Although we’ve traveled to more than 50 countries, there is one part of the world that we haven’t visited. The fabled Silk Road through Central Asia is an area that fascinates us.
Visiting the Silk Road: Caravans and Ancient Civilizations
The Silk Road was actually a series of ancient trade routes. It wound its way from China through the Middle East and on to Europe. Centuries before Christ it was the lifeblood for many civilizations.
For us it’s always been evocative of caravans winding their way through the desert. We envision camels at the fore as they brought silk, aromatic spices, and other goods from the East. Historic oasis towns along the route with names like Samarkand and Bukhara even sound exotic. They seem like otherworldly outposts come to rest on Earth.
Somehow central Asia gets lost in the shuffle of Asian travel destinations. People generally focus on China or Southeast Asia. But most tourists haven’t yet discovered the countries (often known as the “Stans”) tucked away in central Asia. We’re love the “off the beaten path” aspect of this slice of the planet.
As readers of this blog are aware, Larissa and I prefer to travel independently. The only group tour we’ve taken was to North Korea, where it was a requirement of visiting the country. While researching travel to Central Asia we realized that an area so remote and unspoiled by tourists also meant a region unused to independent travelers. Coordinating our own road trip would be a difficult task. When exploring the Silk Road, it’s a better idea to travel with someone who knows the intricacies of the local culture and customs.
Visiting the Silk Road: Practical Issues
As we researched tourism companies that operate in Central Asia, one called World Expeditions kept popping up. Many of their tours are geared toward our demographic: active 45 to 60-year-olds. We fall right into that category (albeit, for just a few more years.) We enjoy a bit of hiking, but we don’t want to cover 10 miles a day getting from place to place.
World Expeditions offers tours to every continent and has been around since 1975, so while trekking tours like these are gaining in popularity, they were doing it before just about everyone else. They’ve earned a strong reputation for their unique itineraries, as well as the quality of their local teams. And they were also ahead of the game in terms of “Responsible Tourism,” a concept that we support. We like their Porter Protection program, which ensures that the safety needs of the local tour guides are as important as those of the paying customers.
World Expeditions appeals to us, since it caters to discerning travelers who want to truly experience a destination. They focus on a more enriching experience by learning more about the culture. You can only gain this type of knowledge by going “in country.”
Visiting the Silk Road: Our Wishlist Best Mountain Trek
“In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great” would qualify for our Best Mountain Trek, i.e. the trek at the top of our wish list. It’s a kind of tour/trek that offers just the right amount of activity to keep us busy, without grinding our middle-aged bones to dust. It starts and ends in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, while meandering through some of our must-see destinations. Samarkand, Bukhara, Termez, and Khujand, and are on the itinerary. Don’t those names just inspire wanderlust? You get to explore remnants of some of the oldest civilizations on Earth, including historic mosques, bazaars, and palaces.
Before America had yet to be “discovered,” advanced civilizations in central Asia were building stunning architectural marvels. We’re itching to see Registan Square in Samarkand, festooned with minarets intricately decorated with turquoise and azure tiles. In between these ancient cities, the expedition journeys through varying landscapes of stark desert, mountains, and alpine lakes.
Visiting the Silk Road: Haggling over carpets?
One of my main desires for traveling the Silk Road is to explore the bazaars teeming with local products. I love oriental rugs . . . just ask Larissa—when we owned a home I tore up the wall-to-wall carpeting just so I could have more floors to cover with oriental carpets! I have always dreamed of visiting one of these bazaars and haggling with rug merchants over colorful, geometrically patterned carpets. (I’ll leave it to Larissa to figure out how to fit them into our suitcases.)
We always joke that the more places we visit, the longer our wish list gets. But exploring the Silk Road is definitely one of the destinations at the top.
To learn more about “In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great,” and other World Expeditions treks go to the World Expeditions website.
Thanks to World Expeditions for assistance with this post.