Lying at the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan is the cradle of civilisation for the region. Timur ran his vast empire from here in the 14th century and architecture buffs will be in heaven when confronted by the epic scale of his legacy. The medieval cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are the jewels in the crown of Uzbekistan. Blue tiled mosques, towering minarets, and grand palaces leave the visitor awed and humbled. A trip through Uzbekistan is a trip through the land of the Silk Road, passing Bactrian camels, lonely forts and windswept desert landscapes. Uzbekistan is not just a Timurid museum. Modern-day Uzbekistan is a balancing act between its traditional Islamic past and its post-Soviet future. Atmospheric markets selling prayer mats and Baltika beer, endless cotton fields and the sobering sight of the now nearly dry Aral Sea stand testament to the impact of those years. Yet they are the experiences that make a visit to Uzbekistan so memorable.
Kyzyl Kum Desert
Meaning Red Sands in Turkic language, this is one of the great deserts of Central Asia and essentially sits wedged between the major rivers of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Whilst its sands do creep into Kazakhstan and a small portion of Turkmenistan (where it merges with the Kara Kum Desert or “Black Sands”), the majority of this desert lies in Uzbekistan. Venturing into the depths of the Kyzyl Kum is a place where few people go and the truest way to do so is by camel. If you’re lucky you can see desert tortoises, wild saiga antelope, and even giant monitor lizards. Also worth visiting is Aydar Lake, a 4000 square kilometer body of water sitting in the desert and an unintentional byproduct of the Soviet’s damming of the Syr Darya in the 60s.
Uzbekistan’s capital city was the administrative centre for Russian central Asian and grew to become the fourth largest city in the old USSR. It dwarves any other city in the country. At first glance the wide boulevards, orderly monuments and gaudy metro system suggest that any remnants of traditional Central Asian life has long gone. However, there are still areas pockets of traditional life in some of the bazaars and madrassas.
Although this ethnically diverse valley has been the scene of various conflicts, today the Fergana region is safe and is not only a stunning place to trek and explore, but also an ideal place to learn about the various Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz cultures which converge in this valley.