I apologize for the long gap in postings. The MIR tour of Uzbekistan was too busy for me to have time to post, even if I had had decent internet connections. I did get the blog as far as Istanbul while traveling but I decided to wait to tackle Uzbekistan until I got home. However, I arrived right before Thanksgiving, and then started having problems with muscle pain. I’m still having problems, despite targeted exercises and supplements, and have little spare energy. I have finally bought a much-needed new mattress, which I hope will help when it arrives next week. I don’t like drugs, but gave in and took aspirin today, so am going to try and finish this while I feel better.
I first realized that the Silk Road and Central Asia were becoming tourist destinations a couple of decades ago, while visiting eastern China. I had been vaguely aware of the importance of the land-based trade routes across Eurasia, before they were eclipsed by the sea routes pioneered by the Portuguese and exploited by the Dutch and the British, but when I started reading up on the area I found out how little I really knew. Besides the books on the Great Game between Russia and Britain for control of access to India, the books on the early explorations by archaeologists and adventurers, the books on the tribes and the textiles and the merchandise of the caravan routes, I also read guide books. Not that there were many – Lonely Planet, Trailblazer and Odyssey. But actually getting there didn’t go so well.
In 2001 I traveled Beijing to Islamabad around and across Xinjiang’s Taklamaklan desert and over the spectacular Karakorum Highway with a small Intrepid tour group. Unfortunately, we crossed the border into Pakistan the day of the 9/11 attacks, and left the country rather earlier than intended. In 2009 I visited some of the western end of the skein of routes that made up the “Silk Road” in Georgia, Armenia and the Middle East – the trip that started this blog. But despite two round the world trips in 2004 and 2010 I never made into Central Asia.
Finally, in 2016, realizing that I was getting neither younger nor healthier, I took another look at visiting Iran and the five “stans” that make up Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It dawned on me that the reason I had been having difficulty planning a trip was that I was trying to do too much, and that if I scaled back to the most important sights I might actually get there. It was a close contest, but given I was suffering from low energy at the time, I prioritized Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva over the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
I also decided that for a first visit to the area I should look into tour groups. Given that I wanted three nights in Samarkand and Bukhara, plus visits to the Fergana valley and Khiva, I didn’t have a lot of choice. I settled on MIR, which had been visiting the area for 30 years and had a good reputation, although I was not happy with the entire itinerary (I had no interest in a yurt stay – been there, done that three times – or the art gallery in Nukus) but it came closest and took a maximum of twelve travelers. An internet friend was going to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan with Explore! but I hadn’t forgotten my less than stellar experience with them in Jordan, and I was willing to go a bit more upmarket for this trip. (It turned out that she had a very good guide in Kyrgyzstan and a very bad guide in Uzbekistan.)