China & Northeast Asia
With a history that stretch back over two millennia, it is in Uzbekistan that you'll find hauntingly beautiful ancient cities heavily imbued in the tempestuous history of the Silk Road. Associated with great names of the past such as Alexander the Great and Tamerlane, Uzbekistan only gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It has developed into a country of friendly, authentic people and showstopping sights in cities that showcase some of the world's most exciting history - Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
Legend says that Khiva was founded by a son of Noah, Shem, who discovered a well in the middle of the desert, tasted the water and explained “Khi-wa!” (roughly sweet water) – during the 5th or 6th century the town of Khiva begun to grow. It wasn’t until the 16th century that Khiva became a power as an Islamic Khanate, a slave trading post and a stop on the Silk Road. Today the town is more of a sleepy oasis – even though it is only 35 kilometres from Uzbekistan’s capital Urgench, a major transport hub, it is often passed over by tourists. The inner walled town, Itchan Kala, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Restored by the Soviets in the 1970s some say it is a little too squeaky clean, but with 94 mosques and 63 medrasas clustered around twisty alleyways, the place is still magical.
The city of Bukhara is one of the most complete examples of a medieval city in Central Asia as well as its holiest city. Founded over 2,000 years ago, it has long been an economic and cultural centre, and a pivotal destination on the Silk Road. The old city has been subtly restored giving it a more living in feel than those at Samarkand and Khiva. Must visits include the Ark, the city’s oldest structure, occupied from the 5th century up to 1920, the tomb of Ismail Samari, Chor Minor, Kalon Minaret, Labi-Hauz Plaza and a number of 17th century madrasas.
The epitome of the romance of the Silk Road, the mythical Samarkand is often referred to as the ‘crossroad of world cultures’. Founded in the 7th century BC it flourished thanks to its central position on the trade route, Samarkand’s long, rich history can be read in the evocative skyline of its old quarter. UNESCO World Heritage-listed there are many must see sights including Registan Mosque, Ulugh Beg Observatory and Shah-i-Zinda.
The capital of Uzbekistan, in the 12th century Tashkent prospered as a strategic point on the Silk Road, trading not only in products but also ideas and culture. Today the city is a mix of modern and Soviet, but dig deeper and you’ll uncover fascinating Silk Road history amongst the shady courtyards and ancient mosques of the old town. The Chorsu Bazaar, sheltered beneath an ornate blue dome, is a must visit and the chance to see everyday life in Uzbekistan as people trade spices, grains, fruit and dairy products.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.