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Tourists’ Compass

In 629 – 645 the Chinese traveler and Buddhist monk Xuangzang crossed Central Asia on his way to India. Those were the times when diplomatic, trade and cultural relations between China and Central Asian countries were at their zenith. The Chinese pilgrim gave account of his trip in his book ‘Da Tian Si Yun Tsi(Notes on Travels about Western Territories during Rule of Great Tang Dynasty in China). It was the first known “guidebook” to the cities of our forefathers. In his book Xuangzang narrated about the prosperous country Sogd and its capital Samarkand, about Chach (Tashkent), Ferghana Valley, Ustrushan, Kesh and Tokharistan (Bactria), which all were then situated within the territory of today’s Central Asia. He pointed out that there were a lot of Buddhist monasteries in Tokharistan…

In Europe the earliest ever known “guidebook” to the Great Silk Road was the manuscript written 700 years ago on the basis of Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo’s account of his travels, in later period known as “Book by Marco Polo”

Book by Marco Polo

Marco Polo set out on a journey along the Silk Road to seek after luck in trade. But he was so much amazed and charmed by what he saw in Oriental countries during almost 25 years of his travels that he became a keen explorer of these mysterious lands. Polo’s accounts recorded in his “Book” travelogue gave the Europeans a better insight of the East and, of course, inspired many of his contemporaries to “go on a tour”, as we would say it today.

Marco Polo revealed to the Europeans the fabulous world of remote oriental countries. But shortly before his death in 1324, the great traveler admitted “I haven't written down the half of the things I saw”...

The diary of the travels to the court of Temur, made about 600 years ago, in 1403, was left to us by the Spanish ambassador Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo (see Рюи Гонзалес де Клавихо. Дневник путешествия ко двору Темура в Самарканде. – СПб., 1881 - Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo. The Diary of the Trip to Temur’s Court in Samarkand – S.-Petersburg, 1881’). The diary is rich in keen observations of the eyewitness. Its pages help us to conjure up the images of that ancient and glorious era. Most of the diary is devoted to colorful description of the Spanish embassy’s stay in Samarkand. In 1404 Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo visited Kesh (the ancient name of Shakhrisabz) and he narrated in his diary about this town as well, including detailed description of Temur’s palace in Shakhrisabz, whose luxury impressed even him, a European who had already seen so much of everything.

In 1863 the brave Hungarian scientist Armeniy Vamberi under the name of Hajji Mohamed Reshad managed to get with a caravan to Bukhara, then prohibited for Europeans. His vivid account of what he saw is an invaluable source of evidence of those times (see Вамбери Армений. Путушествие по Средней Азии. – СПб., 1865 -‘Vamberi, Armeniy. Traveling around Central Asia. – S.-Petersburg, 1865’).

And, undoubtedly, the first edition of ‘A Guidebook to Central Asia’ by D. I. Evarnitskiy (see Д. И. Эварницкий: “Путеводитель по Средней Азии”), published in 1893 in S.-Petersburg, can be called the first real guidebook. A little later, in 1901, ‘A Guidebook to Turkestan’ by I. I. Neyer’(see И. И. Неейер:“Путеводитель по Туркестану”), was published in Tashkent.

For many tourists their travels to this or that country start with reading travelogues and guidebooks. The increasing interest of foreign tourists to Uzbekistan and the Great Silk Road stimulates writers and journalists to create more and more special books about our land.

Of the most valuable guidebooks to this region we’d like to recommend to travelers in the first place the following books:

Dominic Streatfeild James. Silk Route by Rail. – U.K.: Trailblazer Publications, 1997. – 273 pages (in English).

Silk Route by Rail

The guidebook marks that traveling along the routes of the renascent Great Silk Road, gives tourists an opportunity to familiarize themselves with unique sights and exotics of the countries situated on its arterial roads. In Uzbekistan, if you start your journey in Khorezm oasis, you will most certainly visit Khiva, where very many ancient architectural monuments have survived to the present day. Khiva is surrounded by strong fortification walls, within the circle of which at the beginning of the last century there was still a slave market… After Khiva, present-day travelers usually go to ancient Bukhara abounding in gorgeous palaces, minarets and mausoleums. The grand 47-meter-high minaret Kalyan, called “the Tower of Death” dominates the city: during the times of Bukhara emirs criminals were thrown down from the top of this minaret. Next come the blue domes of Samarkand, once the capital of the huge empire of Amir Temur and the city which was world-famous for its beauty and grandeur. The monuments of the ancient town of Shakhrisabz, the birth place of Temur, which recently celebrated its 2700th anniversary, are no less fascinating.

The guidebook contains maps with distances between the cities being indicated in Russian, English and Chinese, as well as picturesque photos. There are also recommendations on arrangement of individual and group tours and tickets acquisition.

John King, John Noble, Andrew Humphreys. Central Asia. Lonely Planet travel survival kit. – Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1996. – 544 pages (in English).

The guidebook tells about the history of the countries of the region and the rich Great Silk Road heritage.

