Uzbekistan

While this Central Asian nation remains a mystery to the masses, oasis towns like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva were once main points of trade on the Silk Road and are among the oldest towns in the world.

Uzbekistan will delight the heart of any adventurous traveller with its teeming bazaars and spectacular architecture. The nation boasts some of the finest architectural jewels among the Silk Road countries; intricate Islamic tile work, turquoise domes, minarets and preserved relics from the time when Central Asia was a centre of empire and learning.

Tashkent, the capital city, is a sprawling arrangement of tree-lined boulevards, pretty parks and funky architecture. The Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre is an architectural wonder with its six foyers decorated in different regional styles. Be sure to visit Tashkent’s Fine Arts Museum and the History Museum.

Samarkand is synonymous with the Silk Road, with its beautiful domes, larger than life monuments of Timur, technicolour bazaars and rich history. The Registan, meaning ‘place of sand’, is architectural poetry on an epic scale. Constructed over 250 years ago this monument has been a site for executions, a boisterous meeting point for merchants and a social arena par excellence. The Bibi Khanum Mosque commemorates Timur’s wife and the Guy Emir is a mausoleum built for Timur’s grandson. Meaning ‘tomb for king’, it has a unique and important place in Islamic architecture as the precursor and model for the great Mughal tombs including the Taj Mahal.

Bukhara was once the centre of a powerful khanate and you can still see many of the buildings where the emirs and nobles lived, ruled, worshiped and were buried. The Bolo Hauz Mosque reflects the magical beauty of Bukhara and symbolises the mystery and romance that encapsulates this special city. For a nation that has seen its fair share of cruelty, the zindan (ancient jail) is an interesting albeit macabre place to visit.

Five hundred miles across the desert from Tashkent lies Khiva, a well preserved and fascinating city whose mosques, madrassas, caravanserais and palaces of former Khorezm Lords render a lasting impression. Younger and better preserved than either Samarkand or Bukhara, the city has remained unchanged since the 18th century. Climb the minarets at sunset or sunrise for incredible views and colours of the Karanum desert’s red sand.

The only country in the world surrounded entirely by other landlocked states, and is bordered by the ‘-stans’ – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

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