central asia

Tossed in the pit in Bukhara


Entrance of the Ark, Bukhara I went to Uzbekistan because I read a book twenty years ago that has always stayed in my mind. The Great Game is a 19th century tale of espionage and exploration in the high mountain passes and deserts of Central Asia during a period of rivalry between Tsarist Russia and imperial Britain.  The Russians were spreading their influence south, and the British knew...

The night two million in cash went missing


“I’ll just stop by that ATM and get some cash.” We’d been wandering Khiva’s old town all day, poking into forgotten madrassas, and I was running low on som. I’d seen both locals and foreigners use the West Gate machine, so I knew it accepted foreign plastic. I slid in my Visa card, entered my PIN, and asked for 2,000,000 in cash.  I heard an agonized whirring from deep inside. It went on for...

When Central Asia changed the world


Kalta Minor Minaret Europe wasn’t always the centre of world culture.  In the Early Middle Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, most of the continent was a pestilential backwater of ignorance, declining trade, squabbling princes and corrupt priests. If high culture and learning was what you wanted, you would have been wise to hitch your ox cart for Central Asia — the centre of the commercial...

The cruel khans of Khiva


The East Gate of Khiva “They looked like lambs in the hands of their executioners,” wrote Arminius Vámbéry in his 1864 book Travels in Central Asia.  “Whilst several were led to the gallows or the block, I saw how, at the sign from the executioner, eight aged men placed themselves down on their backs upon the earth. They were then bound hand and foot, and the executioner gouged out their...

Time-lag tired in Tashkent


Amir Temur Square It feels awfully nice to type 2,000,000 into an ATM and have a big stack of money come out. The good news: my card worked. The bad news: 2,000,000 som is only around €145. The only time I’ve held more cash in my hands was after changing $50 USD on the street in Rangoon in 2002. I took it back to my cockroach infested hotel and physically rolled in it. But there would be none of...


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