17th July 2019
On our first night in Samarkand we went to Registan. Lit up against the night sky we stood in silence just taking it in.
In Ashgabat, the Turkmenbasy Mosque was very grand, and very surreal. It’s the largest mosque in Central Asia – but because it has inscriptions from a book written by the former President-dictator, Turkmenbasy which is considered sacrilegious, hardly any Muslims pray there – so it’s a deserted monument to his largesse.
In Central Asia, it’s hard to answer this with anything other than Plov – the Uzbekistan national dish. A rice dish, where rice is cooked in broth, and then yellow carrots, onions, are stirred through and beef and (sometimes) boiled egg are placed on top.
However, it’s not without controversy, with each region having its own way to prepare the dish - our guide from the Ferghana Valley region passionately believed that all the ingredients in Plov should be added when cooking the rice so the flavours permeate through.
Regardless of how it’s cooked, a visit to Uzbekistan isn’t complete without enjoying a plate (or three).
The hotel in Bukhara will stay with me for a long time. It was a 2 minute walk from Lapi Hauz in the centre of Bukhara. What I loved was the décor in the rooms which gave me an authentic feeling of Central Asian life.
The Darvaza Gas Crater was stunning. When you arrive at dusk, you can feel the immense heat being blown at you as you walk towards the crater rim.
From most vantage points you cannot see the crater floor, so it genuinely looks like the fiery entrance to the underworld. The fascination did not leave me, and I found I was drawn back again and again.
As night fell, you could see the silhouettes of birds as they swooped through the heat, catching bugs that were also drawn to the light. But when I woke at 3am, and went for one last night-time visit, it was just me and the roar of the flames.
My favourite moment was visiting a ranch on the outskirts of Mary in Turkmenistan. The owner had trained horses his entire life, as his father had before him. While he did not speak English, his stories (that our guide translated for us) were fascinating.
His family cooked lunch for us, and then gave us copious amounts of black tea while we enjoyed a horse show.
I wish I had read The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk before going to Uzbekistan. The stories from that era crop up again and again.