We are now doing a Five Stans tour. We started doing a Five Stans tour many years ago when we first started with mixed success, however, the recent demand for a tour of all five post-Soviet Stans has been overwhelming! Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan all in one place once again. Since we’re doing the Five Central Asian Stans, let’s do the number one highlight from each country in the order in which we’ll be visiting them.
This one is obvious, and I think it would be the same answer for 99.99% of anyone who has had the chance to visit this spectacular place as well as the rest of Turkmenistan. It is, of course, the Lebap Regional Bird Museum. Just joking! No, really, it has to be the Gates of Hell (Darvaza) – the big fiery crater in the middle of the Karakum Desert. This is such a big site it even has its own blog.
Winner: Gates of Hell
Uzbekistan is a little bit more tricky as there are so many amazing places and sites to visit. It really depends on what you appreciate as an individual, whether you like the big and magnificent or the smaller and more secluded. Part of me didn’t want to put the Registan because it seems too obvious, and there are so many other cool places, but ultimately it needs to be the answer. No other building represents the famous Silk Road more than the Registan. Located in Samarkand, this former Madrassa is all kinds of special and something you can sit and stare at for hours. The only downside is that due to its overwhelming popularity, inside the Registan, it’s lost a lot of its charm, as vendors fight to get prime position to sell their tacky souvenirs.
Tajikistan is known for its amazing nature; the Pamir highway is synonymous with getting away from civilization, but that does mean there is actually not much to do in Tajikistan since it’s so sparse. There is one fantastic building that really encapsulates what we’re all about, though. Khoja Obi Garm is a Brutalist behemoth Soviet-era sanatorium that is still in operation. The drive there is like the opening scene from the film The Shining. It’s run by the Tajikistan Trade Union organization to provide workers with rest and relaxation. The treatments are a little unorthodox as they include radon baths, electric shock therapy, pulsating circulation treatment as well as mud baths, acupuncture. It’s an absolute wet dream for any lovers of weird Soviet stuff.
Winner: Khoja Obi Garm
Next on the Five Stans Tour in Kyrgyzstan the Switzerland of Central Asia. Well, it has mountains and lots of them, and that’s really where the comparison ends, but boy they do their mountains well. There’s nothing quite like getting away from it all, but actually as far as away as possible, no mobile phone reception, no contact with the outside world, no way of getting internet, television or radio. Son Kol is where this can happen. Sitting by the second-highest Alpine lake in the world, sleeping in a yurt heated by a dried cowpat, seeing the stars the way you’ve never seen them before, there’s really nothing quite like it.
Winner: Son Kol
Almaty is a special kind of place. The world genuinely does not realize all the types of cool that Almaty is. It has a lot of the world’s cuisine, hipster burgers, craft beers, all mixed with some fantastic parks and architecture – everything from Russian empire era buildings, through to the Stalinist period, the 1950s Krushkevkas, the 1970s Brutalist designs and all the way to the modern structures of the 21st Century. It’s a great place to unwind after a long tour and just get out and explore. If you’re there in winter, skiing is just around the corner and in summer, Panfilov street is where it’s at to get a flat white, people watch and enjoy some buskers, while still being able to eat some horse sausage and get a thrill out of being in a place that most of your friends have never heard of.
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