum above the saint’s grave was constructed according to Amir Temur’s orders in late 14th century. In about 20 metres from the burial vault there stands a small construction, made of baked bricks and crowned with a tent-like dome. This is the mausoleum of the 18th-century Tashkent ruler – Kaldyrgach-bey. In some distance there is a grandiose mausoleum of Yunus-khan from Mogolistan.  In Sibzar, old residential area of the city, on Khazret Imam Square there stands a cluster of historical and architectural monuments, which appeared here within several centuries around the grave of the first imam and Islam missionary in Tashkent Kaffal ash- Shashi. Complex Khazret Imam houses the building of Religious Board of Moslems of Uzbekistan and the library under the Religious Board.  More than 30 000 rarities are kept in this library.  Of great value is the sacred relic: a hand-written Osman Koran, which was compiled in mid-7th century by orders of Khalif Osman. The relic is displayed in a special library room.  The last building to enclose the Khazret Imam square is Jami (Friday) mosque with two 56-metre-high minarets constructed in our time in keeping with the best Central Asian architectural traditions.

Tashkent - Chorsu

Not far from the Khazret Imam square there is Tashkent market Chor-Su – one of the biggest ancient bazaars in Central Asia. The bus turns around the market and reaches Kukeldash madrassah constructed in the 16th century.  It was here that in the ancient times the intersection of caravan roads emerged, thus the name  “chor-su” meaning ‘crossroad”. 

Now the coach passes by the Independent Square and heads for Amir Temur Square, in the centre of which, surrounded with numerous flowerbeds, there towers the monument to Amir Temur – the great military leader and statesman who created a powerful centralized state Movarounnahr. One of the blue domed buildings enclosing the square houses the State Museum of Temurids.

The tour continues and this time the bus makes its way southwest along the highway heading to Samarkand – ‘the heart of the Great Silk Road’.  The way is not too long, only about three hundred kilometers.  The highway crosses the territory of Syrdarya and Jizzak provinces and is a part of the Uzbek national motorway.  Like majority of highways of Uzbekistan this high-speed motorway follows the Silk Road caravan trails. The government of Uzbekistan is carrying out the special programme on reconstruction and rehabilitation of the national motorway.  The main two-lane and four-lane sections of the motorway with asphalt and concrete road surface are under the construction now. This motorway is to meet all international standards. Several interchanges, overpasses and bridges are also being built or reconstructed, which will make it possible to increase the velocity of travel as well as to improve traffic safety.  At the same time the roadside infrastructure is being developed.

The bus drives by Chinaz town located at the confluence of the Chirchik river and one of the two major rivers of Central Asia – the Syr Darya river.  Then the highway crosses the land once called the Hunger Steppe. The water from the Syr Darya river was taken for irrigation of virgin lands of Syrdarya and Jizzak provinces thus helping to develop vast areas for cotton cultivation and to put the nation among the world leading exporters of cotton fibre.

Leaving behind about 200 kilometres of countryside the highway approaches the province centre Jizzak, known from the 10th century as an important stopover on the Great Silk Road. Jizzak marks the end of the Hunger steppe and the coach enters the fertile valley of the Zerafshan river. The highway runs through the mountains where steep slopes of limestone rocks almost overhang the highway.  This passage is known as Tamerlane’s Gates and in the ancient times was used by Temur’s troops. 

Finishing the serpentine descent, the coach enters the territory of Samarkand province.  In the middle of the first millennium BCE this land became home to Sogdiana, one of the ancient states on the territory of Uzbekistan.  On approach to Samarkand the travelers are met by Afrosiab hills, indented by numerous archeological excavations. Buried under 20-metre cultural layer are the ruins of antique city known as Marakanda – the capital of Sogdiana.  In 329 BCE the city was conquered by Alexander the Great, in 1220 it was destroyed by the troops of Genghiz khan and later it was reborn in the southern suburbs of the scorched city site. From 1370 Samarkand became the capital of Amir Temur’s empire. The city fascinated the contemporaries by its unparalleled splendour and was called ‘The radiant points of the globe’. Samarkand historical monuments dating to the times of Timurids are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. 

