Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!


Viewed from the air, Uzbekistan is a striking patchwork of colours, with vast stretches of arid desert in the west giving way to jade green stripes along rivers and in the fertile Fergana Valley. The seams of snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains denote the country's southern and eastern borders, their glacial meltwater the lifeblood of the plains.

At 447,400km2 in size, Uzbekistan is equivalent in area to Spain or California. The country measures 1,425km from its western to eastern borders, and 930km from north to south. Uzbekistan is one of only two double-landlocked countries (ie: landlocked countries completely surrounded by other landlocked countries) in the world, the other being Liechtenstein.

The physical environment of Uzbekistan is diverse, ranging from the flat, arid deserts that cover almost 80% of the country's territory, to the eastern mountain peaks that rise up to 4,500m above sea level. Uzbekistan is almost 42 percent desert. Water resources are unevenly distributed in Uzbekistan. The two largest rivers are the Amu Darya (known to the ancient Greeks as the Oxus) and the Syr Darya (the Jaxartes), both of which originate in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The shallow Sarygamysh Lake sits on the border with Turkmenistan, and much of the ill-fated Aral Sea was once within Uzbek territory.

In North Central Uzbekistan lies the vast Kyzyl Kum desert, 297,850 square kilometers in size. Spurs of the Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains rise to the east and northeast; the highest elevation in Uzbekistan is 4,643 meters, and earthquakes are common.

Because rainfall is scarce except on the mountain sides, agriculture elsewhere in the country is possible only with irrigation. In  mountainous areas live snow leopards; desert monitors, lizards that can grow longer than 1.5 meters, inhabit the desert. The two main rivers—the Amu Dar’ya (Oxus) and Syr Dar’ya (Jakartes), which flow into the Aral Sea—as well as the Zarafshon River and the Fergana Valley form the core of the relatively limited populated areas. There is plenty of warm and sunshine, but very little water; therefore all economic activity is directly connected with irrigation constructions.

Fertile soils remain barren without water, hence the ancient proverbs say: If there is no water, there is no life", "Where water ends, the land ends too". For centuries Uzbeks built irrigation canals transforming lifeless deserts into flowering oases.

The country is divided into twelve wiloyatlar (regions), one city (Tashkent, the capital), and the Karakal Autonomous Republic, located in northwestern Uzbekistan. These entities are further divided into smaller units; at each level elected and appointed officials have constitutional responsibility, but most power rests in the central state apparatus.


Uzbekistan is the most level surface of the Central Asian republics, the most art of its territory is covered by plains. Highmountains rise only on the extreme East. Between the mountains and the plains there is a belt of submontane plains with numerous seasonal streams, rivers and man-made canals. These places are the most developed and densely populated parts of Uzbekistan. There are mountain systems, the Tian Shan in the North and the Hissar Alai in the South. In the extreme North East the Karzhantau, Ugram Pskem, Chatkal and Kurama ranges, all spurs of the Western Tian Shan extend in the direction of the plains. The highest peak here is Beshtokh in the Pskom Range.

The Hissar Alai mountains are separated from Tian Shan Mountains by the large Fergana Intermontane Depression bound on the North by the slopes of the Chatkal and Kurama ranges and in the South by the slopes of the Alai and Turkestan ranges.

Branching from the Turkestan Range in the north-westerly direction are the Malguzar, Nuratau, Aktau mountains. To the South, seperated from them by the wide Zeravshan Valley, are the latitudinal spurs of the Zeravshan Range, which gradually decrease in height. To the West lie the Karatepa and Zirabulak-Ziaddin mountains, the latter being not over 700 metres high.


Uzbekistan along with other Central Asian territories, lies within a seismic zone. Seismic processes (earthquakes) indicate that the movement of the earth's crust is continuing. The Eastern mountainous part of Uzbekistan has the highest seismicity. The most violent (scale points) earthquakes occur in the piedmont part of the Fergana Depression, in the southern slopes of the Hissar Range and in the upper reaches of the Tupolang river. There are sad memories of the devastating earthquakes which took place near Andijan in 1889 and 1902. In 1966 on April 26 the most destructive earthquake hit Tashkent. A similar devastating earthquake hit Tashkent once before, in 1868.

Earthquake of almost identical intensity occur in the area of the Hissar Range and its spurs. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan seismisity is limited to the force of 5-6 scale points.


Between the two great Central Asian rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, in the central part of the Republic lies the Kizilkum Desert, Kizilkum means "Red Sand". But it would be wrong to imagine it as a sea of sand and nothing else. It also has isolated low mountains, rocky and clayed plateaus, solonchaks (salt marshes) and takyrs (clayed deserts), sand hills and drainless depressions. The Minbulak Hollow, the biggest in the Republic, is situated at the foot of the Bukantau Mountains. It is over 100 kilometres long and some 30-35 kilometres wide. Recently the huge resources of oil were discovered in this region of Uzbekistan.


Uzbekistan is the habitat of a large number of animal species. There are animals and birds in Uzbekistan which usually dwell in the steppes, forests, meadows deserts.

A particularly large number of insects, reptiles and animals inhabit the desert plains. Small lisards scurry underfoot. The agamas seek shelter from the heat on top of the shrubs growing near takyrs. Small clumsy geckos emerge from their daytime hideouts with the fall of dusk. Occasionally one sports the monito lizard, the desert crocodile whose length ranges from a metre to a metre and a half.

The submontane plains and foothills play a very important role in the developing of cattle breeding. Besides being excellent pastures, they are a rich source of the valuable meadow hay. Bogharic farming or red-fed is particularly widespread in the foothills.

Animal life in the plains and foothills is also impressive. There are many lizads, including agamas and other species. There are some Middleasian gazelles, foxes, wolves, steppe and marbled polecats which have valuable pelts. Most of them are registered in the "Red Book". The steppe tortoises appear in the spring while the ephemeral plants are still green.


The landscape with its surrounding mountains and alternating flat and rolling plains reminded me of Mexico and parts of Ethiopia. Yes, and the mincing trot and the bobbing heads of the burros were the same. But there the resemblance ended... As we continued north and began the steady climb in the direction of the farm, I began to see: how much the land itself looked like our own "Big sky" western country. Here, the flat, sandy, fertile cotton land had given way to a harsher, rolling landscape, fit not for crop cultivation but for pastureland.

...herds of placidly grasing sheep and cattle nibbed their way across the highland hills of green and earth-brown laced with sprinklings of tiny flowers—some white, some blue—and great stretches of bright red poppies. High overhead hung the incredible sky. (Elton C. Fax).