On a Night Train Across Uzbekistan: From Urgench to Tashkent

This review covers my trip on an Uzbek night train, travelling across Uzbekistan from Urgench to Tashkent in a Spalny Vagon sleeper compartment.

Back to Tashkent

Having explored the amazing walled old of town Khiva – the last of the great Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan I visited during my trip – it was time to head back to Tashkent.

At the time I was travelling, Khiva was not yet connected to the rest of Uzbekistan’s railway network, and I therefore first had to reach the regional transport hub of Urgench.

As the biggest city in the region, Urgench not only has an important railway station with frequent trains to Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, but also an airport.

Although many travellers visiting Uzbekistan take a flight between Urgench and Tashkent, I very much preferred the idea of the night train, as it sounded like a great adventure to end my trip through the country.

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Khiva’s impressive mudbrick walls. ©Paliparan
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View over Khiva from the southern wall. ©Paliparan
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum Khiva Uzbekistan Islamic tilework
Gorgeous tilework inside Khiva’s Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum. ©Paliparan

From Khiva to Urgench

As my train would only depart from Urgench at 3.50pm, I had time for a leisurely last stroll through Khiva in the morning.

Since I had ample time, I opted not to negotiate for a taxi at the West Gate.

Instead, I made my way through Khiva’s North Gate, as I had heard that beyond it lay a marshrutka stop, from where minibuses frequently depart for Urgench.

Before I reached the marshrutka stop to the north-east of the walled old town, I encountered local drivers offering shared rides to Urgench in their cars.

For a seat in the car I paid only $1, which seemed to be a fair price compared to the $5 taxi fare I had to haggle hard for when travelling the other way around from Urgench to Khiva.

As the passenger seat next to the driver was already occupied, I took a window seat in the back and waited for the last two spots in the car to be taken by other passengers.

Luckily for me, this time it weren’t fat babushkas (which is usually my luck when traveling in a marshrutka or shared car in former Soviet Union countries), but rather two pretty young women who ended up sitting beside me.

The 32-kilometre drive from Khiva to Urgench passed quickly, and I was dropped off in the city centre near a local shopping mall along with the other passengers.

north gate khiva uzbekistan
Walking through Khiva’s North Gate to the marshrutka stand. ©Paliparan

A look around Urgench

There isn’t a whole lot to see and do in Urgench, but if you’re waiting for a plane or train departure, you can keep yourself occupied for an hour or two by wandering around the city centre.

However, Urgench felt a bit soulless as the wide boulevards and large squares were devoid of people.

Urgench was founded by the Russians in the 19th after Konye-Urgench (Old Urgench), in what is nowadays the country of Turkmenistan, was abandoned when the Amu-Darya River changed course and the city was left without a water supply.

The Amu-Darya lies a few kilometres northeast of Urgench and is connected to the city by the huge Shavat Canal, which bisects Urgench into two halves.

On the banks of the canal, you can find the Avesta Monument, which is named after the primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism.

These are the only texts known written in the otherwise unrecorded Avestan language, which has been extinct for many centuries.

On the other bank of the canal you can find the Jalad ad-Din Mingburnu Park, which is named after the last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire.

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Crossing the bridge over the Shavat Canal. ©Paliparan
shavat canal park
Park on the banks of the of the Shavat Canal. ©Paliparan
avesto monument
Avesto Monument. ©Paliparan
Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu Park
Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu Park. ©Paliparan
Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu statue
Statue of Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu. ©Paliparan

Urgench station

After buying supplies for the upcoming train journey, I strolled along a wide avenue toward the railway station.

The majority of train stations in Uzbekistan share a similar modern design, and Urgench was no exception, being similar in style to the stations in Samarkand and Bukhara.

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Walking back along the main street towards the train station. ©Paliparan
urgench train station
Urgench train station. ©Paliparan
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The main platform at Urgench station. ©Paliparan
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Waiting for the arrival of my Uzbek night train at the station of Urgench. ©Paliparan

Urgench to Tashkent by Uzbekistan Railways night train
rain 058ЬА ‘Amu Darya’
Departure: 3.50pm – Arrival: 7.01am
Duration: 15h11m – Distance: 980 kilometres
Price: 40 euro for a berth in Spalny Vagon (SV)

tashkent urgench map
The train journey from Urgench to Tashkent spans almost 1,000 kilometres. ©OpenStreetMap/Paliparan

The train arrives

Following a 40-minute wait at the station, my Uzbek night train to Tashkent finally arrived.

