The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FRONT PAGE - This is an edited ex­tract from Lonely Planet Cen­tral Asia (6th Edi­tion) by Bradley May­hew, et al. © Lonely Planet 2014. Pub­lished this month, RRP: $44.99.

CEN­TRAL Asia is one of the re­gion’s most ab­sorb­ing hid­den cor­ners as this once for­got­ten re­gion is fast emerg­ing as a geopo­lit­i­cal pivot point.


From Alexan­der the Great to Ching­gis (Genghis) Khan to Timur (Tamer­lane), Cen­tral Asia’s page-turn­ing his­tory lit­ters the land at ev­ery turn.

Viewed from the right an­gle, the storeyed oa­sis car­a­van stops of Sa­markand and Bukhara, with their ex­otic sky­lines of minarets and medres­sas, seem to be lifted di­rectly from the hey­day of Marco Polo. Share a round of ke­babs with an Uzbek trader or wan­der an an­cient car­a­vanserai, and his­tor­i­cal ro­man­tics will find the past and present be­gin to blur into one.


East of the desert and steppe set­tle­ments rise the snow­capped Pamir and Tian Shan ranges of Kyr­gyzs­tan and Ta­jik­istan, home to tra­di­tional herd­ing com­mu­ni­ties and some truly epic moun­tain scenery.

Here com­mu­nity-based tourism projects can bring you face to face with no­madic Kyr­gyz herders. Ride out to re­mote lakes on horse­back, hike from one vil­lage home­s­tay to an­other, or take a 4WD out to re­mote arche­o­log­i­cal sites. The scope for ad­ven­ture and ex­plo­ration here is lim­it­less.


For decades – cen­turies even – much of the world has re­garded Cen­tral Asia as lit­tle more than a blank on the map, syn­ony­mous with the mid­dle of nowhere, rather than the heart­land of Asia.

For cer­tain trav­ellers, this is all part of the at­trac­tion of a land that has been largely off-lim­its to trav­ellers for the past 2000 years. Head even a lit­tle bit off the beaten track and you will likely have the place to yourself.

Au­then­tic cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions can be found across Cen­tral Asia. The re­gion’s lit­tle­vis­ited odd­i­ties, namely Turk­menistan and most of Kaza­khstan, are even fur­ther re­moved from the mod­ern world and of­fer an ad­dic­tive in­ter­est all of their own.



No name is so evoca­tive of the Silk Road as Sa­markand. It has the myth­i­cal res­o­nance of At­lantis, fixed in the Western pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion by poets and play­wrights of by­gone eras, few of whom vis­ited the city.

On the ground the sublime, larger-than-life mon­u­ments of Timur, the tech­ni­colour bazaar and the city’s rich his­tory work some kind of magic.

Sur­round­ing these is­lands of majesty, mod­ern Sa­markand sprawls across hectares of Soviet-built build­ings, parks and broad av­enues used by buzzing Dae­woo taxis.

2. BUKHARA Cen­tral Asia’s holi­est city, Bukhara has build­ings span­ning a thou­sand years of his­tory, and the old cen­tre has not changed too much in two cen­turies.

It is one of the best places in Cen­tral Asia for a glimpse of pre-Rus­sian Turkestan. Most of the cen­tre is an ar­chi­tec­tural pre­serve, full of medres­sas, minarets, a huge royal fortress and the rem­nants of a once-vast mar­ket com­plex.

The city’s ac­com­mo­da­tion

op­tions are by far the best and most at­mo­spheric in the coun­try.


Kaza­khstan’s new cap­i­tal has risen fast from the north­ern steppe and is al­ready a 21stcen­tury show­piece. It is sched­uled to go on ris­ing and spread­ing into a city of more than one mil­lion people by 2030.

Its sky­line grows more fan­tas­ti­cal by the year as land­mark build­ings, many of them by leading in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tects, sprout in a va­ri­ety of Asian, Western, Soviet and wacky fu­tur­is­tic styles.


Khiva’s name, redo­lent of slave car­a­vans, bar­baric cru­elty, ter­ri­ble desert jour­neys and steppes in­fested with wild tribes­men, struck fear into all but the bold­est 19th-century hearts.

Nowa­days it is a wel­com­ing Silk Road town that’s well set up for tourism, and a mere 35km south­west of the ma­jor trans­port hub of Ur­gench.

The his­toric heart of Khiva has been well pre­served. To walk through the walls and catch that first glimpse of the fa­bled Ichon-Qala (in­ner walled city) in all its mono­toned, mud-walled glory is like step­ping into an­other era.


The Wakhan of­fers up a seem­ingly end­less pa­rade of scenic su­perla­tives.

Vivid green vil­lages coun­ter­point tow­er­ing val­ley walls, which open reg­u­larly for glimpses of the daz­zling white Hindu Kush (“killer of Hin­dus”) moun­tains mark­ing the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der.

A sprin­kling of cas­tle ru­ins and ibex-horn shrine-walls, even a Bud­dhist mini zig­gu­rat­stupa, add zest.

And while you’re here you might be tempted to nip into Afghanistan. Trans­port is piti­fully in­fre­quent so hire a 4WD in Khorog or Mur­gab.

SILK ROAD: (clock­wise from main) The Khan Shatyr En­ter­tain­ment Cen­tre in Kaza­khstan; Kalon Minaret, Bukhara; Shah-I-Zinda, av­enue of mau­soleums in Sa­markand; and a Ta­jik grand­mother with her two grand­chil­dren in the Wakhan Val­ley. Pic­tures: Lonely...

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