Textiles & Arts of Uzbekistan 2021

Uzbek school children visiting one mosaic-covered mausoleum of Emir Timur’s family. Bukhara.

Few spaces available!
October 6 – 21, 2021   •  
Fly home October 22.
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d the
Kyrgyzstan Extension
October 22 – 27   •   Fly home October 28.

Cynthia with local women who asked for a group photo.

Our 16-night all-new textile and arts tour of Uzbekistan checks another fabulous adventure off your bucket list! Uzbek people are welcoming and generous, and the country is modern and safe. It was an important trade center on the Silk Route, the ancient trade route linking the Mediterranean to China. And Uzbek textiles are absolutely stunning. The country is home to exquisite, hand-embroidered suzanis and hand-dyed, handwoven ikat textiles, as well as four UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites.

Cynthia and an expert in Uzbek textiles and culture will accompany our group during the trip to be sure we meet the most talented artisans, see the best pieces, and also most stunning blue-tiled architecture. The weather will be pleasant in the fall, at this time of year.

Along the route, we will visit exquisite blue-tiled madrasas, mosques, and museums, as well as bustling markets and handicraft bazaars. And true to our name, everywhere we’ll go ‘Behind the Scenes’ to meet silk ikat dyers and weavers, wood block printers, embroidery and ceramic masters, and more.

Prolific and talented embroiderer with father and babe.

Where we will go:

The trip begins and ends in the exciting and booming city of Tashkent. Arrive in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, anytime on October 6. (You can also arrive a day earlier if you like.) The guide and I will meet you at the airport then we’ll check in to our hotel. We’ll eat lunch and/or dinner as a group this first day, depending on what time you arrive. Later, you can spend the day relaxing, or perhaps go out with us to explore the markets. Big sycamores line the wide avenues and mosaic-decorated apartment blocks alternate with sleek new glass and steel edifices.

Suzani-style hand-embroidered pillows at a private shop.

In Tashkent’s old city, we’ll admire historical buildings with iconic turquoise-tiled domes, such as the 16th Barak-Khan Madrasa complex. We’ll also visit the home/studio of a famous embroiderer’s workshop and school, and see her beautiful jackets and other pieces.

We’ll be sure to see the Museum of Applied Arts which showcases some of the best historical artistic examples of the arts of Uzbekistan, in the mansion of the Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev. He commissioned the intricately decorated mansion expressly to display his extensive collections of unique handicrafts and textiles. After the Soviet revolution, the government nationalized his cherished home and opened it to the public as a museum. Polovtsev’s rare examples of folk art such as vintage ceramics, handmade rugs, and wood carvings are on display in the wondrous house with its colorfully decorated ceilings.

Cotton ikat yardage for sale at the Kumptea Bazaar, for less than $2 a meter.

Ferghana Valley of Ikat

Next we’ll head for the Ferghana Valley. Our route to Ferghana leads us via the low Kamchik pass at around 7400 feet. After 4 hours drive, we’ll stop in Kokand, to visit the incredible Khudayarkhan Palace and the Juma mosque, and to eat lunch.

Margilan, an ancient Fergana Valley city, is home of glowing resist-warp dyed (ikat) fabrics, the most renowned of Uzbek textiles. Margilan town was already well-known in antiquity for the superb quality of silk created here. We’ll meet ikat dyers and weavers who are the most skilled in Central Asia. Over the course of our days there, we’ll visit ikat masters to see thread binders, weavers, and dyers. Stunning ceramic plates and bowls will be available at the master ceramicist’s studio we’ll visit. All the pieces are intricately hand-painted and the artists here are so welcoming.

 A highlight will be the Kumtepa Bazaar, one of the best places to buy inexpensive ikat fabrics (with resist-dyed warp) which are the most renowned textiles of Uzbekistan. It’s a great local market with an area devoted to local textile crafts. Here you can buy ikat yardage to make robes, quilts or pillows, and other textile treasures.

Silk warp threads hang in the boiling dye.

Later we’ll visit an ikat dyeing workshop and will see how the warp threads are tied to make the bold patterns once they are dyed and woven. We’ll visit the Yodgorlik Margilan silk factory, established in 1972. We’ll witness the entire process from silkworm’s cocoon to the finished ikat. Today hundreds of people work there, and the visit is fascinating. Every month the factory produces several thousand yards of fabric including natural silk and silk blend fabric; narrow yardage about 18″ wide is produced by hand, or with clanking Soviet-era electric looms. There is also a good shop here with ready-made ikat coats and jackets.

