Uzbekistan, a stop on the ancient Silk Road, is a page torn straight from One Thousand and One Nights. The shadows of soaring minarets are the backdrop for magical flying carpets zipping through the air. The dusty day reveals detailed majolica tiled domes, glittering among the flat roofed homes. Madrasas, once ancient religious schools, now house little shops selling crafts and trinkets. Maybe this is where Aladdin’s magical lamp waits with a genie trapped inside.
Everywhere you go in this fascinating land, you will be greeted with warm hospitality. Yet Uzbekistan is a place that we know so little about. The country gained independence from Russia in 1991 after being hidden behind an Iron Curtain for so long.
Samarkand was one of the most important stopping points on the Silk Road; it was a center of learning and trade and a meeting place of a myriad of cultures from China to the Mediterranean. Marco Polo’s writings gave Europeans a better understanding of this far-flung world. Alexander the Great was married here, and at the height of his power Genghis Khan came and plundered. A beehive of astronomers and mathematicians made this region of Uzbekistan an intellectual capital of the world. The face of Samarkand’s Ulugh Beg Madrasa features a depiction of stars.
The core of Samarkand is Registan, at it was once the country’s commercial center. The main vast square was the brainchild of King Timur, and its perfectly arched doorways are decked out in glazed geometric motifs, leading into what was once caravanserai for the tired and weary travelers of the Silk Road. Bright turquoise cupolas glisten in the sun, still as vibrant as they were when they were crafted in the 14th century. The impressive profusion of pattern and color has inspired many. In 1888, a future viceroy of India called it the noblest public square in the world. Mughal architecture seen in India’s Taj Mahal and Iran’s Imam Mosque drew inspiration from Registan.
Uzbekistan’s wonderland of Islamic culture carries on further west in Bukhara. This region still looks much the same as it would have centuries ago. Bukhara, a 2,500 year-old-city, features a 16th-century mosque; the earlier one was destroyed by Genghis Khan. As you wander, look up to the medieval domes and immerse yourself completely in the rich history of this ancient land.
Khiva, another stop on the Silk Road, is a beautifully preserved town of sandy-hued homes. The Ichon-Qala is the inner walled portion of the town, and its narrow lanes are best seen on a moonlit night with your Ker & Downey guide.
Meals are a symphony of flavors. Plov, a seasoned rice dish with vegetables and meat, is topped with raisins and washed down with piping hot green tea.
Dance and sing in the capital Tashkent. Traditional costumes are a blur of colors and patterns like ikat and brocade. Pomegranate and saffron dyes turn bland fabrics into works of art. The craftsmanship has been passed down over the generations. Local music is a blend of styles taken from all those nationalities that have passed along these roads. Sleep under a canopy of twinkling stars in a yurt tent, its interior covered in vibrant tapestries, and drift off into dreams of genies and magical lands.