JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH VIKTORIYA YALANSKAYA FROM SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN !
Viktoriya Yalanskaya, an Uzbek, has been working as a guide since last eighteen years. From 2008
guidance became her full time job and she loves it. Her passion is applied art i.e. embroidery, fabrics, cloths, jewellery, meeting craftsmen because they are full of ideas and inspire her to read more and more about art. She also loves yoga and fitness. In her spare time she reads books about Silk road, take photos and definitely try not to miss any performance in Opera and Ballet House in Tashkent. She believes in life making mistakes is a part of learning.
Samarkand is Uzbekistan’s second largest city after Tashkent, the capital. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia, Samarkand has lived through many historical events and upheavals and was an important city on the Silk Road linking China and the Mediterranean. It is not far from Tajikistan and many people that live in and around the city are Tajiks.
Located in the Zerafshan River valley, in north-eastern Uzbekistan, the city enjoys the benefits of abundant natural resources. It is called an invaluable treasury of the culture of the Central Asian nations. Major industries include cotton and silk processing, canning, and the production of fertilizers, textiles, and wine.
Much of the architecture around the city today is credited to Amir Timur, who rebuilt Samarkand from scratch and made it the capital city of the Timurid Empire. Amir Timur is deemed a national hero and his statues are all over the country.
Modern Samarkand is divided into two parts: the old city, and the new city, which was developed during the days of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. The old city includes historical monuments, shops, and old private houses; the new city includes administrative buildings along with cultural centres and educational institutions.
Uzbekistan has been one of the most underrated destinations. As a local, what do you think distinguishes your country from the rest of the world?
Definitely Uzbekistan is a country for people of many interests.Visit us –
For the love of history and architecture : We have incredible monuments, some desert castles date back to the 2nd century B.C, amazing mausoleum of 10th century, minarets of the 12th century and glorious mausoleums, mosques, madrassah and palaces of the middle age and early 20th century.
For the love of art : You can find here absolutely magnificent tile work (terracotta, mosaic, majolica). We have a huge collection of avant-garde and modern art ( but for this you should go to autonomous republic of Karakalpakistan, where also you can visit our shrinking Aral Sea).
For the love of trekking : We have a great opportunity to climb up to Tian-Shan range of mountains which is known for its beautiful landscape, peaceful and untouched nature. You can spend several nights in a desert yurt camp swimming and riding camels. Under a clear sky and away from civilization since there is no phone or Wi-Fi reception there.
For the love of culture and religions : Uzbekistan is a land of folklores, culture and religions. You can find here the ruins of Tower of Silence (Zoroastrian religion), Buddha temples, Stupa, Nestorian (Christian) temple , Synagogues, Mosques, Russian Orthodox, Catholic Cathedrals, Armenian Church and Korean Church.
For the love of shopping : Uzbekistan is the land to buy silk (we call it “atlas”) or silk and cotton (“adras” in our language) fabric from masters, incredibly beautiful ceramic from craftsmen who offer you to participate in Master classes . You can even stay for a night or more in their houses with their family, it’s an opportunity to blend into the local life style. You can also buy hand-made knife and scissors, miniatures, jewelry, an amazing embroidery (we call it “Suzani”), hand- made silk and wool carpets, lovely wooden jewelry boxes, book-stands, bread- stamps, inexpensive designers outfits, handbags, woollen socks and scarves, for girls hand painted hair pins, puppets and a lot more.
When would you say is the best time to visit Uzbekistan?
The best time to visit Uzbekistan is Spring (April-May) or Autumn (end of August to beginning of November).
Although if you want to avoid crowd, you can also visit us in the Summer season. Summers are hot and dry but the day can be easily divided into two parts for fruitful exploration. From morning until midday and four in the evening until eight. Umbrella is useful for escaping the scorching heat in summer and rain in autumn.
In winter its quite chilly and windy. Carry moisturiser (for dry skin).
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Samarkand? Would you recommend renting a car in the city for easy travel?
Uzbekistan currently consists of 600 km of HSR (High Speed Rail) track which uses Talgo 250 equipment, branded as Afrosiyob, then Sharq which is a more old-fashioned train, it is slower than the Afrosiyob and also cheaper (about half the price) and lastly the night train.
