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Uzbekistan: A Stop on the Silk Road

Samarkand Uzbekistan Mausoleum Gul Emir

Samarkand Mausoleum Gul Emir. © Rafa_http//www.micamara.es_flickr

We have special fond memories of Uzbekistan because we lived in Tashkent the longest of our time in Central Asia, 3 l/2 years.

Uzbek Hospitality

I remember many evenings enjoying the traditional hospitality of Uzbek families, sitting around a sumptuous mound of “plov”, a rice and meat dish traditional to this part of the world.
Even the most humble Uzbek family was happy to honor a foreign guest with everything they had, bringing out bottles of vodka and Eastern European liquors they had saved for years for just such an occasion.

Savage conquerors

Historically, Uzbekistan suffered under savage and influential conquerers.  Between 334-323 BC, Alexander the Great ruled in this area.  After China opened its borders to trade, caravans began traveling through Uzbekistan along the “Silk Road”, trading silks, ceramics, spices and much more.
Subsequently, Huns, Turks and Arabs came from the west, bringing a new religion, Islam, to the Uzbeks, and building mosques and madrassahs in the great Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.  In 1220, Genghis Khan destroyed most of the cities, which were later rebuilt by Tamerlane (also known as Timur) and his son Ulugbek.   We would recommend these cities as must-see destinations during the life of the adventuresome tourist.

Uzbek clay statues

Uzbek Clay Statues. © martijn.munneke_flickr

Closing the BW/CW weapons site

After more than a century of foreign rule– as part of the Russian empire and then as part of the Soviet Union– Uzbekistan gained its independence in 1991.
They cut their ties with Russia in many ways, for example, immediately closing Vozrozhdeniye, an island in the Aral Sea which was a secret restricted test site for BW/CW weapons under Soviet rule.  The island still contains poisons such as live anthrax, and the population in the area has a high incidence of disease and low life expectancy.
Due to over-farming in cotton and other reasons, the Aral Sea itself is shrinking; we have photos taken of ships sitting on the dirt, far from sight of any water.

Great textiles from ancient Uzbekistan

Perhaps the best of our souvenirs from Central Asia are those from 19th century Uzbekistan.  We cherish our large collection of silk Chapans (robes or coats) from that time, which were worn both by men and women.
We also have in our shop great ikats, woven in magnificent colors, some eight feet long.  They also passed down Suzanis (from the farsi word meaning needle-work), embroideries of the same size.  It is hard to imagine an Uzbek woman, perhaps living in a mud hut, planning and covering 8 feet of hand-woven fabric with tiny silk stitches.
Ceramics,  copper engraving, and jewelry-making were also left as examples of the Uzbeks’ very high level of creative skill.

Prokudin-Gorsky Photo of Costumes in Samarkand in Early 1900’s

A rocky relationship with the U.S.

Politically, long-time President Karimov, has had a rocky relationship with the West and with the United States.  A dictator in the former Soviet Union, Karimov has used the same tactics to deal with rising dissent and establishment of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in his own country.   Unemployment is high, and unemployed youths have rebelled against an authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition.

A great, creative people

Uzbek history is long, and its potential is great.  The current problems, and resulting fervor among its society, can only result in solutions.  The Uzbeks are a warm, hospitable and creative people.   They have fallen man times in the past, only to rise again.

Uzbek women

Uzbek Smiles. © Giorgio Montersino_flickr