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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010

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Uzbekistan introduction

Neville McBain. British Council Director, Tashkent

I'm delighted to welcome you to Discovery Uzbekistan. I think the urge to discover is one of the most thrilling in life and that Uzbekistan offers many exciting opportunities to suit people of all ages. Its rich historical legacy, unspoiled dramatic natural landscapes, ancient monuments, changing place in the modern world and above all its welcoming culture, combine to make the voyage of discovery to Uzbekistan an unforgettable experience.

The Silk Road was the ancient 'broadband' or information highway enabling trade between East and West for 2,000 years. The Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva were major caravanserai along its route. The Silk Road also enabled the exchange of ideas, knowledge and invention, that led to the cultural enrichment of all the peoples on its way and helped to lift Europe out of the Dark Ages. It led to a tolerance and openness that is reflected in the lively mix of traditions that exist side by side in Uzbekistan today where, for example, weddings fuse ancient elements of Zoroastrianism with Islam and with contemporary modes in seamless harmony. This heritage and cultural fusion is what makes the chance to explore Uzbekistan today fascinating.

Our own tradition of discovery led to many intrepid British explorers visiting the mountains and deserts of Central Asia, often at great risk to themselves. The cloak and dagger exploits of Burnes and Burnaby, the grisly fate of Conolly and Stoddart at the hands of the Emir of Bukhara, the missions of Abbott and Shakespeare to free the Russian slaves of Khiva, all fired the imagination of Victorians during the period of the Great Game, known as the Tournament of Shadows by the Russians; when Tsarist Russia sought to expand its frontiers towards the jewel of India and when Britain tried to outmaneuver them through acquiring influence in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Persia. Even following the Bolshevik revolution, Bailey was reporting back from Tashkent in 1918 disguised so convincingly as an Austrian prisoner of war that he was even given a job by the secret service Cheka to seek out and capture himself! These amazing tales and others are recounted in the enthralling works of Peter Hopkirk that inspire many a visitor today.

Modern Uzbekistan faces challenges of economic and political transition just like every other country in the world. A proud people, independent from the Soviet yoke only since 1991, Uzbeks of all ages are trying to carve their own unique identity and way of life, both Asian and European, preserving the best of their traditions whilst engaging openly with the wider world. I have lived in Uzbekistan for four years and consider it a unique and fascinating privilege. Here there is an authentic and original culture so far completely untouched by the creeping global colonization of western cultural imports led by McDonalds, Starbucks and Hollywood. It may not resist this encroaching "Californication" (borrowed from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) of the western world indefinitely; so I recommend that you come and visit - you are guaranteed a great welcome and an unforgettable experience!

Discovery Uzbekistan #2

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