Known as the “Garden of Uzbekistan” the Fergana Valley lies in the eastern part of Uzbekistan between the Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountains) and the Pamir Alay range and is shared with neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is the most fertile and populous area of Uzbekistan. Fergana, the largest town in the valley, with its Russian colonial architecture and streets shaded with plane and poplar trees, makes a good base from which to see the older and more interesting towns of Kokand and Margilan.
Bukhara was a major staging point on the Silk Road. By about 500BC, it was already an important centre, defended by a citadel that has stood in one form or other ever since. Today it is the site of the Ark Fortress, residence of the former Emirs of Bukhara, which occupied an area of about 13 hectares. Many of Bukhara‘s buildings were constructed during the Kharakhanid era (992 – 1211) and there are more than 150 monuments in the city. With its narrow alleyways and bustling bazaars, Bukhara is the quintessential Silk Road city.
The Nurata mountain range is home to the Nurata Nature Reserve and many lush green river valleys as well as the ancient town of Nurata, founded by Alexander the Great. Rural Tajik and Uzbek villages are dotted through the valleys and the traditional way of life is very much preserved here, the natural hospitality of the villagers gives visitors the chance to experience the culture first hand. The area is home to an endangered species of mountain sheep, and the many habitats provide an array of flora, rare endemic tulips and over 300 species of birds. Historic fortress ruins can be found in many of the villages, which lie close enough together to trek between. Lake Aydar lies to the north, a serene, peaceful place for bird watching or swimming.
Kokand has existed since at least the 10th century, when it was known as Khavakend and was located on a caravan route between India and China. Destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century, the present city began as a fort in 1732. In 1740 it became the capital of an Uzbek khanate (a state ruled by khans) that reached as far as Qyzylorda to the west and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to the northeast. The palace of Khudayar Khan sits in the centre of the city. Built by the last Khan of Kokand, Khudoyar, it was completed in 1873 – three years before the tsar’s troops arrived, abolished the Khan and blew up his fortifications.
Nukus is now the 6th largest city in Uzbekistan but it grew from a small settlement. However, the city’s isolation made it host to the Red Army’s Chemical Research Institute. The State Museum has artifacts recovered from archaeological investigations, traditional jewellery, costumes and musical instruments, but more interestingly, displays of the area’s now vanished or endangered flora and fauna. The Art Museum is noted for its collection of modern Russian and Uzbek art from 1918-1935. Stalin tried his best to eliminate all non Soviet art from this period, and sent most of the artists to the gulag. The collection at Nukus survived because of the city’s remoteness.
Khiva is a fascinating medieval desert town which has been perfectly preserved. It came to prominence in the 16th century as the capital of the Khans of Khiva whose territory stretched from the Caspian Sea to India and was famous for its religious fervour and slave markets. Khiva’s inner walled city or “Ichan Kala” has been described as an open-air museum (or perhaps an abandoned film set). It consists of a maze of narrow medieval streets lined with madrassahs, mosques, caravanserais and palaces.
Samarkand is the mythical, evocative name of one of the key trading cities of the ancient Silk Road. With a history dating back 2700 years, Samarkand became famous as the capital of the vast state created by Timur Lang (known in English as Tamerlane) and later ruled by his grandson Ulugbek in the 14th and 15th centuries. Some of the most magnificent architecture in the Islamic world can be found in Samarkand with some wonderful mosques, mausoleums and madrassahs. Samarkand sits on the banks of the Zerafshan River and to the northeast of the modern town is Afrosiab the site of the most ancient parts of the city, from where the Sogdians, the masters of Silk Road trade ruled.
Shakhrisabz is one of the most ancient cities of Middle Asia. In certain periods through its long history, it appeared as the centre of some of the most important events in world history – sometimes glorious, sometimes tragic. But Shakhrisabz would not be as famous if on 9 April 1346, in the village of Hodja-llgar a certain individual known as Tamerlane had not been born. Wherever destiny took him, Shakhrisabz remained Tamerlane’s native city, the place where he spent his childhood and youth. Notable places of interest include the remains of the once vast Ak-Saray Palace – parts of the portal remain and are evidence of the scale of construction, the Dorus-Syadot mausoleum where Jahangir – the most beloved son of Amir Temur, was buried; and Dorut-Tilavete.
The date of the founding of the city of Old Termez, located a few kilometers west of the modern city, is not known. In April 2002 there was a celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the city of Termez. The city was known to Achaemenids in the 6th century BC. In 329 BC Alexander the Great conquered Termez. Later Demetrius, the founder of Greco-Bactrian kingdom named it Demetris. As part of the Kushan Empire (1st to 3rd century BC) The city was called Ta-li-mi (in the Chinese Tu-mi, Tami. During this period, the city became an important center of Buddhism. In the 5th and 6th centuries the city was ruled by Hephthalites and Sassanids.
In the 7th century the city was ruled by the native Termez shah dynasty. It was a vassal of Gokturks.In 705 the city was captured by the Arabs and it became one of the centres of Islam during the Abbadids and Samanids Empire. From the 9th to the 12th centuries Termez was a big city and a cultural centre and was popular for shopping and crafts. At this time the length of the fortifications of the city was 16 kilometres (10 miles) long with nine gates. During this period Termez was a part of the Ghaznavids, Seljuk and Karakhanids. In 1206 the town became part of the state Khorezmshahs. In 1220 after a two-day siege, the city was destroyed by the troops of Genghis Khan. Ibn Battuta noted the city had “fine buildings and bazaars, traversed by canals, and with many gardens.”
In the second half of the 13th century Termez was restored to the east, on the right bank of Surxondaryo River, as part of the Timurid empire, then Shaybanids. By the second half of the 18th century the city was abandoned. The only inhabited villages were Salavat and Pattakesar (Pattagissar) in the vicinity of the ancient city.
Originally the Sogdian city of Nakhshab, and the Uzbek (Turkic) city of Nasaf, and the Mongol city of Qarshi (pronounced Kharsh), Qarshi was the second city of the Emirate of Bukhara. It is in the center of a fertile oasis that produces wheat, cotton, and silk and was a stop on the 11-day caravan route between Balkh and Bukhara. The Mongol Chagataid khans Kebek and Qazan built palaces here on the site of Chinggis Khaan’s summer pasture. In 1364, Timur also built a fortified palace with moats in what is now the southern part of the city. The modern name “Qarshi” means fort.
With the decline of Shahrisabz in the 18th century, Qarshi grew in importance, and was the seat of the Crown Prince to the Emirate of Bukhara. The city had a double set of walls, 10 caravanserais and 4 madrassahs during this time. By 1868, the Russians had annexed the Zarafshan Valley, and in 1873, the treaty turning Bukhara into a Russian protectorate was signed in Qarshi, much to the dismay of the Emir’s son, Abdul Malik, who took to the hills in rebellion.
In the early 1970s, the first section of a major irrigation project was completed to divert water from the Amu Darya River in Turkmenistan eastward into Uzbekistan in order to irrigate the land surrounding Qarshi. Almost all of these irrigated lands around Qarshi are planted with cotton.