English Français Deutsch Русский Русский Home page E-mail Site map

Advises for tourists

Uzbek Hospitality
At the heart of Uzbek culture is its wonderful hospitality, renowned for centuries. From the days when Uzbekistan stood at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, its grand cities hosted thousands of road-weary tradesmen who sought refuge from the desert and the perils of the open road. These caravans would stay for days at a time, enjoying the gracious generosity that has remained a living tradition to the present day.
The Uzbek Tea Ceremony, a formal and graceful ritual, demonstrates in a very practical way the high priority given to hospitality. When a guest arrives, the hostess will serve tea, usually accompanied by a traditional snack. The freshly brewed tea is poured from the teapot into a ceramic cup and then returned to the teapot three times, allowing the full flavor and aroma of the tea to develop. The fourth time, tea is poured into the guest's cup, filling it only halfway so that it will be the perfect temperature for the guest to enjoy.

Uzbek traditions & customs
The traditions and customs of the Uzbek people have been shaped by their unique position at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road. The treasures that flowed were not only the ones that can be held in one's hand, but also those that touch the heart and soul. Art, philosophy, science, and religious ideals were exchanged, enriching the cultures of both the travelers and their hosts.
Uzbek culture reflects a beautiful synthesis of these influences, while maintaining its own unique traditions. From the harmony of its architecture to the masterful detail of its applied arts, from the busy, noisy bazaars to the peaceful, laid-back chaikhana, a journey through Uzbekistan is unique and unforgettable.
It will be helpful for travelers to be aware of some of the conventions of Uzbek society. For example, when greeting each other, close friends or family members of the same sex will kiss on both cheeks. When meeting someone for the first time, a handshake denotes a formal introduction (however, women will generally not be expected to shake hands with men). At a meal, guests will be expected to take a turn as toastmaster, thanking and praising the host, saying something witty, and wishing good health and prosperity to all present.
Of all the traditions in Uzbek culture, those associated with the family and community is the most important. The community itself is structured self-governing units, the mahallya. These groups of neighbors help each other and together conduct joint activities. Weddings, funerals, commemorative ceremonies, and the rites of circumcision are all organized by the mahallya.

Uzbek Weddings
Many Uzbek ceremonies, especially those associated with family life, such as weddings and the birth an upbringing of children represent the combination of Islamic rituals with more ancient forms related to mystical practices. A wedding involves the whole community, and it is not uncommon to see three hundred guests at the wedding party. The rituals begin with an engagement ceremony, at which the wedding date is set, and end on the day after the wedding with a ceremony in which the bride is formally received into her new family.

Uzbek National dress
When we think of Central Asian civilizations, one of the enduring images is of the beautiful fabrics and decorative needlework used in traditional clothing.
Although nowadays most Uzbeks wear European-style clothes, especially in the cities, some elements of traditional clothing are still incorporated. In the countryside and at national ceremonies you can still see people in traditional dress, and even today, gold-embroidered zarchapan (caftan) and turbans made of gold or silver brocade are indispensable parts of men's wedding garments.
The climax of a wedding ceremony is the bride's leaving her parent's house for the house of her groom. In some areas of Uzbekistan there has also remained the ancient ritual of purification, which goes back to Zoroastrian tradition, when the young couple walks around the fire three times before groom brings the bride into his house.
Next morning after the wedding party the rite "Kelin salomi" - reception of the bride in her new family should be performed. The groom's parents, his relatives and friends give presents to the bride and she greets everyone with deep bow.
Such important event in the life of young family as baby birth is accompanied with ritual celebration "Beshik tui" - "Wooden cradle". On the fortieth day after the baby is born relatives of the young mother bring lavishly decorated cradle - beshik and everything which is needed for the newborn, as well as wrapped in tablecloth baked scones, sweets and toys. According to tradition while guests are having good time and are regaling themselves on the viands, in the child's room the aged women perform the rite of the first swaddling of the child and putting baby into beshik. The rite finishes with the ceremony of a baby's first 'showing itself' to the public. The invited guests gather round the cradle which they scatter with sweets and sugar wishing the baby happiness and success.
The birth of a boy brings to the family a real elation and responsibility. Before the child reaches the age of nine it is necessary to perform ancient sanctified Islamic rite of circumcision - hatna kilish or sunnat toyi. Prior to the rite in the presence of the elders from neighbourhood suras (verses from Koran) are read and holiday table is served. The elders bless the small boy and give him presents. At last there comes the culminating point of the ceremony when a stallion, decorated with beautiful harness and ribbons, appears; the boy is seated on it; and all the guests begin to wish him to grow up a healthy man and brave horseman.
Funeral and commemoration for the dead are also featured in the code of life regulations. Twice, in twenty days and in one year after the death, funeral repast is arranged. In the morning, right after morning praying, plov is served. The ceremony lasts one and a half - two hours. While eating those present at the ceremony commemorate the deceased and read suras from Koran.
All these important events in the life of an Uzbek family come about with the assistance and direct participation of mahallya members. Mahallya is a community of neighbours which is based on the full independence and self-governing with the purpose of conducting joint activities and rendering mutual assistance. Makhalla as a structural unit has existed for centuries and originally was a kind of trade - union committee of craftsmen. Management is executed by mahallya community committee elected at the common meeting of residents. Makhalla specifically takes care of organization and arrangement of weddings, funerals, commemoration, and the rite of circumcision.
Mahallya in a sense is self-supporting organization which meetes the urgent spiritual and bodily requirements of the citizens. Practically in each makhalla there functions choihona - tea house, barber's shop, and frequently there is a mosque to serve the community. On Fridays, however, men visit a cathedral mosque to perform common praying namaz.
For all that, mahallya is not just an association of mutual aid. The community plays a broad spectrum of roles, including those of supervisory and educative ones. Children in mahallya grow up under the supervision of the whole community and are brought up invariably in the spirit of respect and obedience to elderly people Community also observes the ancient tradition of mutual aid - khashar. Many hands make light work. Thus residents voluntarily and without payment help neighbors to build a house, to arrange a wedding party or commemorating plov, to improve conditions of the neighborhood.
Mahallya acts as an upholder of folk customs and traditions. Not without reason it can be said that a man is born and lives in mahallya, and when he dies mahallya administers the last rites for him.

