Travelling Classmates
Brice and Carrie Pratt Harris
Travel to the Great Silk Road 
in Central Asia

   Visiting the Stans of Central Asia has been a long time dream for us for many years. Brice taught Middle East and Islamic History for over 40 years, but he did not include Central Asia because it was part of the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1990.
     September 2019 saw us on a Great Silk Road trip with an Overseas Adventure Travel tour to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. We had a fabulous guide, Bekruz Kurbanov, whose family home is in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. He is so knowledgeable that the whole trip was amazing.
     I especially liked the four day pre-trip in Tajikistan with only 6 of the total 15 people on our tour. We spent two days in Dushanbe, the capital, and then traveled all day through 12,000 ft. mountains and many tunnels to the second largest city, Khujand, in the north. The very dry, bare mountains look like the ones you see in pictures of Afghanistan.
     From Tajikistan we spent thirteen days in Uzbekistan on the ancient Silk Road route from Tashkent, the capital, in the East to Nukus in the Northwest. Highlights of that time include:
     Many hours in the Central Asian steppes (desert) by bus with variable road conditions. The scenery reminded me of the drive from Los Angeles east to the Colorado River via Palm Springs. I felt right at home in the desert landscape.  
     We attended a marvelous music and dance program at the Tashkent opera theater.  
     Saw the many General Motors brand new, all white Chevrolets clogging city streets.
     Viewed the breathtaking mosques and madrassahs in Samarkand’s Registan Square built from the 1400 to 1600’s. The madrassah, a former school teaching Islam now holds tourist shops in every alcove. The two mosques facing each other across the square are very impressive examples of medieval Islamic architecture.

Registan Square - Samarkand, Uzbekistan
     Hiked in the bare Gissar Mountains from a small village outside the city, home to a large herd of sheep, villagers, and vacation homes for the wealthy from Samarkand.  
Carrie at start of hike
     Khiva, (a small, medieval, walled city within a modern city) small enough to walk all over among the mosques, monuments, and abundant tourist shops, a UNESCO heritage site.

Carrie shopping in Khiva
     In Bukhara, we enjoyed a small boutique hotel, once a large home with an open central square area like the old Turkish homes in Istanbul. Bek invited us for dinner at his family home meeting his family, including his Russian mother, his brother, his family, and Bek’s family.
     OAT tours include a “Day in the Life of…” We visited a village outside Bukhara where we helped prepare dumplings for our lunch along with plov, the meat, carrot, and rice traditional Uzbek meal cooked outside on a large wood fired stove.
In Nukus, our final stop on the Silk Road Tour, we visited the museum where Igor Savitsky, a Russian painter and art collector, preserved the largest collection of Russian avant-garde art safely hiding it 1700 miles from Moscow during the height of Soviet oppression of artists.  
     I do not recommend visiting Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. I am glad we did it the last two days of our trip and not at the beginning. The city buildings are entirely constructed of white marble and gold monuments to the president who ruled from the 1990’s to 2006. The current president has continued this extravagant use of the ample revenues from the natural gas reserves of the country to glorify himself in marble and gold. We kept asking our guide where the local people live, There are hundreds of white, marble apartment buildings all over the city and modern cars, but I saw women sweeping the city streets with brooms, quite a contrast to the rest of the city.

15th century burial site -Ashgabat, Turkmenistan