Central Asia’s quintet of ‘stans – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are a richly-storied blend of mountains, steppes and deserts nestled between India, Russia and China, with a history taking in the heyday of the Silk Road and back to Alexander the Great.
This Silk Road jewel was captured by both Alexander the Great in 329BC and Genghis Khan in 1220. Its superb classical Islamic architecture includes the dramatic Gur-e-Amir mausoleum (above) where legendary 14th-century ruler Tamerlane lies. Don’t miss the 2,500-year-old ruins of Afrasiyab and the majestic Registan square.
With its skyline of mosques, madrasahs and minarets, Bukhara is a perfect historic Silk Road town. Get an overview from the 47m-tall Kalon Minaret (above) – which greatly impressed Genghis Khan eight centuries ago – then explore labyrinthine old town alleys and the massive 5th century Ark fortress.
Pamir Highway, Central Asia
Road trip connoisseurs consider this one of the world’s greatest mountain highways. Snaking through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, its paved ribbon takes in dramatic peaks and lakes, the scenic Wakhan Valley and the vast Pamir plateau, reaching heights of 4,655m. Stay in yurt camps while retracing the footsteps of Marco Polo.
Tian Shan, mainly Kyrgyzstan
The Tian Shan (Celestial Mountains in Chinese) is a trekking wonderland offering lush forested valleys, turquoise Alpine lakes and high meadows carpeted with wildflowers. The mountains are mighty impressive too, capped by the 7,439m peak of Jengish Chokusu.