No country in Central Asia seems to have it so good, yet at the same time have it so bad, as Uzbekistan. The region’s cradle of culture for more than two millennia, it is the proud home to a spellbinding arsenal of architecture and artefacts, all deeply infused with the raw, fascinating history of the country. But as students of that history know, it’s also sprung a few bad apples over the years. Tyrants enamoured by the country’s physical bounty have run the territory we now call Uzbekistan since time immemorial.
Concentrating on the good, if there was a Hall of Fame for Central Asian cities, Uzbekistan would own the top-three entries: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva. The names practically epitomize the region, conjuring up images of knife-twirling dervishes, serpentine desert caravans and architecture that blends with the sand. Seen in person, the Big Three do not disappoint (the occasional overzealous restorative effort notwithstanding). Alas, they sometimes overshadow the country’s other attractions, which include dazzling bazaars, ancient fortresses like the one at Nurata, and an impressive array of largely unsung natural attractions. But at least that means you'll have the hiking and adventure-sport opportunities of Chimgan & around to yourself!
All of this goes a long way to eclipse the bad memories evoked by names like Jenghiz Khan, Timur, Nasrullah Khan and Stalin. The country’s long-serving current leader, Islam Karimov, is no saint either. Despite it all, the Uzbek people remain good-spirited and genuinely hospitable – yet another prime attraction in this oddly endearing country.
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