Thursday, May 13, 2010

Uzbekistan on the Great Silk Road

Greetings from Uzbekistan, the heart of the ancient trading route know as the Great Silk Road.  (  As indicated on this map (, the Silk Road ran from the Gobi Desert in China to the Turkish Bosporus.  It is named after the famous Chinese export which moved along it by camel to become the rage of fashionable women in Europe and the Mediterranean.  The Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent were major trading centers and cross-roads along the route and have become popular tourist destinations since the breakup of the Soviet Union.  I've been working in Tashkent, the modern Uzbek capital, for the past week which I find much less interesting than either Samarkand or Bukhara.  I visited Samarkand ( 5 years ago, and spent last weekend in Bukhara (, flying there in an ancient Russian Tupolev aircraft.  (When was the last time you flew in a commercial plane that had open shelves above the passengers).  Both Samarkand and Bukhara are UNESCO World Heritage cites and contain some of the world's most beautiful Islamic architecture. For examples, check out the pictures on the links.  And then put both cities on your "must see before you die" list.

With new friends in Bukhara
A mosque in Bukhara

The vast majority of Uzbeks are Muslims but not very religious.  They enjoy their Muslim traditions and festivities but few pray 5 times a day and rarely go to the Mosque, especially in the cities. Uzbek men also like their beer and vodka, perhaps a corruption inherited from their former Russian rulers.  The young urbanites of Tashkent follow the fashions of Europe and the US with an impressive percentage of the girls (sorry I meant young women) very chic and pretty.  In more isolated Bukhara, which has the feel of a small town, many wear traditional dress.  But I didn't see any burkas and surprisingly few head scarfs.  Large minority populations include Tajiks and Russians.  There is also a long Jewish history in Uzbekistan with the Jews of Bukhara having been especially prominent. I stayed in a bed and breakfast in the Jewish Quarter which was formerly a Jewish home.  Today there are only about 200 Jewish families left in Bukhara with most of the community having emigrated to Israel or the US.  (

Uzbek is a Turkic language and Uzbekistan belonging to the Turkic community of countries (  During the Soviet period Uzbeks favored use of the Cyrillic alphabet, but after independence in the early 1990's, the government had the schools switch to teaching the Latin alphabet with the goal of strengthen their cultural and business ties to Turkey which they anticipated would become their top trading partner, However, this was a miscalculation: while relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan are good, Uzbekistan has found that their strongest trading ties remain with Russia and that after several years of teaching the Latin alphabet, they now have a shortage of young business people who can read and write Cyrillic.

1 comment:

Glenna L. said...

I'm so excited to be able to share your travels through the writings and photos in your blog. Thank you for providing this. This is an incredible blog with extremely interesting stories and fantastic photos.