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September 4, 2014 / oneworld82

Central Asia Express: Exploring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan Solo

When I was a little boy dreaming to explore the World, two places fancied my imagination: Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan. They captured my dreams for no particular reason other than their peculiar, exotic names. Zimbabwe is as dissonant as it can possibly get to the Italian language. That “z” and that “w” are just, well, strange. The same reasoning applied to Uzbekistan. Very few words start with a “u” in Italian, and that was enough for me – not to mention that having a “z” and a “k” in the same name is, in my modest opinion, uber sophisticated. Other places that I wanted to visit were, of course, Kamchatka (mostly because of strategy game “Risk”) and Novaja Zemlja (yes, I am fascinated by Siberia).

As a child, of course, little I knew of the Silk Road and the wonders of Bukhara and Samarkand, of plov and shashlik. After all, I was 9 years old, and the USSR had just fallen apart. The World had just started to discover parts of the World that were on the other side of the Iron Curtain before then. The only stan known was, of course, Afghanistan, but no-one knew nothing about the other “stans“.

A lot has changed in these 20+ years (although I would forgive you if you thought otherwise, given how wildly is Russia behaving these days). The stans are not only back on the World map, but also becoming a new Mecca for more adventurous travelers willing to discover bits of the Silk Road and of the great Timurid kingdom. Plus, Kazakhstan is becoming a household name in its own regard thanks to its huge oil reserves that are likely to propel the country into the Rich-World club by 2030 – according to President Nazarbayev’s view.

It helps, of course, that a host of airlines fly to Central Asia these days, making the region much more accessible than in the past. Air Astana, for instance, is a company on the rise that the Kazak president wants to transform into a mini Middle Eastern carrier (after all, Almaty’s and Astana’s locations bide well for East-West traffic). Couple that with the fact that Kazakhstan just launched a pilot program to allow visa-free visits to citizens from a number of countries and you’ll understand why I decided to tick two of the “stans” off my list this summer.

The trip I am about to narrate will tell the story of my 13-days trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Armed with my backpack, camera, and Lonely Planet guidebook I have decided to embark on a discovery tour of the two most easily accessible of the countries in the region. I really wanted to include Kirgyzstan as well, but to be honest planning to travel alone can get pretty expensive if you are low on time.

My itinerary would bring me to Almaty, from where I would fly to Urgench to visit the famed walled oasis city of Khiva; then I would proceed to Bukhara and Samarkand – the core of the Timur kingdom and very important cities along the Silk Road – before exploring Tashkent. From there I would make my way to Shymkent (in Southern Kazakhstan) to visit the city of Turkistan, the most important pilgrimage center in Central Asia. Then, I would fly back home.

High-level flight map

High-level flight map

This trip report is composed by the following sections:

  1. Swiss Airlines Business Class Lounge at Chicago O’Hare
  2. Swiss Airlines ORD-ZRH in Business Class (333)
  3. Swiss Airlines ZRH-FRA in Business Class
  4. Lufthansa First Class Terminal
  5. Lufthansa FRA-ALA in (old) First Class (333)
  6. Around Almaty
  7. Uzbekistan Airways: ALA-TAS, TAS-UGC, and UGC-BHK
  8. A Wonder in the Desert: Khiva
  9. The Cultural Capital of Central Asia: Bukhara and its famed madrasas
  10. An Adventurer’s State-of-Mind: Samarkand
  11. A Soviet Capital City: Tashkent
  12. Shymkent, Turkistan and the Yasaui Mausoleum
  13. Etihad Airways ALA-AUH in Business Class (320)
  14. Etihad Airways AUH-CDG in First Class (346)
  15. American Airlines CDG-DFW in First Class (772)

I hope you will enjoy!

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