There are 2 ways to get from Bukhara to Samarkand or Tashkent:
- the direct road (takes a few hours)
- the Nuratau mountains detour (takes a few days)
Detouring through the Nuratau mountains is great for a number of reasons:
- Different landscapes: mountains, trees and waterfalls
- Different people: Kazakh shepherds and Tajik villagers
- No cities: just nature and tiny villages
For the longest time, the area was a caravan route between Bukhara and Tashkent. Nowadays, tourists can stay in homestays in the villages tucked into different valleys. It’s a great palate cleanser in between the architectural fireworks of Bukhara and Samarkand, and you get to see a very different side of Uzbekistan.
Besides drinking green tea and hanging out on the topchan all day, you can do some lovely hikes or horse rides here. Or you can help out your hosts with their tasks: baking bread, raising silkworms (May), gathering walnuts (October), or defeating the neighbours in a game of kokpar (November to March).
Where are the Nuratau mountains?
The Nuratau mountains are located south of Aidarkul lake, between the towns of Nurata and Jizzakh. That’s north of Samarkand and northeast of Bukhara.
The map shows the detour between Bukhara and Samarkand.
Of all the villages in the Nuratau mountains now set up for tourism, Sentyab (aka Sentob) has the most guesthouses. It’s a pleasant hamlet consisting of green gardens with large trees, houses built of natural stone and donkeys instead of cars.
A wonderful day hike leads through the Sentyab food forest sprinkled with walnut, pistachio and fruit trees. Along the way, look out for petroglyphs and rocks with inscriptions in Arabic; Silk Road graffiti.
It’s a great place to discover local flora and do birdwatching. Have a chat with the locals who built little summer houses here to get away from the “busy village”. The hike ends at a waterfall, where you can take a refreshing dip on a hot day.
Longer routes go up to the village of Mosrum with its majestic old tree, or up to a mountain lake called Fazilman.
Rakhima and Gulmurod offer hard beds, a beautiful garden and a warm shower. Food is plentiful and tasty, and vegetarian options are not simply the meat dishes without the meat. A lovely family with several kids.
Manzarahoi is a new hotel-style place. Doesn’t look so nice, but you can book it online.
There are other homestays, but we have no reviews yet. To book any of these places, and arrange transport, contact Timur.
Super small, just a few houses. Yahshigul guesthouse is run by a big and friendly family. 2 separate buildings are reserved for guests, and there is a separate dining room and toilet block with western-style flush toilets. Showers are warm, food is tasty. Everything from the garden to the buildings is well-kept.
Due to the large capacity and high standards Asraf is popular with tour groups. We do not recommend it for independent travelers.
A bigger village. The Shiringul guesthouse has similar amenities to the Yahshigul guesthouse in Asraf. There’s also the Mountain guesthouse, which you can book online.
Wonderful for walking, for instance to Uhum. Close to the guesthouse is a fenced-off area where Severtsov sheep live. The owner has been known to be a bit pushy, but otherwise friendly, with decent English.
Near to Hayat, Mosrum is a bit more spread out as a village. Kuldosh guesthouse opened in 2018 and is operated by the sweetest of couples. The topchan in the garden is paradisiac. You eat meals together with the family. Food is delicious. Best bathroom facilities we have seen in the area so far.
A small walk brings you to a tree reputed to be 2300 years old and planted by Alexander the Great’s soldiers (where have we heard that before?).
Eski Forish, Uhum & Upper Uhum
Haven’t visited these villages yet, your comments are very welcome.
Nuratau nature reserve
The original idea for doing tourism in the area started as an NGO-funded ploy to give villagers another income besides livestock. Their animals were overgrazing the Nuratau Ecological Reserve.
The reserve is the only place in the world where the endangered Severtsov wild sheep still roam in the wild. It’s also an interesting place for tulip hunters and botany geeks in general with a large, partly endemic collection of unique flora and a diverse spread of nut and fruit trees, including strands of pistachio and rare walnut.
Plenty of birds will delight the birdwatchers who might want to detour here from Aidarkul lake. Other inhabitants include jackals, wolves, wild boars, foxes, rabbits, bats, stone marten, porcupine, snakes, lizards, turtles, toads and frogs.
Getting there and away
To get there, arrange in advance with Timur to come pick you up, or ask for info about the bus from Jizzakh.
On the way
A visit to the Nuratau mountains combines well with a stopover in the Kyzylkum desert, if the season is right. On the way to Navoi and Bukhara, past Nurata, you can also take a detour to see the petroglyph site of Sarmysh.
Near the village of Bakhmal lie the gates of Tamerlane, a narrow corridor that stretches for several kilometers with Persian inscriptions about the military campaigns of Ulugbeg, and another one, dated much later, about the massacre of Abdullah Khan, son of Iskandar Khan and his 30 000 troops.