Monday, July 30, 2012

Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan at the 2012 Olympics

uzbekistan tours, uzbek art craft holidays
Elshod Rasulov world boxing champion leads the Uzbek parade
Uzbekistan first competed as an independent country in the summer Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta, where athletes picked up two silver and three bronze medals in judo and boxing.

At the 2004 Olympiad in Greece, Uzbekistan won two gold medals, one silver and two bronze to finish 34th out of 201 competing countries.

This year 18 Uzbek women and 36 Uzbek men, including champions of previous Olympics and world championships, will compete in gymnastics, cycling, swimming, track and field, weightlifting, rowing and canoeing, boxing, judo, taekwondo, wrestling, shooting, and tennis. Ruslan Kudayev will be the first Uzbek to ever compete in fencing.

The Uzbek government heavily promotes sport throughout the school system and continues to construct modern sports facilities. Olympic medalists are also awarded cash prizes by the government.

kyrgyzstan tours, art craft kyrgyzstan
Kygryz in traditional al kalpaks; image: Reuters
Like its neighbour, Kyrgyzstan's first appearance at the Olympics was in 1996. Its Olympic medal tally to date is three, in judo and wrestling.

Three Kyrgyz women and 11 men will participate in the games. Kyrgyz athletes train at a dedicated Olympic Training Centre in Bishkek. The small republic is pinning its medal hopes on 19-year old  Aisuluu Tynybekova in the women's freestyle wrestling.

With national pride at stake, Kyrgyzstan has promised a $200,000 prize for any athlete who can bring home a gold medal from London. A silver medalist stands to win $150,000 and a bronze medalist $100,000, drawn from a special Olympic fund.

Turkmenistan is hoping for its first Olympic medal since its debut as an independent country at the 1996 summer games. Its 10-member team (three women and seven men) will compete in athletics, judo, boxing, swimming and weightlifting.

 Turkmenistan at the opening ceremony; Lars Baron/Getty Images Europe
Hoping to attract international sporting events, Turkmenistan has embarked on the construction of a vast sporting village and training centre. The new project is to include 30 sports facilities and a football stadium with a capacity of 60,000 people.

The New York Times piece today on Turkmenistan's 18-year old swimmer, Jennet Saryyeva, demonstrates  how much it means for athletes from developing countries to participate.

Follow Uzbekistan's,  Kyrgyzstan's and Turkmenistan's Olympic results online. You will delight locals if you mention their sporting heroes when you travel there.

Update 14 August 2012: Review this link for a wrap up of Central Asia's Mixed Success at London Olympics.

Related post:
Central Asia at the Paralympics 2012
Chess in Uzbekistan

Thursday, July 19, 2012

5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan

kyrgyzstan tours, kyrgyz art and craft
Anita Breland
Writer and photographer Anita Breland visited Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan with Uzbek Journeys in April/May 2012. Accounts of her travels with us appear on Anita’s Feast, her blog celebrating culture through travel and food.

Traveling in the “Stans”, former outposts of Soviet authority, is to experience a region in transition. Political change and infrastructure development are ongoing, after more than a century of Russian and Soviet empire. From the fabled cities of Samarkand and Khiva in Uzbekistan, to the vast steppes of Kazakhstan, each country has its own appeal to the traveler.

Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic history and tentative democracy sit in appealing juxtaposition to its neighbors along the Silk Roads of Central Asia. Now is an exciting time to go there.

Stunning mountain scenery

Kyrgyzstan art craft tours, silk road tours
10th century Burana tower. Image: Tom Fakler
In a country that is ninety-six percent mountainous, it is impossible to escape stunning mountain vistas, and who would want to? Bishkek, the compact capital, is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, its modern buildings bright under summer skies.

Hiking lures visitors and locals alike along leafy gorges with rushing streams, past shamanistic altars and through flocks of sheep and goats. Serious mountaineering venues, such as Peak Lenin, await climbers. Or there’s horseback riding in a land of horsemen. Outfitters can help travelers organize excursions at various fitness levels.

Top-notch craftsmanship

A strikingly modern sense of style and energetic idea-making infuses the Bishkek design scene. Up-market boutiques and the ateliers of fashion-forward designers offer stylish silk and felt goods at reasonable prices. Artisans readying their wares for international fairs, sell traditional and new-style crafts at pop-up markets and upon request.

kyrgyzstan art craft tours, kyrgyz holidays
Traditional Kyrgyz yurt decor. Image: Tom Fakler

A fascinating history - and pre-history

Nomadic traditions have underpinned Kyrgyz culture for centuries, and initiatives to revive and preserve them for future generations make it possible for travelers to learn about yurts and felt, and other aspects of a lifestyle that is quite different to other countries in the region.

Traveling around Kyrgyzstan takes a visitor past petroglyphs dating back millennia, and provides a window on a nation of understated Islam, where minarets are fashioned of pounded tin, or in Karakol, constructed of painted wood beside a pagoda-style mosque purpose-built for the Dungan community.

