Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo: Ekrem Canli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ekrem Canli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At this point, you’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the world. You’ve driven across the United States, ridden trains around Europe, and backpacked Down Under. You’ve traveled along Africa’s coasts and through its national parks. Then you started tackling Asia. You visited Southeast Asia, East Asia, and even the Middle East. But there’s still a gap on your travel map. A huge gap. You haven’t explored Central Asia yet.

Central Asia is a vast region. It stretches from Russia to Afghanistan, China to the Caspian Sea. Once part of the Soviet Union, the area broke into five countries when the state was dissolved. It’s yet to find its way onto most people’s travel wish lists.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t fascinating places that should be part of an itinerary. Samarkand, for example, is one of the oldest inhabited—and once the greatest—cities in Central Asia. After being founded between the 8-7th centuries BC, the Stone Fort was conquered by everyone from Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and the Timurids to the Iranians and the Turks due to its important location along the Silk Road. Today, the city is an Islamic scholar center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Your tour of Samarkand would start with the historical sites, of course. Registan Square was the center of the ancient city where royal decrees and, sometimes, public executions were held. The huge open space is now surrounded by three madrasas (Islamic schools) and beautiful azure mosaics. Nearby, you’ll find the remnants and the modern replica of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, which was one of the largest and most opulent mosques in the world in the 15th century. The azure-domed Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum houses the tomb of Emperor Tamerlane. Plus more ancient tombs are found at the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. While no trip to Samarkand would be complete without visiting the Siyob Bazaar, where you’d eat Samarkand naan, browse silk weavings and gold embroideries, and see ceramic engravings and wood carvings. You may have found your entrée into Central Asia.

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