The authors of the guidebook advise those who plan to make a trip to Central Asia to discover the ancient towns of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, and by shopping for rugs and embroidered robes in a busy exotic bazaar, by visiting traditional tea-houses with unique Oriental cuisine, to learn a lot about the hospitable people living in these countries.

The guidebook is supplemented with 50 maps and provides practical information on getting visas, going through the customs, choosing means of transportation, etc.

Wim van Ginkel, Els van Kuijk. Turquoise. Een reis door Centraal-Azie, Oost-Turkestan, Tibet, Pakistan en Iran. – The Netherlands: Elmar edition, 1997. – 302 pages (in Dutch).

The guidebook “Turquoise” (Blue domes) begins with a description of Central Asia, but most of the pages are devoted to Uzbekistan. Under the chapter headings “Tashkent”, “Bukhara”, “Samarkand” and “Ferghana Valley” the authors tell about the history of Uzbekistan and the country’s present-day life, its architectural monuments, environment, and people. They write that they saw mosques and temples, busy bazaars, monumental towns and lovely mountain villages, and that they met lots of people whose life in some respects seemed a bit different whereas in general was similar to the one the Europeans got used to.

Wim Van Ginkel. Reishandboek Oezbekistan en Kirgizstan. – The Netherlands, Rijswijk: Elmar Editions, 1998. – 256 pages (in Dutch).

Reishandboek Oezbekistan en Kirgizstan

The increasing interest of the Dutch in Uzbekistan prompted the author to write this special guidebook. In this book the author in great detail and with much love for our native land describes Uzbekistan’s cities, towns, villages and their monuments. Wim van Ginkel usually makes indepth studies of the history and the present day of the countiries he visits. He points out that talking about Sogdiana, Timur’s empire, or the khanates of Kiva, Bukhara and Kokand, one should first of all bear in mind that this is one country - today’s Uzbekistan.

Judith Peltz. Usbekistan Entdecken. Auf der Seidenstrase nach Samarkand, Buchara und Chiwa. – Germany, Berlin: Trescher Reithe Reisen, 2000. – 290 pages (in German).

In the first pages of the book the author, Judith Peltz, mentions that early in the 20th century count von Palen visited Turkestan and later told a lot of interesting things about this part of the world, little known by the Europeans then…

Inviting the readers to familiarize themselves with Uzbekistan, which lies just in the middle of the Great Silk Road, the author of the guidebook points out that one should make this for at least one reason: this is the land where ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva are located, the cities where so many unique architectural monuments have survived. Judith Peltz describes Samarkand, for example, in such words: “The beauty of the ancient buildings, which were constructed during the times of Temur and his successors… The radiance of the blue cupolas against a background of snow-covered mountains… Ancient legends and traditions… Many things here make you feel being carried away to one of the everlasting tales of “Arabian nights”.

The guidebook also tells about the present-day independent Uzbekistan: about political and economical reforms being carried out in the country. It also provides information on Uzbekistan’s tourist infrastructure.

Calum Macleod, Bradley Mayhew. Uzbekistan. The Golden Road to Samarkand. – Hong Kong, Odyssey Publication, 1999, 2002. – 334 pages (in English).

One of the comments published in “The New York Times” on this guidebook states as follows: “…one of those rare travel guides that is a joy to read whether or not you are planning a trip…”

Uzbekistan. The Golden Road to Samarkand.

The route of the trip the authors of the guidebook suggest taking is called “Golden Road” or “Royal Road”: from blue-tiled splendour of Samarkand’s mosques and madrassahs, to “blessed Bukhara” with its numerous architectural monuments; from blooming Ferghana Valley to Khorezm Province, bordering a sultry desert. It is here that the ancient town of Khiva lay in the very heart of Khiva Khanate since the times of the Great Silk Road. The authors point out that this land once played an important role in the development of the world civilization; for centuries it attracted merchants and travelers who were coming here along the fragile trails of the Great Silk Road. Alexander the Great came here from the west, Genghis-Khan from the east, and Tamerlane founded his home right in the very heart of the oasis – Samarkand. Memory of all those events in the history of Uzbekistan is preserved in the ancient walls of palaces, fortresses, minarets that survived till our days.

The guidebook contains recommendations about the means of transportation for tourists, required documents, customs procedures, hotel accommodation, etc.

World experts forecast that the number of tourists traveling abroad will have doubled by 2010 compared to1998, and will have exceeded the figure of 1,300,000,000 people. And by 2020, according to the data of UNESCO and UNWTO, the Great Silk Road will become the most popular tourist route on the Earth: it will be taken by every third traveler. The guidebooks, with their abundant interesting and useful information, will serve the travelers as reliable compass, the indisputable guides to amazing world of the Orient.