Intriguing culinary influences

A variety of culinary adventures awaits travelers to Kyrgyzstan. A four-course dinner in the capital may feature spicy Szechuan salads and peppery marinated, roasted meats, as well as steamed dumplings and the ubiquitous vodka or Kyrgyz beer.

Fish from Issy Kul Lake is sold dry-cured by lakeside vendors and available European-style at Bishkek fish restaurants. It is possible to visit a Uighur home in the countryside for a meal, or even stay overnight and have a cooking lesson. Not surprisingly, traditional Kyrgyz hospitality is generous, too, and may include a huge spread of nibbles, breads, salads and soups, as well as sturdy main courses such as beef stew.

Time travel to the USSR and Tsarist Russia

kyrgyzstan art craft tours, kyrgyz holidays
Open-air gallery of petroglyphs, near Cholpon Ata. Image: Tom Fakler
Visitors looking for a Soviet/Russian time-warp experience will find it here. Issy Kul Lake was a favored getaway of Boris Yeltsin, and it is still possible to take the waters at one of the Soviet-era spas there.  Lenin’s statue still stands in Bishkek, and a MIG fighter jet is perched beside the highway at the eastern end of Issy Kul.

A museum honoring Russian explorer Przhevalsky, the diminutive Holy Trinity Cathedral in Karakol, and the town’s somewhat scruffy cottages with shutters and eaves straight out of Doctor Zhivago, all provide glimpses into a bygone era.

For me, Kyrgyzstan was the perfect follow-on to extended overland travels in Uzbekistan. I’d soaked up about all the fabulous architecture and desert heat I could manage for one journey. Eight days in neighboring Kyrgyzstan brought, literally, a breath of refreshing mountain air and inspired beauty I’d not expected to find.

Discover the beauty of Kyrgyz landscapes, craft and traditions on an Uzbek Journeys tour.

Read more Uzbek Journeys posts about travelling in Kyrgyzstan

Anita's articles from her travels in Kyrgyzstan:
Kyrgyz felt travels its own Silk Road to high fashion
Artful Dining in Kyrgyzstan
Preserving Kyrgyzstan's Nomadic Traditions
"Golden hands"  produce Kyrgyz shyrdaks

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Discover Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2013

uzbekistan art tours, uzbek holidays silk road
Bibi Khanum, Samarkand
Dates for Uzbek Journeys 2013 small group tours to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have just been announced.

The 16-day Uzbek tours, scheduled for the very best seasons in Uzbekistan, focus on the art, craft and history of this fascinating section of the Silk Road.

Explore the architectural masterpieces of the ancient cities of Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara, and Khiva. Visit artisans’ workshops to meet families who have practised their craft for generations and contemporary artists who are fusing ancient techniques with modern style.

Roam the bazaars, lounge around in teahouses and spend the night in a yurt in the Kyzyl Kum desert. Learn about the intrigues of the Great Game between Britain and Russia and view the extraordinary collection of modernist art in remote Nukus.

And while in this part of the world, why not consider a one-week excursion to Kyrgyzstan?

The Kyrgyzstan tours combine the majestic, rugged landscapes of snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, with visits to craft co-operatives, design workshops and yurt makers. Travelling around shimmering Issyk Kul lake, with the towering Tien Shan mountain range in view, you will understand how nomadic traditions are still at the core of the Kyrgyz people, who take immense pride in their heritage.

kyrgyzstan craft tours, silk road tours
The majesty of Kyrgyz landscapes
There are opportunities for hiking, picnics by streams, and listening to traditional musicians  and bards in private homes.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country, often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, and makes a marvellous contrast to the landscapes of Uzbekistan.

Why not join me in 2013?

Learn more about the 2013 Uzbek tours.

Review the 2013 Kyrgyz tours.

Monday, July 2, 2012

48 Hours in Tashkent

Too often visitors to Uzbekistan arrive in Tashkent, check into a hotel and then leave the next day for the wondrous Silk Road towns of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. What a pity!

Outside view of Sunduk restaurant, Tashkent
Although Tashkent may not have the monuments of other Uzbek towns - after all it was largely destroyed in the 1966 earthquake - it is a vibrant, green city of around 4 million people, with an excellent subway, inexpensive taxis and many interesting things to do. Please join me now for a weekend in Tashkent.


Saturday morning head down to the very cool café, Sunduk, at 63 Sadik Azimov Street, (tel: +998 71 232 11 46) for brunch. The interior's small cosy rooms, with sepia photos and contemporary art, are most appealing.

The menu offers mainly dishes in the Uzbek and Russian traditions, all with a modern twist. There are magazines to browse, good music and in summer there are outdoor tables. Best of all, Sunduk has an excellent coffee machine. (Note - Sunduk is not open Sundays).

