Lost in the immensity of Central Asia, Uzbekistan is one of the forgotten gems of the world. Despite the amazing history of the Silk Route connecting Europe and Asia, its numerous splendid monuments sank in the oblivion of the tourist masses and just now is fighing for some attention. Without any doubts, the beautiful cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara are the main highlights of Central Asia.
Uzbekistan is the country of the blue palaces and huge mosques and medrassas, built in oasis along the mighty Amu Darya River in the vast Kizil Kum Desert; green valleys near high mountains and the sad story of the Aral Sea. The Uzbeks, the most religious people in Central Asia, are proud of their rich history, their heroes like Tamerlane or Ulugh Beg and their Turkic connection. Uzbek itself is a Turkic language and, in fact, Turks from Turkey come from Central Asia.
And they are also proud of their food. Plov, mantys, samsa, laghman and shurpa are some of the main dishes you’ll find, without forgetting the venerated shashlik, often reserved for great occasions. Taste the delights of this extraordinary cuisine in the cozy chaikhanas, accompanied with a cup of tea or a gulp of ayran, and head to the beauty of the fantastic Uzbek cities. Here we go!
After several settlements in the Iron and Bronze Ages, Persian nomads came to Central Asia in the 1st Millennium BC, bringing their culture, engineering and language, and cities like Samarkand, Bukhara and Chash (Tashkent) rose as centers of government. By the 5th century the region was ruled by Bactrian, Soghdian, and Tokharian states.
Khast Imom in Tashkent
With the growing importance of Rome and Greece in the West, and China in the East, the Silk Route became a reality and the Persian cities growth as centers of lodge and trade. Bukhara and Samarkand turned extremely wealthy and the Soghdian State became the most powerful within the region, being one of the most important Persian regions in these times.
In 327 BC Alexander the Great destroyed Samarkand, conquered Bactria and Sogdiana and married Roxana. But Alexander’s domination didn’t last very much and the region of Transoxiana (land comprised between Amu Darya and Syr Darya) was ruled again by Persian empires (Parthian and Sassanid) until the Arab Invasions of the 8th century. This period, known as Muslim Renaissance, brought notorious advances and “renamed” the territory as Mawarannahr.
Ghengis Khan came in the 13th century and changed this land forever. It’s calculated that the widespread Mongol genocide almost finished with the indigenous Indo-Persian inhabitants, and their culture was replaced by the Mongolian-Turkic tribes that came thereafter.
The Mongol Empire was divided among several parts, and the descendants of Ghenghis Khan remained as the rulers of Mawarannahr until Tamerlane (or Timur) settled on the power, becoming the most famous character in the history of Central Asia. Within his years in the power, Timur built and Empire that conquest from India to Mongolia and Russia, and from the Asia Minor and Arabia until the Xingjian region in China. In 1405, during the final campaign in order to control all Asia, the invasion of China, the monster died from a disease. But his legacy is still visible in the magnificent architecture left, mostly in Samarkand. This period of knowledge and architecture was followed by his grandson Ulugh Beg, emperor of Mawarannahr and one of the world’s first great astronomers.
Sher Dor Medrassa in Registan Square, Samarkand
The Timurid Empire soon divided in several khanates until the Russians came in the 18th century. The diplomatic fight between Russians and English known as the “Great Game”, which took place in the 19th century ended up with Russia establishing its hegemony. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Uzbekistan became part of the Soviet Union and in 1924 the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created.
After the fall of the USSR, on 31st August 1991, Uzbekistan became an independent country and Islam Karimov became the president –or dictator- of the country until nowadays.
