At the heart of the ancient silk route, Uzbekistan is steeped in trading history. Largely unvisited by modern travellers, its ancient cities are living museums of stunning architecture that easily evoke the romanticism of the silk trade.
The country’s greatest treasure — the glittering city of Samarkand — lies at the junction of Central Asia’s ancient caravan routes. It is here that the immense blue domes of the Registan, the most spectacular architectural ensemble in the whole of Central Asia, stopped many a traveller in their tracks. It is also here that the 19th century ‘Great Game’ struck terror into the hearts of all the players, including two British officers, Conolly and Stoddart, who lost their heads in the great square in the summer of 1842 after weeks of hellish incarceration.
Alexander the Great, 329 BC
Itineraries relating to Central Asia
Trip Reports relating to Central Asia
Fiona’s travel tips
THE GREAT GAME: The Great Game refers to the 19th century battle for supremacy played out by the Russian and British empires for political dominance in Central Asia. While Russia spread east, swallowing up the Silk Route khanates of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, Britain edged determinedly north towards the forbidden land of Tibet, with the aid of knowledge accumulated by fabled pundits like Nain Singh. The very centre of this political chessboard was the Gilgit Valley, where, high among the mountains, the borders of India, China, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan all converge.
DON’T MISS: Drinking green tea in Bukhara’s Lyiab-y-hauz in the shade of an ancient mulberry tree, watching some of the elders sitting cross-legged on charpoys bent over a chess board.
BOOKS: Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game and Eastern Approaches by Sir Fitzroy Maclean.
BEST TIME TO GO: The ideal time to travel is May to September, apart from Turkmenistan where the height of summer is better avoided.
FOR THE ACTIVE: For wild, remote, back to nature trekking, Tajikistan is perfect.
WHY NOT: Start your journey in Azerbaijan and cross by local ferry from Baku into Turkmenistan, the hottest, driest and harshest of the stans, where Ashkhabad’s Sunday Market will be swarming with the dominant Turkmen tribe, the Tekke, resplendent in their extraordinary shaggy hats.
Kazakhstan: 9 hours (direct)
Kyrgyzstan: 9½ hours (direct)
Tajikistan: 9 hours (indirect)
Turkmenistan: 9 hours (indirect)
Uzbekistan: 8¾ hours (direct)
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