City Index

Amu Darya


Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan
Some thoughts before the trip

As Jim and I begin to rev up for our next international trip, we are getting the usual questions.

Where is Uzbekistan? Never heard of it before! Why did you choose Uzbekistan?

You may not have heard of Uzbekistan, but the names Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, and Timur the Lame (Tamerlane) may be a faint echo somewhere in your memory. They are not mythological, they are historical, and very relevant to this country.

Don't feel bad if none of these have meaning to you. They didn't to me either, until I began to do the research. So let me first answer the question, "Where is Uzbekistan?" It is in Central Asia, east of Turkey, north of India, south of Russia and west of China. It shares borders with Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and other strange countries you have probably never heard of before. The main cities are Tashkent, Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand (does that sound familiar?). Think of the Silk Road. Think of Peter the Great, think of Joseph Stalin, the USSR. Perhaps you have heard of The Great Game, the struggle between Russia and Great Britain for control of Central Asia.

Perhaps you are wondering how we came to choose this remote place in the world for a journey. Good question. Many people wondered why we chose Turkey - and the answer to that was the PBS TV program by Rick Steves, Europe through the Back Door. We saw Melika Seval on the ETBD show about Turkey. She was Rick's Turkish tour guide. Her knowledge, her style, and her intense passion for telling stories captivated us. When we went to Turkey and met her in person we were even more captivated. When she described the upcoming Uzbekistan tour, we could hardly wait to sign up!

Yes, our Turkish friend Meli is taking tours into Uzbekistan, and this will be her fourth trip. You could almost say she is the reason we are going, but that would not quite tell the entire story. We love learning more of the wonderful things that are in Meli's mind, but there is also the appeal of Uzbekistan itself. Would we go if she were not our guide? Probably not.

Have you ever wished you could travel through time? Perhaps go into the future, or into the past? Where and when would you choose to go, if you could go backwards into the past? Our trip to Great Britain gave us little windows into history, but England, Wales and Scotland are quite modern countries in spite of having old buildings and lots of history. English toilets, for example, are not all that different from American style toilets.

Turkey took us back farther into history, and gave us an intriguing taste of how truth and mythology from the past are blended in our culture. (Turkish toilets were sometimes a little more primitive.)

This trip will be something like stepping off the edge of the known world, into fantasyland - but a fantasyland of some centuries ago. In Uzbekistan, we have been told, the people make their own clothes out of brightly colored silk. They were not allowed to use any of the cotton they grew for the USSR. They still make their own pottery, not because they have nothing better to do, but because they use it in everyday life. Wood carving, making of copper pots, carpet weaving, and painting tiles are a few of the things they still do in the ancient ways. And yes, sometimes along the road, toilets will not even be available. (The places where we spend the nights should have relatively up-to-date facilities.)

The tour books hold out tantalizing promise of 14th century cities. Photographs promise colorful buildings, artifacts and people.