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xEurasia Odyssey

Phase II - On to "the Stans" and Central Asia

TURKEY | Thursday, 8 August 2013 | Views [1365]

Phase II – On to “the Stans” and Central Asia


Am about to embark on the next phase of this incredible journey.  I’m at Atatürk Airport outside of Istanbul waiting for the redeye flight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Since May I have been in a number of European countries, but always in countries I have been before, and even if I don’t speak the languages with any semblance of accuracy, I can manage to negotiate my way around.  I’m also very familiar with the attitudes and different cultures within Western Europe, and even in Turkey as I spent five weeks here last year.  This next leg, however, is the “wild blue yonder.” I have absolutely no knowledge of the differing Central Asian cultures as they are today (& I doubt that any knowledge of Alexander the Great’s time is going to do me much practical good), I don’t speak a word of any of the indigenous languages & only 5 in Russian: good day, good bye, yes, no, & toilet.  That’s the extent of my language competency to start the next five weeks.  & I don’t read Cyrillic.  So I guess the logical question is, well, why didn’t you learn anything beforehand.  Because I was struggling with my semi-familiar Spanish, Italian, and to an even lesser extent, French.  There are so many languages to learn that at some point, I have to admit to myself that I’m not going to be able to do more than handle a couple of phrases for those regions where I travel most often. It’s not the best way to get around, but unless one has unlimited time to learn all the major European languages, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Nepali, Swahili,etc., inevitably one will be going to places where there is a severe language handicap. & for the next few months this will be me.  It will be interesting being so at a loss for the most common and normal things.  I have hired guides for each of the Central Asian countries, so there shouldn’t be any problem with the regular logistics of travel, but trying to have conversations with people will be tricky. 


Central Asia has been such a crucial region throughout history, as the crossroads of the Silk Road, as the transmitter of Mongolian hordes sweeping into Turkey and Eastern Europe, and as the keeper of religions exiled both in the East and West, that it is truly surprising most of us know so little about it.  The Soviet era ended over twenty years ago, and yet these countries are still hidden from our view.  The Lonely Planet has a guidebook with some basic information, and there are a couple of good history books on the region, not the least of which is one I am actually carrying with me so that I can refer to it for the notes on the sites I’ll be seeing and sharing with those who read these pages. It’s Svat Soucek’s A History of Inner Asia Cambridge UP & even though it was written in 2000, it still has excellent information. Beyond this, the only guidebook I was able to lay my hands on was one in German on Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Krygyzstan. Turkmenistan is even less well known than these others, probably because Uzbekistan has made a concerted effort to increase tourism, starting with Russian, Indian and Chinese tourists, and Tadjikistan and Krygyzstan are mountaineering destinations for truly adventurous and dedicated climbers.  Turkmenistan, on the other hand, is mainly known for it’s carpets and that has limited potential tourist appeal.


So the adventure begins! Auf geht’s! For the next month’s series of entries into this blog/journal I will be sharing more personal reflections than I have in the ones from Western Europe as I truly believe everyone can & should get to Europe and experience it for themselves.  The entries on the particular sites are intended to wet your appetite for what to see and where to go (& of course for classes, a bit of knowledge about the history and structure of the sites).

On the other hand, not many people will get to Central Asia, so perhaps my stories can provide some humor and food for thought as we go on this journey together. & please please do comment on the entries so that we can engage in a conversation.



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