Urgench is a major stop on Uzbekistan’s east-west mainline, and most through trains will halt here for some 20 minutes before continuing their journey.

I was booked on train 058, the Shovot-Urgench-Tashkent night train.

This train is named the ‘Amu-Darya’ after the great Central Asian river which it crosses during its journey.

Each wagon displayed the train’s name, number, and main stops on a destination shield.

I also loved the beautiful green-and-white livery of the wagons and the national emblem of Uzbekistan proudly affixed to each train carriage.

uzbekistan night train urgench tashkent
The night train from Urgench to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent arrives. ©Paliparan
amu-darya night train urgench tashkent uzbekistan
The destination shield of train 058 ‘Amu-Darya’ from Shovot and Urgench to Tashkent. ©Paliparan
uzbekistan railways night train tashkent urgench
Uzbekistan’s state emblem on the night train. ©Paliparan

Spalny Vagon sleeper

In Uzbekistan, night trains generally offer three classes: Platzkart, Kupé, and Spalny Vagon.

The names for these train classes are Russian, so if you’ve previously travelled through any of the former Soviet Union countries, you’ll find Uzbek night trains to be quite familiar.

Platzkart is the lowest and thus cheapest travel class and typically has 54 berths in an open-plan carriage.

Essentially a hostel on wheels, Platzkart is perfectly suitable for a single night and offers the advantage of there being a lot of social interaction and control throughout the wagon.

Kupé is basically second class and denotes a 4-person sleeper compartment, while Spalny Vagon (often abbreviated as SV) compares to first class and has two berths per compartment.

To secure a private compartment, you’ll need to book all the berths within it, as otherwise, you’ll likely share the space with a stranger.

I had only booked one Spalny Vagon berth and found myself sharing the compartment with a middle-aged Uzbek man, who turned out to be incredibly friendly despite the big language barrier.

spalny vagon sleeper wagon uzbek night train urgench tashkent
The aisle of a Spalny Vagon sleeper wagon, with the doors to the individual compartments visible on the right-hand side. ©Paliparan
spalny vagon compartment uzbekistan night train urgench tashkent
Each Spalny Vagon compartment has two berths. ©Paliparan


Just after departure, the carriage attendant, called the ‘provodnik’ (male version) or ‘provodnitsa’ (female) depending on their gender, walks around to check the tickets of those who have just boarded.

Usually, they collect your ticket but return it shortly before the train reaches your destination.

The train attendants in Kupé and Platzkart will provide freshly washed bed linens wrapped in plastic, allowing passengers to make their own beds.

In Spalny Vagon this is either already done by the train attendant, or you will have to do it yourself as well.

My Spalny Vagon compartment was comfortable and I did like how the gaudy gold colours of the tablecloth, bed and pillows somehow went perfectly together with the dark-red carpets on the floor.

uzbek night train spalny vagon berth bukhara urgench khiva
Spalny Vagon berth on an Uzbek night train. ©Paliparan

Across the desert

The train journey from Urgench to Tashkent takes just over 15 hours to cover nearly 1,000 kilometres, passing through the Kyzylkum Desert and making stops at the historic Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand along the way.

Although there isn’t much variation in the scenery I found the journey fascinating as you do get a sense of adventure out of it when you realise how empty and inhospitable much of the terrain is.

At times we did pass some smaller or bigger irrigation canals – all of them made in the days when Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union in a mad attempt to irrigate the arid lands for cotton harvesting.

The whole attempt at centralised socialist planning in Central Asia was sheer madness from the start.

The Soviet Republic of Tajikistan built the fourth-largest aluminium factory in the world, but did not have any aluminium deposits so they had to be brought from far away.

As one of the driest regions within the former Soviet Union, Uzbekistan had to become the largest producer of cotton in the world according to Soviet planning, even though cotton is a crop notorious for its high water requirements.

To get the necessary amount of water, entire rivers were diverted or drained and new canals were constructed to irrigate the lands.

While this approach saw success to some extent, with Uzbekistan supplying around 70% of all Soviet cotton at its peak, elevating the USSR to the world’s second-largest cotton producer after the United States, it also resulted in colossal ecological damage.

The use of chemicals contaminated the limited water supply, while the monoculture of cotton exhausted the soil.

Most concerning was however the complete drying up of entire rivers and lakes due to these practices.

The best example of this is undoubtedly Uzbekistan’s Aral Sea, a massive endorheic lake that historically received the majority of its water from the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers.

Due to the diversion of substantial water volumes from these rivers into poorly constructed irrigation canals, a considerable amount was lost through leakage and evaporation.

