Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan trip – The Silk Road and Paradise of Islamic architecture ( Jan 2023)

I took the Road most travelled by and was dazzled by the architecture.

Kazakhstan is currently Visa-free for Indians and a very economical travel destination providing you with adventure activity, sightseeing, and Partying.

Day 1 – Land at Almaty (0630 hours), a 4-hour flight from Delhi.  Land at -15 to -20 Degree Celsius and get the first chill in your bones when they use a bus and not sky-bridge to deplane. Any part of your body not layered up will instantly shout to you and is a perfect drill to prepare you for the next few days. After an early check-in and breakfast head for sightseeing to the recently constructed First presidents park followed by authentic Kazakh lunch and get introduced to the bread to be part of every meal going forward. After that head to the Kok tobe ropeway-ride to get a vantage point view of Almaty city. Late evening visits the Ascension cathedral – the second tallest wooden building in the world and without the use of nails. Dinner at an Indian restaurant for food where the hungry and tired tourists will easily declare the food taste better than what they get in India. Post dinner, one can do some nightlife exploration which only comes to life post-midnight.

Day 2 – 0800 hours head to Charyn canyon. It’s a 3-hour wonderful ride to the Canyon – the Central Asia equivalent of the Grand Canyon. Pick the front rows of the bus for the best views. It’s a 2.7 km walk inside the canyon to reach the Charyn river. The entire walk takes endless stops to click pictures f the structures and the Charyn river. The walk is downhill while going and uphill while coming – a nice hike for healthy people. E-taxis are mostly available for people too tired to walk back – recheck with your guide though. Had packed food after the end of the trek and loaded back on our bus to return to Hotel. Almaty has multiple Indian restaurant options. 

Day 3 – 0830 hours Leave for Oi Qaragai mountain resort which is an hour away. Since we did not know skiing we first went to a ski school, where within an hour or so noobs from the group were able to comfortably slide and fall. Though, the falls were better than the slides. Some members of the group enjoyed going up the ropeway or snow tubing. After that, we went to Shymbulak resort one of the best in Central Asia and is a delight for pro ski enthusiasts. The cable car ride to the top is stunning.  At the top, there are other activities like snow tubing, horse riding etc. An activity-filled day with some of the funniest videos of skiing bloopers. Back to the hotel and food at an Indian restaurant.

On way to Charyn Canyon
Ready to Ski

Head to Uzbekistan – The Jewel on the Silk Road

Day 4 – 1230 hours head to Tashkent (Uzbekistan ) for a short flight and one of the quickest immigration and check-in processes at Almaty airport. Local sightseeing in Tashkent starts with the local Chorsu flea market where locals will coax you to their stalls shouting the names of Raj Kapoor, Aishwarya, and Shahrukh khan. The market is known for selling dry fruits, spices, meat, and baking bread(try your hand at it). After that Head to the Hazrat imam complex which has one of the oldest (claimed and disputed) Quran. After that walk into the lit Broadway street (unlit in our case because of the winter storm a week back disturbing gas supplies) and check the Amir Temur square.

Day 5 – Head to Bukhara at 0900 hours to catch the Spanish speed train Afrosiyab- Talgo. Comfortable ride and don’t forget to visit the pantry for some Indian music, drinks, and snacks. At Bukhara visit the Baha-ud-din Naqshbandi complex. The complex belonging to the 14th century is revered by the locals and they visit the Mausoleum of Shaykh Baha-ud-din the founder of the Naqshbandi order.  After that head to the Al Bukhari complex made in remembrance of Muhammed Al Bukhari who was one of the most important hadith (record or actions of the Prophet) scholar.  Also, check out the Samanid Mausoleum with stunning architecture dating back to the 10th century, and the Bolo Hauz or 40-pillar mosque.  Check into a hotel in the old city of Bukhara amidst history. The struggle for decent food starts here.  We skipped Khiva – another beautiful jewel of the Silk Road- because it’s the birthplace of Al-Khawarizmi – the grandfather of Algebra – and many tourists hated algebra 🙂 in school. 

Day 6 – 0900 hours start for a walking sightseeing tour of the old city of Bukhara. The old city of Bukhara is a museum in itself and it makes you time travel to the 5th-15th century with every building reminding you of the Silk trade infrastructure. We visited the trading domes of Bukhara, caravan serais of varying sizes, and the citadel (Fort). Each complex in Bukhara (or Uzbekistan) is a collection of mosques, madrassas (the ones that are not operational and are now occupied by merchants), and a minaret. The Poi Kalyan complex is the most fascinating with the Kalyan Minaret – the only one that Genghis khan did not destroy.  I was disappointed to hear less about Genghis khan’s exploits as he was seen as more of a tyrant and a believer in shamanism.  The locals preferred to talk more about Amir Temur who was a local ruler and practiced Islam.   We also visited a 16th-century local operational hammam – and is recommended for tourists. The insides of the hammam are very pleasingly warm despite the chilly weather outside. For lunch, the Non-vegetarians tried the Plov – the national dish of Uzbekistan.  Dinner at a local restaurant – which struggled to provide proper veg food – other than bland salads and boiled vegetables at best. Party late at night. They love to play some Indian Music.

Ghenghisz khan is said to have delivered his famous quote at Bukhara

Day 7 – check out at 1100 hours to visit the summer palace (quite ordinary) of Emir and later took the speed train at 1600 hours for Samarqand – a 105 mins ride. Samarkand (the previous capital) is well-developed and is among the oldest and most continuously inhabited cities in central Asia. Alexander and Genghis khan conquered the city as it was an important intersection of the silk roads. For dinner, we headed to a Pizzeria to change the palate. Samarqand is also very happening with nightlife and we visited Bassiani a Russian-style night pub with live performances.

Day 8 – Check out at 0900 hours from the hotel and head for local sightseeing. The first pit stop is the Amir Temur mausoleum, followed by Registan which was the grandest of all complexes we would see in Uzbekistan.  From there we headed to Shah-i-Zinda or Tomb of the living king, the mausoleums dating back from the 9-15th century have the most stunning tilework in the Muslim world. This is the best place for pictures with turquoise color tiles and Islam architecture mausoleums all around.  Return to Tashkent at 1700 hours and reach by 1920 hours. Retire for the night.

Day 9 – check out at 1100 hours and visit the statue of erstwhile PM Lal Bahadur Shastri who died in Tashkent. Take a flight back to India at 1430 hours.

The people of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are very sweet and take all opportunities to click pictures with them.  They also like Indians and will approach you to ask if you are from Hindustan. With excellent connectivity of air Astana with Delhi and Kazakh being visa-free and Uzbekistan being Evisa – the flux of Indian travelers is only going to increase.

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