Recommended Guidebooks:

In English:

  • Calum Macleod, Bradley Mayhew. Uzbekistan. The Golden Road to Samarkand. – Hong Kong, Odyssey Publication, 1999, 2002. – 334 p.
  • John King, John Noble, Andrew Humphreys. Central Asia. Lonely Planet travel survival kit. – Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1996. – 544 p.
  • Giles Whittel. Central Asia. – U.K.: CADOGAN guides, 1996. – 388 p.
  • Hazel Barker, David Thurlow. Russia & Central Asia by Road. 4 WD Motorbike, Bicycle. – U.K.: Bradt Publications; USA: The Globe Pequot Press Inc., 1997. – 278 p.
  • Maier Frith. Trekking in Russia and Central Asia. – Canada: The Mountaineers, 1994, 1997. – 369 p.
  • Bradley Mayhew, Richard Plunkett, Simon Richmond. Central Asia. – Australia, Lonely Planet Publications, 2000. – 575 p.
  • Dominic Streatfeild James. Silk Route by rail. – U.K.: Trailblazer Publications, 1997. – 273 p.

In German:

  • Judith Peltz. Usbekistan Entdecken. Auf der Seidenstrase nach Samarkand, Buchara und Chiwa. – Germany, Berlin: Trescher Reithe Reisen, 2000. – 290 p.
  • Klaus Pander. Zentralasien. Guidebook to Uzbekistan. – Germany, ?eln: Publishing house Du Mont, 1996. – 384 p.
  • Klaus Pander. Zentralasien: Usbekistan, Kirgisstan, Tadschikistan, Turkmenistan, Kasachstan. – Germany, Keln: DuMont Buchverlag, Kunstreisefuhrer editions, 1996, 2000. – 384 p.
  • Claus Richter, Bruno Baumann, Bernd Liebner. Die Seidenstrasse. Mythos und Gegenwart. – Germany, Hamburg: Hofmann und Campe, 1999. – 304 p.

In French:

  • Francoise Spiekermeier. Objectif Adventure. Asie Centrale: Kirghizstan – Ouzbekistan. – France, Paris: Guides Arthaud editions, 2001. – 350 p.
  • Calum Macleod, Bradley Mayhew. Decouverte. Ouzbekistan: Samarcande, Boukhara, Khiva. – Switzerland, Geneve: Editions Olizane, 2002. – 352 p.
  • Gilles Whittel. Asie Centrale: Turkmenistan, Ouzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Kazakhstan, Kirhistan, Karakoram Highway, Xinjian. – Switzerland, Geneve: Guides Olizane Aventure, Editions Olizane, 1998. – 512 p.
  • Herve Beaumont. Asie Centrale: Ouzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Kirghiziststan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Xingiang. – France, Paris: Guides Marcus Editions, 1998. – 96 p.
  • Dominique Auzias, Jean-Paul Labourdette. Le Petit Fute. Asie Centrale. Le Guede de L`asie Centrale: Kirghizistan, Ouzbekistan, Tadjikistan. – France: Nouvelles Editions de L`universite, 2001. – 321 p.

In Italian:

  • John King, John Noble, Andrew Humphreys. Asia Centrale: Kazakistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizistan, Tadgikistan, Turkmenistan, Xinjiang occidentale Strada del Karakoram. – Italy, Torino: Copyright per l’edizione italiana, 1997. – 595 p.
  • Bradley Mayhew, Richard Plunkett, Simon Richmond. Asia Centrale: Kazakistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizistan, Tadgikistan, Turkmenistan, Xinjiang, Afghanistan. – Italy, Torino: Lonely Planet Publications, Copyright per l’edizione italiana, 2000. – 669 p.

In Dutch:

  • Robert Bodegraven. Te gast in Oezbekistan. – The Netherlands: Informatie Verre Reizen, 1999. – 48 p.
  • Wim van Ginkel, Els van Kuijk. Turquoise. Een reis door Centraal-Azie, Oost-Turkestan, Tibet, Pakistan en Iran. – The Netherlands: Elmar edition, 1997. – 302 p.
  • Wim Van Ginkel. Reishandboek Oezbekistan en Kirgizstan. – The Netherlands, Rijswijk: Elmar Editions, 1998. – 256 p.
  • Turaj Atabaki, Joris Versteeg. Centraal-Azie: Mensen, Politiek, Economie, Cultuur. – The Netherlands, Amsterdam: Edition-Koniklijk instituut voor de Tropen, 1994. – 83 p.
  • Wijnand van Riel. De Zijderoute: Turkmenistan, Oezbekistan, Tadzjikistan, Kirgizie en Kazachstan. – The Netherlands: Edition Dominicus, 2000. – 344 p.

In Japanese:

  • Silk Road. Central Asia countries. – Japan, Tokyo: Ryokojin, 1999. – 376 p.
  • Guide-book Gio Globe Trotter. Silk Road and Central Asia countries, 2005-2006. – Japan, Tokyo: Dimond Big Co.Ltd, 2006. – 276 p.
  • Guide-book Gio Globe Trotter. Russia, Ukraine, Caucasus and Central Asia, 1997-1998. – Japan, Tokyo: Dimond Big Co.Ltd, 1998. – 262 p.

All Tourist Gems of Uzbekistan