Most people would struggle to find Uzbekistan on a map, let alone get around to visiting. But while this Central Asian nation remains a mystery to the masses, its obscurity makes it all the more appealing for more adventurous travellers.
Those who do make the trip are following in famous footprints: from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan, some of the world’s most famous pioneers and conquerors have blazed a trail through this land.
Granted, Uzbekistan has its fair share of problems. It would be remiss not to mention the hard-line government, corrupt officials and Islamic militants that besmirch the reputation of the country. But they are the exception rather than the rule: most people in Uzbekistan extend legendary hospitality to visitors.
While the country is young, having gained independence in 1991 after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the roots of Uzbekistan are ancient.
The historic town of Samarkand, once a crossroads on the Silk Road, has long been known as the ‘Jewel of Islam’. One of the so-called Big Three (a term used to describe Uzbekistan’s three main Silk Road cities) its cityscape is dominated by sparkling turquoise domes and towering minarets adorned with intricate mosaics.
Stunning examples of this architecture can be found across Uzbekistan, most notably in Khiva, the best-preserved and most remote of the Big Three. It’s a living museum, home as it is to a vast collection of Islamic architecture, which remains frozen in time within the city walls. And then there’s Bukhara. The last one of the Big Three, it is also known as the ‘Pillar of Religion’ and is surely one of the most exquisite cities in the Islamic world.
It’s not all about manmade attractions, though. The Ferghana Valley is a place of unremitting natural beauty where fertile valleys give out to the snow-capped Tien Shan and Pamir mountains.
This also happens to be the country's most fertile region, its breadbasket, where visitors can enjoy stunning landscapes, local produce and friendly bazaars rarely seen by Western eyes.