The great trade route from China to the West, known as the Silk Road, was opened in order to satisfy ancient Rome’s demand for silk in the 1st century BC. It saw a constant stream of merchants, laden with silk, spices, perfumes, and gems. The Golden Road, Uzbekistan’s stretch of the route, made a remarkable impact on the cities through which it passed. Their architecture is a heady amalgam of cultures and ideas, from the jumbled streets and high-walled citadel of Samarkand to the clay city walls of ancient Khiva and the delicate mosque of Bukhara.
The intervening landscape is stark, inhospitable, and spectacular, with jutting mountains, fertile valleys, and bleak, high plains. The highlights can be seen in an 8- or 10-day trip by bus or 4WD, and there is a slow but reliable train.