On the fabulous Silk Road in Central Asia

By Gail Gold 

Uzbekistan is full of beauty and looks exactly the way it has been photographed for years.  There are dazzling blue mosques, stunning glazed blue wall tiles, intricately carved minarets calling the faithful to worship, Soviet-style buildings, beautiful I-kat fabrics, unusual food, and ancient towns that are stuck in time. An unknown fact: Uzbekistan is one of only two double land-locked nations in the world.  Can you guess the other one?

Dazzling blue mosques

Stirring plov, the national food of Uzbekistan

Glazed blue wall tiles


Ikat fabric

The Silk Road was one of the world’s most famous desert caravan routes.  Demand for Chinese silk named the trade route which sprang up and is traced back over 3,000 years. Merchants wanted to exchange goods such as furs, jade, ivory and horses for silk, which is still valued in Uzbekistan. Then impressive trading posts along the route became the important and wealthy cities.  

Silk wedding dress 

On my ten-day tour I learned of the great trade routes that linked Europe and China. The foreign cultures, customs and religions were exotic then as they still are today. The commerce and the wealth gave way to the finest mosques, madrassahs, (the Arabic word for educational learning institutions) and minarets in Central Asia.

Uzbekistan was a Soviet socialist republic from 1924-1991, when it gained independence. In the mid 60s a devastating earthquake left the country in rubble, but it was rebuilt by the Soviets.  Now, that legacy of a very Soviet looking city remains with six lane highways, broad streets, a massive 1,000 room hotel, and many still speaking the Russian language. 

My group of 12 very well seasoned travelers began in Tashkent, the capital which was the center of the trade routes, to see the world’s oldest surviving Islamic holy book, the 7th century Uthman Quran, brought there by Tamerlane. Then to the massive 24 hours a day bazaar where locals can purchase everything from clothing and shoes, dried and fresh fruit, books, to I-kat fabrics worn on brides of which several in our group bought.

The more beautiful architectural city of sand colored Khiva was the first UNESCO site in Central Asia. Exploring the 1500-year-old fairytale looking city and the Juma Mosque with its maze of 200 carved wooden columns, mud walled alleys, and the spectacular turquoise tiled domes were a favorite of the group. 

Samarkand, with the gorgeous three sided, medieval 15th century Registan square, is filled with elaborate mosaic tiled mosques, emerald domes, and impressive crenelated fortresses that all have fascinating histories. It was once one of the greatest cities on Earth. The square is lined on three sides with ornate turquoise tiled facades of ancient madrassahs. That is the famous picture you see in guidebooks. 


Half way through our tour we drove deep into the Nurata Mountains to a village guest house off the beaten path. On our two hour hike through rocky hills we passed farms, orchards, and farm animals. After dinner there was a folkloric performance of dancing and music by the son of the owners. The best part was stargazing under the clear Uzbekian sky.

Experiencing a different time and place down the Silk Road was an extraordinary trip– never to be forgotten.