Exploring Uzbekistan

September 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia, Culture

Uzbekistan lies at the heart of the Great Silk Road. For centuries, oases of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva brought respite to the caravans as they made their way across the desert. A tour through this country immerses you in the essence of the progress of civilization as it moved west. Today, Uzbekistan preserves this heritage while striving to bring its largely rural, historically nomadic populations better lives in a post-Soviet world. Slightly larger in area than California and with a population of 26 million, Uzbekistan contains more than half of Central Asia’s people.

Photo credits - dwrawlinson

Photo credits - dwrawlinson

Known as the ‘sunny republic,’ Uzbekistan is arid with annual rainfall between only 4 and 8 inches. But its heavily irrigated river valleys make it the second largest cotton exporter in the world. It also contains important mineral resources and is a world leader in gold production.

Historically, Uzbekistan is exceedingly rich, making it a truly great tourist destination. More than 4,000 historic sites dot the country, and thus its stature as the pearl of the ancient Silk Road. Civilization was already ancient here when Alexander the Great conquered the region in the 4th Century BC. Up until the discovery of ocean routes to India and China, Uzbekistan lay at the crossroads of communication between East and West and was the center of trade and exchange of ideas.

The conqueror Tamerlane (1336-1405) was born near present day Shahrisabz and created an empire that extended throughout Central Asia to Turkey and south to the Ganges. Tamerlane was also a patron of the arts and transformed Samarkand into a magnificent capital for his empire. Importing artisans from conquered territories, He and later rulers commissioned majestic buildings many of which still stand.

Photo credits - Gusjer

Photo credits - Gusjer

Central among them is the Registan, which was the heart of the city. Madrasahs or Muslim religious academies face three sides of the square, giving, one built by Tamerlane’s grandson who also built an observatory which he used to advance the science of astronomy during his reign.

Another legendary city is Bukhara, lying to the west. Another oases for Silk Road caravans, Bukhara became one of the great learning centers in the Muslim world and spawned the mystical Sufi sect of Islam. The city today still contains 350 mosques and supports more than 100 religious academies. With narrow streets, many parks and gardens, numerous historical sites and lively bazaars, a visit to this ancient city will satisfy a diverse range of interests. Travel here and you are sure to find something that resonates with your spirit.

Photo credits - Sitomon

Photo credits - Sitomon


Further west still, you come to a museum under the blue sky, Khiva. A city reputed to have been founded by Shem, one of the Biblical Noah’s sons, Khiva has preserved its ancient past and been turned into a living record of its days as a key center of trade along the Silk Road. The historic center of the city contains spectacular examples of Islamic architecture. Palaces, minarets and mausoleums from centuries ago have been preserved and refurbished making Khiva a lens through which you can gaze into history.
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About the Author. Julia Feydman, has always been fascinated by the history of the Great Silk Road. Over time, her passion as well as many memorable trips to the area have grown into a successful, U.S. based travel agency – East Site, Inc. Central Asia Travel is one of the major routes her company specializes in. Visit her travel website East-Site.com today and discover Uzbekistan for yourself!

A Guide To Middle Eastern Cuisines

April 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia, Feature Highlights, Gourmet

Food is one of the most unique item pertaining to one’s culture, and one that is an important part to traveling nowadays. Here at Unearthing Asia, we are all for wacky eats and local street food, as you can see from our recent coverage of HK Street Food, Khmer Cuisines, Macau’s Food Guide and India’s Culinary Adventures. Here’s another food guide for your perusal, this time, to Middle Eastern Cuisines!

Middle Eastern cuisines come in a wide variety of taste, shape and color. Each country adds their own distinct touches to the mix, completing a vibrant map of culinary delights throughout the region. A common bond between them however, is the usage of aromatic spices. Honey, sumac, sesame seeds, parsley, mint and chickpeas – these are a few of the common ingredients you’ll find throughout the region. While a meal may exclude meat, it is almost never without the region’s staple food, bread.

Mezze. Photo credit - Kake Pugh and patrn.

Mezze. Photo credit - Kake Pugh and patrn.

Mezze (or Appetizers)

When you are in Lebanon, order a course of mezze and you’ll realize right away why the tables are all super large. You’ll be served with dozens of small dishes with exotic tidbits all placed on the table at once. Some of the more common mezzes are the baba ghanouj, an eggplant dip; borek, feta-stuffed phyllo pastries and dolmas, stuffed grape leaves. The baba ghanouj is especially tasty, but be warned – it can be quite spicy!

Khoresh and Iskender. Photo credit - roboppy and Serdar's.

Khoresh and Iskender. Photo credit - roboppy and Serdar's.

Main Courses

Depending on the country you are in, the main course could vary between kebabs of grilled chicken or lamb; felafels, deep-fried chickpea balls; khoresh, lamb stew in a sweet-sour sauce. It may even contain a number of rice dishes that is mixed with meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

For the uninitiated, kebabs are generally grilled or broiled meats over skewer or sticks. Since Muslims do not consume pork, the most commonly used meat are chicken, beef and lamb. It has become a part of everyday multicultural cuisines around the globe. Iskender kebab is a famed specialty from Bursa, northern Turkey, in which thinly cut grilled lamb is basted with tomato sauce over pide bread and generously slathered with melted butter and yogurt.

Bread and Vegetables. Photo credit - Sifu Renka and chota.

Bread and Vegetables. Photo credit - Sifu Renka and chota.

Vegetables, Salads and Breads

This is the usual companion of meals. Among the common ones are Tabboulleh (tart parsley), sautéed tomato and eggplant with yogurt, spinach, pita, flat breads and the traditional Jewish Challah.

