For over three millennia the Great Silk Road, which Marco Polo famously embarked on during his travels to the Far East some 700 years ago, has been an arterial network of trade routes stretching from Asia to Europe, spanning over 12,000 kilometres.
Following China’s “Silk Road Economic Belt” infrastructure plan unveiled in 2013, the region is seeing a renewed increase in trade and tourism. Much of the project’s infrastructure is currently being built in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. As the world’s ninth largest country and standing at the crossroads between East and West, Kazakhstan is forecasted to benefit considerably from the initiative.
Tourists are attracted by the regions varied landscapes, diverse cultures, history and exquisite cuisine. Situated in the centre of the Eurasian landmass, Kazakhstan stretches east to west for almost 3,000 kilometres from Tien Shan and Altai Mountains to the Caspian Sea, and from the sands of the Kyzylkum desert in the south to the Russian Siberia to the north. A country rich in equestrian culture, with evidence suggesting the region’s inhabitants were the first to domesticate the wild horse, about 5,500 years ago, travel agencies receive increased requests on packages for horse-riding trips. Within its borders one finds snow-capped mountains reaching over 7,000 metres, thousands of lakes, vast steppes and desert regions.
The country’s diverse geology, together with the effects of extreme climate, have helped forge truly unique landscapes and wildlife. Kazakhstan’s highest point is Khan Tengri mountain (7,010 m.), one of the world’s most beautiful peaks and part of the spectacular Tien Shan mountain range. The country is also home to the vast deserts and sand massifs, mainly located in the southwest. Locals call Kazakhstan “the country of the Great Steppe”.
Kazakhstan is the keeper of the progenitor of all the Earth’s apple trees – the Sievers apple tree. It gave the world one of the most common fruit of our time. The foothills of the Alatau have been proved to be the “historic homeland” of apples and tulips. By the ancient routes of the Silk Road from the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau on the territory of Kazakhstan, apples were brought to the Mediterranean and then spread throughout the world.
Overall, the country is home to more than 6,000 species of plants, over 10 per cent of which are unique to the country, 5,000 species of fungi, over 100,000 invertebrates with over half of that figure being insects, 500 species of birds, l78 different mammals and 150 species of fish.
The largest southern cities of Kazakhstan – Shymkent and Taraz are steeped in history, and are not for nothing called the green oases of the republic. The architectural pearl of the country is the city of Almaty, located on the foothills of the Alatau mountains. Almaty, which means ”city of apples”, is also known for its modern ski resort Shymbulak and an outdoor speed skating and bandy rink Medeu, which is located in a mountain valley at 1,691 metres above the sea level.
Not far from Almaty, you can find the Charyn Canyon, with magnificent rocks stretching along the river. This territory, which is inhabited by many animal species, also contains unique plants which have survived from the times of the Ice Age. Another natural landmark near Almaty is the Kolsay Lakes – an unprecedented beauty system of three azure lakes in the Northern Tien Shan.
Turkistan is one of the country’s historic cities with an archaeological record dating back to the 4th century. The city has preserved the ancient town-planning structure with historical caravan roads along which the main roads of the modern city now pass. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Turkistan, was built at the time of Timur from 1389 to 1405. Today, it is one of the largest and best-preserved constructions of the Timurid period, listed by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage sites.
To the south and also along the ancient Silk Road, travellers discover the ancient Uzbekistani cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara. Samarkand has been known to traders and travelers for about 2700 years. Devastated by Genghis Khan’s armies, it was rebuilt in the 13th century.
Founded in 7th century B.C. Samarkand had its most significant development from the 14th to the 15th centuries when it became the capital of the empire of King Timur. Most of the city’s major monuments were built during this period and have been given UNESCO World Heritage status.
The historic centre of Bukhara, which contains numerous mosques and madrassas, is compact, with a conglomeration of bazaars, courtyards and madrassahs within walking distance of one another.
What makes Khiva stand out from anywhere else in Uzbekistan is that the entire old town is located within a walled city. All of its mosques, madrassahs, and minarets are packed within a walkable, square-walled grid, whose foundations were laid in the 10th century BC.
Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan plan to launch a unified service project called the “Silk Road Visa”. The aim is to attract more tourists to visit Central Asia, and the region’s neighbouring countries.
The Brussels Times