I was getting my haircut one day when another woman started talking about countries I’d heard of but never really considered possibilities. Turns out she lived in Kazakhstan for years after the breakup of the USSR, helping them form their new government. I’m really full of envy when others tell me about places I’ve not visited as I consider myself well-traveled. She didn’t think that from a tourist perspective I’d like Kazakhstan but recommended Uzbekistan as there were many World Heritage sites in that country.
I usually travel on a budget that excludes tour companies who do all the journey logistics and my research was telling me that one needed more time and flexibility than I usually allot for trips. Visas and border crossings were troublesome. While there are companies who will handle all these necessary arrangements, somehow the fun of planning would disappear. Besides their shortest such trip was at least 21 days. I ended up going twice to see just three of the seven. First time I did not take her advice and went to the two K’s….
The “stans” were stumpers even for someone who collects countries and watched the Borat film. The wide open spaces of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan certainly leave one to wonder what tourism has to offer. The looming statue of Lenin in Bishkek reminds one of their past, the wine selection in a grocery store in Almaty foretells the future refinements. However, Uzbekistan has everything most tourists crave: the walled desert city of Khiva; Bukhara, a city of over 100 architectural monuments ;Samarkand, the centrally located city on the silk road that Unesco now calls the ” crossroads of cultures” and of course the capital city of Tashkent, a newly rebuilt city.
Technically in Muslim Central Asia, these countries were greatly influenced by Russia’s population transfers during the Soviet era. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union many people of European ethnicity have left the area. Even so, the impact a multitude of cultures is still alive and present today especially in the cities. The people are delightful, friendly and eager to share their country with you. I was impressed with the quality of inns ( somehow this word suits better than hotel) and while the food was tasty, I did have some trouble digesting it.
Interesting firsts for me included eating horsemeat, being frightened at a border crossing, having to make an unscheduled airplane stop, driving cross-country at speeds slower than a regular paced hare, and having my camera’s memory card erased by a clerk in a grocery store!