The capital of Uzbekistan is the biggest city in Central Asia. And although it doesn’t have the old relics and peaceful ambiance as other destinations of Uzbekistan, it has some decent sights, busy markets, nightlife and the enjoyable movement of masses that all the big cities have. Even more, if you are planning a trip to more than one country, it’s very probable that you´ll need to stay in Tashkent for some days in order to get visas or catch flights, so it is better to know what to do and where to go in this city:
You'll find everything in Chorsu Bazaar
If you look at Tashkent map, you will probably think that Amir Timur Maydoni, with its Timur Statue, is the neuralgic center of the city. Well, that’s maybe true for the cars, but like a traveler you can consider Chorsu Bazaar to be the place where you’ll find everything you need. The Bazaar itself is a huge circled green dome occupied by farmers and traders trying to sell their products, it’s nice to take a walk among the color of the stands and enjoy the taste of new food and spices you can’t find home. Not far from there, you’ll find Juma mosque (Friday’s mosque) and Kulkedash medrassa, built in 15th and 16th century respectively.
Further north you’ll find Khast Imom, a Islamic religious center where lives the spiritual leader of the country. Within its premises there are Telyashayakh and Barakhon Mosques, the Mausuleum of Abu Bakkr Kafal Shoshi, Imam Ismail Al-Bukhari Islamic Institute and Moyie Mubarek Library Museum, where you’ll find the famous Osman Quran: a Quran from the 7th century made of deerskin and brought to Samarkand by Timur and stolen by the Russians for a some time.
After having a walk in Navoi Park, you can head to Yunus Khan Mausoleum, where the corpse of Babur’s grandfather is resting. And finally you could choose between going to Mustaqillik Maydoni (Independence Square), where you can find a mix of soviet and new-made monuments, or visiting some of the numerous museums of the city.
But all these things can be seen quite fast, so if you are here waitng for a plane, a visa or anything else, a good idea is head to Chimgan and take a hike in Ugam Chatkal National Park, one hour away from Tashkent in the Tian Shan Range, with summits until 3700 m.
Tilla-Kari Medrassa in Registan
For history lovers, Samarkand is somewhere to go at least one time in the life. Praised by both Alexander and Marco Polo, the mighty city of Central Asia proudly shows its great treasures: the huge medrassas and mosques left by the Timurid Empire and its successors.
Historically a Tadjik city, Samarkand was founded around the 7th century BC as Marakanda, and soon became a Persian center and one of the wealthiest cities in Central Asia, until Alexander came and conquered it. The development of the Silk Road and the geographical placement of the city –a must-stop place between the desert and the mountains-, gave it the richness that made it grow as one of the most populated cities in the word, even bigger than it is nowadays.
Genghis Khan pillaged the city in 1220, but for 1370 it had already recovered its splendor with the enthronement of Timur the Lame. During his reign the city became the capital of one of the largest empires in world history, the Timurid Empire. Under Timur, Samarkand became a mythical city and Central Asia’s center.
Timur was followed by Ulugh Beg, a great astronomer who made the city a capital of science and knowledge, building a huge sextant to observe the sky. But due to his secular perception of the world, the sextant was destroyed and he was killed by religious fanatics in 1492.
Samarkand had never recovered the importance of those times. First, due to navigation discoveries the commercial routes moved to the sea and the Silk Route fell in decadence. Then, the capital was moved to Bukhara and the Russians came. But the majesty and magnificence of the past has been preserved in Samarkand. And can be seen for all of us.
Registan complex is the main symbol of Samarkand's spledorousity
Registan ensemble is the centerpiece of the city. Three huge and well-proportioned medrassas stand in three sides of the Registan Square, giving a solemn and imperious majesty to the center of the city. Ulugh Beg Medrassa, the oldest one and built under Ulugh Beg reign, stands on the left side of the square. Opposite of it there’s the Sher Dor Medrassa, decorated with two lions, which is prohibited by the Islamic law and cause the laugh of the not-so-religious Uzbeks. In the middle of them, Tilla-Kari Medrassa is remarkable for its indoor mosque recovered with gold to make everybody remember the splendorous times of the city.
