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10 Tourist Routes in Uzbekistan You Are Probably Unfamiliar With

Amazing sights you must see

Фото: Depositphotos

In terms of tourism, Uzbekistan is primarily known for its ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. However, there are several completely new directions available for tourists. Among them are unique historical sights, nature monuments and brand-new cultural sites, which attract travelers from all over the world. The Kursiv edition has prepared a list of the top 10 new routes for traveling across Uzbekistan.

Louvre in the desert

In the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, which occupies almost a third of the territory of Uzbekistan, everyone can find something interesting that will match his interests. One of the main centers of attraction for those who travel across the region is the Savitsky Museum of Art. It is located in the city of Nukus and allows guests to observe the largest collection of Turkestani and Russian modernism from the first half of the twentieth century.

There are about 100,000 art pieces in the museum. Its art collection is the best in Asia and the second largest collection of the Russian avant-garde. In 2001, The Guardian described it as “one of the finest museums in the world.”

Karakalpakstan is located between two deserts - Karakum and Kyzylkum. The dried-up Aral Sea, which is now a symbol of an ecological catastrophe, has also become a tourist attraction. With its apocalyptic landscape and graveyard for sea ships in the former port of Muynak, the Aral Sea is a popular spot for professional photographers from all over the world. Also, this is a venue for Element, a festival of electronic music.

The region is tremendously rich with archaeological monuments. There are more than 300 archaeological sites on its territory, mainly from the times of the Khorezm civilization and the age of Zoroastrianism.

Switzerland in Uzbekistan

Ecotourists may be interested in visiting Zaamin National Park in the Jizzakh region; it's located just two hours by car from Tashkent. The park, which occupies 26,840 hectares, also includes a nature reserve. It was established in 1968 in the Turkestan mountain range and accounts for 8,770 hectares. This land should help in preserving the unique juniper forests and local fauna. In heights, this mountain range varies from 1,670 to 4,200 meters above sea level.

The flora in Zaamin is so vivid that many describe this area as Uzbek Switzerland. There are about 700 species of unique plants growing in the park; 13 of them are considered endangered. The fauna of the park is also diverse. For example, bears and snow leopards live here.

At an altitude of two thousand meters above sea level, there is a health resort called Zaamin. Thanks to clean air and beautiful climate, this resort is popular for climatoprophylactic and climatotherapeutic procedures for children and adults who struggle with respiratory or nervous problems.

Homeland of Amir Timur

The famous commander Amir Timur was born in the small village of Khoja-Ilgar near Shakhrisabz in the Kashkadarya region. The history of the city goes back to the third century BC. In the annals of ancient Chinese history, this site was mentioned as the city of Sousse, which was the first local city to establish trade relations with China. In the second half of the second century BC, this town received another name – Kesh and served as the capital of Sogd - one of the Achaemenid empire provinces.

Later, Shakhrisabz became the first capital of the state of Amir Timur. Today the historic center of the city is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Many objects of the Timurid era are still there and can be observed. These include the remains of the fortress wall, built during the reign of Amir Timur, and the 57-meter-high ruins of the ancient palace Aksaray. Nearby are the Kok-Gumbaz cathedral mosque, the Dorut-Tilovat memorial complex, as well as the Dorus-Saodat, Shamsad-Din Kulyala, and Gumbazi-Seyidan mausoleums. The best option to reach the Shakhrisabz is the road from Samarkand, which goes through the Takhtakarach pass in the Zarafshan mountains. While you are on the way, you can enjoy all these beautiful views down the road.

However, Kashkadarya is famous not only for the hometown of Amir Timur. Other popular destinations are the Gissarak water reservoir 35 km away from Shakhrisabz, the GissarNational Park with its juniper forestry, four-thousand-meter-high peaks, deep caves, and canyons. The high-mountain villages of Gilan and Kul, located at an altitude of 2,300 meters above sea level, are also well known among tourists. This point is the beginning of a road to Khazrat Sultan, the highest peak in Uzbekistan (4,643 meters above sea level).

