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What are the highlights of the Central Asian Silk Road?

Bookings to the Central Asian Silk Road are seeing a real spike and you should book soon for 2019.  Safe and secure, with architectural wonders matching those of India, Iran and Morocco, a culture all its own and with a history dating back millennia, this is a region waiting to be discovered.  

 

But what are the highlights of Central Asia, or to be precise, what are the must-see things in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

 

Uzbekistan is truly the heart of the Silk Road and home to Central Asia's three most important ancient cities: Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.  

 

A city that features in everyone's dreams about the Silk Road, Samarkand is a treasure trove of architectural monuments dating back all the way to Timur.  Sure highlights are Shah-i-Zinda, a street of beautifully tiled mausoleums, and Ulugh Beg’s 15th-century observatory in Samarkand.  Throw in a colourful bazaar and a long, rich history and you have a city that one must visit.

 

Bukhara, Central Asia's sacred Muslim city, is also one of the places where one can experience pre-Russian culture at its best.  Mosques, madrasahs and minarets are scattered around town, along with a enormous fortress and the remnants of a market complex.  The city counts over 900 historical monuments, including 12th century Char Minar, Bolo Khauz Mosque and the old Summer Palace of the Emirs.  Stay in an atmospheric hotel and you may feel transported back in time.

 

KhivaAt the heart of the Great Game lies , a former slave trading centre that could only be reached by crossing a desert inhabited by aggressive tribesmen.  Walking into the mud-walled inner city is like being transferred to a bygone era.  Be sure to experience the 200 intricately carved elm wood columns inside the cool, dark Juma Mosque and the beautiful mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud.

 

Uzbekistan's capital of Tashkent is a fascinating jumble of contradictions, part Soviet capital, with wide, tree-lined streets, grand statues and shopping malls, and part sleepy Uzbek town where farmers cart their goods through myriad alleys.  The city has some amazing museums covering art and both ancient and more modern history.

 

Of the remaining Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is the next most visited.  This land of stunning mountains and rolling summer pastures, is home to welcoming nomads who have developed a great system of home (yurt) stays.  Throw in horse treks and hiking and you have a country unique to this part of the world.  Highlights are mostly natural, including stunning lakes Issyk-Köl, Song-Köl and Ala-Köl, the beautiful Ala-Archa Valley.  But don't miss the laid-back capital of Bishkek and the raucous ancient bazaar at Osh, which locals claim is older than Rome.

 

Oil and mineral rich Kazakhstan offers fascinating cities such as the brand-new capital of glitter Astana and leafy Almaty.  Beyond the cities you find lake-dotted steppes, high mountains and green valleys, a mausoleum to rival Timur's creations in Samarkand and long-forgotten underground mosques in the deserts of the west.

 

Mysterious Turkmenistan is a land of great natural beauty, tradition and spirituality.  Long forgotten empires left their marks in ancient cities such as Konye-Urgench and Merv which juxtapose with the new capital of Ashgabat, famous for its marble palaces, golden domes, fountains and vast park lands.  Meanwhile the incredible Gates of Hell craters are a leftover of Soviet gas exploration.

 

Offering Silk Road bazaars and towns such as Istaravshan, Tajikistan's main draw are the stunning Pamir Mountains, where the Pamir Highway snakes across high-altitude plateaus, studded with lakes and the occasional yurt.  Just to the north, the Fan Mountains offer great trekking while on its slopes Lake Iskander-Kul offers a lovely spot to hang out.  Stay in a yurt to experience true hospitality or discover pretty Dushanbe, arguably Central Asia's best-looking capital

 

 

Related sites:

Highlights and key experiences in Uzbekistan

 

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