Of Marco Polo, Tamerlane; the Rest of the Gang

Kent M from Quadra Island, BC, returns from the exotic history of the great Central Asian explorers and leaders.

In my high school Social Studies class nearly 50 years ago, I first heard about the Silk Road, its centuries of east-west trade and intercultural mixing, the exotic cities of Samarkand and Bukhara situated along it, and the adventurer Marco Polo and the mighty and ruthless Genghis Khan and Tamerlane who swept through that region now known as Central Asia. It all sounded incredibly exotic to me then and has fascinated me ever since.

In June 2019, I fulfilled a personal dream by heading to that rarely-travelled area of the world. I signed on to a two-week group tour of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that was offered by G Adventures, headquartered in Toronto. In my pre-trip planning, I was delighted when ServasOnline yielded the names of five Servas hosts in Uzbekistan—convincing me that, if Servas isn’t ubiquitous globally, it comes pretty close!

Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s capital, with a population of 2.5 million. It was here that I met up and stayed with my wonderful Servas hosts Kerri and Piers, a couple who were born in Australia but have lived and worked in such diverse countries as Turkey, Malaysia, and now Uzbekistan. Kerri teaches English and Piers is a private tutor. Having been based and employed in Tashkent for a year prior to my arrival, they provided me with their from-away take on the local life, and I soon found that the three of us shared the intrigue of being in a vastly different culture.

Uzbek is a Turkic language and, possessing fluent Turkish from her six years of living in Turkey, Kerri was able to converse easily with the neighbourhood bakery and market vendors as we made various purchases for our at-home meals. She, Piers and I also promenaded the tree-lined pedestrian walkways in the city centre, and took in a Rachmaninoff opera at a downtown concert hall. However, I was equally grateful for the practical help and moral support that Piers and Kerri provided me upon my Tashkent arrival, when I discovered that my checked backpack did not appear on the luggage carousel. The two of them went well beyond the call of duty as Servas hosts to assist me with my online checking and phone calls and to accompany me on office visits to locate and finally obtain my backpack 48 hours after it went AWOL.

My days in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were as riveting as I had hoped they would be. With the region being predominantly Muslim, our group saw dazzling mosques, minarets, and madrasahs (Islamic religious schools). Watchtowers and way stations along the ancient Silk Road harken back to camel caravans. Remnants of Soviet control of the region persist in some of the signage. Handicrafts of wood, metal and carpets abound. And the landscape—increasingly desert as we headed west and then south—has a remarkable vastness and beauty of its own.

Did you appreciate Kent’s tale? If you have travelled with Servas Canada and would like to share some of your news and a couple of photographs as a Travellers’ Tale, please contact us.

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