Uzbekistan is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Turkmenistan to the west, Kazakhstan to the north, Kyrgyzstan to the northeast and Tajikistan to the east and has a colourful and varied countryside.
The south and east are dominated by the Tien-Shan and Pamir-Alai mountain ranges and the Kyzyl Kum Desert, one of the largest deserts in the world, lies to the northeast. The northwestern autonomous region of Karakalpakstan is bordered by the Aral Sea and the sparsely populated Ustyurt Plateau with its vast cotton fields, is located between the Aral and Caspian Seas. The terrain of Uzbekistan is mostly flat with Steppe land and desert plains accounting for two-thirds of the land mass.
The population is predominantly Sunni Muslim with Shia, Russian Orthodox and Jewish minorities.
Uzbekistan has an extreme continental climate. It is generally warmest in the south and coldest in the north. Temperatures in December average -8°C (18°F) in the north and 0°C (32°F) in the south. However, extreme fluctuations can take temperatures as low as -35°C (-31°F). During the summer months, temperatures can climb to 45°C (113°F) and above. Humidity is low. The best time to visit is during the spring and autumn.
Facts and Figures
447,400 sq km (172,740 sq miles).
Tashkent. – population 2,157,000 (2001)
The official language is Uzbek, a Turkic tongue closely related to kazakh and Kyrgyz. There is a small Russian- speaking minority. Many people involved with tourism speak English. The Government has stated its intension to change the Cyrillic script to the latin.
Predominantly Sunni Muslin with Shia (15 per cent) Russian Orthodox and Jewish minorities.
GMT + 5
Uzbekistan’s mountain ranges attract hikers, cyclists and cross-country skiers, while experienced mountaineers come to climb some of the world’s highest peaks. There are many opportunities for serious mountaineering, including Peak Pobeda, Peak Korzhenevskaya and Peak Khan-Tengri, as well as easier hiking in the lower foothills.
Experienced cavers should explore the deepest caves in Asia at Boi-Bulok: beautiful gypsum formations can be seen at the Kugitang cave, while the caves of Baisuntau contain mummified bears and those in western Tian Shan feature underground rivers and lakes.
Visit Bukhara which was once a centre of learning renowned throughout the Islamic world, and where there are more than 350 mosques and 100 religious colleges.
Keep an eye out for snowtigers, the rare Tian-Shan grey bear and the Berkut eagle in the Chatkalsky Reserve, a narrow unspoilt gorge in the western Tian-Shan.
Go ice climbing on the Gissar, Matcha and Turkestanridges. Vertical rock faces for rock climbing can be found in the Fan Mountains (at Bodkhana, Chapdara, Maria-Mirali and Zamok) and on the Matchi Ridge (at Aksu, Asan-Usan and Sabakh).
View the best collection of Russian avant-garde art outside St Petersburg at the Art Gallery in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, in the west of the country. Raft or kayak on the Angren, Chatkal, Pskem, Syr Darya and Ugen river, cycle the Silk Road from Tashkent via Lake Aidarkul to Khiva and go skiing in the mountains above Tashkent.
The territory of modern-day Uzbekistan and its close neighbours have seen many empires rise and fall. The Sogdians, the Macedonians, the Huns, the Mongolians, the Seljuks, the Timurids and the Khanates of Samarkand, Bukhara Khiva and Khorezm all held sway here at one time or another.
Central Asia really came of age with the development of the Silk Road from China to the West. Samarkandand Bukhara lay astride this, the most valuable trading route of its day. The riches that it brought were used to build fabulous mosques and madrassars, most of which were destroyed by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century. Much of the damage was repaired and new cities were built by Timur the Lame in the 14th century. Timur conquered all before him and, at its height, his empire stretched from Moscow and Baghdad and as far west as Ankara in Turkey.
After his death, his empire crumbled and Central Asia was split into warring Khanates. The Russians had had their eyes on the lands over their southern border sincePeter the Greatsent his first military mission to Khiva in 1717. It was to be another 150 years before they started to make any considerable headway.
In 1865, General Kaufmann took Tashkent and signed agreements with the Khans. The Bolsheviks were resisted in Central Asia by bands known as Basmachi until the 1930s but these were finally suppressed and Moscow took control.
The history of Central Asia under Soviet rule is one of exploitation. Uzbekistan was turned into a cotton monoculture and most of the product was processed north of the Urals, in Russia and Ukraine.
Uzbekistan has been governed since 1989 byIslam Karimov when he took over as head of the Uzbek Communist party (now the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, PDPU). Uzbekistan assumed independence in 1991 upon the break up of the Soviet Union. The PRPU, with Karimov at its head, has held power continuously ever since. It has taken an uncompromising line against all opposition, resulting in a dreadful human rights record.
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