Baklava. Photo credit - NotLiz and su_lin.

Baklava. Photo credit - NotLiz and su_lin.

Desserts and Snacks

You are normally served a small cup of sweet, thick, coffee. One thing I learned is to leave the sludge at the bottom. It can give your throat an itchy, uneasy feeling, unless if you are in Iran where you are normally served tea. Other desserts include baklava and perhaps almond crusted cookies as well. Desserts are usually served only when entertaining, but for those who fancy desserts on their own, most bakeries tend to sell sweet pastries and the likes to curb your sweet tooth cravings.

Brides Fingers (Asabia el Aroos) are slender crisps of filo filled with sweetened nuts that are popular with the locals. They are comparable to the likes of baklava, but with lower calories and fat. Protein and fiber are in abundance due to the inclusion of nuts.

Meals in the Middle East are often eaten using your hands, following the Islamic tradition that is prevalent in the region. If you’re uncomfortable with this, don’t hesitate to ask for a fork and spoon, but if you are to try using your hand, avoid eating with the left hand. It is forbidden in Islamic tradition to do so, and because you usually share a communal plate with the rest of the guests you will unwittingly spoil the whole plate.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other food-related travel inspirations –
Dim Sum GuideMalaysian CuisineUnusual Asian Delicacies

About the Author. Char Magalong. Char Magalong, freelance web designer and programmer, spent two years living, working and traveling in Singapore. Another two years stint right after that in Malaysia led to homesickness, after which she promptly returned to the Philippines. With her myriad of treasured experiences for apt comparison, she comments regularly on the beauty of Philippines and its surrounding country side.

Magical Tashkent

January 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia, Feature Highlights

“Tashkent,” I whispered. An exotic, soulful name that conjured images of magical kingdoms filled with Genies, flying carpets and architecture that blends with the sand. I expected a great caravanserai city in the midst of the scorching desert sun with sprawling bazaars, slender minarets and serpentine desert caravans. I was pleasantly surprised however, to find Tashkent a modern, cosmopolitan city with an impressive infrastructure and various luxury hotels and shops. Uzbek’s capital city has certainly defied expectations.

Autumn in Tashkent. Photo by xMadyax at deviantart.

Autumn in Tashkent. Photo by xMadyax at deviantart.

Tashkent sits on the Central Asian steppe, right on the banks of the Chirchik River just southwest of the Chatkal Mountains. For centuries, this ancient city was a crossroad for traders passing between East and West on the Great Silk Road, the most illustrious trade route ever. One of the few respite of the desert, the gates of Tashkent was a welcome sight for traders, a refuge where one could rest and recover between the mountains and the sand.

The lively Chorsu Bazaar has everything the urban Uzbek may want.

The sprawling Chorsu Bazaar evokes images of the Silk Road.

The sprawling Chorsu Bazaar evokes images of the Silk Road.

Little remains of the ancient city after the 1966 earthquake that leveled most of the buildings.

Since then, the government embarked on a major renovation program in the center of the city that has seen roads, buildings and parks being completely reconstructed. The result is an impressive upscale city with large parading avenues, heroic statues and towering office blocks. However, most locals have yet to see any improvement in their respective residences. Drive further out from the city center and Tashkent slowly transforms back into the desert town of old.

The essence of ancient Tashkent remains in the various bazaars held throughout the city. More than anywhere else, the sprawling Chorsu Bazaar (Old City) conjures up memories of the Great Silk Road. It was picturesque, noisy and full of local colour, a large open-air market which has pretty much everything the urban uzbek might require – carpets, cotton goods, knives, ceramics and food. Trays of spices, vegetables, fruits and assorted animal parts lined up in the agricultural section. Although foreigners are probably paying a premium price, it is still a friendly and welcoming place, perfect for simply wandering around and immersing yourself in the local culture.

The Uzbek culture is blessed with a proud history that sees them become one of the ancient centers of Eastern Civilization.

The armies of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, the caravans of the Great Silk Road, and the relocation of populations during World War II. All these major events and characters in the history of the world passed through Uzbekistan one way or the other. Not surprisingly, Tashkent as its capital boasts numerous museums and monuments of history such as the State Museum of History and the Amir Timur Museum.

The former, like its name implies, charts the flow and ebb of the state’s long history. Exhibits here showcases the rich cultural heritage of the Uzbek people, and more. With Uzbekistan long being a center for shipment between the East and the West, there are also collections of coins from the Hellenic state from the 3th century BC, Bactrian drachmas and Chinese coins from the Tang Dynasty. The latter, the Amir Timur Museum, chronicles the life of Timur, known to the wider world as Tamerlane, an all-conquering tyrant now resurrected as Uzbekistan’s national hero.

Street vendors lines up at the heart of Tashkent.

Street vendors lines up at the heart of Tashkent.

At the heart of the city, Saligokh Street – known locally as Broadway – is lined with various bars and restaurants that are popular with the locals. Various street artists selling their wares add to the unique atmosphere of the street. There are also plenty of entertainment at night, numerous modern pubs and nightclubs with unique themes catering to their perspective clientele.

Tashkent has been patiently waiting for a boom.

The infrastructure, hotels and shiny new shops are there, as well as the fascinating history and colorful local culture. The expected influx of people and businesses however, has been slow to materialize. It is high time for for Tashkent to emerge from this obscurity and reclaim its status as a cultural and commercial capital.

About the Author. Char Magalong. Char Magalong, freelance web designer and programmer, spent two years living, working and traveling in Singapore. Another two years stint right after that in Malaysia led to homesickness, after which she promptly returned to the Philippines. With her myriad of treasured experiences for apt comparison, she comments regularly on the beauty of Philippines and its surrounding country side.