#The legacy of the Silk Roads
The first reason why we are taking a trip to Uzbekistan, no doubt. The stories of great travellers, in the forefront of which are Marco Polo, the great caravans of the desert, the axis linking China to the West... so many subjects of dream and wonder that Uzbekistan, by the grace of its architectural and archaeological heritage, allows us to get as close as possible. The Silk Roads are now being written, with the immense Chinese projects, in the present and in the future. But in Uzbekistan, they also retain all their magic.Great monuments have been bequeathed by the Samanid, Karakhanid or Timurid dynasties, including the incomparable Registan or the gigantic Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand, the Poy Kalon complex and its formidable minaret in Bukhara, or the small town of Khiva, a unique testimony to Eastern architecture on UNESCO's World Heritage List.There are even more historical sites: the citadels of the desert in Khorezm and Karakalpakstan, the Afrosyab hill in Samarkand, the remains of Buddhist temples in the south, around Termez, the petroglyphs of the desert... There is hardly a village that does not offer a mosque, a madrasa, a mausoleum or the ramparts of an ancient citadel to discover.
At the crossroads of civilizations :
In this country located on the borders of the nomadic empires of the steppe and the oldest cities fuelled by the first irrigation systems, at the crossroads of major trade routes such as the Silk Road and the major empires, from Alexander the Great to Genghis Kh?n and Tamerlan, the lifestyles, beliefs and popular traditions result from countless mixtures of people from all over the world. The country is also a meeting point for great religions or spiritualities: orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, all enriched by legacies of Zoroastrianism, Shamanism or Mazdeism that other beliefs have never been able to make disappear completely.This diversity of beliefs can be seen in the architecture, in the motifs of the decorations and in the smallest sculptures of the wooden pillars of the village mosques, and has marked the population's way of being, living and thinking. Muslim certainly, but following an Islam with unknown aspects for those who have been exposed to the Islam practiced in the Maghreb or the Middle East. Sunni Islam in the region has been separated from the rest of the Muslim world by the emergence of Shia power in Iran, and isolated by the communist lead blanket that sought to eradicate it. For the past ten years, it has been brought back into the open as it existed in the early 1920s, transmitted by the oral tradition of the elders rather than by books that have been banned for decades, and is adapted to a secular population that has chosen modernity. A unique model.
A society with many faces
The great diversity of Uzbek landscapes encourages a wide range of activities and allows infinite variations in themes during a single stay. Thus, in three or four weeks of travel, you can visit the monumental ensembles of the Silk Road cities and their unique architecture, ride a camel for a camel ride in the desert, taste the freshness of small mountain villages, take day or multi-day treks in these same mountains, return to the valleys for a horse ride, Hiking in search of abandoned wrecks on the bottom of the former Aral Sea... Not to mention, via certain tour operators and depending on the season, the possibilities of skiing, rafting, canyoning, climbing... In the Pamir ranges or the foothills of the Tian Shan, many summits continue to attract mountaineers from all over the world. Heliskiing is also practised there and, for those who have the time and desire, it is possible from Uzbekistan to organise an ascent of the Lenin or Communist peaks in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. In short, a paradise for many classic or extreme activities that are already well established and that allow you to discover territories where Westerners were rare in recent centuries.
The art of hospitality among the Uzbeks
Hospitality in Central Asia is not an empty word. And if it has difficulty expressing itself when visiting tourist sites in Bukhara and Samarkand, it is enough to move away from them to meet a welcoming, hospitable population, curious about everything and ready to offer the best of itself in all simplicity. Such hospitality could almost become cumbersome. Many Uzbeks, feeling proud to welcome a Westerner under their roof, want to keep him there as long as possible and do not let him leave until all friends and neighbours have met him. Once caught up in this process, it is necessary to respond to the invitations of neighbours and friends, and the planned visit of a few hours to a village can turn into a stay of several days combined with a cure of plov - the Uzbek national dish made from sautéed rice and sheep meat - and local vodka. According to Muslim custom, the guest must stay three full days at his host's house before he can leave. In short, something to spice up your stay with a good dose of the unexpected! Most of the time, however, hospitality translates into a cup of tea or a meal, and can also provide a unique opportunity to attend a celebration, a wedding or the traditional celebration of Navrouz on Eastern New Year's Day.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette