Reflections of Along the Golden Road From Samarkand

Reflections of Along the Golden Road From Samarkand

  • Ak-Saray Palace, Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan
  • Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  • Sogdian mural, Afrāsiāb, Uzbekistan depicting Empress Wuzetian
  • Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  • Khorezm, Turkmenistan
  • Merv, Turkmenistan
  • Nisa, Turkmenistan

Images by Jennifer Hsu

A Journey through Central Asia

My experience of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was enriched by the trip scholar and the excellent organisation provided by our tour manager and guide...

Jennifer Y.J. Hsu (Jesus 2003)

A recent trip to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan offered a glimpse into a different world from the everyday, in terms of society and history. Through the guided eyes of an academic scholar on the region—Professor Charles Melville—the Distant Horizons tour provided an opportunity to actively learn and engage with the history as encountered on the journey. Our itinerary included important cities of the Silk Road such as Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan, and Mary and Merv in Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan, as seen through the lens of art, architecture, food and cultural history, is multifarious. As we travelled across Uzbekistan, I was surprised at how much of the historical sites have been restored, from Samarkand to Khiva. The cultural interactions as facilitated by the Silk Road remains part of popular imagination today and are romanticised. Yet, the artefacts on display in the museums in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan suggests that the peoples of Central Asia from Sogdians to Sassanians to the Chinese were as cosmopolitan, perhaps even more so than their contemporaries.

Turkmenistan felt subdued in comparison to Uzbekistan, as indicated by the number of tourists at historical sites and general commercial activity. Ashgabat on first encounter is new, glittering, excessive and perhaps paradoxically, sparse. Despite, my misgivings for the Turkmen capital, travels to Merv, Nisa and Khorezm, conjured up images of a rich cultural history with so many intersections with its Uzbek neighbour and beyond. The huge expanse that is ancient Merv demonstrate what it was once like as the capital of the Seljuk sultanate and a thriving metropolis of the Silk Roads trade up until the 12th century.

My experience of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was enriched by the trip scholar and the excellent organisation provided by our tour manager and guide. This trip has inspired me to further explore Central Asia and learn about the region’s rich history.