We travel not for trafficking alone, By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned. For lust of knowing what should not be known We take the Golden Road to Samarkand. These final lines of James Elroy Flecker’s 1913 poem The Golden Journey to Samarkand evoke the romance of Uzbekistan’s most glorious city. No name is so evocative of the Silk Road as Samarkand.
The last stop in Uzbekistan on the way to Afghanistan, Termiz is a colourful bordertown with an edgy, Wild West feel. While the present day city bears few traces of its colourful cosmopolitan history, the surrounding area is full of archeological finds, many of which come together in Termiz's excellent musuem.
To the north of the featureless Samarkand–Bukhara ‘Royal Road’, the Pamir-Alay Mountains produce one final blip on the map before fading unceremoniously into desertified insignificance. The Nuratau Mountains, which top out at 2169m, have in recent years become the centre of Uzbekistan’s growing ecotourism movement.
This town’s bazaar is one of the best places in the country to buy jewellery, suzani and antique clothing. Prices are lower and the quality is on par with anything sold in Samarkand and Bukhara, but you’ll have to negotiate hard. It overflows with tourists in the high season – go in the low season when tourists are scarce and prices drop even further.