A little further there is the even bigger Bibi Khanum Mosque. Timur ordered to build a huge mosque with the name of his spouse. When he saw the mosque built, he said he wanted something bigger, and ordered to hang the architects. The newer mosque, one of the bigger in the Islamic world, was as big as unstable and had been slowly falling until finally collapsed during an earthquake in 1897. In front of the restored mosque stands the 14th century grave of the woman that gave name to the mosque: Bibi Khanum Mausoleum.
Not far from there,there is Shah-i-Zinda: a line of mausoleums climbing to a nearby hill. The place is an important Islamic center of pilgrimage, probably containing the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas, cousin of the prophet Mohammed, who brought Islam to Central Asia. The tomb existed before the Mongols’ pillage, what made Timur and Ulughbek and other emperors to bury their family there. A controversial restoration of the complex under Karimov government has been called to be a disaster, however it is worth visiting. Dress respectfully.
Guri Amir Mausoleum, where Tamerlane is buried
On the other side of the monumental zone, Guri Amir Mausoleum is a must-see for all travelers to Samarkand. Tamerlan’s mausoleum is also the resting place for Ulugh Beg and other royal family members. The azur dome is decorated with golden, red and blue ornaments, in the middle of which lays a dark green block of jade marking the tomb of Timur (in fact, the real tomb is in a crypt beneath). Around Timur’s stone, there are blocks of white marble, marking the points for the other inhabitants of the mausoleum. The one to the left of Timur is Ulugh Beg. Two more little mausoleums stand in the same square.
Northwest of the monumental center you can find Afrosiab, the ruins of the ancient Marakanda, the legendary city that Alexander conquered. The ruins are not so well maintained, but you can visit some excavations at Afrosiab Museum. Not far from there, the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, a character from the Old Testament, is a restored building containing a 18m tomb. The legend says that the prophet corpse (supposedly brought from Persia to Samarkand by Timur ) grows some centimeters each year, so the tomb has to be enlarged regularly.
Past the end of the ruins, in the north side, Ulugh Beg Observatory well deserves a visit and some respect. With his huge sextant and observatory Ulugh Bek determined positions of hundreds of stars, which makes him one of the most important astronomers in the history. Now only remains a 30m curved rail, some archaic form of mechanic stairs used to move along the sextant.
On the other side of Afrosiab you can visit Hazrat-Hizr Mosque. Actually all over the city you can find more mausoleums, mosques and even a soviet styled statue of Yuri Gagarin.
From Samarkand it is recommendable a trip to Hoja Ismail (more or less 30 minutes away), a complex including Ismail al-Bukhari Mausoleum, one of the greatest scholars and lawyers mentioned in Quran. Like in all the centers of pilgrimage, dress respectfully and stay calm.
Aq-Saray Palace in Shakhrisabz
Un-Russified Shakhrisabz is Tamerlan’s hometown, with some ruins left from the times of the monster. Once it was called Kesh, but Timur gave it its present name ( “Green Town” in Tadjik) and ordered to build him a mausoleum which finally was not used due to snow in mountain passes at the time of his death. The historical monuments of the city are enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The legacy of Shahrizabz can be seen in Ak-Saray Palace, former Timur’s Summer Palace and probably the most ambitious project of his life. Nevertheless, it’s almost in ruins except of pieces of the gigantic 65m gate-towers and some left mosaics where you can read “If you challenge our power – look at our buildings!”.
UlughBek ordered to build Kok-Gumbaz Mosque near Dorut Tilyovat to honor his father and Timur’s son Shah Rukh. Near it he built a mausoleum for his family, Guymbazi Seyidan. On the other side you can see the Mausoleum of Sheikh Shamseddin Kulyal.
East of Kok Gumbaz, Hazrat-i Imam Complex is another mausoleum complex built for Timur’s son. And behind it there’s a simple crypt discovered in 1963 that was destinated to be Timur’s Tomb. In the middle of it there is an impresive decorated stone on which should have been placed the body of the great leader who, as said, was finally buried in Samarkand.
Other places of interest in Shakhrizabz are the old baths, the 18th century bazaar and the Amir Timur Museum.
If Samarkand is the Imperial capital of Uzbekistan, Bukhara is its spiritual cradle. Unlike Samarkand, Bukhara preserves an untouched old center with narrow labyrinth streets, plenty of mosques and medrassas, a well preserved royal fortress and a once-big bazaar complex. It all gave to the city a place in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Located on the Silk Route, the city has been always a center of trade, culture and religion, as well as a caravanserai city. Like Samarkand, Bukhara has been historically a Tadjik city, joined to Uzbek territory during the Russian rule.
Kalon Mosque is one of the highlights of Bukhara
Also named Bukhoro-i-Sariff (Noble Bukhara), Bukhara has been one of the pillars of Islam and its most important city in Central Asia, especially in two moments of history: during the Islamic Renaissance and after the Timurid Dynasty in Samarkand, when the capital was moved here. The decline of the Silk Route by the 16th century brought Bukhara back to the ground, but its past splendurousity can still be seen nowadays.
The neuralgic point of the city is Lyabi Hauz (or Lab-i Hauz, tadjik for around the pool), a square built in 1620 around a pond. Pleasant chaikhanas offer Central Asian specialties in this peaceful place surrounded by Nadir Divanbegi Medrassa (built firstly as a caravanserai and decorated by two forbidden birds), Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka and Kukeldash Medrassa. Under the trees on the eastern side of the square, you can find the statue of Hoja Nasruddin, a sufi character from mythical tales.
Kalon Minaret and Kalon Mosque
Po-I Kalon Complex is where you will find Bukhara’s masterpiece, the 12th century Kalon Minaret. Once the tallest building in Central Asia, its 47 meters of decorated bricks astonished even Genghis Khan who left it untouched. It was also the first place were the typical Central Asian blue tiles were used, and for centuries the criminals were executed by being tossed off the top. Near the minaret stands the huge delightful Kalon Mosque, dating from the 16th century, and on the other side of the square Mir-i-Arab Medrassa shows its two blue domes completing a beautiful envirointment.
Ismail Samani Mausoleum
Don’t miss the beautiful covered bazaars, topped with low domes and offering a precious shadow in the cozy streets of the old city between Lyabi-Hauz and the Kalon Minaret. Near them, Ulughbeg Madrassa and Abdul Aziz Khan Medrassa are good options to take a look. North of the Kalon Minaret, you will be gratefully pleased in the carpet bazaar.
Of course, from there you should go to Registan Square and visit the Ark, the fortress of the city, and a little town itself. About 80% of it are in ruins, but you can still find the Juma (Friday) Mosque, the Reception & Coronation Court and plenty of buildings turned to museums in Soviet times. In front of the Ark main gate, Bolo-Hauz Mosque was the emir’s place of worship. On the other way, behind the Ark, Zindon was the main jail of the city, now turned to a museum.
Not far away you will find Ismail Samani Mausoleum, the oldest bulding in Bukhara which managed to survive till our days due to its 2m thick brick walls, a joy of old architecture honoring the founder of Samanid dynasty, the last Persian dynasty to rule in Cental Asia. Near it, Chasma-Ayub Mausoleum, meaning “Spring of Job”, erects to mark the place where Job (Ayub) threw his stuff on the ground and a spring appeared. You can drink the water, which it’s believed to heal.
The city has loads of other medrassas, mosques and minarets, which you can see by loosing yourself in the narrow streets of the old town. And it’s quite possible that by doing this you arrive to the last sight you must see in Bukhara, the Chor Minor, four photogenic minarets build together.
Around Bukhara you can find several interesting sights. The most recommended is Bakhautdin Naqshband Mausoleum, a holy place for Sufism. Here was born and died Bakhautdin Naqshband, the founder of the most influential Sufi orders in Cenral Asia. Take a look at the beautiful mosques and minarets, make three anticlockwise rounds to the tomb and make the same with a petrified tree in the gardens: tradition says it’s auspicious for your luck and procreation. As a holy place of Sufism and Islam pilgrimage, dress and act respectfully.
Ichon Qala walls
When you walk for the first time inside Khiva’s Ichon Qala (Old Town), you feel as if you have entered into a dream of the past. In the history of Khorezm, Khiva was not as important as Konye-Urgench (now in Turkmenistan), but it’s very well preserved, just as if the time had stopped infront of the walls of the old town and hadn’t entered inside.
After Timur defeated Konye-Urgench and the later decay of his empire, Shaybanids Uzbeks came to the area and founded a new state in Khorezm, making Khiva their capital in the 16th century. The town was famous for its slave market, where Kazakhs, Karakalpaks and other nomads were sold to rich Persians and Tadjiks, being the biggest slave market in Central Asia for more than three centuries.
After some treasals and betrayals between Khorezm and Russia, a few Persian invasions and the “Great Game”, Russia invaded the city in 1873, and in 1924 it was annexed to the USSR.
Kalta Minor Minaret
When you will firstly pass the stunning Ichon-Qala walls and gates, you will understand that you have moved back in time. From the asphalted city outside it turns to a world of bricks, turquoise tiles and delightful architecture surrounded by the calm of the pedestrian zone only disturbed by the chant of the imam.
The first thing you will notice is the turquoise Kalta Minor Minaret, an unfinished minaret which Mohammed Amin Khan ordered to build. Had it been finished, it would surely have been the world’s tallest building of the time, but the Khan died and it was never finished. As the legend says, he wanted to see Bukhara from the top of the building. Near the Minaret you can find Sayid Alauddin Mausoleum and Qozi-Kalon Medrassa.
Kuhna Ark mosaics
Just a few meters away (everything is a few meters away inside Ichon-Qala) Kuhna Ark was the khan’s palace. Inside, take a look at the Summer Mosque, the throne room, in front of which was placed the royal yurt, and the many stances and rooms, finishing with the harem, where locals say the khan had 65 concubines. Most of the outside rooms are decorated with blue and white mosaics and wood carved columns with different degrees of restoration. To go up to the top of the Oq Shihbobo bastion, the oldest part of the Kuhna Ark, probably you’ll have to bribe some guard, but it’s worth the money (they will tell you). Finally, near the entrance you can see the Zindon or khan’s jail, and some steps further a camel is waiting to pose with tourists in front of the Mohammed Rakhim Khan Medrassa.
The next important sight is Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum, housing the town’s patron saint, poet and philosopher, as well as the loveliest tiling in the city. From the door of the Mausoleum it’s speacilly wonderfull the view of Islom-Hoja Minaret and Islom Hoja Medrassa, the newest Islamic monuments in the city, but maybe the most beautiful. Get impressed by the turquoise and red bands of the 57m tall minaret, Uzbekistan’s highest one, which you can climb bribing someone.
Another remarkable sight in Khiva is the Juma Mosque, with its 218 wooden columns, where you can also climb to the Juma Minaret. Within its proximities you will find Matpana Bay Medrassa, Abdullah Khan Medrassa, Aq Mosque, Anusha Khan Baths and Tosh-Hovli Palace, holding some of the best interior decoration in the city.
Follow with the Alloquli Khan Medrassa, Kutlimurodinok Medrassa and Alloquli Khan Bazaar and Caravanserai, a real working indoor market that will lead you to Dekhon Bazaar, the same market continuing outdoors. Take a look at the black market money traders with their huge bags full of Sum notes (Uzbek money).
You can see all the sights in Khiva buying only one ticket in Eastern or Western Door. Usually, you can climb every minaret or high building paying something to the guard or the caretaker: it’s good to take a view of the city from the top, but maybe one time it’s enough as it will always look more or less the same.
