Most Inspirational Moment
Seeing the ruins of Ulugh Beg’s observatory, completed in the 1420s. The museum next to it was fascinating and it made it clear that 600 years ago, he and his team were calculating the movement of the stars across the sky and also calculating the length of a year to within a minute of that calculated by computerised means today. Europeans didn’t get to this stage until at least 300 years later! Incidentally, I do think that school children wishing for a diverse curriculum, should be taught about this sort of ground breaking non - European scholarship.
Thoughts on Group Leader
First week: Dilshod was very much in control and presented a wonderful picture of his country, Uzbekistan. He is clearly very experienced, respected and well known to people wherever we went. I appreciated the clarity he brought to bear in outlining the day ahead and the kindness and consideration for each of us that he showed at all times. I have nothing but good to say about him.
Second week: Valentina was a very good guide and had the language skills for both countries and of course, Russian. She too was knowledgeable and forceful, when required.
My concern with Valentina occurred when we went to a Uyghur home for dinner. For me this was spoilt by her asking me whether I could see the Chinese Government’s perspective on wanting to prevent the Uyghur from creating their own independence. I diplomatically explained that it was natural for peoples around the world whose culture and connections (possibly nomadic) were severed by artificial national boundaries, to want a degree of autonomy and to express their opinions on the subject. She argued with me, which was particularly insensitive in a Uyghur household. I said this was not a conversation that should be continued. A few minutes later however, she pressed me on the same matter. I had to again say that we should talk about something else. This spoilt the last two days of the holiday.
Advice for Potential Travellers
This is a great trip which I would recommend highly.
Even in mid summer, it is cold in the mountains, so an extra layer of fleece or merino is needed.
Read up about the history of Central Asia before you go, as each site is well explained but without pre-reading and a good knowledge of timelines, it can be hard to place each site in its historical perspective.
As the guide books say, avoid restaurants near Samarkand's Registan Square; we ate there one evening and most of us were poorly for a few days afterwards. Otherwise the food was good and very inexpensive.
The trip organisation by Exodus was great and I again felt very comfortable travelling with them. Everybody I spoke to was helpful, friendly and knowledgeable and phone call are taken very quickly.
What would really help, in identifying fellow travellers at the airports on the outbound journey, would be either an Exodus Pin or luggage label for the cabin bag, for each traveller. This is really important because arriving alone and tired in an unfamiliar country, in the early hours of the morning possibly, is the point of greatest risk for travellers.