Uzbekistan is probably one of the most underappreciated countries many people would not even be able to locate on the map. But in fact, it is still an untainted by mass-tourism gem waiting to be discovered by Instagram travel gurus in their hunt for the next instant instagrammable hit. And this fascinating Central Asian country can definitely deliver and rise to the top among the best places to see (and Instagram) before you die.
We´ve compiled a list of the 15 most amazing and instagrammable places to capture in Uzbekistan (and that were the greatest source of inspiration for our latest collection MARGILAN):
Samarkand is one of the oldest city in Central Asia that was continually inhabited since before the human civilization was formed, so that no one even remembers when the city was actually founded. For countless years it served as one of the main trade stops on the Silk Road and its magnificent ancient architecture has been recently restored to its full glory, so that you will find countless spots and angles to show off to your Instagram followers.
Image: Ekrem Canli
Registan translates as “sandy place” or “desert” in Persian, but it is so much more than that. This square was the main place for public gatherings and royal announcements, accompanied by the sound of enormous copper pipes called “dzharchis”. The magnificent facades of the three madrasahs (Islamic schools) surrounding the square make everything else feel quite insignificant in their shadows.
2. Ulugh-Beg Madrasah
Ulugh-Beg madrasah was one of the best clergy universities of the Muslim Orient in XVth century and it has beautiful courtyard “iwan” with mesmerizing rows of lancet-arcs flanked by high minarets. Intricate details of carvings and tiled mosaics cover almost every inch of these facades.
3. Tilya-Kari Madrasah
Opposite to Ulugh-Beg stands two-centuries younger Tilya-Kari madrasah, which served as a residential expansion for students with two-stories row of dormitory cells framing the vast courtyard. But the main point of attraction is the grand mosque („masjid“) situated in the west of the courtyard. The almost blinding inner decorations of the mosque literally refelects the name „Tilya-Kari“, which means „decorated with gold“.
Images: Journeys On Quest
„Tomb for the King“, the translation describes correctly the recently restored Gur-e-Amir mausoleum complex containing the tombs of the legendary Asin conqueror Timur, his sons and grandsons. The mausoleum is covered outside and inside in stunningly rich and extremely refined decorations in hues of midnight blue and shining gold. Make sure to have the right camera setting to do some amazing shots in the interior.
Images: Fulvio Spada
The breathtaking Shah-i-Zinda necropolis complex was formed over the length of eight centuries (from XIth to XIXth) in the north-eastern part of Samarkand. Striding along most incredible mausoleum avenue covered in stunning majolica and tile work, you will arrive at the sacred inner “Tomb of the Living King” (which is the literal translation for Shah-i-Zinda). The legend goes that it is the where the Qusam ibn-Abbas was lied to rest, who was a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed and is said to have brought Islam to the area in VIIth century.
Bukhara was another major stop on the Silk Road and over the length of five millenia has become a city-museum with over 140 architectural monuments and fifth largest city in Uzbekistan. The historic centre of enchanting Bukhara has been listed by UNESCO as one of the Wolrd Heritage Sites.
The architectural complex around the great minaret Kalyan, also known as the Tower of Death (as it was used as an execution site for many centuries), includes the great Kalyan mosque with magnificent vast courtyard. Amazingly, you might find yourself completely alone surrounded by these empowering ancient structures, as if you would travel through time, - the indescribable feeling that one can very rarely experience in our modern times of mass tourism.
7. Bolo Hauz
Image: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Bolo Hauz Mosque has an enchanting and very elegant structure with beautifully carved 20 enormous wooden columns at the iwan entrance, which are reflected by the rectangular pond at its base. You will probably spend most of your time with your head up, as by far the most splendid part of the mosque is the lavishly decorated ceiling of the bulged roof. It is hard to believe that the mosque with such intricate wooden structures is three-centuries old and is still actively used by local citizens.
The Ark of Bukhara is essentially a fortress that once encompassed the ancient royal city and served as military structure. The courtyard of the fortress might not be the most interesting as many of the structures are unfortunately in ruins and haven´t been restored yet, but there are several museums worth visiting as well as a Juma (Friday) mosque with beautifully carved ornaments crowning wooden columns. The massive fortress walls, however, - this is what presents a truly impressive sight worthy of the special attention of any Instagram globetrotter.
Khiva, once a major city of ancient Khorezm and the last stop on the Silk Road where caravans would rest before crossing the desert to Iran. It was the first city in Uzbekistan to be inscribed by UNESCO in the list of the World Heritage Sites. Until such protection was enabled, Khiva was destroyed and rebuild seven times throughout its two-millenia rich history. Its is not a big city, but it carries a very distinct own enchantingly solemn character that follows you along whichever corner you turn.
9. Ichan-Kala Walls
Among other magnificent structures of Khiva, the first that catches the eye is the 10-meter-tall clay wall snaking around the almost intact medieval inner city Ichan-Kala. The wall has four gates at the four cardinal points: north (Bagcha-Darvaza), south (Tash-Darvaza), east (Palvan-Darvaza) and west (Ata-Darvaza) and, although the current version was constructed in XVIIth century, - it stands on the foundation that is believed to be laid in Xth century.
