A mystery waiting to be deciphered for most road trippers out there, nowhere in the world will you find peerless historical treasures embedded so beautifully in vivid cultural fabric as in Central Asia.
Comprising the five former USSR republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (also known as the Stans), Central Asia truly captures the essence of the erstwhile Silk Road.
The Stan Countries gained their independence as recently as the early 90s, and thus escaped the radar of the global traveller for nearly the entire 20th century. With their medieval cities peppered with azure domes, buzzing bazaars, incredible panoramas, and almost other-worldly yurt stays – this area of the world has something in store for all manners of visitors.
Imagine yourself behind the wheel of your own 4X4 SUV, cruising upon the untouched landscapes of these stupendously beautiful destinations with majestic mountain ranges like the Tian Shan looming large. Now, this is a road trip that will satisfy even the most finicky traveller; one who seeks nothing but the most exceptional.
Your first stop in Central Asia will be the Kyrgyz capital city of Bishkek. A vivid, cultural hub and the largest city in Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek is a sight to behold with its rolling greens and Soviet-era architectural monuments. Lively yet infused with a languid vibe, Bishkek serves as the perfect gateway into the incredible region of Central Asia.
From Bishkek our party heads to the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, the antiquetown of Osh. Legend has it that Osh dates as far back as 3000 years! Along with being a long-established centre for trade in the area, Osh also hosts an expansive bazaar which is located along the Ak-Bura River and has been functional in the same location for centuries now.
This quintessentially Central Asian city is also home to the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country – Sulaiman Too. A culturally and spiritually significant spot for the Muslims, this five-peaked mountainous formation has a mosque as well as quite a few caves which contain ancient petroglyphs.
From Osh in Kyrgyzstan we cross into the country that can be aptly described as Central Asia’s biggest draw, Uzbekistan. The region’s pièce de résistance arrives replete with welcoming locals, mesmerizing architecture and ancient cities – immersed in the incredible history of the Silk Road.
Our first stopover here will be at the garden city of Fergana which sits in the south of the Fergana Valley. One of the youngest cities in Uzbekistan, Fergana was founded in the year 1876 and was known by the name New Margilon back then. Owing to its location and the quality of services on offer, Fergana acts as the most convenient base from where one can begin their exploration of Uzbekistan.
Next up on the list of must-visit Uzbek cities is the gorgeous capital city of Tashkent. Though boasting of all the trappings of a modern metropolis, Tashkent has its own distinctive verve. One of the oldest cities on the erstwhile Silk Road between China and Europe, today’s Tashkent is a study in contradictions with its quirky mix of Soviet-era architectural remnants, traditional bazaars and the best pick of contemporary restaurants and nightlife.
Notable sites to visit include the lively Chorsu Bazaar, the sapphire domes of the Khast Imam complex, Kukeldash Madrasah, Tashkent TV Tower, and Amir Temur Square amongst many others. Do remember to check out some of the many amazingly varied museums in the city, along with the artistic mastery on display at the stations on Tashkent Metro.
From vintage Tashkent we get behind the wheels of our 4×4 SUVs to cross into the most financially progressive of the ‘stans’, and 9th largest country in the world – Kazakhstan. Plentiful reserves of oil and other valuable minerals have afforded Kazakh cities better standards of lodging, eateries and means of transport than the rest of Central Asia.
Our first layover here will be at the historically rich city of Turkistan, from where we will head on to Aralsk. The route to Aralsk hosts many significant and ancient settlements like Erenozek, Zhalagash, Zhosaly, Korkyt-Ata-Baikonur, Aiteke-Bi (Kazalinsk) and Aralkum-Aralsk.
The transport hub of Aktobe is next up on the road for our convoy. Get ready to relish the glorious company of the vast Kazakh steppes – extensive grasslands that offer a great turf to drive on – as we cruise towards the largest country in the world!
Monumental Russia is a true delight and a treasure trove of wonders for those bitten by wanderlust. Our first night after crossing into Russia will be spent at Samara. Perched on the bank of the mighty Volga, this is the 6th largest city in Russia and a major transportation hub. Along with a zesty ambiance and some of the best restaurants around, Samara also has on offer historic buildings from the XVIII-XIX centuries, a quirky monument to a WW-II radiator called IL-2 Stormovik, as well as a lovely riverside park amidst other attractions.
The following day has us driving to the Russian city of Penza, which gets its name from the river on the shores of which it was erected. An important industrial and cultural hub of the region which boasts of many enthralling architectural monuments, the city of Penza is an interesting culmination of commercial mechanism and provincial calm.
The supremely artistic capital of Russia is what welcomes us next on our sojourn. Moscow is as majestic as it is enigmatic.The matchless magnificence of Saint Basil’s Cathedral; the historical and political significance of the Kremlin and the Red Square; the gravity-defying moves of graceful Russian ballet performers – all this and more is here to overwhelm your senses as the colourful and gilded Russia charms it way into your heart.
A memorable farewell dinner with your fellow travellers will be all that you will need to cap off this unbelievable journey perfectly, before you head back home.
Offered as a part of our larger-than-life Road to London cross border journey, this Central Asia adventure is sure to captivate your nomadic imagination. Reach out to us at Adventures Overland for a self-drive trip which will be as convenient as it will be luxuriant.