ASIA

Southeast Asia is home to unbelievable food, affordable lodging, and, yes – some of the most charming islands in the world. So it’s no wonder that many North American tourists flock to Vietnam, Thailand, and The Philippines each year. But there’s more to Southeast Asia than just Phuket and Bali.

TURKMENISTAN

There are quite a few people boarding flights into Central Asia. Not much by any means. On a per-capita basis, Turkmenistan receives 1.5 tourists per 1000 people per annum, twice the number obtained by Libya, yet ranks it 6th last in the world. However, there was one tourist, Colin Thubron, passing through while writing his book about the Silk Road.

But then I suppose that is the charm of the place. Seventy-two million people gathered in pockets across a diverse landscape of 7km high serrated mountains scratching the sky, ocean-sized fields of grassland, and changing featureless deserts, the bed of ancient seas, all organic matter long ago carried away by eternities of the sweltering sun.

All of which is revisited by only a few – now perhaps, two – of foreigners a year. Indeed, if it is the landscape you come for, it’s not the chocolate or money of Kyrgyzstan (which it has neither) that justifies its name as the ‘Switzerland of Central Asia.’ Instead, gliding mountains with the sound of music-like landscapes lapping at their center dotted with villages.

Much like its neighboring Tajikistan, with rocky mountains, small tufts at their crowns, looking down upon greenish-blue alpine lakes. Which walking past gives you the unmistakable feeling that after Alexander the Great passed through a couple of thousand (and a bit…) years earlier, that you may be one of the only others since.

UZBEKISTAN

But if not landscape, conceivably, it’s the architecture of Uzbekistan. Those madrasahs and monuments, the caravansaries and the Registan, all conjuring visions of the Silk Road, that vast tentacled network of routes connected East with West. 

 

Gathering in the marketplaces of Samarkand and Bukhara, watched over by Mullahs and soldiers alike. 

Or maybe the purpose is not specifically about Central Asia itself, but instead simply being somewhere that no one else goes.

 

Central Asia is definitely “a bit different” and is somewhere that very few people go. And you’ll be treated as such when you arrive. If you come into Almaty, you’ll be – as I sensed when I was there – treated like nobility, often the object of observation and sometimes of attraction. 

 

However, this may not extend to Uzbekistan, where you’ll be treated like a free money dispensary.

TRAVEL IN CENTRAL ASIA

Both ways, no matter where you are in Central Asia, you’ll be indulged with oddity, which can sometimes increase anxiety and excitement. And you’ll return this curiosity with that of your own as you gaze into the cauldrons filled with horse meat and rice, stirred by Uzbeki babushkas.

Alternatively, while you look down across the Truman Show like the city of Ashgabat with golden statues rotating in the sun and fountains numbering more so than in Las Vegas, spraying cherished water into the desert air, all putting their show on for a vast white marble except the empty city, or gawk up at one of the many statues to Lenin as he points out towards a future that never came.

This is a curious region full of curiosities, all there to entertain your own. And while preferably of a fruit cocktail and lei placed around your neck on arrival, you’ll more likely be hustled into a 40-year-old Lada, almost avoid a couple of head-on collisions on the way to your hotel before paying your grinning gold-toothed driver ten times the local rate.

You’ll eventually feel content that you didn’t arrive at a fruit cocktail and have a lei placed around your neck, those smile-for-your-tip moments of counterfeitly, in which you actualize that Central Asia lacks. Alternatively, this is a region of genuineness, an area of desire to know, and apart now more open to visitors than quite correctly, ever before.
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