Once a stop on the ancient Silk Road, now a jewel of Central Asia, Uzbekistan’s culture is rich, varied and unique. It is only in recent years, however, that the country has begun to garner a reputation as an off the beaten track travel highlight. Still relatively unexplored, Uzbekistan is the perfect place for those wanting a cultural getaway without the crowds.
Many of the sports and traditions of the country involve feats of strength and endurance, reflecting the hardiness of the Uzbek people.
Kupkari is one of the most thrilling sports you are likely to encounter, not just in Uzbekistan but across the planet. The equestrian sport shares the same ancestry as polo but where polo has four players on horseback, Kupkari has closer to a hundred. Competitors in the game carry a goat carcass toward a goal, whilst fending off other riders who seek to dislodge them. At first glance the game might seem anarchic but the riders are incredibly skilled, having to carefully manoeuvre their horses through the maelstrom of other competitors.
Competitions take place across many regions of rural Uzbekistan in Spring and Autumn. In the months leading up to it, riders take great care in selecting the right horse, short and sturdy being ideal qualities. The thunderous sound of galloping horses and the frenzied pace of this ancient game make Kupkari a must-see for any Uzbekistan visitor.
Another ancient Uzbek practice is darboz. Thought to have originated in Central Asia in the Middle Ages, darboz is more commonly known as tightrope walking. During a traditional show, the walker will scale a pole, anywhere from twenty to fifty feet tall, and then perform a number of acrobatic tricks whilst crossing the rope. Running and jumping, sometimes blindfolded, on something no more than a few inches thick makes these performances incredibly thrilling to watch.
Darboz is such an integral part of Uzbek culture that, if you are visiting during a national holiday, you are virtually guaranteed to see a performance. A sure fire way to find them is to listen out for the roar of a karnay, a brass Uzbek instrument, which is used to announce that a show is about to begin.
For centuries, the ancient Silk Road that ran through the heart of Uzbekistan meant the country was shaped by cultures across the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in its cuisine and visitors sampling the hearty flavours will notice definite influence from the Middle and Far East.
You will find Far Eastern influence in the noodle based dishes and snacks of Uzbekistan. Manta are scrumptious dumplings containing meat, spices and seasonal vegetables. Samsa is very similar to an Indian samosa but with a unique and delicious filling of pumpkin and spices.
If you prefer the rich flavours of the Middle East, look no further than the dishes created within the versatile tandoor ovens. Meat is a staple ingredient in Uzbek cooking and there is no better way to enjoy it than as a shaslik (kebab), where meat is marinated in a fiery adjika sauce, skewered onto metal and then cooked in a tandoor.
One must-try dish was born and bred in the Uzbek capital: Tashkent Salad. This flavoursome dish comprises of few ingredients; slow cooked beef, thinly sliced radish, greens, a yoghurt based dressing and is garnished with crispy fried onion. You can find this dish across much of Uzbekistan but it is best enjoyed in Tashkent city.
The Persian occupation of Uzbekistan in the Middle Ages brought not only the flavours of the Middle East, but also its architectural influence. The skylines of the country’s most beautiful cities, Samarkand and Khiva, are dominated by bold turquoise colours. The towering domes and minarets of mosques are shining examples of the intricacy of Muslim architecture. You are sure to spend a great deal of time looking upward when wandering the winding streets of these cities!
For a piece of history, don’t miss the tomb of Ismail Samanai. He was an Amir of one of the last Persian dynasties to rule Central Asia and he chose Bukhara for his final resting place. The tomb was built in the 10th century and is one of the best surviving pieces of architecture from that era on the planet.
If you would like to experience the rich culture of Uzbekistan for yourself, why not make an enquiry with our local experts? They are ready and waiting to help you plan the trip of a lifetime! Check out our destination pages for more information.