Images: Fulvio Spada
Ichan-Kala, which translates as “inner defense circle”, is the oldest part of the city and only about 1 square kilometer big. Entering Ichan-Kala you will find yourself lost in time, surrounded by the most authentic medieval Oriental town among a unique concentration of over 400 traditional dwelling structures and about 60 architectural monuments. You can climb to the top of the highest Islam Khodja Minaret or wonder around the unfinished, but still beautiful Kalta-Minor (short) Minaret standing near the largest Muhammad Amin-Khan Madrasah in Central Asia. No matter where you go in Ichan-Kala you will be immersed into the vibrant pallet of soft turquoise, indigo and porcelain hues incrusted as jewels into the warming ochre of the mud-bricks.
*Tip: after 5:30 pm you can enjoy the town almost completely on your own, as all the shops close and most of the locals go home for dinner.
11. Juma Mosque
Images: Dan Lundberg
Juma (Friday) Mosque in Ichan-Kala deserves special attention. Although from outside it does not look like anything impressive, the interior will be hard to forget. Over the doorstep you will suddenly find yourself in the quiet solemn forest of 213 intricately carved columns of elm-karagacha supporting the massive crown ceiling with rays of light entering through three openings. Each column is unique and has its own history, some of them even dating back to the Xth century.
UZBEKISTAN OUTSIDE THE CITIES
The tipical toursit route would be usually limited only to the well known historical cities and architectural sites. But if you´re willing to explore beyond the comfort of modern civilization, you will discover some amazingly beautiful nature outside the borders of Uzbek cities.Here are another 5 top nature locations for you to create stunning Instagram photo at:
12. Hodja-Gur-Gur-Ata – Baisun-Tau Mountains
Images: Таинственный Узбекистан
Baisun-Tau mountain range presents many wonders and mysteries, spreading over 150 km along the Uzbekistan border with Turkmenistan and rising up to 4500 m high. But if you truly want to feel what it is like to stand at the end (and the top) of the world – climb to the Hodja-Gur-Gur-Ata peak at 3720m. Indescribable feeling when you stand at the edge of a 500 m drop and have a 360º birds-eye view of the most stunning landscape.
13. Urungach Lakes
Images: Таинственный Узбекистан
Urungach lakes (lower and upper) are among the most beautiful mountain lakes in the world. They are 4 km apart and are located about 160 km away from Tashkent in a very remote area, so you would need to spend considerable time and efforts getting there. But all the inconveniences of the road will be forgotten the moment you will gaze upon incredibly vibrant jade-colored waters of the Urungach lake (which translates as “light-colored jade”). It is best to go there around spring and early summer time, when the water levels are high and the water has then the most brilliant color of jade, but crystal clear at the same time. Surrounded by the picturesque mountain slopes and plush looking greens – the view is simply breathtaking!
*Tip: make sure you have all the documents with you that permit you to travel through the Ugam-Chatcal National Nature Park.
14. Muynak Ship Graveyard
This place has been created by the nature and human civilization combined. Only half a century ago here, at the shores of the Aral Sea in the northern Karakalpakstan (at the west of Uzbekistan) a thriving finishing port town called Muynak has been standing. However, around 1940´s the ambitious Soviet government decided to divert the two main rivers feeding the Aral Sea in an attempt to irrigate agricultural fields in the desert. As the result, the Aral Sea shrank and is now only 10% of its original size and about 150 km away from Muynak. In its wake, the retreating sea left a surreal graveyard of the fishing vessels now rotting in the endless sand dunes.
It is somewhat sad, but at the same time very fascinating place that will guarantee you get some astonishing and rare shots that will wow your Instagram followers!
15. Shaitan Jiga - Demons Plateau
This mysterious place is located approximately 30 km from Samarkand and has innumerous legends and tales surrounding it. The name Shaitan-Jiga, which means literally “Demon´s Plateau”, comes from the very strange shaped stone slabs scattered across the rocky mountain slope with no trees or bushes growing around it. Some local people say it was a place for pagan rituals and sacrifices and therefore it is cursed. These auspicious shapes seem to be fluid and take different forms as you walk around them – you might see ancient deities, demons, animals or even frozen warriors on a battlefield. No matter the case, you will find here and endless source for the eye´s inspiration!
BONUS: Teshik-Tash Cave
Images: Таинственный Узбекистан
Teshik-Tash cave in Baisun-Tau mountains is widely known for the amazing discovery of the skeleton of a Neaderthal child surrounded by a ritually arranged circle of mountain goat horns, something that was yet unseen for the time period. Apart from the scientific significance, the Teshik-Tash (“Holed Stone”) cave by itself is definitely worth the hours of hiking to it. For millennia the nature was carving the mountain side and created an enormous hollow tunnel. This marvelous place is worshipped by the locals and is even considered to have healing powers. Whatever the case, it is definitely a place where you will be able to disconnect and find your inner balance.
Have you ever been to any of these places? Which one would you put on your “to see before you die” list? We´d love to hear your comments!