Usually, one day is enough to see everything, but the place is worth to stay for two or even three days. More than three is too much due to the little dimensions of the city. Or maybe you can spend this last day making an excursion to the old fortress or Elliq-Qala which can be found in Khorezm. Some examples of them are Ayaz-Qala (the most visited), Qoy Qyrylghan Qala, Guldursun Qala, Toprak Qala or Qyzyl Qala. You can make it complete by staying in a yurt that will surely be offerd and taking a camel ride.
Aral Sea and Karakalpakstan
“When Allah loved us,
brought us Amu Darya;
when He stopped loving us,
sent us Russian engineers”,
preys a newly made Karakalpak song. The home of the Karakalpak people was once a prosperous and wealthy land. And it probably got better in the first years of the Soviet irrigation program, but it didn’t last for quite long. The water from the Amu Darya River was used in its totality to irrigate the cotton fields that nowadays are still the main industry of the region, and the Aral Sea got dried. Hundreds of fishermen and sea-related workers lost their jobs, and towns that were lying by the seashore now find themselves in the middle of an arid desert.
With the Aral Sea almost totally dried, the cotton is the only industry left in the land. That’s why this industry that brought the poverty to the region is impossible to leave. With this cruel dilemma, you’ll arrive to desolated Karakalpakstan.
And knowing all this, who would think that in Nukus, the poor Karakalpak capital, there’s placed one of the best art collections in ex-Soviet Union? So that’s it, the repudiated artist and ethnographer Igor Savitsky, with some help, succeed to bring here most of the early 20th Century Russian art that was not according to Soviet Realism standards. You can find a rotating display of the collection in Savitsky Karakalpakstan Art Museum.
But if you did it to Karakalpakstan it’s surely to head to Moynaq and the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea has been called the biggest ecological disaster in the world, and Moynaq was its second port (the first one was in Aralsk, Kazakhstan). With a surface of 68000 km2 in 1960, it was only some scarce 5000 km2 in 2010. And without any source of constant water it’s estimated to be completely dry in less than 10 years.
Ship beached in the Aral Sea bed, near Moynaq
Before placed in a peninsula penetrating the waters, now Moynaq stands 160 km away from the shoreline. The new desert brought sand, salt and dust storms, giving the inhabitants no end of health problems and pulmonary diseases. Not surprisingly, everyday more people are leaving the town. The only inhabitants that still want to stay seem to be the rests of the former fishing boats that are still lying in the sands around the town. Some of them were taken in front of the War Memorial that before occupied the top of a cliff with the best views to the sea. It has been converted to an Aral Sea Memorial, with more or less a dozen of beached ships lying in the former sea platform in front of it. If you explore a little the sea layer further, you can find more rests of ship structures, some of them already eaten by the desert sand dunes. The writer of this article was talking with the driver of one of these boats, listening to his sad explanation of how it was before, while tears in the eyes smudged his view of that nonexistent sea.
A nearby lake was artificially created trying to restore the climate of the city, but it didn’t work so much. It looks like in Moynaq everything that can work badly, gets worst. And the only ones who can find some fun in it are the children who can happily play pirates jumping from vessel to vessel.
Conscious that Fergana Valley is the most populated and with the strongest ethnic consciousness in Central Asia, Stalin played a diabolic game with its borders, trying to divide and isolate the places where some ethnicity was strong. The result is clear: as some routes have up to 4 border crossing, they are completely abandoned. Also, the little “islands” of one republic within other’s border, help to make it difficult to normalize the diplomatic relations between the different countries, as the country surrounding a foreign territory always try to claim it. And some say the recent conflicts in the Kirguiz city of Osh between Uzbeks and Kirguizs are another result of the Stalin’s politics of mixing ethincities.
It’s difficult to say the Fergana Valley is actually a valley, as it’s mostly flat. Nevertheless, in the extremes of it you can find stunningly high mountains. In the north, the Tian Shan Range reaches the 4000 m, and in the south the Pamir Allay Range, 5000 m. The melting snow from the mountains in nutrishing the upper Amu Darya descends through the valley making it the most fertile area in Central Asia.
