Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goodbye Central Asia

Six months in Central Asia, gone in a flash. Amazing. Spectacular. Inspiring. Humbling. I can't think of enough good things to say.

"Are the Stans worth it?" That was the question that the Lonely Planet posted on their discussion forum a few months ago. Most people felt that they weren't, and I can sympathize. It was some of the hardest travelling I've ever done. Almost nobody speaks English and it is endlessly frustrating to never be able to communicate. Visas are a never-ending nightmare of red tape and changing rules. Any trip in a taxi involves almost certain "robbery" by the taxi sharks who try to rip off foreigners with outrageous prices. The food is some of the worst we've ever had.

Yet for us the Stans are the most amazing travel experience we have ever had. I would recommend them to anyone who like adventure travel in out of the way places.

Central Asia has some of the nicest people in the world. It is amazing how many Central Asians will invite you into their homes, feed you, and give you a place to sleep without expecting a thing in return. From shop keepers to hotel owners to people we me on the street, we were constantly made to feel welcome.

Central Asia has some of the best historic sites in the world. The cities of Uzbekistan are amazing. Samarkand just celebrated it's 2750th anniversary. Everywhere you look there is an old fort or an ancient shrine. In Tajikistan we saw Bronze age cave paintings and silk road forts. In Uzbekistan we saw some of the most beautiful buildings people have ever created.

Central Asia has some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. The Tian Shan in Kyrgyzstan and the Pamirs and Fan mountains in Tajikistan are nothing short of incredible. These are some of the highest mountains in the world and I've never seen anything like them. Until you've seen it you can't imagine what it is like to be at the base of a 2500m high vertical face that is covered with ice and has the wind whipping a plume of snow off it's summit.

Central Asia has some of the best lakes in the world. Song Kol in Kyrgyzstan is a little slice of heaven, a blue pearl surrounded by lush grasslands and beautiful peaks. Issyl Kol is a weird an wonderful vacation spot, full of Russian tourists swimming in the reflection of the glaciers that surround the lake. And the lakes in Tajikistan are like nothing I've ever seen. When you first see Karakul lake in the Pamirs it is like seeing a new color you didn't know existed. How could water look like this? How could water even exist in this landscape?

Central Asia is one of the biggest travel adventures that remains. There are whole cities that aren't in any guidebooks. There are whole valleys where no tourist has ever trekked. There are ridges nobody has ever climbed. There are ancient ruins that nobody has ever studied. And through it all there are a warm and welcoming people who will go out of their way to help you.

Yes, it was worth it!

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