‘That car has two sofas on its roof’ someone shouts behind me as I try to cross a huge six-lane roundabout, while dodging run-down Ladas, both remnants of the Soviet era. Making it across is well worth it, for in the middle of this chaos and heat is the cool, green, quiet world of Amir Temur Monument Park. This beautiful park was not what I was expecting from Uzbekistan or its capital, Tashkent.
Uzbekistan is a country that is running out of fresh water but its capital is full of lush, green parks and hundreds of fountains. They offer a calming atmosphere to the busy roads and bustling streets and an insight into what the rest of the country is like – calm and peaceful, with people taking life at their own pace. This over use of water in the capital is only too obvious as you head out of the city to the rest of the country that is surrounded by desert.
Having been part of the Grand Silk Road route for centuries means that Uzbekistan is used to travellers; the hospitality of its people has not waned in these modern times. Many a meal was spent in an Uzbekistani house, sitting on cushions around a large table over- flowing with delicious food. With tourism still in its infancy, many people open up their homes as restaurants. It is a magical way to experience their fascinating culture. The food is wonderfully varied taking influence from the many cultures that have passed through the country. Our tables filled with salads, breads and dips remind me of dinners in Jordan, but the noodles, rice and meat dishes feel more Chinese or Indian, with a touch of Russian. There is so much to try and experience it’s a refreshing change.
The Silk Road has left behind much more than hospitality and diverse cuisine however. The country is overflowing with iconic azure blue domes, colossal architecture and stunning artistry. Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand leave you standing in awe of the surrounding buildings. Towering minarets and the stunning mosaics that decorate the palaces and madrasas fill these glorious cities. Although a little too perfect thanks to Soviet restoration, it still leaves you wondering what the traders would have thought arriving through the city gates of Khiva. There is a delightful calmness to these places. As you wander around the streets of Khiva, wondering if you have passed the same dome more than once, or sit relaxing in Lyabi Khauz Square in Bukhara, you feel a million miles away from your hectic life back home.
There is much more to Uzbekistan than blue domes and architecture however, as wonderful as they are! The road from Khiva to Bukhara takes you through the heart of the Kyzyl Kum Desert, where you can easily imagine what life would have been like as a Silk Road trader. On the horizon you see huge desert castles perched on top of towering cliffs now at the mercy of the elements – crumbling but still magnificent in their size.
Travelling on such a long road also allows for an overnight stop at a yurt camp. Watching the sunrise over the dunes and mountains from the doorway of your yurt is mesmerising. It’s hard to leave, but leave you must, as there is still so much more to see. Hidden in the mountains lie picturesque villages that weave themselves through the valley. Here, the people gladly open up their homes to visitors. After doing a morning walk up into the valley we are welcomed back to the home stay with daybeds by the river, positioned under the trees for shade.
This is a magical country with so much to offer – the iconic architecture set against the barren deserts, the mountains with their peaceful, traditional lifestyles and the hospitable people that open up their homes to weary travellers. Why would you ever want to leave?