If you have reached Samarkand by one of these trains and your hotel is in the old part of the city, you aren’t too far from the popular Siab market or Bibi- hanum Mosque. In that case, you may use bus #1 which starts near the train station. It will easily bring you to the Siab market or you may go uphill to Bibi-hanum Mosque. By bus #3 you can go to Registan square from the train station.
If you want comfort, taxis can take you to any part of Samarkand and it shall cost you from 3 up to 5 USD maximum per cab. Agree on a price with a driver before you set off. Taxis can also be arranged through the hotels and guesthouses. If you don’t speak Uzbek or Russian have your destination and a nearby landmark written down in advance in Cyrillic.
However, popular monuments are not located far from each other. Hence, if your hotel is in the old part of the city, you don`t need a car. Most places can be reached on foot. The four main monuments are located at a walkable distance. You may still catch a taxi or book a car from the hotel, however, renting a car in Samarkand is a new concept and doesn’t function as smoothly as you would expect it.
What are your top three must visit places in Samarkand?
The most interesting and picturesque places are :
Gur-amir or Tamerlane`s mausoleum, was constructed in the 15th century. It marks the final burial place of Amir Timur, founder of the Timurid Empire, and his grandson Ulugh Beg. Reflect on his life while looking at the largest piece of jade (greenstone) in the world. It is said that Amir Timur was actually never expected to be buried here; he had already built himself a crypt in his hometown of Shakhrisabz and had completed Gur-e-Amir in 1404 for one of his grandsons. However, in 1405, Timur died unexpectedly of pneumonia in Kazakhstan. Because it was winter, the road back to Shakhrisabz was blocked by snow, so he was buried here instead.
For good pictures better come in the morning or after 4.00 p.m. Also a light show illuminates its beautiful domes and courtyards in the night, so you can expect to take impressive photos after dinner.
Opening hours: 9 am - 7 pm daily Entrance fees: 30.000 sum (11.200 per 1 USD) How To Reach : It lies roughly 500 meters away from the Registan. You can reach there in 15 minutes by foot
Registan Square (15-17 Th century) : The Registan is a public square, which has gained worldwide fame. Located in the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand, the square is surrounded on three sides by three madrasahs: Tilla-Qori Madrasah, Ulugbek Madrasah and Sher-Dor Madrasah. Today, the Registan is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Samarkand. Visit it for photos, good time is the second part of a day or at night. They organize some light and sound show in Registan Square (after 8.00 p.m. need to find it out from the hotel or the guide) which illuminates the whole square, creating a fairy tale straight out of the Arabian Nights.
The Ulugh Beg Madrasah is the oldest building of the Registan Ensemble dating back to the early 14th century. A well-known mathematician, astronomer and grandson of Amir Timur, Ulughbek, who succeeded him and assumed the authority in the 14th century and gave an order to build the madrassah that would later be renamed in his honor. Once it has been one of the finest universities in the whole Orient, it was the largest scientific-educational establishment in Samarkand where students were taught philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, theology. However today, only its utter beauty remains.
The second Madrasah to be built on the Registan square is the Sher-Dor Madrasah from 1619 until 1636 by the Shaybanids. It is one of the very few religious buildings flouting the general Aniconism in Islam. The name comes from the images adoring the entrance i.e. of two big golden tigers carrying a sun on their backs and heading after white fallow-deer. Sher means tiger (or lion) and the name is translated as “adorned with tigers”. It was this plot that later became a national symbol of Uzbekistan. In the evenings of spring and summer, there’s a traditional performance that takes place right inside Sher-Dor Madrasah. The performances showcase a genre of music called Shashmaqam with instruments such as the gijak (a four-stringed bowed spike fiddle), the doira (a drum), the stringed dutar (a two-stringed lute), and the tanbur (a long-necked string instrument). Starts at 7 pm daily and lasts for 1 hour.