Oasis in Kyzyl Kum

Water sports lovers may be interested in Aydar Lake, a large artificial reservoir in the Aydar-Arnasay system of lakes, located in the northeastern part of Uzbekistan. The system of lakes includes three salt lakes: Aydarkul, Arnasay and Tuzkan, and covers a total area of about four thousand square kilometers. The lakes are located in a saline depression in the southeastern part of the Kyzyl Kum desert. The shores of the lake stretch from the Nurata district of the Navoi region to the Farish and Mirzachul districts of the Jizzakh region as long as 200 km.

The drainless lake Aydarkul is sometimes called the "sea in the sands" for its sandy beaches and saltwater. There are no settlements and highways near the lake but tourists can find here a bunch of guesthouses and camp grounds. Many love to spend their time at the lake for fishing.

Sarmyshsay - Travel to the Stone Age

In the Navoi region (45 km north-east of the city of Navoi), on the southern slope of the Karatau mountain, near the Kata-Karga pass, there is the Sarmyshsay area with petroglyphs of the Stone Age. According to the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, in the Neolithic Era (4th - 5th millennium BC) tribes of hunters and fishermen of the Celtaminar culture settled there. The convenient location of the area plus the availability of fresh water and animals made Sarmyshsay a sacred place where ancient people used to perform their rituals. 

Petroglyphs of Sarmyshsay differ in age, style and plot. The vast majority of pictures are images of bulls, deer and goats dating back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. The ancient artists used the so-called animal style, which was typical for tribes of the Scythian circle (early Iron Age of the 9th-2nd centuries BC). The size of the Sarmyshsay "gallery of petroglyphs" is truly enormous - 20 square kilometers. According to some estimates, more than 10,000 petroglyphs were found in Sarmyshsay.

To Margilan for Silk

If you ask any Uzbek where the best silk product can be found, he would answer: in Margilan. According to legend, the name of the city is associated with Alexander the Great, who named it in honor of the dish "Murjinon", which locals presented him. The history of Margilan, located in the center of the Great Silk Road, dates back to the 2nd - 1st centuries BC. 

Margilan is famous for its ancient traditions of making unique types of silk fabrics, created with help of the ancient abrbandi technique. To make a tissue colorful and unique, its threads should be split into various sections and then painted in different colors. Ornaments of Margilan fabrics are still considered a work of decorative and applied art.

In modern Margilan, there are three factories for the production of silk: Yodgorlik, Faizulodin and Atlas. However, there are many self-employed artisans. The Yodgorlik factory (established in 1972) is especially popular among tourists. For many decades, the manual method of producing antique fabrics on ancient wooden hand spinning machines has been carefully preserved here. Atlas Bayrami, the international festival of silk, is also held annually in Margilan, when more than 300 types of atlases, carpets, fabrics, and other products are available on display.

Kokand - the City of the Last Khans

Kokand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, even though it was mentioned as an independent city just in the 10th century. Since the 18th century, the city has become the capital of the Kokand Khanate and a local religious center. Due to its geographical location at the entrance to the Fergana Valley, Kokand was an important point on the Great Silk Road. Trade of various arts and crafts (pottery, woodcarving, etc.) were highly developed in the city. Today the city is a major handicraft center.

The most interesting architectural objects of Kokand were created in the 18th – 19th centuries when the Kokand Khanate reached a peak of its prosperity. Among them are the luxurious palace of the last ruler of the Fergana Valley Khudoyarkhan (19th century), Jami Mosque (late 18th - early 19th century), Norbut-biy madrasah (late 18th century), Madarikhan mausoleum (19th century), Emir Madrasah (18thcentury) and the tomb of Dakhma-i-Shakhon (XIX century). The palace complex of Khudoyarkhan was built in 1871 in the traditional style of Central Asian architecture. It’s known for its unique interior and exterior decoration painted in the oriental style.

There is the oldest Uzbekistani Museum of Local Lore in Kokand established in 1925. The road from Tashkent to Kokand winds through the picturesque mountain pass Kamchik, which is also known for its 19.2-kilometer railway tunnel. The city is also home to numerous artisan workshops that attract tourists with local products and souvenirs.

See the bridge in Karshi

Karshi is the administrative center of the Kashkadarya region of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In 2006, the city celebrated its 2700th anniversary.

The most interesting attraction of the city is the Karshi Bridge, built in 1583 in the Persian style. The structure has several names: Amir Timur Bridge, Sheibanid Bridge, Kashkadarya Bridge and Nikolaevsky Bridge. The construction of the building was launched on the initiative of Abdullah Khan II, who tried to make the settlement attractive for trade caravans. Since then, the bridge has become one of the symbols of the city.