Shopping in Uzbekistan
The best place to experience Central Asia is in the bazaars. The bazaars of Tashkent and Samarkand offer goods ranging from herbs and spices to Central Asian carpets. In the Alaiski Bazaar in Tashkent, it is possible to buy decorated Uzbek knives. Silk is still produced in the country and well-priced silks can be bought at large department stores.
Many museums have small shops which sell a variety of modern reproductions and some original items. It is possible to buy carpets and embroidered wall hangings. Bukhara is famous for its gold embroidery, and visitors can buy elaborately embroidered traditional Uzbek hats. Visitors should be aware that it is illegal to export anything more than 100 years old or items which have a cultural significance.

Shopping Suzane
Suzane is the name given nowadays to all the wonderful embroideries you will find in Uzbekistan. For those interested -a suzane is a large wall hanging, a nimsuzane is a small wall hanging, a tuskiz hangs in a yurt and a ruijo is spread on the bridal bed. The list of names goes on - but suzane will do. Whether you buy a full suzane or just a single cushion cover, you are buying a piece of a wonderful tradition.
Patterns and styles vary from place to place. In Bukhara the background is nearly always cream (though these days some are tea-dipped to give an attractive muted tone to the colours - that is quite acceptable) and floral patterns feature strongly, often with recognisable flower motifs.
Tashkent suzanis tend to have brightly coloured backgrounds and fairly small stylized floral motifs whilst Fergana Valley work features large bold motifs - usually black and red on a cream background.
The choice is certainly greatest in Bukhara where prices are probably as high as you will pay anywhere.
Urgut bazaar is renowned as a good hunting ground - show interest in embroideries there and you will soon be surrounded by women with suzani to sell. Prices are good and bargaining easier.

Shopping Uzbek silk
Uzbek silks in wonderful Ikat hand weaves are absolutely beautiful. Expensive too - this is a highly sophisticated weaving process. For those adventurous enough to wear them, the coats and dresses made from this silk make a real impact. For the more conservative, lovely scarves make a more wearable, and much cheaper, alternative.

Shopping magic carpets
Although you will see any number of carpets for sale in Uzbekistan, be aware that most come from Turkmenistan. Not that this is a reason not to buy, trade in carpets across the whole region is as old as carpet-making, pre-dating the borders of modern politics by centuries. If you want to be sure the carpet you buy is truly an Uzbek one, visit the UNESCO-sponsored silk carpet workshops in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva or buy from the Yodgorlik silk factory in Fergana where you can see the carpets being made.
At the workshop in Khiva you can see the copper pots of dye bubbling away as well as the women working at the looms.
Traditional knotted rugs and carpets; kilos, sumacs and other flatweaves and items such as camel bags are all available. Small rugs will fold neatly into a suitcase, larger pieces may need to be shipped. Laws are strict about exporting anything with real age or particular cultural value. Price always depends on quality and your bargaining powers. A small silk rug will cost about $200, a Kulim or sumac may be had for as little as $50. Whatever you pay, if you really like the rug and have paid a price you can afford, you can be sure you have value for your money and a wonderful memory that will last a lifetime.