One of only two double-landlocked countries in the world (the other being Lichtenstein), Uzbekistan is the most-populous Central Asian country and the only one to border Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, plus Afghanistan to the south. Once described as being marooned ‘somewhere between Mohammed and Marx’, Uzbekistan is a land of stunning Silk Road cities and empty deserts, with some minor ranges rising towards the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan in the east.
Another major geographical feature of Uzbekistan is the Amu Darya River (the Oxus of ancient times), the longest waterway in Central Asia. This flows through the south of Uzbekistan -forming a natural border with Turkmenistan – before petering-out into the remains of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan’s north-western corner.
The main reason people come to Uzbekistan is to gaze upon the beauty of its Silk Road cities: Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. And rightly so. Bursting with mosques, madrassas, markets and minarets, these blue-domed oases were once the most important stops along the Silk Road – fulcrums of power, the arts and intellectual vigour. The Khans who built them not only gathered artisans from across their conquered lands, but also scholars and mathematicians who developed and honed the fields of astronomy, philosophy, poetry, mathematics, medicine and optical science. While 10th century scholars such as Al Biruni (from what is today western Uzbekistan) were establishing that the world revolved around the sun and rotated on an axis, Europe was languishing in academic darkness.
Today, Uzbekistan’s new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, seems to be leading the country on a new course. Since coming to power in 2016 he has abolished cotton slavery, introduced tax reforms, created four new free economic zones and amnestied many political prisoners. Relations with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan have drastically improved (including the opening of long-closed borders) and getting tourist visas is becoming easier by the month. Now could not be a better time to go.
Reasons we love Uzbekistan
- The fabulous blue-domes of Samarkand and Bukhara – without doubt some of the architectural wonders of the world.
- The silk. Uzbekistan is the sixth largest silk producer in the world, and Uzbeks will tell you they produce the best silk there is. The stunning silk ikat cloth is part of the national dress.
- 2000 year old desert fortresses such as Ayaz Kala, once built to protect valuable Silk Road caravans from the slave-raiding Turkmen tribes who roamed these empty lands.
- The shopping! Make sure you leave lots of room in your suitcase for all the gorgeous silks, ikat coats, ceramics and embroidered bags you’ll be bringing home.
- The fantastic fruit and vegetables. Food isn’t often listed as a highlight of travelling in Central Asia, but the fresh fruit and salads are something else. We defy you to find tomatoes that taste better.
Follow in Joanna Lumley’s footsteps along the Silk Road on this fabulous exploration of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Led by Silk Road Adventures’ Director, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent – also a producer of ITV’s Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure – this will be a unique experience.