There are many other historical monuments in Karshi including the memorial complex of the famous commander, politician, the Prophet companion and physician Muhammad Abu Ubayd ibn al-Jarrokh, the only Central Asian women’s madrasah and mosque of Odin (16th century), the Kok-Gumbaz cathedral mosque (16th century), Kilichboy madrasah (1914), and KhuzhaAbdulaziz madrasah (1909). There is also an old reservoir in Karshifor collecting water - Sardoba, built in the 14th century, and the old Karshi baths of the 16th century.

High-Mountain Observatory Maidanak

The Kashkadarya region also has one of the most amazing structures in Central Asia - the high-altitude observatory Maidanak. It was built in 1970 on the western part of the Maidanak plateau, 45 kilometers from Shakhrisabz as a permanent expedition of the Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Uzbek Soviet Republic.

According to several studies, the quality of the Maidanak images is 80% higher than images in any other place in the world. It is considered to be one of the best observatories in the Northern Hemisphere. In perfect silence, you can watch the sky through a telescope capable of seeing extragalactic objects.

Due to the harsh climatic conditions, the observatory is closed for the winter and opens only in the spring. On the way to Maidanak, there are several natural attractions: the LangarskyCanyon with 100-meter rocky walls, the Langar-ota mausoleum, an illegal salt mine where salt is still mined by hand, as well as the Bek-Terak mountain area.

Derbent's Iron Gate

One of the most mysterious places in Uzbekistan and throughout Central Asia is the famous Iron Gate mountain pass in the Boysun district of the Surkhandarya region in the territory of the village of Derbent. Since ancient times, this opening played an important role as the shortest way between Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent to Bactria and India. It was used by trade caravans and ancient rulers’ troops. 

The Iron Gate had been repeatedly mentioned in written sources by Chinese, Greek and Arab historians and geographers. For example, in 630, the Chinese traveler Xuanzang described this gorge as a defensive passage covered with iron and locked with two-winged gates. Another traveler, Arab geographer Al-Yakubi, who described the 9th-century city in Sogd, also mentioned this passage. The famous Spanish traveler Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo also passed through this gate while heading to Maverannahr for an audience with Amir Timur. He wrote that the gates protect the Samarkand kingdom from the side of India Minor, and also bring the city huge income every year.”

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Samarkand Waits for Sports Tourists

What Uzbekistan is doing to promote sports tourism

Photo: Samarkand Half Marathon/Катя Зыкина

In 2025 Uzbekistan is going to host the Fourth Asian Youth Games where athletes from 45 states are expected to take part in 20 sports events. Currently, the country is doing its best to build an infrastructure suitable for the international event and enough to take on board more than 6,000 foreign guests. For example, Uzbekistan plans to build an Olympic village at an area of 150 hectares as well as a 270-hectare park and a five-kilometer-long riverside for rowing along the Chirchik River.  
 
Uzbekistan’s authorities have been making a bet on sports tourism. Due to its geographical location and climate, the country has almost ideal conditions for doing sports in the open air throughout the year. In Soviet times, Uzbekistan used to be a venue of many state-wide sports events while Uzbek sportsmen successfully represented USSR on the international stage. 
 
These days, the history of the modern sport of the country is being shaped not only by professional athletes but also by regular people who are used to keeping an active lifestyle.

Everybody Run

Running sport in Uzbekistan has been actively developing in recent years. There are big communities of marathon, triathlon, and pentathlon runners in the country.

“We have a half marathon with 3,000 participants on the closed-for-vehicles streets of our capital. No one could imagine this five years ago,” said Malik Karimov, co-founder of the Tashkent Runners community.

Similar running events are also held in other big cities, including Samarkand Half Marathon – the most famous marathon in Uzbekistan, which has been held since 2019. People love this event because they can observe the main sights in the city. 
 
The very first marathon gathered 1,176 runners from 25 countries. According to Mirkhan Sagitov, curator and co-founder of the Tashkent Runners, there were just 100 locals, which means that the tourist potential of the event is huge.

“Usually, each participant has a companion such as family members or friends. They need accommodation, food and souvenirs. Some hotels even offer special discounts for runners,” he said.

