The Silk Road - Kashgar to Istanbul

The Silk Road - Kashgar to Istanbul

The Central Asia Show encompasses 6 countries all of which have been under soviet occupation during almost 70 years except Turkey.  These are Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Kyrgyzstan:

The imposing and beautiful Altai mountain range offers magnificent backdrops to anywhere you look, either to the east where snow capped mountains are showing us the boarder with China and to the south to Tajikistan.  This region is also home to semi-nomadic people who live in Yurts during the summer months and they herd cattle and still live traditionally since 150BC (with their mobile phones and cars of course!)

Their skill is in their ability with horses.  In fact the Kyrgyzs have saying ‘one day is not worth living if you don’t spend half of it on a horse‘  This agility has prevailed them from conquest and have always been autonomous and respected because they can do pretty much everything from wrestling on a horse to chasing one another, where the man follows a woman and tries to kiss her as they gallop.

These horses are known as celestial horses and are believed to have opened the Silk Road to travellers. The Chinese needed strong and agile horses capable of reinforcing their armies, so their Emperor started to buy the much coveted horses from the neighbouring country, and bought in exchange of raw silk. Today you can still see these semi-nomadic people dressing up for festivals and national holidays and wear the precious material, a symbol of wealth and beauty.

Uzbekistan:

Uzbekistan is home to the Oasis cities which are at heart of the Silk and which names resonate with romance and fascination: Samarkand and Bukhara.

Samarkand holds impressive religious complexes such as the Registan in Samrakand. It is the main  tourist attraction such as the Taj Mah-al in India. But here somehow it seems real and Samarkand and Bukhara are examples of Islamic Architecture at its best. Geometric construction adorned with beautiful mosaics which patterns are full  legends and stories celebrating Islamic gods and prophecies.

Turkmenistan:

Turkmenistan is an intriguing country. After North Korea, it is the most closed country in the world. You are not allowed to smoke in the streets and not allowed to walk out on the streets after 11.

The country is flat, arid and rich in natural gas which seems to be the pride of every Turkmen and symbols are of that wealth are often seen in mosques, and the marble built capital of the country,  Ashgabat, hence its nickname of the Marble city.

The country’s main attraction is the ancient city of Merv  a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is believed to have been one of the largest cities in the world until the 12th century with a population of 700,000 inhabitants.  A century later, it was completely destroyed by the violent ruler of the Mongol plains, Genghis Khan.

Azerbaijan:

For Centuries, the local population venerated natural flames which were coming out of the soil naturally. In the mid 19th century and throughout the 20th,  it so happened that those flames and gases emerging from the soil tell-tale signs that the soil was rich in Petrol and Gas. Oil fields have existed here since the mid 19th century and the wells are worth a visit where you might just recognise the set of the latest James Bond film!

Today, the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku definitely lives and breath on oil and its significances gives geopolitical power to this nation which is said to have reserves for the next 80 years.

The wealth generated by black gold can be seen on high end road infrastructures, impressive architecture, new cars and a thriving and new population full entrepreneurs.

Georgia:

Georgia is small and perfectly formed. Travel books often compare it to Switzerland due to its lush and rolling hills and forests. If what makes a country it is its people, then Georgia is the perfect example for this. And an example of hospitality and warmth.

Like the silk road traders we stopped in Tbilisi and left feeling a bit tipsy!  Georgia claims to be one of the father nations of wine making and it is worth the taste as modern winemakers are reclaiming organic techniques that make this wine so special. For 1000 years monks have been making wine here, the Archbishop  said to us ‘God Gave us wine and we must not waste it is a divine experience.  We we said ‘We are believers![‘

Turkey:

Turkey is the country where the silk road comes alive and we get a real sense of what it must have been like to travel with the Caravans on  Camel and Horse-back through spectacular lunar landscapes of Cappadocia.

Turkey has it all. Influences from the east and the west meet in Istanbul: Religion, ideas, food and people’s faces are almost a reminder of the 5000km you’ve just travelled if you start on the boarders of China and end in the gate-way to Europe

 

When to Go

Kyrgyzstan
If you want to see the country and the mountains, mid August – beginning September. If you come by the 31st, you’ll  see the Independence Parade

Uzbekistan
from September -November and
from end of March to first part of June.

Turkmenistan
March till mid of June and August – mid of October. November

Azerbaijan
March till mid of June and August – mid of October. November

Georgia
For wine – September–October-November.
For mountain trails and sea side – Summer
For Tbilisi – all seasons are good but spring is very special
For bird watching – March-April and August-September.

Getting There

  • Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek Airport
  • Uzbekistan: Tashkent Airport
  • Turkmenistan: Ashgabat Airport
  • Azerbaijan: Baku Airport
  • Georgia: Tbilisi Airport
  • Turkey: Istanbul international Airport – Ataturk

Taxis are cheap within the cities
Car and bus rental with a driver is easily arranged
Public trains and buses run daily between cities but it’s best to book tickets in advance
Internal flights are pretty easy to book but book well in advance!

