One of the great things about this little known country is that you can be in the sultry deserts of Karakalpakstan one minute (a semi autonomous region in southern Uzbekistan - ever heard of it?!), and then the snow capped mountains bordering Kazakhstan the next. Uzbekistan is small and easy to get around with a good connection of domestic flight services and now a high speed 'Afrosiyab' train criss-crossing the country, reminiscent of something out of Japan with neatly uniformed staff serving three course meals and headsets.
A Blend of 'Stans'
In fact you're never quite sure which 'Stan' you might be in as the Uzbek people are a mixture of them all - Samarkand is full of Turkmenis and Chimgan has a village of two thousand Kazaks living there. This gives the country a unique flavour that infuses the food, culture, craftsmanship and clothing. And everyone speaks Russian - more than they do Uzbek. It's pretty confusing…
The desert city of Khiva sits in the south west of the country and from here you can easily get into the desert to explore the ancient Kala's (fortresses) that scatter the desert plains not far from the border with Turkmenistan. You can meet the nomads and spend nights in their yurts, sipping vodka around the fire under the stars before setting off on your camel across the salt plains the following day… or perhaps it is the cool mountain air that beckons instead?
Head north east of the capital Tashkent where an easy day trip takes you into glorious countryside, past strawberry fields and pastures filled with grazing cows and magnificent Arab horses. Winding your way up further into the mountains and past a ski resort you then dip down to the stunning Chervak reservoir, where a refreshing swim, picnic lunch and a snooze is very much the thing to do - particularly in the summer months. Here are the mountains of Chimgan, a small chain that borders with Kazakhstan where you can peek over into the Tien Shan ('heavenly' mountain range). They offer some great trekking and day hikes and stay tuned for more on my adventures in the Chimgan...