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Uzbekistan is in the list of Ten Places That Deserve More Travelers by National Geographic


By Tara Isabella Burton

Once the epicenter of the legendary Silk Road, Uzbekistan is one of the most stunning, historically rich destinations in Central Asia. And for travelers willing to veer off the encouraged tourist path, it offers not just extraordinary natural and architectural beauty, but gleeful, hospitable chaos. A quiet dinner on the cross-country Soviet-style night train between Tashkent and Bukhara will more likely than not erupt into a jovial vodka-toasting party with total strangers.

Why Go Now: Uzbekistan’s main historic centers–the extraordinary blue-tiled caravanserai complexes at Bukhara and Samarkand–have undergone extensive renovation in recent years, as the government has transformed 14th-century ruins into glistening, pristine palaces; a decades-long renovation of Samarkand’s Registan Square was completed only last year. While critics decry what they see as over-restoration, Bukhara and Samarkand remain two of the most outstanding examples of urban architecture from the Islamic world and provide evocative glimpses of the centuries in which the steppes of Central Asia doubled as cosmopolitan capitals of learning, art, and trade. 

Don’t Miss: Avoid the hoary “palace” architecture and English-advertised belly dancers in Uzbekistan’s more tourist-focused restaurants. The best places to sample Uzbekistan’s aromatic, lamb-sizzling dishes—plov (pilaf) in the country’s west, lagman noodles in the Chinese-influenced east—are at roadside cafes and anarchic, Soviet-influenced bazaars. In the heart of the New Bazaar in Bukhara, far from the touts selling velvet embroidery for $100 a jacket in the historic center, undercoated cafes serve different family-recipe plov out of gargantuan cauldrons stationed as olfactory advertisements right at the entrance. The blend of lamb, carrots, earthy red sumac, and rice—variously elaborated upon with quail’s eggs, garlic cloves, or even horse-meat—is decadent, if soporific.