The Silk Road’s network of trade routes connecting the east and west was a melting pot of cultures and ideas. One of our adventurers joined our Central Asia Explorer trip, led by our expert Trip Leader Roger Williams, and immerses us in this delightful region through his beautiful photography. Enjoy.
In May, 2019, we followed the ancient Silk Road through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on a remarkable cultural discovery. Here are some of my favorite images that show the uniqueness of these lands, their culture, and people.
Beginning in Almaty, Kazakhstan, we drove to Tamgaly Petroglyphs, a unique World Heritage Site that preserves the history of more than 5,000 markings. These ancient recordings show various people and their livestock that traveled on the routes from China westward. It also shows the various deities and wild animals from the Bronze Age through the Middle Ages.
Along the main highways, the Kazakhs have erected a number of monuments commemorating explorers and warriors who traveled in this area, west of the snow-covered Tien Shan mountain range.
Some of our excursions included a day hike to the “Valley of Flowers” near Djeti Oghuz and Broken Heart Rocks. We had the opportunity to hold golden eagles, which are used for hunting game and spectator sports—very similar to Mongolia.
During our time near Djeti Oghuz, Kyrgrzstan, we met an elderly Kyrgyz beekeeper and his family. Behind him, you can see his apiary, where his bees are kept.
Upon arriving in Bishkek, we saw more monuments against the backdrop of the Tien Shan Mountains.
In Uzbekistan, we took an express train ride from Tashkent to Samarkand to visit Registan Square, with its brilliant blue-tiled mosques, including 15th century Ulug Beg Madrassah. The Registan was a main square and bazaar in Timur’s (Tamerlane) time, filled with caravansaries. Timur’s scholarly grandson, Ulugbek, turned it into the site of madrassahs where students studied from age 14 to 30.
We strolled through the Sunday market of Urgut, visiting the stalls of the many textile artists.
The Shahr-i-Zindah is a stunning complex of mosques and tombs, displaying mosaics of sapphire and turquoise tiles. This is an area for pilgrimages by Uzbeks. There are impressive sightlines, tilework, and tombs of Timur’s relatives and friends, plus Qusam ibn-Abbas, cousin of the prophet Mohammed.
A photo of a local tourist at Bibi-Khanym Mosque, built to commemorate Timur’s wife in Samarkand, and finished shortly before Timor’s death.
A night shot of Registan Square. The Registan was the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand from the Timurid dynasty. The name Rēgistan means “sandy place” or “desert” in Persian. This was a public square, where people gathered to hear royal proclamations and a place of public executions. It is framed by three madrassahs (Islamic schools) of distinctive Islamic architecture, namely the Ulugh Beg Madrassah (1417–1420), the Tilya-Kori Madrassah (1646-1660), and the Sher-Dor Madrassah (1619–1636).
Interior shapes within Kalon Mosque, Bukhara. It was destroyed by Chinggis Khan and rebuilt in the 16th century. It has a capacity of 10,000 people and beautiful architectural details.
Here is Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque in the village of Gypjak, west of the Ashgabat city center. The mosque was built in the home town of President Saparmurat Niyazov, the first president of Turkmenistan. It opened on October 22, 2004, and was built by Niyazov with a mausoleum in preparation for his death. Niyazov died two years later, and was buried in the mausoleum.
At the ancient site of Merv, once called the Queen of the World. Nearly 30,000 acres of Kora-Kum desert, formerly an oasis, in the ancient delta of the river Murgab make up this unique area. Some of its early history dates back to the Bronze Age.
—Text and photos by 19-time WT adventurers Dan and Sandy Ciske, Central Asia Explorer.