Bazaar in Andijon
Andijon is the largest city in Fergana valley, and apart of the Juma Mosque it’s worth seeing its numerous bazaars. Also, don’t miss Babur’s (Mughal emperor) royal apartment, now turned to Babur Literary Museum.
Placed southwest of Andijon, Fergana is the most russificated city in the valley. It has not so much to see, but the accommodation and services are the best in the region, so it’s a good base-town to explore the entire valley.
The best sight of the valley is the Khan Palace in the western city of Kokand, completed just three years before the Tsarist troops conquered the city. Half of the palace was occupied by a harem, inhabited by 43 concubines. Now this part of the palace is in ruins but 27 of the 114 original rooms are used as a museum. Another highlight of Kokand is Narbutabey Medrassa, containing some remarkable tombs in a venerated graveyard. And finally, you can explore some Russian buildings and a couple of mosques and medrassas left.
Angren and Chadak are good places to prepare some hiking up the Tien Shan Range, though you will see better mountains out of the valley, in other places of Uzbekistan, for example if you head to south to Zaamin National Park or north to Ugam Chatkal National Park. And even better if you look for higher mountains in Kirguizstan or Tadjikistan.
Border Crossing, registration and corrupt policemen
Crossing borders is part of the fun in Uzbekistan. If you arrive by plane, the hassle shouldn’t be so big. Also, when entering the country, it shouldn’t happen nothing apart the long waiting times and some eventual search. The fun comes when you are leaving the country, specially by land. Long queues are made, registration papers are asked and declaration of goods is religiously checked. But it’s nothing you can’t success with some tips:
By first, your visa must be correct. Second, it’s very important that you declare your goods at the entrance of the country and keep the customs recipe (yes, that stupid paper you must fill in a lot of countries) with yourself until the exit border. You must declare everything supposed to have some value, like cameras, laptops and more importantly, money. And that’s a problem. Nobody likes to take with himself a paper saying that he’s carrying, for example, 2000 dollars. Some people declare only 200 or 300 dollars, and it’s normal that they do. But if you are checked when you are leaving the country with more money than you declared in the entrance, police will keep the difference. This is because Uzbek currency policy (read some lines below for more).
The third question you should solve before leaving the country, especially by land, is the registration. You must register to the OVIR (a sort of Foreign Affairs Ministry) everyday you stay in Uzbekistan, except for three days per month (data from 2010). It means that if you had a one month visa, you can stay three days without sleeping in a hotel, where checking-in means automatic registration. You can stay also in a private house (friend, etc.) and register at the OVIR providing the required info, but the hassles are huge and probably you will have to bribe someone, so it’s better to bribe a hotel directly. Honestly, I haven’t met anybody who tried to leave the country without the needed registers. But as you could understand, Uzbekistan is a country where bribes work well.
Another question are the corrupt officials (not in the border). Since some years ago, when the reports about the mass abuses to travelers from officials in Uzbekistan reached the western books and specialized magazines, the dictator Karimov wanted to give a better image to the exterior. He put strict penalties to the policeman with bad behavior against tourists and the police got immediately more affable. But nevertheless you still have the chance of getting in touch with croocked officials; here you have a guide about how to act in such cases.
Uzbekistan has an acceptable net of buses and marshrutkas. Train connects the main cities at pleasant fares. For everything else, shared taxis are not expensive and work well.
40 dollars in Uzbek Sums
Uzbek Sum is a funny money. The biggest note, 1000 Sums, is something equal to 0.30 €, so when you change money, for example 50 €, you will get a huge amount of notes. But apart of this, the currency is tricky, as the government fixed an exchange rate different than the “market” rate. Known this, it’s much more profitable to change your money in the black market. You will see people with huge bags full of Sums in the market, nearby those who are selling apples or carrots. Well, maybe the best option is to change via black market, but do it better in your hotel or somewhere not as public as an outdoor market. If you ask your hotel staff, they will provide you a dealer for sure.