The rolling steppes and traditional nomadic lifestyle that characterize Kazakhstan’s past are contrasted by its modern, often futuristic cities developing under a grand vision. With a rich history beginning in the Stone Age, Kazakhstan has felt the influence and power of the Silk Road and the Soviets, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, and is only now steering its own course as a unified, independent nation.
Ancient minarets, mausoleums, palaces and historic cities, though ravaged by Genghis Khan, still mark Turkmenistan’s piece of the once magnificent Silk Road. And its recent history is no less fascinating—after the decline of the Soviet Union, President Saparmurat Niyazov, self-titled Turkmenbashi (the “Leader of the Turkmen”), translated Turkmenistan’s huge natural gas reserves into lavish palaces and huge gold statues that still dot the contemporary landscape. The country is tentatively ushering in social reforms, international engagement and an exciting new chapter of Turkmenistan’s history.
Located between two rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, Uzbekistan is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations and most prominent Silk Road cities. Unlike their nomadic neighbors, the Uzbeks have historically been a settled people, giving them a natural advantage in preserving their traditions during Soviet times. As a result, Uzbekistan’s past is remarkably well preserved. Cities like Bukhara, Khiva, Samarkand and Tashkent showcase the height of ancient Central Asian civilization, the outgrowth of sophisticated transcontinental trade routes between China, Persia and the West.
Kyrgyzstan is perhaps the most naturally beautiful country of the former Soviet Republics. The beautiful, towering mountains that encompass almost the entire nation have led Kyrgyzstan to be called the “Switzerland of Central Asia.” Teeming with culture and traditions— eagle hunting, nomadic horse riding games and felt making—the Kyrgyz people are also renowned for their hospitality.