40 photos of Uzbekistan to get you Silk Road dreamin’
September 9, 2019
Photos of Uzbekistan, the most architecturally stunning of all the Central Asian ‘stans. What more reason do you need to travel to Uzbekistan?
Travelers are buzzing about Uzbekistan, and it’s easy to see why. The quintessential Silk Road destination, it’s home to some of the most incredible architecture in the world, historical sights centuries old, and a population of forward, friendly locals—why wouldn’t you want to visit this stunning ‘stan?
Need more motivation? Go ahead and scroll through these photos of Uzbekistan. Let me know when you’ve bought your ticket.
40 photos of Uzbekistan, let’s go.
Men sitting in prayer among tombstones in Samarkand on the first day of Eid al-Adha, also known as Qurbani Eid (sacrifice Eid). On this day, Uzbeks head to cemeteries to clean the tombstones of their ancestors.
Welcome to Uzbekistan’s most famous ceiling: the dazzlingly golden Tilla-Kari Madrassa in Samarkand’s Registan complex. In case your mind isn’t blown enough, know that this ceiling is actually flat; the painting gives it a seeming dome shape.
An Uzbek man hides from the summer heat in the shadows of the Khast Imam complex in Tashkent. Temperatures in Uzbekistan can rise beyond 40°C in summers—September and October are more palatable times to travel.
Turquoise and blue tiles are the signature look of the Timurid-era Persian architecture you’ll encounter all over Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is famous for its Silk Road-era sights, but just as interesting is the way these old styles and traditions blend with modernity in its cities.
The country is an interesting mix of Central Asian Islamic culture and Soviet Era influence in cities. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, you’ll spot women covered from head to toe as well as women in tank tops and shorter skirts.
There are eleven mausoleums in Samarkand’s Shah-i-Zinda necropolis. Built over several centuries, these tombs house some of conqueror Amir Timur’s family and other important figures from his time.
Bibi Khanum mosque, built by Timur in his new capital of Samarkand in the 15th century, was one of the largest mosques of its time. Alas, it was too big for its britches and began to crumble shortly after construction finished. However, restoration began in the Soviet Era and continues on today.
Head to the Shah-i Zinda necropolis during the day, and it’ll be swarming with foreign tourists. But time your visit for around sunset, and local families out for a stroll will make up the majority of visitors.
A group of Uzbek school children clambering on the ruins of the Bibi Khanum mosque. Though the Uzbek topi hats are typically the only traditional clothes you see men wearing these days, women’s clothes in Uzbekistan are far more eye-catching.
Until 2018, photography was prohibited in Tashkent’s metro. But these days, you can snap away at the social melting pot that is the metro—just make sure not to get any guards in your photos.
Alisher Navoi was my favorite metro station in Tashkent, for obvious reasons. The cars even match the décor!
Cliché as it sounds, some moments in my travels literally take my breath away. This was one of them: when I was let into Samarkand’s Gur-e-Amir mausoleum before it officially opened after talking with a caretaker. He opened the doors, showed me in, then left me alone. “It’s a good place for prayer,” he advised before closing the doors. I’m not religious, but in that moment it seemed fitting—might as well thank whatever powers that be for the opportunity, right?
The Khast Imam complex—which, by the way, means “Mr. Imam” in Uzbek!—is one of the capital’s prettiest architectural works, and contains a mosque, madrassa, and the world’s oldest Quran (or so Uzbeks say). Though new by local standards, it’s a peaceful respite in busy Tashkent.
When visiting the Khast Imam complex, don’t be afraid to lie back on the carpeted mosque floor and admire its ceilings. No one will judge.
The Registan, which means “desert” in Persian, is Samarkand’s most famous complex for obvious reasons. Three madrassas, Islamic schools, make up the complex. In the days of yore, bazaars used to take place within the square, but these days, tourists make up the complex’s main traffic. If you want to escape the crowds, try visiting at sunrise. You might have to *cough* coerce the guards to get in, but seeing the site sans-people is worth the cost.
