Karakum Desert  (Turkmenistan)

Karakum Desert

It seemed like an age since I got off the ferry in Turkmenbashi and started Leg 2 of the expedition. 45 days had flown by and ‘The Stans’ hadn’t disappointed. The friendliness of the people stands out as the highlight, followed closely but the wonderful scenery and impressive historical sites of the Silk Road.

For me it’s always about the people. Everywhere I met the people, they were warm and friendly. Exceptionally hospitable and very curious. No matter what creed, religion or country you were from they were always interested to meet you and happy that you had made the effort to come to their country. They were not at all representative of their governments but in many cases resigned to the way things worked. So many years of Soviet rule has left the people habitually accepting the rules of the government, and accepting that they can not change things.

Old Town Khiva, (Uzbekistan)

Old Town Khiva,

The landscape is so varied. From barren, dry desert regions with limited water supplies, vegetation and suitable living areas, to high mountain ranges with lush green pastures and raging rivers. Great cities where there once was only desert, and ruins where there was once great cities. The geographical challenges and obstacles have helped to shape and define the region of thousands of years. It is easy to see how country boundaries were formed as mountain ranges or massive rivers stretch through the region marking many of these boundaries.

The history that surrounds the area is rich and detailed. There is something for everyone. Many of the great conquerors over the last couple of thousand years have made their names in this region. The rise and fall of so many empires has left many stories of heroism as well as barbarianism. The architecture from many periods has survived to tell their own stories from yesteryear.

Hazrat-e Shah Mountain Ranges east of Kulob (Tajikistan)

Hazrat-e Shah Mountain Ranges East of Kulob

The Great Game

It’s a story of war, love, death, treachery, international intrigue, and the fight for political and strategic control of Central Asia and her riches. Kings and queens, explorers and adventurers, heroes and villains on all sides, spies and treasure hunters, all looking for power and fortunes. Political and social desires, in the battle for control of India’s riches. Countries and their people used as pawns in the battle between acting superpowers.

Wahkan Corridor from Sarhad-e-Broghil (Afghanistan)

Wahkan Corridor from Sarhad-e-Broghil

Having been inspired by tails of the Great Game the opportunity to visiting many of the sights was a great way to bring the story to life. Having travelled through the Russian dominated and controlled region of the Great Game I’ve been able to see just how the legacy of this tournament of shadows has left its mark. The last 200 years has done a lot to shape the current situation. While the Russian period dominated the 19th century, the Soviet lead 20th century still influences the countries of ‘The Stans’ today.

My Thoughts

During this leg of the expedition was I constantly asked if it was safe, or told to keep safe. It has made me consider the following questions. Why does everybody assume the unknown is dangerous? Why do we fear the unknown? Why do we listen to the media and not make up our own minds?

Did I feel safe? Yes, all the time. Would I recommend visiting? Definitely yes. You need to see these places for yourself. You need to make up your own mind rather than listen to others, who often have different influences, motivations and agendas to your own.

Issyk Kul (lake) (Kyrgyzstan)

Issyk Kul

These countries have problems like every other country in the world. Yes, they have human rights violations (check out this Guardian article), Their regimes are questionable in places, but the people are just like the majority around the world. Friendly and welcoming. This shouldn’t stop us from visiting.

During the journey I often wondered why more people didn’t travel to ‘The Stans’. Yes, the paperwork for visas is time-consuming. The costs are high, and you get the impression some countries aren’t really interested in tourism.  But ultimately it’s worth the effort. I say go if you get the chance. You won’t regret it.

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