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Discovery Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan

by Julien Dyminski  from France

I’ll be honest, when one of my travel buddies asked me if I was interested in going to Uzbekistan, I was not overwhelmed with excitement.
My reaction was much more tame, something like “mhhh, I’ll check it out”.
In fact, the idea of travelling there had never even occurred to me. I just knew it as a police state sharing borders with Afghanistan and Tajikistan, which did not make it the most relaxing place on earth in my mind (at the time, some areas around Ferghana were considered as “strongly discouraged” by our ministry of foreign affairs).
But my friend had picked my curiosity. I asked myself : “Do I know anyone that has ever been there ? Nope !”, that was the trigger.
As an amateur photographer, the opportunity to get some original/uncommon shots was teasing me, and the fact that there might not be too many tourists appealed to me as well.
Fast forward a couple months later : we arrive in Tashkent (the capital) in the first week of july. The weather was hot but dry so nothing unbearable. The city itself is pretty big an quite modern. We wandered a bit around the old town, before heading to the countryside.
Uzbekistan, Main Bazaar (Chorsu market) in Tashkent by Julien Dyminski

We then hired a van to take us to the Ferghana Valley in the east, crossing the Tchatkal mountains through the Kamchik pass.

Uzbekistan, view-from-the-kamchik-pass
Uzbekistan, View from the Kamchik pass by Julien Dyminski
There are numerous checkpoints on this road, which is heavily guarded (photos of soldiers or checkpoints and tunnels are not allowed ; this is strongly enforced).
The reason for military presence in the region is that the valley has been split between 3 countries : Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The region is rich, so there have been clashes between the three factions in the recent past. As a tourist, you don’t have too much to worry about as long as you don’t wander close to the border (but this you should definitely avoid, as it’s full of mine fields).
Uzbekistan, Khudayar Khan’s Palace in Kokand by Julien Dyminski
Although the Ferghana valley is a beautiful region, with lots of vegetation (which was a surprise, we expected dry/rocky mountainous landscape), and lots of hills/forests ; in hindsight, the trip there was not so much about the places we visited, but really about the people.
I travelled a lot around the world, and I will say this : The people from this region were some of the most welcoming and friendliest bunch I’ve ever met.
My guess would be that tourists are still fairly uncommon there, so their curiosity towards you is genuine.
They are not looking to sell anything to you, on the contrary. They have a very deep sense of hospitality
Uzbekistan, bazaar by Julien Dyminski
Walking though the bazaar ? You can hardly make 3 steps without having someone handing you fruits or candy.
Bazaars are also the place where one could find black market exchange rates. This is not encouraged as it is not official, but fyi : $1 was about 3000 som when changing at the bank/atm, and around 6000 som on the black market (can vary a lot depending on the town you are in, best rates we ever “heard of” were in Bukhara).
It’s always nice to bring a little something back from your trips, either as gifts for your friends and family, or souvenirs for yourself. Uzbekistan offers some really beautiful handicraft.
Uzbekistan, baker by Julien Dyminski
Walking in the street in Ferghana, looking at the bread stalls ? Get invited inside to see the process, and taste delicious bread !
Before my trip, I read/heard somewhere that even if you are just going for a little afternoon walk, it might take you several days, as you will get invited by many people.
Well, I have to say this is true, especially in Ferghana valley. People will invite you left and right, and prepare for you delicious meals.
It’s always nice to bring a little something back from your trips, either as gifts for your friends and family, or souvenirs for yourself. Uzbekistan offers some really beautiful handicraft.
Uzbekistan, ceramic artist from Richtan by Julien Dyminski
Ferghana is known for the quality and finesse of it’s Ceramic.
Knives and uzbek miniature paintings are also a nice and original souvenir to bring back.
Uzbekistan, silk worker by Julien Dyminski

Uzbekistan being on the old silk road, silk scarves and carpets are fairly popular items to bring back. I personally did not appreciate the traditional design of the scarves, but some of the carpets were magnificent (especially in Boukhara).

Uzbekistan, park by Julien Dyminski
A popular activity on weekends is to go to the park, chat with your friends, share a very copious lunch, drink tea, and dance (or take a nap in the shade)
Parks usually offer areas with traditional tables, or large covered flat areas where people would lay mats or rugs to sit on. Men and women are usually split in different groups.
Two very nice places we tried were the park around Sathak’s mausoleum and Babour’s park near Andijan.
Uzbekistan, the cook is ready by Julien Dyminski
A great concept : Once you have settled in your spot with your group of friends, you can have someone cook for you ! Either you go shopping, or bring your own ingredients in advance, then go hand it to the cooks, explain what you want and they will prepare everything for you and bring you the plates when it’s ready.
We witnessed again the incredible hospitality of the Uzbek here. As we were waiting for our meal to be cooked, the other tables around us would each send us plates filled with samples of what they had prepared. As a result, we were full before we had even touched our own food 🙂
Talking about Uzbek food : One thing is for certain, you will not die from hunger in Ferghana.
Depending on the season, you will have some amazingly tasty fruits (especially apricots and watermelon, as well as some fantastic nuts/almonds)
-The traditional national dish is the Plov (Osh) : rice (sauteed with oil, which gives it a nice golden color) with pieces of vegetables (usually at least onions and carrots) and meat (mutton or beef).
-There is always bread (called “non”) with every meal, they are very wide, round and flat (and pure deliciousness when it’s just out from the oven).
-Uzbeks also love grilled meats. You will find lots of shops selling skewers/shashlik (usually beef, mutton and kefta, but sometimes chicken as well).
-Shurpa is a meat and vegetables soup/stew (similar to Chorba, which I guess is where the name comes from)
-From the russian influence, you will also find lots of Manti and Chuchvara (dumplings, similar to the russian pelmeni).
Uzbekistan, delicious shashlik here! by Julien Dyminski
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