Our Trip is Confirmed!

Soon we will embark on what I hope will be a fantastic, life-changing trip…to Uzbekistan!

Many of you reading this might know I am obsessed with Central Asia. This region excites and fascinates me like none other. Firstly, the history of Central Asia is extraordinary! As the centre of the ancient Silk Road, almost every land-based empire has stomped through it and left its unique mark. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid empire, conquered Bactria (the region around the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border) and the ancient city of Samarkand in the 6th century BCE. Around 329-327 BCE, Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, conquered the same territories, founding numerous ancient cities. After the death of Alexander, the region was subsequently ruled by numerous other empires, including the Kushan Empire, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Sassanian Empire, Parthian Empire, Hephthalite Empire, Seleucid Empire, the Arab (Abbasid) caliphate, Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan and his descendants such as Tamerlane, Samanid Empire, and more recently the Russian (Tsarist) Empire and the Soviet Union.

Each of these conquerors and empires has left its mark on the region. Near Termez, Uzbekistan, alongside the ruins of Alexander-on-the-Oxus, a city founded by Alexander the Great, are ancient Buddhist temples dating to the 2nd century CE. Near Samarkand are the ruins of Old Samarkand, destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1220. Within Samarkand is the famous Registan Square, built by his descendants and once the centre of Islamic learning and the pinnacle of the Timurid renaissance. Khujand, Tajikistan, was once the site of Cyrus the Great’s city Cyropolis and Alexander the Great’s Alexandria-the-Furthest. Today the city is famous for its Historical Museum of Sughd, located inside the 2,500-year-old Khujand Fortress, which houses the remains of the massive Buddha of Nirvana, a 6th-century CE, 13-metre long Buddha statue that was damaged by the invading Arab armies. Near today’s Mary, Turkmenistan, are the ancient ruins of Merv. Founded in the 3rd millennium BCE, Merv was once a leading city of Islamic scholarship and is thought to have been the largest city in the world in the 12th-13th centuries. Famous polymaths such as the Persian Omar Khayyam studied in Merv’s great libraries and observatories until the city was destroyed and all 700,000 inhabitants killed by the Mongols.

The more ‘recent’ history of the region is no less incredible. In 1900, Central Asia was a backward, feudalistic colony of the Russian empire and the semi-independent emirs of Bukhara and Khiva. After 1917, socialism transformed Central Asia into a modern, semi-industrialized region far ahead of neighboring states such as Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Central Asia was still poor compared to the rest of the Soviet Union; however, compared to the rest of the so-called ‘Third World’ and conditions in the region before socialism, Soviet Central Asia was light years ahead. Even today, Central Asia surpasses the US, the world’s richest country, in several social measures, most notably in literacy. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have a literacy rate of 100% and 99.8%, respectively, while the US literacy rate is 79%. In 1991, the Soviet Union was overthrown, and the five Central Asian republics reluctantly became independent states. Thus, in less than 100 years, Central Asia went from a feudalistic colony or semi-colony of the Russian empire to Soviet Socialist Republics to independent states. What an incredible transformation in such a relatively short period of time.

Although I want to visit all of Central Asia, time and budget constraints forced me to start with one, so I decided on Uzbekistan since it is the centre of Central Asia and has the most sites to see. Our custom-made itinerary will take us through the whole length of Uzbekistan: the Ferghana Valley, Tashkent, Termez, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Nukus, and the Aral Sea in Karakalpakstan. Our journey will be made overwhelmingly by Jeep, too, giving us an authentic experience of Uzbekistan.

If I were asked what I am most looking forward to on this trip, it would be a toss-up between Termez, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and located near another country that is so dear to my heart, Afghanistan, the numerous sites of Samarkand (namely Registan Square and the Islam Karimov Memorial Statue), the mosque-cum-hotel we will be staying at in Khiva near the Itchan Kala Fortress, or the drive from Nukus to the Aral Sea in Karakalpakstan, itself an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan.

As a bonus, our flights to/from Tashkent include layovers in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and Istanbul, Turkey, meaning we can visit two additional countries!

Very excited!

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