In this story, you will learn:
Embroidery is considered an important skill for Uzbek women.
Timur, Uzbekistan’s 14-century ruler, built monuments on a scale the world has never seen.
Tashkent residents take their cultures seriously and frock-up for the occasions.
The 10-meter walls of Khiva like Arabian Nights fantasy, where the lookout niches are something of lovers’ lane.
Samarkand is the city of mulberries, the tree so essential to silk production.
Plov is Uzbekistan’s national dish made of cooked rice, mixed spices, matchstick carrots topped with red meat.
Writer: Joyce Morgan
From the air, Uzbekistan, with its towering serrated peaks that sweep down to dusty desert plains. looks like it’s been designed by some malevolent cosmic hand to keep visitors at bay. How could such a forbidding terrain sustain life, let alone one of the greatest civilisations ever known? And how is this Central Asian country, once the plaything of European empires, faring since it stepped out of the Soviet shadow. That is what I have come here to discover.
Uzbekistan was once the beating heart of the Silk Road, the ancient overland trade route that connected East with West. I’ve dreamed of visiting for years, even before I researched my book about an episode along China’s section of the Silk Road. But time, geopolitics and a vast mountain range kept this heartland hidden from me as I wandered China’s remote western oases, so tantalisingly close to Uzbekistan. Until now.
The cosmopolitan oases of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand – poetic names that belie the drama played out within their walls – were great crossroads that drew travellers, pilgrims and scholars from afar along with camel caravans.
Its merchants prospered, the wealth plied into golden fortresses, turquoise-domed mosques, madrassas – Islamic colleges – and mausoleums. At its peak, its fierce 14th-century ruler Timur built monuments on a scale the world had never seen, using artisans from across his vast empire; tile-makers, architects, glass-makers and painters from India, Persia and Syria.
And then it was over. His empire turned to dust, maritime routes took over and the landlocked region was forgotten by the West until European rivals turned covetous eyes and weapons on what was then called Turkestan. The Great Game – a 19th-century Cold War between Russia and Britain – played out amid its arid, strategic, sands. Soldiers, spies, adventurers and oddballs, whose accounts I have long devoured, arrived in its oases that still echo with romance and dastardly deeds.
I arrive in spring, when the country is thawing not just after its long winter. For much of last century, Uzbekistan was in Moscow’s iron grip and few visitors reached the most splendid of the “Stans”.
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