About Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has some of the best preserved Islamic cities in the world. Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva all have great historic centres, with a few almost unbelievably beautiful mosques and Koranic schools. These are cities you cannot miss, if you are at all interested in culture and/or Islam.

Uzbekistan has also part of one of the biggest environmental disasters in the world: Aral lake. This lake is slowly disappearing with unpleasant consequences for the people living around it. It is a very unhealthy climate near the ex-lake. Worst of all is that this is a man-made disaster.

The toughest thing about Uzbekistan is understanding why your tour guide is so reluctant to giving the clients a simple price quote. In truth, the Uzbek currency has a state-determined value and a black market value. Uzbek people cannot explain this to you over the internet, phone, fax or otherwise for fear of the tax authorities showing up for an impromptu inspection and accessment. Travelling in Uzbekistan is cheap, but only if you show up with dollars in hand and pay cash. Previously travel agents could book your flights at the local rate. This is no longer the case and foreigners must pay first world prices. Save your cash and see the countryside by hiring a car. The last time I checked, the dollar in the bazaar was worth about five times as much as in the bank. Speak quietly and ask your tour guide to exchange some money. Expect to pay him or her a comission just like you will pay a little more than the local people for everything.

The last paragraph is no longer so true, since the 'official' and 'unofficial' rates are almost the same, so it doesnt make much difference any more. You can change money in banks (official- around 1000 sum to the USD, at 2005) or at a moneychanger kiosk, or even in the street, at a market (around 1100 to the USD, at 2005). Changing money with a moneychanger is illegal, but everyone does it.

Many private tour agencies can quote you in USD for tours, anything from one day to 21 days or longer. Its generally worth doing this, unless you are fluent in Russian, in which case organising things yourself in each city, or just wandering around, can be done. If you stay in small private hotels (there are many of these, usually called 'Bed and Breakfast hotels') then they can always recommend a guide, either for a day or longer, if you want someone to show you around, or to organise a day trip to a place to visit outside of the city you are visiting. For example, its much easier to visit Chor Bakr, outside of Bukhara, with a guide than to have to arrange everything yourself, and it shoud only cost about USD10 for the whole thing.

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