Built only 10 years after the Sher-Dor, the Tilya-Kori Madrasah by the Shaybanids features a wonderful mosque in its quiet courtyard. Tilla Kori means “gilded”. Among all three madrassah, this erection has a rich decoration of walls that leaves everyone impressed with the abundance of golden colors. As the central piece of the whole square, it certainly stands out the most. Its ceiling gives out an illusion. It is made out of incredibly intricate gold mosaics and looks like a dome, but it’s actually completely flat.
Registan opening hours: 8 am - 7 pm daily Registan entrance fees: 50.000 (11.200 per 1 USD) How To Reach: The Registan is a short drive from Samarkand’s International Airport. Otherwise, you can get buses 122, 30, 54, 77, 92 or 99 that pass near Registan.
Shah-i-Zinda Complex, built in different epochs is a blue tiled maze from the 14th century, where you can lose yourself in infinite geometric patterns. Shah-i-Zinda translates to ‘Tomb of the Living King’. This architectural complex consists of 44 tombs in more than 20 mausoleums. Better arrive here in the morning for great pictures.
Opening hours: 7 am - 7 pm daily Entrance fees: 30.000 sum (11.200 per 1 USD) How To Reach : From Registan 30 minutes by foot or 10 minutes taxi ride
Bibi- Khanym Mosque was built in the 15 th century. The Mosque was erected on Timur’s order after his raid of Delhi. Although the construction started, but due to its daunting plan, the courtyard mosque was not built to last. Still the facades, especially the majestic entrance arch with its height of 35 meters, will impress you nonetheless. One of the biggest mosques in the Islamic world, this could hold up to 10,000 worshippers. The morning is the best time for taking photos.
Opening hours: 8 am - 8 pm daily Entrance fees: 30.000 sum (11.200 per 1 USD) How To Reach: From the Registan area, 15 minutes by foot.
What are the best day trips (a few hours drive away) for nature, culture and history from Samarkand?
A short day trip from Samarkand is a trip to the mountains by car along the Great Silk Road. You will get an opportunity to try lamb or chicken cooked for several hours in tandoor (oven made from bricks and mud).
You might also go to Urgut, another city lying high in the hills next to the Tajik border but close to Samarkand. There you can visit a place which we call Chor – Chinor (four sycamore trees) in which the oldest one is more than 1160 years. It is one of the most interesting places in Urgut. The tree is hollow from inside and the carved door reveals a hidden room with minimalistic collection of furniture. The sycamore is alive and continues to grow. It is said that once there was a Sufi school inside the tree, and served as a haunting place for few generations of the dervish.
You can also visit there the famous ceramic master from whom you can learn the art of making pottery or have a talk with a local family. In the end visit the huge local market which is one of the best rural markets of Uzbekistan. You will find there modern products, fabrics and some antic hand-embroidered suzani. However, do remember the market remains closed on Monday, Thursday and Friday.
Are there any events or festivals in Uzbekistan around which tourists should plan their holiday to feel the local culture?
One of the most famous festival in Central Asia is Navruz (means “New day”). Its history goes back to the Zoroastrian religion, but we believe that after the 21st of March the nature revives itself and spring finally arrives. The festival can be celebrated on 19th, 20th or 21st of March.
There is an atmosphere of celebration in the air on Navruz. Huge area (mainly in the parks or close to the old part of the city) is occupied by people who demonstrate their talent. You can find there local dishes like sumalyak (a dessert made from grown wheat and sugar), plov (a dish made from meat, rice and carrot) and bread from different parts of our country. Everyone can try everything that is displayed on the table.
You will also find here embroidery, ladies wearing our national dresses, people marching, singing songs to welcoming spring, people dancing. You can also spot some sport events held on the street. However, if you are interested in more active sport events, you should go out of the city to watch Kupkary. It’s very much like polo, but with the decapitated goat corps.
Another festival we celebrate in April (no exact date, only in January we receive the events calendar) is Lyazgi. It is dedicated to our famous national dance of Khorezm region. This festival is held in Khiva city with a lot of dancing and singing.
