How Uzbekistan’s Silk Road Has Found Romance Again

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The
word Uzbekistan doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. And you might be forgiven
for not instantly pinpointing it on a map.

Yet
for centuries, Uzbekistan was at the heart of the world’s trade.

You
may have heard of Marco Polo, of the wild hordes of Central Asia, of caravans
weighted down with bolts of silk. They travelled through Uzbekistan along what
came to be known as the Silk
Road. So, if you’re looking for an unusual
destination with tremendous rewards, this might be it.

Along the Silk Road of Central Asia

More
than 2000 years ago, Chinese caravans travelled along this road to trade not
only silks but gunpowder, fruits, tea, and gemstones with Europe, bringing back
cotton, ivory, or gold.

Along
the route, cities prospered, their architecture preparing to stun the world and
their madrassas and minarets covered in brilliant turquoise ceramics. Much of
the area was ruled by Genghis Khan.

We
lost sight of this region during the 20th century, when Central Asia
was absorbed into the then Soviet Union. Some mosques were turned into
factories or offices, cobblestones were ripped out and ceramic façades allowed
to decay.

Yet
much of the artistry somehow escaped destruction and when modern Russia emerged
from Communism, it funded massive restoration works that have revived these
magnificent structures (some say too perfectly).

Rarely
– save perhaps in corners of Iran and Turkey – will you see Islamic architecture
so dazzling you’ll have to blink several times to make sure you’re not in a
fairy tale.

Few
places on the planet retain a timeless atmosphere that can transport you such
great distances – even with your eyes open.

Here
are my 8 reasons why there’s never been a better time to visit Uzbekistan.

The Doors Are Finally Open

Under
the Soviet regime, this was a distant corner of the empire, where bureaucracy
could defeat even the most persistent traveller in search of a visa. These
days, some 60 nationalities (including the USA) can apply for an e-visa online.

Not Many People Have Found Their Way There Yet

In these days of overtourism, the luxury of
sitting alone and letting history transport you is rare, what with tour groups
and loudspeakers jostling for limited space. Not so in Uzbekistan.

There
are tourists and there are groups – but the destination is still offbeat enough
to attract the slightly more adventurous and independent traveller. Your
friends will probably not have visited; they may not even have heard of it! But
hurry, because the word is getting out.

Uzbekistan Isn’t as Far as You Think

If
you’re coming from North America – true, it is the other side of the world –
you can find round-trip flights for under $1000 most of the year (prices sneak
up a little during the summer months).

Yes,
it’s a long journey, but how do you measure that against the trip of a
lifetime? Because that’s exactly what this part of the world will provide.

You’ll Be Dazzled by the Architecture

If
you’re looking for splendid architecture, the paths to Mexico and Egypt are
well worn. So why Uzbekistan? Precisely because so few people visit its magical
cities, which conjure up images more suited to an ancient fairy tale than a
backdrop for a selfie (although yes, you can take those too).

Even
the names –
Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand – can send you spinning into dreams of
turquoise domes and soaring buildings.

You’ll Be Wrapped Up in Culture and
History

Who
cannot picture Genghis Khan galloping across the steppes, creating mayhem?

History
is thick in this part of the world, not to mention culture shock that comes
from a mixture of cultures – mostly Uzbek, peppered with Persian, Arabic,
Turkic, Chinese, Russian, Kazakh, and others – that
results from being a country where East and West meet.

Getting Around the Country Is Getting
Easier Every Day

Not
long ago, traveling through this country involved rusted, rickety taxis over
sandy tracks. Today, that has changed. For longer distances, there’s a reliable
national airline. Train routes are being added between main cities, and roads
are being paved and enlarged.

If
you like your travel organized, you can easily find a Central Asia tour that
includes Uzbekistan, but you can also visit Uzbekistan independently with
hardly a second thought.

Visiting This Country Is Safe for
Women

Uzbekistan
may be off the regular tourist circuit, but that shouldn’t deter travellers
from visiting – on
the contrary. The country is highly policed and therefore eminently safe. A
Muslim country, the countryside is full of mosques but otherwise you’d be hard-pressed
to find signs of religiosity.

You’ll Get More Than You Bargained
for

When
we travel, most trips (happily) turn out as expected. A few, though, can
disappoint, when that beautiful beach turns out to be polluted, that expensive
hotel room faces a dump, or the food, instead of transporting us to sublime
heights, transports us to bed for a few days.

How often do you actually go somewhere that over-delivers? Looking at photos of minarets and mosques, I was unprepared for a reality that actually outpaced the publicity.

But
wait –
Uzbekistan isn’t perfect by any stretch. Some roads are rough, the food can
become monotonous, standards of hygiene can be low, and chances are you’ll come
home with a carpet (I did).

Still,
it will be extraordinarily different, and you’ll have a hard time escaping the
romance of what was once the Silk Road.

And
the best news? Uzbeks have a tradition of respecting their elders.

What
do you know about Uzbekistan and the Silk Road? Have you ever been? Do you
think you’d add it to your bucket list? Please share your comments below!

Let\’s Have a Conversation!

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