Along the route to Ferghana, we’ll stop several times, for lunch and to visit the bakers slapping dough rounds onto the walls of fiery domed ovens, then pulling the crusty loaves off when done.

Samarkand

From Margilan we go back through Tashkent for one night then board the air-conditioned fast train to Samarkand.  Seasoned travelers consider Samarkand as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, not only for the stunning historical monuments but also for the tree-shaded avenues, great food, and lovely green city parks. Today it’s the third largest city in Uzbekistan.

Workers rinse newly-dyed ikat warp threads.

Once the capital, and an important trade stop along the Silk Road, Samarkand sits at the center of the country and is referred to as a crossroad of cultures. UNESCO included Samarkand in the list of the World Heritage of Humanity almost twenty years ago. Samarkand was at the forefront of Islamic architecture, witnessed in the old town built in typical medieval fashion. There, numerous mosques, madrasas and homes line the narrow streets.

We’ll visit the mausoleums of Shah-i-Zinda, where Tamerlane built elaborate tiled mosaic tombs for his favorite wives, his wet-nurse and his sisters, among others (top photo of school field trip). We can visit a silk carpet factory, the famous Afrosiab museum and the fascinating Observatory of astronomer, Ulughbek. We’ll see the towering tomb of Emir Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire (top photo with Cynthia). Prominent landmarks include the iconic Registan, a plaza bordered by three ornate, majolica-covered madrasas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries.

The Registan Square is fun to visit at night when it is lit with floodlights and looking magical. Modern Samarkand is a unique city: it combines the spirit of modernity with old historical grace. The western part of the city is more modern, with architecture reflecting 19th and 20th c. European design and style, influenced by the Russian aesthetic – as well as 21st c. towering modern glass and steel buildings.

The ‘perfect cube’ of sun-baked bricks; Ismael Samani Mausoleum.

Next stop Bukhara!

Next we’ll visit the ancient city of Bukhara, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Blue mosques and textile bazaars also abound in this fabulous historical city. Bukhara remains an exciting place to explore the architecture and textiles of Uzbekistan.

This city has amazing mosques, galleries and museums. The age-old caravansarai and madrasas have often been converted into artists’ studios and workshops. And several ancient, domed bazaars here offer carpets, suzanis (embroidered panels) and jewelry. We’ll explore these as well as an artisan center where we can learn how some typical crafts are made.

While in Bukhara, we must see the Emir’s summer palace, Sitorai Mohi Hosa. It’s an ‘over-the-top Russian/Central Asian confection built in 1911.’  The palace also houses the excellent Bukhara Museum of Decorative Arts where the superb suzani collection will enthrall the embroidery lovers among us. The main building with its tall ceramic fireplaces houses treasures such as royal furniture of the 19th – 20th centuries, palace artifacts from Russia, and jewelry by well-known Bukharan masters.

At the center of the garden there is the octagonal pavilion, with an exhibition called the ‘Clothes of Urban Dweller of Bukhara in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.’ The exhibition includes an interesting collection of wealthy citizens’ clothes, belts, scarves, and shoes decorated with gold embroidery. We’ll visit other architectural wonders such as the 9th century Ismael Samani Mausoleum, a perfect cube made of baked bricks in basket weave pattern, above.

A vintage embroidered Suzani in the Suzani Museum.

Khiva

Onward from Bukhara to Khiva! This is a long drive, but the desert landscape is compelling: vast steppes, shepherds and their flocks, odd villages, military outposts and unusual vegetation. We’ll skirt the Kyzylkum or Red Sand Desert, to see Khiva’s wondrous architecture and carpet knotters. We’ll cross the Amu Darya River, known as the Oxus in ancient times. Ichan Kala, the walled, ancient, inner city of Khiva made an important stop on the Silk Road. Traditionally known as Khorezm, Ichan Kala was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and also the largest surviving walled city in the central part of Asia.

Once famous for its ruthless emirs, Khiva is now touted as the most intact and remote of Central Asia’s silk road cities. Today it’s considered the most homogeneous example of Islamic architecture in the world.  The city’s rulers, the Khans of Khiva, originally built the wall to keep out colonial threats. However, Itchan Kala was later preserved by Russian colonial rulers.  Nearly sixty largely Islamic historic monuments are preserved in the old city, as the State Historical Archaeological Museum.

