The last stop in Uzbekistan on the way to Afghanistan, Termiz is a historic border town with an edgy, Wild West feel. While the present-day city bears few traces of its cosmopolitan history, the surrounding area is full of archaeological clues to the region's Buddhist and Bactrian past, and many of these come together in Termiz's excellent museum.
Shakhrisabz (Shahrisabz) is a small, traditional Uzbek town south of Samarkand, across the hills in the Kashkadarya province, and is a lovely drive from Samarkand with some spectacular views. This is Timur’s hometown, and once upon a time it probably put Samarkand itself in the shade.
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, are the focus of Uzbekistan’s modest ecotourism movement.