Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey are smoldering cauldrons of culture. Ethnicity, geopolitics, language and religion meld into a potent brew. From the jagged mountainous landscape of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, to the exotic splendor of Uzbekistan, the plateaus of Kazakhstan, the highlands of Armenia, the Caucaus mountains in Georgia and the oil rich opulence of Azerbaijan to the coasts of the Aral Sea, the Caspian, the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, nature has sculpted a dramatic landscape of stark beauty, even as warlords wielded their swords to created some of the most powerful kingdoms in history.
Architecturally magnificent, the stark beauty of the landscape forms a fitting backdrop to what can only be described as poetry in stone –Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Registan Square in Samarkand, and the soaring minarets of Khiva and Bukhara to name just a few. Even as the dust settles over these vestiges of empire, its natural beauty, unbelievable hospitality, ancient history and incredible gastronomy shine like rare jewels in today’s world.
Known for its fine arts, architecture, embroidery and handicrafts, some extremely versatile artists, musicians, poets, craftsmen and writers have emerged from this part of the world. And did we say gastronomy? If ever there was a land of wine and honey it is the Caucasus. The very first wines ever to be pressed out of grapes was in Georgia, and likewise the distinctive liquor from a deeper fermentation that the world knows as Armagnac, comes from Armenia. Central Asia and Turkey alike are known for their succulent meats, sumptuous breads, and fragrant grains. An unrivalled culinary tradition of subtle flavor blended with spices from the Near and Far East, tingles the palate – not to mention an elaborate tea tradition that cuts across The Silk Road Stans, along the Caspian Sea, into Turkey. More than sustenance, cuisine in this part of the world is about custom, and meals are a distinctive part of community culture.
Continually occupied, invaded and conquered, this region has given rise to history’s greatest legends – from Noah to Genghis Khan to Stalin to Kemal Ataturk! Ancient stamping grounds of the Assyrians, the Persians, the Armenians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Mongols, the Arabs, the Turks, the Ottomans and the Imperial Russians – this entire tract of the world went behind the Iron Curtain after World War II. Only Turkey remained separate and retained its independence, even after Ottoman rule came to an end.
Inevitably, there is an amalgam of religious beliefs that proliferate in these parts. While Islam currently dominates the region, there are distinct groups of Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jewish believers. You cannot miss a visit to the ancient Azeri site of fire worship and the petroglyphs that date from antiquity, just outside Baku. In some of the more remote parts of Central Asia, Shamanism is a common practice and the influence of neighboring China has brought in Confucianism, Daoism and several other schools of Chinese philosophy.
Gregarious and full of humor, wit and wisdom, there is always an open door and a cup of tea or coffee for any visitor who steps across these thresholds. Worldly and wise, these are people who have truly seen history stand the test of time.
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