Extract

Speechless in Samarkand

The most wondrous tiled dome, the biggest and best-ever food bazaar, the most handsome man in the world… Uzbekistan, as Min Hogg discovers, inspires a profusion of superlatives, even if she tangles with the transport. In Samarkand, Tamerlane’s fabled capital, she finds herself lost for words. Photographs by Min Hogg

The Silk Road, Samarkand, the River Oxus – what words to set the pulse racing. As we landed in Uzbekistan last March, the anticipation of unlocking their promise was exceedingly keen. There are five ‘stans’: Uzbek, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Tajik, but until 1924, when Stalin sliced them up into separate republics, this huge land-mass sandwiched between Russia to the north and India, Iran and Afghanistan to the south, had been lumped together as Central Asia, part of the USSR. The carve-up could not be done on strictly ethnic principles because for 2,000 years conquerors from all points of the globe had marauded the area with their armies, depositing their peoples in passing, and, in the case of the Turks, their language too. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Stalin himself are just a few who attempted to govern this steppe and its unruly nomadic tribesmen.
The moment a traveller lands in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, the melange of races becomes evident in the faces of its people: Mongols, Turks, Persians, Slavs and Orientals mingle in one nation, but with individual ethnicity shining through.

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Issue 33, 2005 Great Exhibitions
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