TRAVELLING THROUGH UZBEKISTAN can sometimes feel like you’re visiting a museum, with so many magical, ancient monuments that burst from the history books.
Conveniently situated between Tashkent and Samarkand, the Nuratau mountains area welcomes visitors to experience traditional rural life. Affordable and comfortale homestays can be arranged by several community organizations, allowing a glimpse into life in the villages. Hike between communities. Sit under the trees drinkng tea as fresh fruit falls. Even if you are not lucky enough to catch a wedding, you’ll be made to feel an honoured guest, not a paying client.
Stretching out above the Kyzylkum Desert, the Nuratau mountains make an ideal nature based break from the silk road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
The area is almost entirely based around traditional agriculture and village life.
Several villages in the area are set up to receive guests in simple homestays, clean and warm in every sense. (This is just a regular farmer's house.)
Tajik and Kazakh villages are common, usually pretty places tucked into the fertile valleys, growing fruit and nuts.
The way of life survived the Soviet collectives and remains little changed by the modern world.
Guided trkes through the hills and villages are easily and affordaby organised by community based groups.
The contrast between the brown hills and desert plains, and the cool villages shaded by fruit trees is extraordinary.
A lot of time will be spent on the topchan (day beds), drinking tea, eating fruits, chatting away. Our guide and his mother.
Wildlife watching is not big in the area, although we did see a number of endemic birds, as well as the ubiquitous hoopoe.
The highly endangered Severtzov wild sheep (Ovis Ammon Severtzovi) graze in the Nuratau Natural Reserve. Over 630 types of plants grow here, attracting 160 bird species.
On our last day in the area, we were lucky enough to attend a Tajik wedding.
Everyone was invited, even us foreigners, and they came by Lada, truck, horse and on foot.
The father of one of he brides here leads the celebration as his daughter arrives.
But it is the women who take the lead, singing and dancing and carrying on in ways they probably wouldn't normally be permitted.
Seemed to me that the older they were, the more they were breaking out the moves.
Wife and I were "encouraged" to do the hands in the air dance, as if we had any choice.
The bride is expected to look sad as she is leaving her family. The grooms didn't look like they were having much fun either, unlike all the elder ladies.
After being ushered into the main house, the newlyweds emerged, newly wed, and spent the rest of the day sitting stony faced at the main table.
Lamb, plov (rice), bread, salads, fruit, sweets, samosa and copious amounts of vodka were turned on.
With literally hundreds of guests to cater for, families often conduct double headers to share the expense.
Seating was largely segregated by sex (us foreigners excepted) but no such separation was evidenced on the dancefloor.
Like most cultures, a wedding is the biggest event in family and village life, and to experience this was a privilege.
And there was great collection of facial hair too!
Even away from the wedding, the Nuratau hikes gave us an insightful peek at traditional farming and village life.
History runs deep here, too. These village walls date back to the Sogdian era, 2500 years ago. Caravans of traders and armies of conquerors have passed through ever since.
Numerous old petroglyphs date from the bronze age.
This beautiful old jeep may need a bit of work to get on the road again.
But the donkeys still lug the fruit and nuts from orchard to village to market.
Uzbekistan is rightly famed for its silk road cities and historical gems, but the villages and mountains were always part of that history.