Saturday, October 01, 2005

There's No Such Thing as Bad Publicity...

All the fuss about Uzbekistan has apparently whetted some people's interest in travellng there. I guess it shows the truth of the publicist's cliche ending " long as they spell my name right." Sunday's Washington Post has this Q & A in the travel section about tourism in Uzbekistan:
Q. I will be visiting Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva in Uzbekistan in December. Will 10 days be enough time? What is the best way to travel in-country? Will hotels be easy to arrange once I arrive? Is December cold?

Wendy LeBlanc, Wheaton

A. Uzbekistan, which is surrounded by other Stans (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan), stands out for having "the foremost cities of the Islamic world," says Uzbek press attache Furkat Sidikov. It also has hosted a rich cast of characters who have left their impression on the country: Alexander the Great; the Western Turks, who brought Islam and the alphabet; the warrior Timur, who expressed his softer side as a patron of the arts; and Czar Nicholas I, one of many Russian interlopers.

To see the minarets, mausoleums, museums -- plus leave time to shop for Oriental rugs, silks and ornate knives -- Sigikat suggests spending three days each in Samarkand and Bukhara, and two in Khiva. The rest of your trip will be en route: up to seven hours by bus, car or train (from city to city) or about an hour by plane. Rosemary Burki, an adventure consultant with travel company iExplore, said that while local airlines are safe, "the biggest problem is that the schedules are arbitrary. But at least you know that that day you will depart."

As for hotels, Burki says if you are a stickler for amenities, you should book in advance. "There is something for everyone, but not a lot of it. There might one five-star and 12 two-stars, and if you can't get into that one . . . " Samarkand also has a number of properties run by Western Europeans, so you might find more comforts similar to home. Which you'll want, since December is cold: Expect Chicago-like temps, but with more snow. The air might be slightly warmer to the south (closer to D.C. winters), but don't skimp on the Arctic gear. "It is a difficult time to go then," says Burki. "Getting around is not easy." A better time: spring and early autumn.

Finally, for safety, Burki says to travel in groups of two to six, "be aware of the culture" and avoid wearing blatantly American attire. IExplore (800-439-7567, ), which can set up personalized itineraries, also has a good primer on Uzbekistan on its Web site, as does EurasiaNet ( ). For the Embassy of Uzbekistan: 202-887-5300, .