Many nooks and crannies of Uzbekistan’s historic sights, like this tomb in the Registan, become gift shops during the day. Sometimes I find it off putting, but other times, I can’t help but be amused—these are the most spectacular gift shops in the world!
“Excuse me, where are you from?” What began as a casual stroll through a park turned into an afternoon out when this friendly student from Tashkent came to say hello. We talked about everything from languages to boyfriends to tattoos (and why you should not tattoo boyfriends’ names on you)—just one of many examples of how friendly and forward Uzbeks can be!
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Women selling tealeaves in Tashkent’s polished Alay Bazaar. Many people in Uzbekistan are happy to have their photo taken, so long as you make the effort to talk a bit first.
Every metro station in Tashkent is different. Some are more Soviet in flavor, while others skew Persian. Spend a day roaming the underground and you’ll see what I mean.
An artist in the Barak Khan madrassa (part of the Khast Imam complex) painting miniature historical scenes on a plate for sale. He said it takes two weeks to paint one plate.
Families emerging for a sunset stroll about Independence Square in the center of Tashkent.
“Where are you from?” is the most common start to conversations with locals, but from there, it can go in any direction! I ended up discussing my long-term travels and what is and isn’t interesting to me with this man in Tashkent’s Alay Bazaar. He recommended some places away from the tourist track such as Kokand, which according to him is filled with lovely old tiled buildings and many a chill choykhana (tea house). He ended up inviting me to lunch in a choykhana nearby the bazaar!
Fun fact: while traveling in Uzbekistan, your neck is going to protest from looking up pretty much all the time. But don’t worry—the views are well worth it.
Uzbekistan is magical at all times of day, but the blue hour and golden hour around sunrise are by far my favorite time to explore the cities. Case in point: the stunning Gur-e Amir mausoleum, beneath which Amir Timur himself is buried, totally devoid of people despite being beautifully lit at 5 AM.
Come late summer, melons are everywhere in Uzbekistan. Light and sweet and sold on the street, they’re practically perfect for beating the heat. This man was selling them out of the back of his truck, and ended up gifting a melon to one of the people in our group. Why? “You are our guest!”
Love train travel? Uzbekistan is for you. Major cities are all well-connected by train, and in recent years a new train was introduced: the Afrosiyob, a high-speed train between Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara.
Islamic architecture, like this entryway to the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum in Samarkand, often involves vaulted caverns lined with mosaics symbolizing Allah’s creative powers.
At Chorsu bazaar in Tashkent, vendors are happy to let interested customers sample wares ranging from cream cheese to… horse sausage! The bazaar is open 24/7, though how I could not tell you.
A tourist wandering by one of the many rooms-cum-gift shops scattered throughout the Registan.
The Siab bazaar runs like clockwork a stone’s throw from the Bibi Khanum mosque. You can find anything and everything there, but sickly sweet Samarkand halwa is the market’s specialty. There are several varieties on sale; don’t be afraid to ask to try them all.
Tile fatigue: when you’re so accustomed to ornate Timurid tiles that checking your messages is more interesting.
Attention to detail isn’t limited to Uzbekistan’s historical sights. This is one of the tacky-yet-glam interiors of Sim Sim restaurant in Tashkent, where locals and tourists alike go for a nice meal out. You can dine in opulence for less than US$10 per person!
A religious pilgrim taking a moment to rest outside one of the many tombs of the Shah-i Zinda necropolis.
A young Chorsu vendor pulling out all the stops to convince me to buy his dried fruits… and marry him, too. (Sorry bro, you’re a little young for me.)
I went to photograph Shah-i Zinda at sunrise, and it seemed the necropolis was deserted. Then I noticed a man’s head peeking out over a hillside, and upon going to investigate, I was greeted with this sight: hundreds of men at morning prayer due to Eid al-Adha!
Men flowing through the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis in Samarkand after finishing Eid morning prayers at the mosque.
This publication/activity is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs Activity in Central Asia. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Lost With Purpose (that’s me!) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.