The Uzbek cities of Tashkent, Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand are famous for their ancient Islamic architecture. Most of the rest of the country is desert and mountains. We took two days out to explore a bit of rural Uzbekistan on a tour with a company called Responsible Travel, aimed at promoting eco tourism in rural areas. The company arranged a driver for two days, lunch in a family home, an overnight stay in a yurt camp, a camel ride through the sand dunes and a second night in a family guesthouse in a mountain village.
Nomads used collapsible yurts covered with camel hair, blankets and carpets to keep warm, cool and dry as they moved around the desert. Our yurts were covered in camel hair, but also strong canvas, and furnished with real beds. Not exactly glamming, but better than camping, given some wet and windy weather.
Like most yurt camps in Uzbekistan, the Golden Safari yurt camp is a commercial operating in the Kyzyl Kim desert, 165 miles from Bukhara. Twenty yurts were arranged in a circle, each designed to sleep four to six. We were lucky in that groups sometime book the whole camp, bringing in 100 or more for corporate events. The camp had 17 guests the night before we arrived, but the next night it was just us and three women from Singapore, so we all had a yurt to ourselves. What neither we nor the yurt owners counted on was the cold, wet weather. They had just removed the wood-burning heaters for the season, so we had to wait until they could reinstall them along with vent pipes to let the smoke out.
These two cute little tykes instinctively put their arms around each other when I asked to take their picture. It’s a pose most everyone seems to strikes. Moving on to Samarkand, the most visited tourist destination in Central Asia, we didn’t find the people all that much different than those whom we met in the village. Friendliness just seems to come naturally to Uzbeks. Samarkand is filled with amazing Islamic mosques and monuments. We spent two and a half days exploring, but meeting and talking with people here, as it was everywhere, was the highlight of our visit.
Next stop: Baku in Azerbaijan