We also have the Silk and Spices festival in Bukhara on the last Sunday of May. It lasts for three days. Master artisans from all Uzbekistan arrive here to show their products. It’s just an amazing event with so much on offer. It starts with a parade in the morning, concert in the evening and during the day you have a great chance to buy gorgeous silk fabric, silk and cotton fabric, embroidered clothes and jackets, handbags, spices. It is held in the old part of the city.
Tip: You will find a lot of middleman selling goods during this festival. Try to buy products from the masters/makers, they will give you good discount. Third day of this event is not interesting, all the trading is done by masters in the first two days, only in the evening there is a concert, like closing ceremony.
For electronic music lovers we have Stihiya festival which is held in Karalpakistan, autonomous republic of Uzbekistan. It is not far from the Aral Sea (which by the way is shrinking). The area called “Ship cemetery”. This festival is new for us, but its very popular among the young generation.
Sharq Taronalari International festival is held at the end of August, once in two years, in Samarkand Registan Square. It presents the best national music from many countries of the world. However, there is rehearsal going on and preparation off the stage in Registan Square, thats why it can be closed in the morning and in the evening, open in a daytime.
Please give us an insight into Uzbek cuisine and the must try dishes.
Uzbek dishes are quite heavy and filling, it comes from old times when we were nomads and didn’t have time for cooking and eating whole day. You can expect an Uzbek meal to be tasty, spicy (mainly cumin , black pepper) and undoubtedly fresh.
If you place an order in a restaurant, only the salads arrive in fifteen minutes. Main dishes take at least 40- 45 minutes to be served. However, plov is an exception. We start cooking it in the morning and it’s ready by the midday, but they stop to serve it by 1.00-1.30 p.m.
To eat the best Plov visit plov centers, where they make plov from 50 kg of rice, the same amount of meat and equal amount of carrot. You can imagine the taste, when so much amount of ingredients cooked in a huge cauldron gets over in just one and a half hour. In Uzbekistan we have many varieties of plov, every region has it’s own recipe and secrets, but plov of Samarkand is famous for the way rice is cooked i.e. ala dente (not overcooked, like in some regions of Uzbekistan) and we serve it in layers. Plov-eaters know the best places to eat and follow their chefs . The plov which many of us like are cooked by this chef (see photo) and in the place what locals call “Geofizika” just on the road.
Another exceptional dish which is ready almost anytime during the day is Somsa i.e. pies with meat and onion, baked in tandoor. However, overtime there has been a change in the filling of somsa. Now you can find Somsa with chicken, somsa with herbs and cheese or somsa with pumpkin or potatoes. In locals opinion, the best somsa in Samarkand is served in Kokandskaya street which has several cafes making somsa.
Also, the dish called Manti i.e. steamed dumplings, can be ready by lunch time. A popular place to eat Manti is Manti Mulion, just ask any driver and they will bring you there.
Kebab or as we call it Shashlik (small skewers). Cooking time for it is 25-30 minutes and is served with some tomato sauce and onion with vinegar. You might find this dish in every small “Chayhona” (means tea house).
Which according to you are the best places to try local food in Samarkand?
Well, if you would like a calm atmosphere with beautiful music playing in the background you might visit the restaurant “Platan” (it’s my favourite). You can relax there, have some drinks and a good meal. They not only serve meat but also fish based dishes and even vegetarian food. Tip – Try to reserve a seat for the evening by calling them in the morning.
However, if you prefer entertainment along with food, you can go to the restaurant “Samarkand”. You will definitely witness here our local life. You can dance with locals, talk to them, and just enjoy the party mood. Tip: Book in advance. They also have a huge menu (only a few in English). If you do not wish to waste time, you can order Shashlik. For vegetarians they have tasty Kartofel Vostok (baked potatoes stuffed with mushrooms and cheese) or Julien (mushrooms baked with cheese in a small pot for vegetarians and with chicken for all-eaters).
If you don’t prefer eating out or do not want to waste time/money eating in cafes and restaurants you might buy bread in the market. It’s delicious and we have big choice.
For coffee and some cake or early breakfast you can go to the café Mone. If you are in the old part of the city, close to Registan Square is Bibi-hanum Mosque. You will find there small but good cafes where you can have tea, coffee and pahlava (not so sweet as Turkish baklava).