Stamps used to decorate the traditional Uzbek tandoor bread.

These tiled and mosaic-encrusted treasures include palaces, mosques, minarets and pillars.

Textiles abound in Khiva. We’ll visit another spectacular museum of handicrafts, and several grand architectural wonders. There is a particularly wonderful carpet shop in Khiva also. Hand-knotted examples here show patterns that were inspired by the designs of the tiles and doors of the city. Another visit in Khiva will be to the Khiva Suzani Center to see stunning embroidered examples from all over Uzbekistan.

Sacred Uzbek bread

Bread is considered sacred by Uzbek people. The traditional round and flat bread, called non or lepeshka, and is baked in a tandyr/tandoor (round clay oven), after which it comes out toasted and crispy. Bread of each region has own particular method of leavening, its own baking techniques and its own inimitable taste. For instance, delicious flaky bread – katlama non – typifies the Fergana Valley version. Some yummy lepeshkas are prepared with onion or meat baked inside the dough.

Bread sellers showing off decorative stamped designs.

Traditionally Uzbek dinner guests never cut bread with a knife. At the start of the meal, the youngest person breaks the bread into pieces by hand and place it on the table near each place setting. And they take care not to act disrespectful by setting the bread upside down on the table (with its flat side up). We will learn about the cuisine as well as as the polite Uzbek way of dining.We’ll eat delicious food everywhere and learn about the local cuisine in at least one cooking class. The diet includes vegetable skewers, salads and dishes such as pilaf or plov, with beef or lamb. Skewers of grilled chicken or ground beef are popular and delicious. Vegetarians will have no trouble at all; many cheeses and fresh (and safe) salads such as grated carrots or beets with walnuts, or tomato and cucumber are popular and found in most restaurants. Delicious and refreshing cold yogurt soup with fresh dill and parsley is a common starter. Bread is divine and plentiful!

Man taking bread out of oven.Two evening meals will be on your own, to lounge at the hotel with a picnic of bread, cheese and fruit, or to find an interesting place to try.

At the end of our adventure, after seeing hundreds of gorgeous suzanis and stunning ikat jackets or yardage, we’ll drive to nearby Urgench for early flights back to Tashkent (or to Bishkek for the EXTENSION). The rest of this day is free to explore Tashkent on your own — to see something you missed the first time, visit more museums, or visit the local Chorsu bazar to buy more bread stamps for your foodie friends. Or just relax at the hotel and pack up all your exquisite Uzbek textiles for the trip home. Lunch on your own. Pack up bags tonight, before our Farewell Dinner.

Flights home the next day.
Once you sign up and pay the deposit, we’ll send you the detailed itinerary and other information about the country and the tour.

ASK about the Kyrgyzstan Extension, after the Uzbekistan tour. The itinerary includes 6 or 7 nights (depending on flight schedules) and loads of textiles and fabulous scenery, completely different than Uzbekistan! We’ll send info if you are interested.

Trip Cost:  $4450

Single Supplement: $520

The 16-night tour cost includes:

  • 16 nights accommodation in double rooms with private bathrooms.
  • Expert Uzbek English-speaking textile expert guide.
  • All breakfasts in the hotels.
  • 15 Lunches and 15 Dinners (2 meals will be on your own)
  • Transportation by air-conditioned Minibus.
  • Entrance fees to all sites and monuments.
  • Flight from Urgench-Tashkent
  • All Tashkent airport transfers
  • Train travel between Tashkent and Samarkand, Samarkand
    and Bukhara. Mini-bus to Khiva.
  • All train station transfers – Samarkand, Bukhara, etc.
  • 1 liter of bottled water per person per day; you buy more as needed.
  • Cooking master class, embroidery master class
  • Wood Block printing lesson
  • Ikat textile weaving demonstration/lesson

Not included:

  •  International flights to and from Uzbekistan
  •  Visa and passport fees
  •  2 Dinners (buy fruit and cheese to eat at the hotel, or go out)
  •  Tips for guide and driver; amounts will be suggested.
  •  Mandatory travel insurance (more about this later)
  • Info about foods and typical dishes to come.

    Ikat yardage bought in Margilan market.

Bread stamps by Dreamstime © 45304376. Antonella 865
Baker: DT © Mariusz Prusaczyk
Photo #11 Bread Sellers DT © Evgeniy Fesenko
Map: ©Ontheworldmap.com

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