Often overlooked by your classic holiday maker, Central Asia has always exercised a powerful fascination over a certain kind of traveler. Home to some of the most ancient cultures and breathtaking landscapes on earth, it is nevertheless only lightly trodden by wanderers and merchants. But traffic on the silk road is once again picking up. If you too are curious about those countries sometimes referred to as “The Stans,” these quick highlights from my own brief yet tantalizing experience should help motivate you to make the trip a reality. In this article, we will explore three examples that showcase the best of Central Asia: The ancient, the modern, and the outdoors.
The Ancient: Uzbekistan – Bukhara – Lyab-i Hauz
There’s something about this spot, an idyllic pond or “hauz” that has survived for centuries in the middle Bukhara. Around you, the traffic is frenetic. Construction projects line the highways. You’ve jostled with other tourists and bartered with outside famous spots like Kalyan Minaret and the Po-i-Kalyan. And now, you have a moment to yourself. Stop by one of the quality cafes overlooking the ancient pool, enjoy a cup of tea and a bowl of Lagman, and just bathe in the atmosphere that surrounds you. This is it. This is Central Asia at its historic best. You have arrived. So what’s next?
The Modern: Kazakhstan – Urban Almaty
Wide highways, a gleaming metro, sushi restaurants, cocktail bars and British style pubs! This is not what the average Westerner imagines when they think Kazakhstan. But the second they come to cosmopolitan Almaty, their eyes are opened. A thriving Korean diaspora means that Kazakhstan’s largest city has a diverse and delicious dining scene, with local favorites mingling with international influences. Stop by for a pint at one of the city’s many expat bars such as The Shakespeare or Mad Murphy’s before (or, perhaps more sensibly, after) taking the Kok-Tobe Hill Gondola for sweeping viewing of the city and a taste of the surrounding mountains.
The Outdoors: Tajikistan – The Pamir Highway
We knew that we were in for an adventure. The Pamir Highway that runs between Dushanbe and Osh is the second highest highway in the world, and is considered one of the most picturesque drives out there – if your car is up for the challenge! Sensible travelers hire formidable 4WD vehicles that make the passes a cinch, even when you’re at the road’s highest point of 4655 meters above sea level. Snow capped peaks and sweeping valleys are dotted with small, hospitable villages, where you can dine with locals and sleep the night in a cosy yurt, before continuing the adventure.
There is so much more to Central Asia than this tiny article can possibly encapsulate. Hopefully this brief sampler will motivate at least one or two travelers out there to move Central Asia up the list. The time to visit is now.
Nathan James Thomas is the author of “Travel Your Way” (Exisle Publishing, May 2021) and the editor of Intrepid Times, a digital magazine for travel writing with heart. Follow at http://intrepidtimes.com
WWW.OCAMAGAZINE.COM text by Nathan James Thomas