This resulted in the Aral Sea shrinking by 60% in surface area and 80% in volume over a mere four decades.

desert landscape uzbekistan
Desert landscape. ©Paliparan

Crossing the Oxus

Despite the reduced water levels, crossing the Amu-Darya River remains a highlight of the train journey from Urgench to Tashkent.

In antiquity, this mighty river was known as the Oxus and it has been crossed by many historic figures such as Alexander the Great.

Crossing this great river by train for sure made for a much more comfortable way than wading through the water on horseback or on foot back in those days!

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Crossing the Amu-Darya River. ©Paliparan
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One of the larger irrigation canals of the Amu-Darya. ©Paliparan

Uzbek dining car

The most important night train services in Uzbekistan will have a dining car attached where you can get some affordable meals and drinks.

My train also featured a restaurant car, which had an extensive menu of Uzbek dishes.

I ordered a pot of tea and some laghman (a Central Asian noodle dish), which I both enjoyed.

At one point, my compartment mate arrived and took a seat opposite me.

Even though he didn’t speak a word of English (and my Uzbek is non-existent, while my Russian doesn’t go further than just a few words only) he was genuinely friendly and insisted on buying a few beers for me.

At one point, he also ordered some kind of potato and meat dish for me.

I returned the gesture and also bought him a few beers back, as we both enjoyed the dining car ambiance for a few hours.

At another table, some Uzbek men were also clearly enjoying themselves as well, as they were already on their second bottle of vodka.

Note that each wagon on an Uzbek night train also features a samovar (hot water dispenser), which allows you to make your own coffee, tea or noodles if you bring along your own supplies.

night train tashkent uzbek dining car
Enjoying some tea and laghman in the Uzbek dining car of the night train to Tashkent. ©Paliparan

Desert sunset

The highlight of my ride on the night train across Uzbekistan was however was the beautiful desert sunset – a magnificent farewell to this beautiful country.

As soon as the sun had completely set, I promptly went to sleep, utterly exhausted after a couple of intense sightseeing days.

urgench tashkent night train uzbekistan desert sunset
Beautiful sunset over the desert as seen from the night train from Urgench to Tashkent. ©Paliparan

Arrival in Tashkent

I slept well and woke up an hour before reaching Tashkent, allowing ample time to freshen up in the bare-bones toilet, which was however kept in a surprisingly clean state throughout the entire journey.

We arrived at Tashkent’s southern station (Yuzhny Vokzal) spot on time.

It was the same station where I began my travels across Uzbekistan a week ago by taking the Shark train to Samarkand.

This time around, I was heading straight to Kazakhstan.

I had no prblem finding a taxi and paid $5 for the ride to the Uzbek-Kazakh border on the outskirts of Tashkent.

tashkent yuzhny vokzal
Tashkent Yuzhny Vokzal. ©Paliparan


Travelling by night train across Uzbekistan is a wonderful adventure that offers a deeper insight into the country’s geography and culture.

An Uzbek night train also makes for a comfortable way to travel, as you can get a great night of sleep and will arrive well-rested at your destination.

The train journey from Urgench to Tashkent takes just over 15 hours to cover nearly 1,000 kilometres, crossing the Kyzylkum Desert and Amu-Darya (Oxus) River, while stopping in the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand en route.

I certainly loved my Uzbek night train ride from Urgench to Tashkent, enjoying a fabulous sunset over the Kyzylkum Desert and some tasty food in the dining car.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘From Uzbekistan With Plov‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Prietenia Night Train Bucharest to Chisinau
2. Chisinau Guide: A Visit to Moldova’s Capital
3. Istanbul Ataturk Airport and the Turkish Airlines Lounge
4. Review: Turkish Airlines Business Class Airbus A330
5. Tashkent Travels: A Day in the Capital of Uzbekistan
6. Tashkent to Samarkand by Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ Train
7. Samarkand Visit Guide: Travelling Through Silk Road Splendour
8. Review: Afrosiyob High-Speed Train Samarkand to Bukhara
9. Bukhara: Exploring Unique Historic Sights and Timeless Charm
10. Bukhara to Khiva by Train: My Travel Experience
11. Khiva: Uzbekistan’s Unique Desert Oasis City
12. On a Night Train Across Uzbekistan: From Urgench to Tashkent (current chapter)
13. Guide: How to Travel From Tashkent to Shymkent
14. Shymkent: The Gateway to Southern Kazakhstan
15. Sukhoi Superjet: Flying Russia’s Homemade Plane

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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