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Saturday August 17, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday August 17, 2013 MYT 7:10:24 AM
by story andphotos by s.s. yoga
Uzbekistan’s renowned ceramic ware next to the Poi-Kalyan complex in Bukhara.
There’s more to Uzbekistan than architectural wonders and history, as our writer finds out.
SHOPPING for souvenirs took up most of our time, second only to the hours spent visiting the interesting sights in Uzbekistan.
At every tourist attraction, there are many little shops, some of them occupying the nooks and crannies of mosques, madrasah and mausoleums.
There are also a few big bazaars in each city. We went to the Central Bazaar in Samarkand. If you want fresh produce, especially fruits, this is the place to head to. And the bonus is another tourist site just next to it – the mausoleum of Bibi-Khanum.
Uzbekistan is famous for its ceramic ware (each region has a different style and pattern), carpets, handmade silk and cotton items, jewellery boxes, and puppets. We popped over to a puppet-maker in Bukhara and were fascinated with the detailed handiwork.
You have to bargain like crazy at these shops. Despite everything, I still think I (and the rest of the tour members) paid way above market prices.
Do note that the currency here is the Sum and you can only use US dollars to change to this currency when you enter the country. And since the biggest note is 1,000 Sum (equivalent to US50 cents/ RM1.50), be prepared to lug around a huge stack of bills.
Tip: Please change only what you think you might need as any remainder Sum cannot be changed back to US dollars once you leave the country. Also, you have to declare any foreign currency you bring in. When you leave, you have to fill out another form saying how much you have then – if you have more, you’ll be in trouble because that implies you did some business there!
By the way, a visa (fee is US$65/RM203) is required for Malaysians to visit Uzbekistan.
Sample the produce and food of Uzbekistan. Don’t have high expectations, though; after our third meal, we could predict what would be served at subsequent meals. To be fair, there are some delicious salads – with aubergine, beetroot and cucumber being the main ingredients.
Bread and mutton soup are commonly served. With each serving, the bread appeared to get harder. One can dip it in the soup. With each place we visited, the soup became thinner and pasta started appearing in it, from what looked like soo hoon to instant noodles.
The mains would be normally mutton again, cooked in different ways; rarely did we get chicken or beef. The outstanding food – and this is Uzbekistan’s national dish and pride – is the plov: coming across as the familiar pilaf and even more familiar briyani! Every region had its version but my favourite was the one in Bukhara (Nasi Bukhara is probably a Malaysianised version of this) – chicken is used instead of mutton, and cooked with yoghurt.
The fruits offered as starters or for dessert are pretty amazing – such as large cherries, apricots, all kinds of berries, and pomegranates. Since 86% of the population is Muslim, there is no worry about finding halal food. Prayer times and places to perform prayers were also easily sorted out for our group.
Going by their Soviet past, one might assume some stoic, sombre-looking demeanour from the Uzbeks. And on the flight to Tashkent, it seemed that the cabin crew personified this with their unsmiling faces and abrupt speech.
But once you arrive in the country, it is just the opposite. I found Uzbeks to be the one of the most cheerful and welcoming people I have ever encountered in my travels. Despite their lack of English, their “body language” certainly spelt out welcome every single time – and they loved to pose for photographs.
All of them seem to have an inbuilt gene for the warmest smiles in their DNA. And what an attractive people they are – a mix of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyzs, Russians and so on.
Another tip: Do pick up a few words of Uzbek because they do appreciate you taking the trouble to learn it.
Rahmat, Uzbekistan – thank you for the wonderful experience!
The best of Uzbekistan
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