A journey along the Silk Road

Kok-boru polo © Getty
Kok-boru polo: old traditions survive in central Asia’s mountain

Expect a warm welcome from the peoples who live beside the ancient Silk Road trade route, says Chris Carter.

From the blue-tiled mosques of Bukhara and Tashkent’s glitzy metro subway system and Silk Road-era architecture to the back streets of Samarkand, Uzbekistan is home to an ancient culture that offers hospitality as warm as it is heartfelt, says Caroline Eden in The Guardian. A trip there is a chance to follow in the footsteps of the greatest travellers in history. In the capital, Tashkent, visit the bronze statue of Amir Timur, the 14th-century Turco-Mongol conqueror, better known to us as Tamerlane. Then take the metro – not forgetting to gaze up at the marble, chandeliers and carved alabaster – to the Museum of Applied Arts for a primer on silk weaving.Samarkand

Samarkand, another ancient city on the old Silk Road, can be reached by taking the “speedy” Afrosiyob train from Tashkent. Here, you can get your fill of “towering and resplendent turquoise-tiled madrasas and mosques”. The Emir B&B is “keenly priced” at £25, with views of Gur-e-Amir, Tamerlane’s mausoleum.

Bukhara is one of Uzbekistan’s most romantic cities with its former merchant-house B&Bs, boutiques and cafés. Spend a few comfortable days here exploring the Ark of Bukhara fortress and the 47-metre-tall Kalon Minaret. Afterwards, call in at the Silk Road Spices restaurant for tea and sesame brittle.

Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic culture

It is in central Asia’s “magnificent” mountains that the old, nomadic traditions survive, says Mark Stratton in Wanderlust magazine. When Stratton visited, the biennial Olympiad of nomadic sports was taking place in Cholpon-Ata, on the northern shore of Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake. For two days, he “watched man-mountain Mongolians and rock-hard Russians grappling in alysh (belt wrestling), as well as kok-boru polo teams fighting over the carcass of a headless goat”. Elsewhere, traders, craftspeople and performers from across Kyrgyzstan had erected hundreds of yurts amid the hubbub of a carnival atmosphere.

At Tash Rabat, there still stands one of the Silk Road’s most outstanding surviving structures – a finely built 15th-century caravanserai (inn) “that was more Sheraton than Premier Inn for the travellers who once overnighted here”. The cube-shaped building sits amid spiked peaks on a branch of the Silk Road.

The wild country of Tajikistan

In neighbouring Tajikistan, the Pamirs is a wild, mountainous terrain that rises to more than 7,000 metres. Not for nothing is it known as the “roof of the world”, says Chris Taylor in the South China Morning Post. Through it runs the Pamir Highway, “clinging improbably to rock faces and passing beneath teetering borders, plunging into deep canyons and hanging on to wobbling bridges across the glacial rivers that run along the Afghan border”. Taylor rolled “gratefully” into Khorog – an “untidy place”, but the only town of any size for hundreds of miles.

Khorog has a “bustling liveliness of markets and basic guest houses that have a certain sociable charm”. The warmish shower, softish bed, and soup with meat dumplings were “much appreciated”. Back on the road, “hardly a villager fails to return my wave… children with tousled sandy hair clamber over ancient tractors and run along the grass verges.” Bento de Goes, a Portuguese priest on his way to China around 1602, also remarked on the people’s “yellow hair”, as did British army officer TE Gordon in 1874. Alexander the Great’s soldiers passed this way too.

Argos in Cappadocia

A luxury modern caravanserai

The site of Argos in Cappadocia, in Uçhisar, Turkey, once contained a 1,500-year-old monastery and a Silk Road caravanserai, says Natalie Paris in The Daily Telegraph. The network of tunnels beneath the vegetable gardens once served as a refuge for early Christians hiding from persecution. Today, they are the hotel’s extensive wine cellars. On the edge of the grounds, an “other-worldly” pinnacle of caves offers the best views of Cappadocia’s Pigeon Valley. Guests can choose between an “atmospheric” cave room, cut into the rock, or a modern room that still has ethnic rugs and plenty of natural stone, but also a balcony and valley views. The bathrooms are “spoiling and immaculate”.

From around £170. See argosincappadocia.com