Samarkand - Gur Emir

Gur Emir mausoleum can be called the real gem of ancient architecture. Amit Temur started the construction of this mausoleum in 1404 for his prematurely deceased grandson Mukhammad Sultan.  But shortly after that Temur himself died and was buried under the high dome of the mausoleum. Dominating the whole city is the colossal, visible from afar, blue dome of Bibi Khanum mosque constructed in 1399-1404 for Temur’s beloved wife. The grandiose portal of the mosque, its faceted minarets and elegant drum of the dome are decorated with exquisite geometrical designs and religious sayings made in kufic script. Then the bus brings tourists to the entrance portal   of Shakhi-Zinda necropolis. This is an architectural complex consisting of eleven mausoleums built within the period from the 11th through the 15th centuries. The mausoleums were constructed around the burial vault of Kussam ibn Abbas, cousin of Prophet Mukhammed, who was killed in the 7th century during the battle with infidels, and who has been  revered by Muslims ever since.

Samarkand - Registan

The heart of Samarkand is Registan Square. When tourists approach this site a majestic view opens up before them: grandiose portal arches and massive pillars of three madrassahs radiate with bright tiles of patterns and inscriptions in Arabic.  The oldest madrassah was constructed in 1420 by Temur’s grandson Mirzo Ulugbek. Being called ‘the scientist on the throne’, he won the world’s fame as a great astronomer.  Sher-Dor madrassah, built in 1636 opposite Ulugbek’s madrassah, is almost its replica in terms of architectural forms.  And between these two impressive ‘giants’ there stands Tillya-Kari madrassah, constructed in the mid-17th century.

The coach drives out to the Chupan-ata hills. Here, in the outskirts of Samarkand, in 1429 Ulugbek ordered to construct an observatory. After Ulugbek’s tragic death the observatory was razed to the ground and only at the beginning of the 20th century during the excavation works there was found the underground part of the main astronomical instrument – a gigantic quadrant. With the help of this instrument Ulugbek managed to estimate with amazing scientific accuracy the coordinates of 1018 stars. 

The next section of the route – south from Samarkand in the direction of Shakhrisabz, which is Temur’s hometown, – is only 160 kilometres. Here the highway runs through the sands of the Kyzylkum desert. The vast expanse of the Karshi steppe appears to tourists eyes. This deserted area conceals in its depths rich resources of natural gas and oil. Beyond Karshi, the Kashkadarya province centre, the highway runs up into the spurs of the Gissar ridge. Centuries ago, in 327 BCE, the local mountain trails were trodden by Alexander the Great’s warriors while pursuing the unsubdued Sogdians.

Shakhrisabz - Ak-Sarai Palace

Amir Temur was born not far from Shakhrisabz in 1336 and many wonderful medieval architectural constructions are connected with his name. The most outstanding construction of Temur is Ak-Sarai Palace. It was under the construction within more than 25 years.  The contemporaries were fascinated by the richness of its decoration and the colossal dimensions of the structure.  At the end of the 16th century, by the orders of Bukhara emir, the palace was ravaged. However, today its majestic ruins make unforgettable impression on visitors. Same can be said about Dorut Tillavat and Dorus-Saodat architectural complexes, which are the burial places of  Temurid dynasty.  Among them there is also the mausoleum which Temur ordered to build for himself during his lifetime. But fate decreed that Gur Emir mausoleum in Samarkand became the burial vault for the ruler of Maveraunnahr.  How thrilling the events of the past are, how many secrets the extant constructions of the past have!  Tourists make notes in their writing pads, take pictures to remember the trip.  And again tourists board the coach to make for the next destination. “Noble Bukhara”, as this city was called in the ancient Orient, is ready to turn over the pages of its glorious history in front of the travelers.

