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Why Uzbekistan?


If Central Asia is a region on this planet missing from your travel diary, one could safely say Uzbekistan is the country to start with.
It has ancient cities, spellbinding architecture, more minarets than you can handle, lovely hospitable  people and a mouth-watering cuisine as a result of being right in the middle of the Silk Road, where people from China crossed to Europe bringing with them not only silk but also new flavours and spices and exotic foods.

Some history….

Being on this specific road comes with some disadvantages of course: namely being invaded a ridiculous number of times, starting with Alexander the Great, the most famous invader that left his footprint (and bodily fluids) in Samarkand by marrying Roxanna, the daughter of a local chieftain. Then came the Turks, then the Arabs, the Persians, and then the most famous, the über- head-cutter of all times, Genghis Khan, succeeded by the local equivalent, the extra cruel persona known in Uzbekistan as Amir Timur and to the rest of us, from our history books, as Tamerlane, about to become the next ruthless exterminator of Central Asia long before NETFLIX showed us what violence really means…
And all seemed to go well, more or less, with the casual mass massacre, public beheading, stoning  or burying-alive from time to time, until the 18th century, when the khan of Khiva had the bright idea of inviting Peter the Great of Russia to help him against the Turkmen and Kazakh tribes, but then somehow changed his mind, thinking he needed Peter's help no more and, in a very weird turn of mind, slaughtered the 4.000 (!!!) soldiers that had come to help from Russia. Just to say that some people REALLY deserve what they get… It took the Russians some time, but 25 years after they returned with a vengeance, cities and heads fell like dominoes and Uzbekistan basically became in the end, as we all know, a part of the later Soviet Union, adopting the Cyrillic alphabet, thus spelling thereafter XOT DOG instead of HOT DOG (useless info of the day…).
All this until 1989, when the Wall fell, Brezhnev allegedly french-kissed Brandt and the way was left open for the Uzbek independence in 1990.

And of course one would think, after all those centuries of built-in cruelty it was time to slowly slide peacefully to the 21st century, let people have a break, a Kit-Kat,  no more invasions, public executions or drownings. But that did not happen, unfortunately. Faithful in the local traditions, the first PM of independent Uzbekistan was proven to be as ruthless and inventive as his ancestors, becoming known mainly as the only known official head of state of the modern world who boiled his opponents alive.

Nowadays repression is not that obvious, although police is very present. The new regime maintains a more sober political face, but people still fear deeply the police and students are used by the thousands every year to harvest cotton.  It all started in the early sixties with the bright Soviet idea of turning the arid country into the major Soviet cotton producer (70% of all cotton used in the Soviet Union) by deviating the water of  the Amu Darya river in the south and the Syr Darya river in the east, and using it for the cotton plantations, thus creating probably the major ecological disaster of the last century, the drying-up of the Aral Sea; the absolute cluster fuck resulting in thousands of people losing their living, the fishing industry disappearing and villages and islands left standing in the middle of nowhere (the Aral was roughly the size of the Aegean sea), while all chemicals and pesticides (plus the products of chemical and biological warfare experiments, some say…) came to surface, creating a cancer explosion in the Karakalpakstan republic, where the Aral economy used to thrive, but where natives still hope somehow for some sort of independency…
Although the country seems to be getting richer and more open, it is not as rich as it should be, given that it sits on one of the biggest gas reserves on the planet. The visa regime has been drastically reformed, although bureaucracy remains cumbersome. So arm yourself with patience but visit this charming land that so many people desired to be theirs, admire the splendid mosaics, get crazy with all the details of history and at the end of the day, have a shashlik longer than your arm, life is not so bad after all… Because  although Uzbekistan may not be the absolute charmer, it has a way of getting under your skin, and making you want to return into this absolute Central Asian Far West…