Languages Spoken:

Russian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tajik, Turkmen, Azeri, Georgian, Turkish

Population:

  • Kyrgyzstan 5.5 million (UN, 2010)
  • Uzbekistan: 27.8 million (UN, 2010)
  • Turkmenistan: 5.2 million (UN, 2010)
  • Azerbaijan: 9 million (World Bank, 2010)
  • Georgia: 4.3 million (UN, 2011)
  • Turkey: 73.6million (UN, 2011)

Currency

  • Kyrgyzstan: Soms/ KGS 1 US=47 Kgs
  • Uzbekistan: Sum/ UZS    1 US dollar=1940 UZS
  • Turkmenistan: Manat/TMT  1 US dollar= 2.85 TMT
  • Azerbaijan:New manat/ AZN 1 Us Dollar= 1.27 Azn
  • Georgia: Georgian Lari/ GEL 1 US dollar= 1.64 GEL
  • Turkey: Turkish Lira/ TRL        1 US Dollar= 1.80 TRL

Top Ten Festivals

Nadaam-Festival,-Mongolia,-Jeanne-Menjoulet

  1. The Lantern Festival: Chinese festival celebrated every year on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It started as a Buddhist ritual to worship Buddha. Paper lanterns are lit as part of the celebration. The festival officially ends the Chinese New Year.
  2. Nadaam Traditional Festival: Mongolian festival celebrated every year from 11-13 July. The festival celebrates tradition, social rituals, and sporting events such as horseracing, wrestling, and archery.
  3. Basant Kite Flying Festival: A Pakistan festival that occurs in the spring. People gather to fly kites that carry wishes, hopes, and prayers written on the kites.
  4. The Janadriyah Festival: Every year Saudi Arabia has a festival that lasts for two weeks in which traditional aspects of the culture are celebrated, but the biggest event remains the camel races with nearly 3,000 camels.
  5. International Baku Jazz Festival: Azerbaijan celebrates its love for jazz music every year.
  6. Al ‘azi, elegy, processional march and poetry: Oman celebrates a specific genre of poetry that is sung and theatrical.
  7. Navruz: Celebrated in Turkmenistan. It marks the Asian New Year and Equinox Day. Traditional foods are cooked such as semene, which is cooked wheat sprouds.
  8. Asrlar Sadosi: A festival held annually in Uzbekistan since 2008 that celebrates the culture of the country.
  9. Birds of Prey Festival: A festival held in Kyrgyzstan to celebrate the birds that traditionally supported daily life with their hunting abilities.
  10. Felt Festival: Culture and customs are celebrated in Kyrgyzstan. One of the most notable art forms is Kyrgyzstan felt work.

 

Must See & Do

  • Altai mountain range
  • Samarkand and Bukhara
  • Merv
  • Cultural centre in Baku and temple of fire/ old city/ oil fields
  • Tbilisi city centre and churches and wine tasting/ Alaverdi monastry cellar
  • Capaddocia lunar landscape and Goreme

Istanbul:

  • Baazar
  • Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)
  • Walk under the city in the 6th century water storage system
  • Aya Sofia cathedral
  • Harem at Topkapu Palace- oldest palace in the world
  • Ferry along the waterways that divide Istanbul

Xi’an:

  • Terracotta Warriors
  • Muslim Market
  • Xi’an City Wall
  • Bell and Drum Towers
  • Big Goose Pagoda
  • Forest of Stone Steles
  • Hanyang Tombs
  • Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show

Gansu Province:

  • Fort of Jiayuguan
  • Dafo Temple
  • Three Gorges of the Yellow River
  • Kongtong Mountain
  • Gannan Grasslands
  • Labrang Monastery
  • Maiji Mountain
  • Jiayu Pass

Dunhuang:

  • Mogao Caves
  • Echoing Sand Mountain- Crescent Lake

Xinjiang:

  • Sayram Lake
  • Heavenly Lake
  • Mori Forest- living fossil
  • Kucha Palace
  • Narati- scenic spot
  • Tianshan Grand Canyon aka Keziliya Grand Canyon
  • Koktokay- scenic spot
  • Turpan- Grape Valley and Flaming Mountain

Kashgar:

  • Old Town
  • Sunday Market
  • Abakh Hoja Tomb
  • Shipton’s Arch
  • Id Kah Mosque

Eat & Drink

Kisir with a twist

Plov is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth. In some cases, the rice may also attain its brown color by being stirred with bits of cooked onion, as well as a large mix of spices. Depending on the local cuisine, it may also contain meat and vegetables.

Azerbaijan:
The national soup is called Piti and it is made from mutton, vegetables, and broth. Dovga is a yogurt based soup and can be served both hot and cold. Bolva is a soup that is made from sour milk. Other soups include Kufta bozbash, Sulu khingal, Toyuq shorbasi, Dogramach, and Ovdukh.

Kyrgyzstan:
Most of the countries food preparation is cooked in a style to preserve food because of the nomadic lifestyle. Popular national drink is kymyz, which contains alcohol and fermented mare’s milk.

Georgia:
Supra- local feast in which food and drink are equally important.

Turkmenistan:
Manti- dumplings filled with meat and a carbohydrate (rice, pumpkin, etc.)
Shurpa- soup consisting of meat and vegetables
Melons: Turkmenistan is famous for its melons because it used to be the major supplier to the Soviet Union.

Mongolia:
Most meals consist of meat, dairy, and animal fats.
Kumis/Airag- popular national drink. It is made from mare’s milk. The fermentation occurs for hours or days and is stirred and churned throughout the process. During the process, the milk is converted into lactic acid, ethanol, and carbon dioxide, which takes out the potency of lactose. The final product leaves the milk a little alcoholic.

Turkey:
Kofte- Turkish style meatballs
Adana Kebab- meat on a skewer served with vegetables

Uzbekistan:
Grains and noodles are a staple because of the country’s main agriculture is grains.
Green Tea- popular national drink served hot.

China:
The best places to try local cuisine are in the local night markets. Be careful and check the area for good sanitation. To order it is easiest to point at other peoples plates.

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