Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France is licensed under CC BY 2.0
As a teenager I happened upon a somewhat unusual passion – Genghis Khan. Renowned as bloodthirsty conquerors he and his Mongol successors were in fact surprisingly enlightened – tolerant of different religions, promoting intercultural exchange between the regions they conquered, and building a Eurasian trade network on an unprecedented scale – or at least so the book I was reading argued as it gently elided over some of the bloodier massacres… Still, the interest it sparked still lingers and with it a desire to visit Central Asia.
The appeal of such a trip is, understandably, not immediately apparent to most. Currently the region, encompassing various -stans, is best known for various brutal dictators grown fabulously wealthy off the back of oil to build strange follies in the middle of the Central Asian desert. Think Kazkhstan’s bizarre new capital city Nur-Sultan which looks like something conjured from the more fevered dreams of Flash Gordon’s set designers, or the 75m tall golden statue of the president of Turkmenistan that rotates to face the sun…. These have a certain dictator kitsch appeal but not enough to sustain a whole trip.
Underneath these vulgar excrescences, however, lies a region rich in beauty and culture with ancient cities built off the back of the legendary wealth of the Silk Road Tashkent, Bukhara, and perhaps most beautiful Samarkand.