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Traveler Leon Malkin visiting Zulya's parents in their house in Uzbekistan.

Leon Malkin visiting with Zulya’s parents

This was my seventh trip using Wendy Perrin’s WOW List of travel experts and they have all been superb experiences. This trip was not different thanks to the kindness and caring of Zulya. One of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to work with, she is from Uzbekistan and has firsthand knowledge of this area. One of the highlights of the trip was having lunch with Zulya’s parents and family in Bukhara. Zulya frequently checked on my trip to make sure everything was going well. She truly cares about giving her clients an unforgettable experience.

I started my trip by flying into Tashkent on Turkish Airlines. I then visited Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Kokand, Fergana, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, flying home on Turkish Airlines from Bishkek.

I am a vegetarian, and although the food is largely meat based, there was enough options to satisfy my diet. I did not find many options for plant-based milk. This is probably not a trip for people looking for gourmet food in great abundance. The hotels ranged from very good to excellent (the 5-star Orion in Bishkek).

The idea of The Silk Road always intrigued me with camel caravans bringing goods from China to Europe and back, and the power struggle between Russia and Great Britain for control of this area in the 19th and 20th century. I really didn’t know what to expect of this vast region. I thought I would see camel caravans and a lot of Soviet apartment buildings! What I found were modern cities and all very clean, safe, with warm welcoming people. There were, of course, remnants of Soviet influence as they were under Soviet control until independence in 1991. I did not have one untoward event. The people are mostly Moslem and so I learned a lot about their religion, architecture, and scientific accomplishments. Outside the cities, the roads were often in need of repair and one could see the more impoverished towns and homes but all the people I encountered were very welcoming and friendly. The cities of The Silk Road are all at least 2500 years old or older. Most of my time was spent touring the cities of Uzbekistan.

The highlights of the trip are too many to mention all but to name a few are the following:
1. Meeting and having lunch with Zulya’s family
2. My guides Bek and Aisha
3. Learning about the Persian, Greek, Mongol, Turcic, Arabic, Soviet influences of the region.
4. Registan Square in Samarkand
5. Learning about the great astronomer Ulugh Beg and seeing his museum and observatory in Samarkand.
6. The dance and fashion show in Bukhara
7. The city of Khiva, the first UNESCO site in Central Asia.
8. The mountains of Tajikistan
9. The ceramic and silk factories
10. The cities of Almaty and Bishkek
11. Time with the Eagle Hunter in Kyrgyzstan
13. Making a yurt in Kyrgyzstan
14. Lunch with a Uyghur woman at her home in Kyrgyzstan.
15. So so many more things!

In all, a fascinating trip to a large part of the world I knew nothing about. Zulya and her team did such an exceptional job. Would highly recommend a visit to this vast, interesting, safe area. Thank you Zulya.

After much planning and two false starts at the beginning of the pandemic, we finally made it to Uzbekistan. We flew into Tashkent on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and were met by our guide, who was to be with us for the next 12 days. Zulya and her office arranged an amazing trip, customized to meet our needs. Our first stop following an internal flight was Khiva, where we explored what could be best described as a “living museum,” with some of the best-preserved historical architecture. The city is a delight to wander around with its eye-catching towers, mosques, and medressehs, and is a World Heritage site where people still live within the city walls. Our next stop was Bukhara, Zulya’s home. Staying in the center of the old town allowed us to explore on foot the many sites and also allowed for breaks to sip green tea in the various caravanserais. In Bukhara we attended an Uzbek wedding ceremony and participated in the singing and dancing and admired (and tried on) the traditional attire. I have never before had my wife of 53 years bow to me in a wedding costume, something not part of our wedding ceremony! Following this we went to Zulya’s parent’s house, where we were treated to a traditional Uzbek meal with dancing by her niece and nephews. A wonderful introduction to Uzbek culture! More dancing and a fashion display followed in an outside performance at a former medresseh. Day trips took in the countryside, a visit to an eco-center to see endangered mammals in the wild and opportunities to birdwatch. A high-speed train took us onto Samarkand, the other major gem on the silk road, with its famous Registan Square and the mausoleum of Tamarlane. A day trip took us to Shahrisabz, the birth place of Tamarlane and the site of the remains of his giant summer palace. Another high-speed train journey brought as back to Tashkent. This is a very modern city but it has the best food, an extraordinary subway system, and we will never forget seeing from a distance a performance of The Lion King in Uzbek with a background of pulsating fountains in multiple colors. It was also a great base to head up to the mountains, ride a ski gondola and see the snow-capped mountains. Zulya and her team kept in touch throughout the trip, making restaurant reservations and making sure everything was running smoothly. Uzbekistan is full of European tourists but we met very few Americans. More Americans should go to this unique destination.

I want to extend my sincere thanks and great appreciation for the itinerary and experiences that I had in Uzbekistan. It was unexpected in many ways.

Certainly, the highlights were the time at the home in Khiva, and the quite special opportunity to visit with a family at their home in Buhkara! As I had read, everyone’s hospitality was so welcoming and generous. Uzbek hospitality is quite special in today’s world. I hope they never lose it. Everyone went to so much work to prepare for my visits.

I am glad that the timing of my trip allowed me to visit Khiva/Buhkara/Samarkand…all three. And I’m glad it began with Khiva. Not sure I would have enjoyed as much or learned as much had the itinerary been reversed.

Lodging was all perfect…the character and locations I had hoped for. This was excellent listening on Zulya’s part.

I was grateful for the time that area businesspeople spent with me, and I so enjoyed hearing a bit about doing business in UZB. Was especially amazed at the very positive attitude of the working women! All were so forthcoming.

Both Bekhruz and Dilya were fantastic, each in their own way. Dilya was lovely at coordinating the home visit and everything that went on with that. The visit to the summer palace though was a bit anticlimactic after such a wonderful visit.

Bekhruz. Goodness. I don’t know where to begin. I like him so much and we had some fascinating conversations. As I told him on one of the last days: I am not going to learn anything the rest of the year because my brain is full with all I learned from him! He is soooooooooooo knowledgeable. And, he is one of those very unique and gifted people who can make history come alive.

When I mentioned that I wanted time to shop for suzanis, he did point out which merchant he felt would be most reputable and did take me in and had a merchant educate me. That was helpful.

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  I traveled to Uzbekistan w/ Zulya in late May/June of this year. Here are the highlights:
* the country was fully open as was Tajikistan. I had originally planned to also travel to Turkmenistan (this trip was originally planned for last year but COVID made it untenable) but it was still closed due to COVID.
* My itinerary was the same as the original one, minus Turkmenistan. It included a week and a half or so in UZB and 3 days of hiking in the Fann Mountains in TJK.
* The logistics were flawless — was smooth and well though out. My guide, Faikhridden, was also great and was w/ me for the entire trip. I also had two drivers as I covered a lot of territory. However, this was unique as I have typically had multiple guides and drivers — often one in each city that I visit as it is more economical. This was a plus for me — it was great to get to know both Faikhridden and the drivers — they were all kind, helpful, and knowledgeable.
* UZB is fully open, despite COVID. I felt very comfortable throughout as I am vaccinated, although I mostly wore a mask b/c of the testing requirement to return to the U.S.
*I traveled to Tashkent, Nukus (Savitsky Museum), Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and the Tien Shan mountains. The sites were all great and I learned a lot of history about this part of the world that is often overlooked in American schools! In particular, i enjoyed the Savitsky Museum in Nukus. Zulya set up a private tour w/ the Museum exhibition director who is also an art history professor at the local university. She was terrific and spent over 2 hours w/ me. Her explanations of the history in both Russia and Nukus/UZB during the 1920s – 1940s gave me a great perspective on the art. Her descriptions of the artists and their art was also terrific. While it’s not on many itineraries b/c of its remote location and lack of other things to see (although we visited a very interesting cemetery outside of town w/ a beautiful underground mausoleum), people who enjoy art should make the effort!
*Another highlight was Zulya setting up a lunch w/ her parents/family in her hometown of Bukara. It was a real treat to meet her parents as well as many of her siblings and nieces, nephews. The lunch was really tasty and bountiful — they demonstrated how they make plov, the national dish, and also had many other tasty dishes, bread, and homemade fruit juices. After lunch, the children put on a dance show, first the boys and then the girls. I was asked to join them — I am NOT a dancer but gave it a go! Their warm hospitality was much appreciated and I had a wonderful time.
* The ancient cities of Khiva, Bukara, and Samarkand are all wonderful — the architecture is breathtaking, perhaps some of the best preserved Islamic architecture in the world.
* The only disappointment was that the Tajikistan border inexplicably closed a day before I was to travel to TJK!! I don’t think Zulya or her team were able to figure out why (it was only for a short period of dates). So my hiking had to be canceled, a big disappointment. However, Zulya and her team pivoted and were able to organize hiking in the Tian Shan mountains just outside of Tashkent w/in 24 hours, complete w/ a guest house and a local hiking guide. I did 3 hikes and the scenery was great. While I would have preferred to see the Fann Mountains/Seven Lakes, it was great to still be able to do some hiking on such short notice. I appreciated Zulya’s ability to arrange this w/in less than 24 hours’ notice!
*My COVID test was arranged at my hotel 3 days before my departure — very easy and results were provided w/in 24 hours.

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