In 2020 Samarkand Half Marathon was online due to the pandemic. More than 3,000 participants from 37 states had registered in the application to run various distances on their own.

“Samarkand Half Marathon is one of the biggest tourism projects in Uzbekistan. I would say that it’s a cultural and tourist project, not just a sports event. Because the marathon occurs on the first Sunday of November, we make the tourist season longer, which is no doubt good. In the first event, there were a lot of Kazakhstanis. Later on, the number of sportsmen from Kyrgyzstan and Russia has grown tremendously,” Sagitov added.

Currently, organizers of that event think about how they can repeat the success in other regions of the country. For example, they plan to have a Zaamin Ultra in the Zaamin National Park in the Jizzakh region. 
 
According to Maksim Proschenko, co-founder of the Nordic walking school called Eurasia, Uzbekistan can increase the attractiveness of its sights with the help of such events. Sports tourists can always combine sport and spare time to see historical monuments.

New Achievements

Today Uzbekistan is an interesting venue for both summer and winter sports. “In past years, Uzbekistani authorities thought that skiing was not suitable for our country because of the warm climate. However, everything has changed these days,” said Behzod Yakubov, chairman of the Ski Sports Federation of Uzbekistan.
 
There is only one modern ski resort in Uzbekistan, Amirsoy, which is located 65 km from Tashkent on the slopes of the Chatkal ridge in the western part of the Tien Shan mountains. Amirsoy meets all the international standards and works throughout the year. The ski resort complex takes an area of 892 km and its first stage was built in less than two years, starting operations in December 2019.
 
The design and construction of the resort were carried out by specialists from Italy, Germany, Austria, Argentina, Spain and Denmark. The project was implemented by the Andorran company PGI Management for $100 million. Now the second stage of the resort construction is underway.

The other two points that attract skiing fans in the Tashkent region are Chimgan and Beldersay resorts. They are located just five kilometers from each other and both have Soviet-era chairlifts. Currently, the region wants to build a large-scale ski cluster project, which would include Beldersay - Chimgan – Nanai in one resort zone with 60 km of ski trails and 29 km of cableway in Chimgan and Beldersay. The project, which costs about $480 million in total with $280 million as direct investments, should be started in December 2021. At the first stage, the project owner is going to build ski trails and relevant infrastructure at the expense of a concessional loan from the state of France for €48 million. The concept of the resort and its economic model were also developed by a consortium of French companies thanks to a grant from the FASEP fund for €750,000.
 
Another $300 million project of an all-season tourist complex with ski slopes is planned to be built in the Zaamin district of the Jizzakh region. This area is considered as an ideal place by one Turkish company, which is already working on new roads and communication infrastructure. However, the contractor for cableway and chairlift construction is the Doppelmayr company from Austria.
 
According to Behzod Yakubov, the country with a population of 34 million people has great potential for the development of alpine skiing and the winter recreation industry as a whole. If the country succeeds in the implementation of that “winter potential” strategy, the attractiveness of Uzbekistan would surge with a multiplier effect for the regions and the country’s economy. As the Ski Sports Federation of Uzbekistan chairman noted, these ski resorts might be attractive for tourists and athletes from neighboring states in Central Asia.

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Photo: Elbek Aliyev

Investments for Infrastructure

This year is a Year of Supporting Youth and Improving Population Health in Uzbekistan. The country plans to modernize 34 sports facilities and build 23 new ones and has already allocated about $38 million for these purposes. Moreover, the country is going to actively promote sports among its citizens.
 
In October 2020, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree, which was aimed at the development of mass sports. According to the document, the government will allocate roughly $10 million annually for the promotion of running, mini-football, cycling, badminton, streetball and workouts. An additional $133 million will be allocated for the construction of pedestrian and bicycle paths.
 
More and more new bicycle paths in Tashkent and other cities stimulate more people to ride their bikes, says Yelena Kun, secretary-general of the Uzbekistan Triathlon Federation. She believes that once foreign tourists are regular visitors to Uzbekistan, their example will contribute to the development of mass sports in the country.

“Currently Uzbekistan is just at the very beginning of the development of sports tourism but I have no doubt that active guests from other countries and all these sports events such as the Asian Youth Games will support the promotion of mass sports in our republic,” Elena Kun said.

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