Where to head for shopping in Samarkand? Are there any popular weekend/night/flea markets which tourists must visit?
If you have a fondness for local production or designers clothes, you will find immense shopping opportunities here. Tashkent street, close to Registan square, a pedestrian-only shopping zone, is the best place to buy paintings from local artists, miniatures, designer clothes, embroidery, wooden presents and Christmas tree decorations made from ceramic in the center “Hunarmand”.
If you go along Tashkent street you will see Fatima shop, she makes dresses for customers in one night. She also has a lovely collection of handbags made by her. There are many shops along this street, where you can buy silk scarves, t-shirts (from small sizes to big ones), coats, magnets, souvenirs. You can also find many shops inside of Registan square.
For gold jewellery it’s better to go to Zebo big shop, where you can buy local gold, Italian or gold jewelry which traders bring from Azerbaijan and Armenia. You can also buy delicious nuts and dried fruits like prunes, apricot, fig, mulberry, walnuts, almond and peanuts. We love to eat apricot pits made in ash with salt (it’s a good snack for beer).
Tashkent street is also close to Siab market which is the largest bazaar in Samarkand. Lying next to Bibi Khanym Mosque, it is one of the best markets in Central Asia. A farmers market, it is mainly used by local people. It is generally overflowing with spices, saffron, fruits like melons, oranges and pomegranates. You will also find there, nuts and dried apricots. Around the edges of the market people sell an assortment fabrics, clothing, shawls, veils, turbans, dresses and a variety of household items. It is a huge market and is bustling with people.
Tuesdays - Sundays: 5 am - 7 pm Closed on Mondays
Tips : Don’t buy sets, at first it’s more expensive and the second, you don’t know what is the quality of goods they used. Also try to buy dried apricots which is a bit brownish and doesn’t look pretty, they are free of chemicals and dried on the tree.
In the market you can buy spices, but do not buy saffron sold from big bags, they aren’t authentic saffron threads. If you want to buy saffron, remember the good ones are sold only in a very small amount, that too packed and sealed.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you wish to visit a huge market with all different goods, you should go to Urgut city especially for clothes and antic embroidery.
What local crafts and souvenirs one can learn to make or collect from Samarkand?
To learn how the art of paper making started in Samarkand from the 8th century using the mulberry tree bark, you can go to the Konigil paper making workshop and village. Konigil, a village near Samarkand has the “Meros” paper mill, founded by well-known masters the Mukhtarov brothers.
Why I highly recommended it is because after seeing all the richness of the past in the form of monuments, you would like to plunge into a different atmosphere with a beautiful landscape (small water channel, trees, ducs are around). In the village of Konigil, you can learn to make paper, do a ceramic master-class and also see the process of making oil using watermill. You can also buy paper or products made from paper and ceramic.
If you wish to see how we make silk and wool carpets by hand, I recommend you to this famous factory in Khudjum district, the Samarkand-Bukhara silk carpets factory. There you will have a personal guide and some rest from an otherwise busy day. They also have a fabulous collection of embroidered bed spreads, table cloths, cushion covers and scarves.
The historic town of Samarkand is a crossroad and melting pot of the world’s cultures. Would you suggest any heritage shows in the city to drama, music or art lovers?
For cultural life in Samarkand we have an amazing theatre of historical costume El-Merosi.
Here they presents the history of Uzbekistan and Samarkand in the form of a dance. They have a gorgeous collection of costumes and they finish the show by demonstrating our wedding traditions. It is impossible to put into words how vivid and colorful the whole experience is. If you have time in hand, you must visit it.
Tip: The performance doesn’t take place on a daily basis. You must call them for dates and information. The manager speaks fluent English.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in your city?
The apps for taxi are: Taxi Ok or Yandex Taxi. Also, install the app of Maps.me on your phone and download the map of Uzbekistan.
Any list of do’s and don’t’s in Uzbekistan that one should respect and follow? As a local would you give any suggestion/tip to tourists coming to Samarkand?
