The little-known 'Stans

    The little-known 'Stans
    By admin


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    Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

    The little known 'Stans

    The little known 'Stans
    By admin


    It's possibly the most misunderstood and little known part of the world – and that's what makes Central Asia the final frontier in travel. Not just off the beaten track but well and truly under the radar, this is a region of diverse and stunning landscapes, architectural masterpieces to rival the likes of those found in Egypt and Greece, and friendly locals who find you just as intriguing as you find them.

    Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan emerged from more than a century of harsh domination in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. They've been inching their way towards modernity ever since and allowing visitors a glimpse into their beloved homelands – places with strong ties to nomadic traditions and the Silk Road.

    KAZAKHSTAN: Beyond Borat

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    Ever since the 2006 release of cult flick Borat, Kazakhstan has dealt with stereotypes portraying its people as backwards. It later fought back with an epic film called Myn Bala that showcased the strength of the Kazakh people and the modernity of the country, although it was no match at the box office for bawdy Borat.

    The world's largest landlocked country and the ninth largest country in the world, Kazakhstan is in fact one of Central Asia's prized jewels. It's a place of diverse landscapes – of soaring mountains and pristine lakes, vast deserts and tundra, wild forest and rivers.

    Close to the country's former capital of Almaty (the capital is now Astana) are the Tian Shan mountains, which stretch over 1500km and are perfect for a spot of hiking. Enchanting is the word for this region, with its inland lakes of surreal turquoise hemmed in by the surrounding peaks – Lake Issyk and Big Almaty Lake are two of the most popular. Horses are an important part of Kazakhstan's national landscape – so a horse-riding adveneture should be on the cards for any visitor.

    Sample package: Kazakhstan's verdant forests are among the highlights of Intrepid's 30-day Central Silk Road trip, which also takes in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Prices start from $2600 plus a trip kitty of $US860. For more information, visit www.intrepidtravel.com

    KYRGYZSTAN: Nomadic hospitality

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    The name may be difficult to spell, but don't let that stop you. Kyrgyzstan is the place to really experience Central Asia's nomadic traditions, with the Kyrgyz being renowned for their hospitality. The smallest of the 'Stans, it has a population of around five million and is located along the Silk Road.

    Kyrgyzstan is sometimes referred to as "the Switzerland of Central Asia", with its snow-capped mountains, glaciers and high-altitude lakes. Kyrgyzstan is also home to some stunning alpine lakes Рmost notably Lake Issyk-Köl (the world's second-largest alpine lake) and the similarly picturesqe Lake Song-Kol.

    The Kyrgyz people are warm are welcoming – and the best way to experience their hospitality is to spend the night in a yurt – which may well include being treated to fermented mare's milk and a bowl of fresh yogurt. While you'll also find this traditional home elsewhere in Central Asia, in Kyrgyzstan it is a strong symbol of national identity.

    Sample package: Clients can stay in yurts with Kyrgyz nomads during Peregrine Adventures' 38-day Grand Silk Explorer, which travels through Western China, into te alpine valleys and high mountain passes of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Prices start from $8020. For more information, visit www.peregrineadventures.com

    UZBEKISTAN:Beguiling architecture

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    There's no place like Uzbekistan to get your fill of Silk Road cities – and because of these cities, Uzbekistan is known for having the best tourism infrastructure in the region. It also has the most impressive architecture, thanks to the diverse array of influences including Islamic, Persian and Russian architecture.

    Samarkand takes the breath away with its magnificent collection of mosques, minarets and mausoleums, while Bukhara lives and breathes history – many of the locals still reside in its old buildings while merchants still bargain in the same market areas. The city of Khiva is also remarkably preserved, while the Uzbek capital of Tashkent boasts excellent museums, mosques and madrasas.

    Off the Silk Road, there are gems like the town of Nukus – which is home to the eclectic Savitsky Museum as well as an extraordinary cemetery called Mizdakhan, which features mini-mosques as well as marble and stone engravings of the dead.

    Sample package: Clients can go on an overland journey from Uzbekistan to Iran, tracing the western section of the Silk Road, on World Expeditions' 21-day Tashkent to Isfahan trip. Prices start from $4990. For more information, visit www.worldexpeditions.com

     

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