Two-minutes walk from Sunduk is the Art + Fact Gallery, a space dedicated to photography. As well as a large ground floor exhibition area, there is also a downstairs *bunker* (formally a nuclear fallout shelter), that is used for exhibitions as well as its photography school and photo studio. The address is 20 Sadik Azimov Street, near the Japanese Embassy.  Phone ahead to check what's on: +998 (71) 232-03-60.

uzbekistan tours, art tours uzbekistan
 Ulugbek Holmuradov's earrings at Human Wear
Next visit Human House, a boutique for contemporary clothing, jewellery, embroidered boots and bags, home furnishings and quality souvenirs. Some of the best Uzbek designers are carried in Human House and many of them work with traditional motifs.

Recently I picked up a pair of ballet flats embroidered with pomegranate design, a silk velvet ikat jacket and a hand-embroidered silk dress. Human House is at 43 Ivlieva Street
just off Shota Rustavelli. It opens daily from 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Tel:+998 90 937 83 73

Then stop by the Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists of Uzbekistan. This is one of my favourite Soviet buildings in Tashkent.  It is lavishly decorated, cleverly incorporating Central Asian design elements. It hosts regular exhibitions of both applied and fine arts and is also a venue for emerging contemporary artists. Located at the corner of Uzbekistan Ave and Sharaf Rashidov St, close to Tsum department store, the space is open daily, except Mondays, from 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
uzbekistan holidays, tours to uzbekistan
Ceiling of the Exhibition Hall, Union of Artists of Uzbekistan

Not far from here is the leafy Golubie Kupola Park, where you'll find a long row of second-hand booksellers. It's a shady, quiet place to wander and browse the stalls. Most books are in Russian and Uzbek, though there are some foreign language titles.

On my last visit I was delighted to pick up a copy of the rare and difficult-to-find Avant Garde Stopped on the Run, (about the Savitsky collection in Nukus) from Leningrad's Aurora Art Publishers. There's also a café for a drink and snack.

Performances start early in Tashkent, often at 5:00 p.m. on weekends. Hopefully there is an opera or ballet at the charming Alisher Navoi Theatre.

(The theatre is undergoing extensive renovation, and performances may be held at the Turkiston Palace instead. Regardless of venue, the quality of the performances is generally very high). Call the box office ahead  +998 71 233 90 81 to check.

uzbekistan tours, travel to uzbekistan
Second-hand booksellers in Tashkent
Or maybe there is a concert at the State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, at 1 B. Zakirova Street? (tel: +998 71 144 5320 or +998 71 139 4653)

There is also the Ilkhom Theatre, the Soviet Union's first experimental, independent theatre founded during the Brezhnev era. This remarkable artistic collective has performed worldwide, garnering rave reviews and awards, including the Prince Claus Award 2011.

Occasionally there are programs with  English surtitles.  The theatre is at 5 Pakhtakor Street (tel: +998-71-241-22-41) and performances start at 6:30 p.m.

Later grab a bite to eat at Sema de Roma, an excellent Italian restaurant at 40 Chekhova Street, (tel: +99871 150 1835/36,) There is outdoor seating on a large terrace, the menu has interesting vegetarian dishes as well as Italian standards, and Georgian and Italian wines are served.

Have an early night as Sunday is an early start.


What better place to spend a Sunday morning than Tashkent's flea market, Tezykovka, in Yangiobod?  It is a proper flea market where you can buy books, home wares, old clothing, nails, animals, spare parts and plumbing stuff. I picked up a gorgeous, orange vintage ikat teapot when last there. Definitely go with a Russian-speaking guide or friend and watch your belongings.

Ilkhom poster designed by Yulia Drobova
Skip the market plov or soup option at the small food stands, and head back into town for Café Bon's excellent coffee and pastries. Branches are  at either 63 Shota Rustavelli Street (tel:+998 71 280-51-16) or 21 Chimkentskaya Street, near the Ukraine café (tel: +998 71 150 18 33/34). Both cafes are very cosy.

Then catch the metro to either Gafur Gulom or Chorsu station to make the 3:00 p.m show at the Tashkent circus, 1 Hadra Square. The building is a splendid example of Soviet cosmic architecture, (which you can admire from the outside any day). If architectural detail is your interest, however, then you will be thrilled to see inside.

There are lots of extraordinary juggling and acrobatic acts, clowns, an astonishing array of parodies of Russian pop singers, sometimes in drag. It's fun, fast and a most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There are usually circus performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from around US$4 - US$7. Call +998 71 244 23 32 or +998 71 244 35 91 to check times.

After such a busy weekend, it is probably time to relax with a treat in another classic Soviet building: the Uzbekistan Hotel's beauty salon, where you can have a reflexology foot massage or full body massage. The salon is open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

tashkent circus uzbekistan tours art craft
Just like walking into a space ship: 1st floor circus entry
Later in the evening, I would simply sip green tea and snack on fresh fruits. What a lovely weekend!

Related posts:
Another 48 Hours in Tashkent
Tashkent - A Night at the Opera
Tashkent: A City of Refuge  
Exploring Tashkent's Botanical Gardens
Uzbekistan's Circus Traditions
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings
Tashkent Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View
Tashkent's Flea Market