Uzbekistan is a secular country with many nationalities and everyone dresses in the way they want to. However, when we visit any pilgrimage like Shahi-Zinda in Samarkand we prefer to cover our head and not wear very short dresses/shorts (above the knees). Also we don`t talk too loud in the mosques and in burial places.
In the market if somebody treats you, just accept it with gratitude and say : “Thank you”. However, they also sell milk balls here which are made from thick yogurt. Although locals love them, all of us have different reaction to bacterias and milk balls might give you light diarrhea.
You can take photos of people only if they don`t mind. In general, locals love to take photos with the tourists.
Use a lot of sun-protection cream and stay well hydrated (if it`s hot).
All in all, travelling in Uzbekistan is safe. If you lose any belongings, the tourist police present in every monument will readily help you.
THINGS TO KNOW
To Reach Samarkand : Samarkand is well connected with an international airport, located near the city centre, and a railway network that connects to many cities in the country. It is also connected by high-speed, quality, trains from the capital Tashkent.
By Train :
From Tashkent : The best option to get to Samarkand is by flying to Tashkent and take the train from the nearby railway station named Tashkent Pass. The fast train ‘Afrosoiyob’ from Tashkent brings you in 2 hours to Samarkand. If you miss it, you can get on the 3.5 to 4 hours slow train.
From Bukhara: Take the Afrosiyob high-speed train. The journey is 1.5 hours and tickets start at $7 USD at local train stations. The slower and slightly cheaper Sharq train takes around 2.5 hours.
From Khiva: There’s a 12-hour night train that departs from Khiva and takes you to Samarkand before sunrise. However, it’s much more convenient to go from Khiva to Bukhara, explore Bukhara for a few days, and make your way to Samarkand from there.
By Road : Samarkand is 290 kilometers southwest of Tashkent, about a four hour drive.
Samarkand to Tashkent : The super fast ‘Afrosoiyob’ bullet train to Tashkent departs daily at 5:00pm, with a second service from Karshi at 6:00pm, and possibly also 5. 30pm. The cheaper and slower ‘Sharq’ train leaves at 10. 30am daily. The long distance bus station and regional bus station is about one kilometer east of the airport, or at least it used to be.
Uzbekistan to Tajikistan : Tajikistan is just a hop and a skip away. You can easily reach from Samarkand to Panjakent overland. The entire process takes less than one hour. Have printed copies of your e-visas, hotel registration slips ready. Transport to the border leaves from Kaftarxona bus station. A shared taxi is around 20,000 som/person, while marshrutkyare 5,000 som/person or you can also take a private taxi. It’s a 45-minute drive to the border. At the Uzbek immigration office, bags are scanned. Passport, visa and may be registration slips are checked and you are stamped out of Uzbekistan. Shared taxis run from the border post once full. 10 somoni per person for the 20 minute drive to your hotel in Panjakent.
Where to Stay : Many hotels & BBs are within walking distance of Registan. If you make this area your base then its close to other Samarkand tourist attractions.
Samarkand Weather : June – August is fairly slow season for tourism in Samarkand. December through February is too cold. The average high during this season is between 52.2°F (11.2°C) and 42.4°F (5.8°C).
Samarkand Wine Tasting : Uzbekistan is a great place to taste exquisite wine and is the main wine producer in Central Asia. Its grapes are extra sweet thanks to the abundance of sunny weather. To sample local wine you can take a two-hour tour at the Khovrenko Winery and the Samarkand Museum of Winemaking.
Uzbekistan Key Facts :
1. National Language : Uzbek (Tajik is also widely used in Samarkand)
2. Currency : Uzbek som/sum/soum
Uzbek words to learn :
Hello -> Salom!
How are you? -> Ishlar qanday?
Yes/No -> Ha/ Yo’q
I want/I don’t want -> Istayman/Istamayman
I know/I don’t know -> Bilaman/Bilmayman
Thanks -> Rahmat
Goodbye -> Xayr / Alvido / Hozircha xayr
Country Code, Important Telephone Numbers :
- International dialling code : +998
- Emergency telephone number: 1050/998+98
- Ambulance service phone: 103/998+93/94
- Police phone: 102/998+95/99
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