Bukhara - Ark fortress

From a distance there soon become visible city’s two verticals, the symbols of the past and the present: Kalyan minaret and TV tower. Tourists leave the coach at hotel parking lot and set on a walking sightseeing tour round Bukhara. The protected part of the city is compactly built up with unique architectural monuments. In 1997 Bukhara celebrated its 2500th anniversary.  But today’s historical core of the city appeared in the Middle Ages.  In the 4th century there existed a citadel built on the artificial hill in the city centre.  Today one can see austere monumental walls and massive gates of the Ark fortress which in the 16th century became the residence of Bukhara khans.  The fortress retains the throne room of Bukhara Emir and the underground prison zindan.  Opposite the Ark there is a picturesque Bolo-Haus mosque with magnificent multicolumn aivan (roofed terrace) decorated with paintings. Not far away, in park zone, there stands Samanid mausoleum built in the 9th-10th century.  This a real paragon of oriental medieval architecture and the visitors are deeply impressed by the harmony of architectural volumes of this relatively small building faced with baked figured bricks. The heart of Bukhara is the well-known Poi-Kalyan square, which means ‘pedestal of the great’. Since 1129 it has been dominated by a real masterpiece of medieval construction engineering – the legendary 47-metre-high Kalyan minaret. No less captivating is Lyabi-Haus architectural ensemble which was constructed at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries around the ancient pool.  In the outskirts of Bukhara tourists can visit the Chor-Bakr necropolis and marvel at summer residence of the last Bukhara emirs – Sitorai-Mokhi-khosa Palace.

And once again the coach speeds along the highway heading for Urgench. The distance to cover is a bit more than 400 kilometres.  The highway runs through the Kyzylkum Desert – the great desert of Central Asia. Having crossed the bridge over the Amu Darya river the tourists find themselves on the left bank of the river in fertile Khorezm oasis, one of the ancient centres of human civilization. In about 30 kilometres from Urgench there is ancient city of Khiva, which is rightfully called ‘museum in the open’. The historical core of the town developed in the 18th- early 19th century and remained practically undamaged. This fact allowed proclaiming Khiva a town-reserve and UNESCO inscribed Khiva in the World Heritage List.  Leaving the coach at one of the parking lots, tourists proceed along the central street lined with major architectural monuments. The sightseeing starts with ancient Kunya-Ark citadel.  This is a grandiose complex located at the western wall of Ichan-kala – ‘inner town’, and includes Kurnish-khan palace with throne room, harem, treasury, summer and winter mosques.  Above the Kunya-Ark fortress, on the fortification mud wall there towers Akshi-Bobo bastion – the best place to view the whole town: sky-piecing minarets, flat roofs of the dwelling houses, the domes of mausoleums and mosques glittering in the sun, ancient fortified city walls. 

Khiva - Kalta Minor

There are up to 50 mosques in Khiva and almost the same number of minarets.  Creating a fanciful and picturesque townscape, these towers seem to step to the modern life right from the Middle Ages. The most remarkable among them is Islam-Hojja minaret. Being about 56 metres in height it surpassed the Kalyan minaret in Bukhara and can be seen from any point of the city. On Palvan Darvoza square there stands the palace of Khiva khans – Tash-Hauli, which is one of the best examples of early-19th century secular architecture. 

The tour “Along the Silk Road trails” comes to an end. During the tour the travelers got a lot of unforgettable impressions, vivid experience, new knowledge. 

Many unexpected and fascinating discoveries await the travelers who choose such coach tours round Uzbekistan as “Architectural gems of Oriental Renaissance”, “The country of Amir Temur”, “Following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great”, “Following in the footsteps of the Buddhist Monk”, “Ancient customs and traditions of Uzbek people”, “Oriental fairytale” … Many tourists come to Uzbekistan just to satisfy their curiosity, but they inevitably leave the country enriched with knowledge and experience, with strong feeling of friendliness to the amazing country lying in the very heart of the Great Silk Road.

All Tourist Gems of Uzbekistan