I went to Uzbekistan in September 2014. I didn’t know what to expect really, but I knew it was the heart of the Silk Route. The Silk Route was actually a very old series of routes, coming up from India, from China and carrying on through into Persia, into Turkey, so Uzbekistan is where all these paths cross. The romance of it, the history, the atmospheric image of camel caravans making their way through the deserts, carrying silks and spices, I couldn’t resist going to see what it was really like and if it was truly an ‘antique land’.
And what I found was incredible – the extent of the Islamic architecture, dripping with cobalt blue and turquoise tilework, is jaw-dropping. The mosques, minarets, mausoleums, the caravanserais – which were like desert hotels for animals, goods and people – it’s all stunning. And they’ve been fantastically looked after or restored to the point where you get a good idea of how it would have looked in those ancient times. Bukhara is almost like a museum city, and you can see people in their shops painting miniatures and creating intricate calligraphy, so you really get a sense of how life would have been years ago. The fruit and vegetables markets are great fun too – it’s a land of apricots, almonds and pistachios, so the sights and smells can be sublime.
There’s a real mix of people, some have Mongolian features, some European, some Indian – Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and many different races came through, so it’s a melting pot of people, with a distinct culture all of its own. It’s a Muslim country, but perhaps because of the Russian influence, it’s very understated. It doesn’t feel prominently Muslim, you don’t hear the call to prayer as you might in other countries that are steeped in Islam, so it isn’t as overwhelming.
It’s very hot in summer and very cold in winter, so we go in spring and autumn, when the skies are clear and blue. As yet tourism has definitely not taken hold, so you get an authentic idea of the country. We’ve made sure that instead of eating at the hotel each night, we take guests out to local restaurants, so they can get a taste of the region’s specialities, and we’ve also got cooking demonstrations and cultural shows to really showcase the traditions.
At the moment only a few other holiday companies offer holidays there, so if we’re not blazing the trail, we’re certainly taking it before it gets too well-trodden!
Take your own holiday to Uzbekistan, or see what our marketeer Joel had to say about his Uzbekistan trip…