I asked someone once,”..where do you think Central Asia is?”. They replied, “umm…the center of Asia?”. Well, it’s hard to argue with that answer, but the point is that to many this region is a foggy mystery. It’s place on the map and in history had become muddled, lost in the tumultuous storms of conquest, political instability and revolution. However, today Central Asia is growing in popularity amongst circles of adventurers and intrepid travelers as the memories of it`s wonders are rediscovered.
If all of that is lost on you though, you`re not alone. To be honest, I myself had little knowledge of or interest in this part of the world up until about 5 years ago, when I came across a photo online.
A young lady in traditional clothing smiled back at me with a strange beauty that I wasn`t accustomed to. Was she European? Asian? The shape of the eyes nearly conviced me of the latter but their piercing gray color together with the shade of her skin kept the girl`s origins shrouded in secrecy.
This amalgamation of racial features is common in Central Asia, a direct result of it`s location between Europe and Asia. Defining the borders of the region can be difficult at times depending on who you consult, but most generally agree that the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan (iffy) and Uzbekistan together make up “the stans” as their often nicknamed.
As the world changes, today Central Asia retains a rustic charm to the adventurer. Though it is true that some areas are unmistakably dangerous (looking right at you Afghanistan), many others are hidden gems of travel as it was long ago. I asked a pastor here in Japan about his missions trips to the area and he told me that it was like stepping into another world. This is a place that in many ways has remained unchanged since the times of the Mongol Khans, unspoilt, a place where time stubbornly stands still. Huge turquoise stoned mosques and Persian styled city gates stand triumphant amidst robed and turban adorned villagers. Outside the cities, families can be found living as their ancestors did on beautifully vast open grasslands called steppe. They are masters of the horse, learning to ride as early as 3 years old and tribes compete in traditional games of horsemanship. After a day`s work of tending sheep, they bed down for the night under glowing fields of stars in gers or yurts, traditional Mongol huts. In some places, a foreign traveler has never even been seen before with the people remaining open and courteous but overwhelmed with curiousity, staring eyes and open mouths being a common sight.
If you haven`t surmised the obvious already, Central Asia has officially entered my system and a trip is in the works for next year. While I`m limited in the impression that I can make of the place, not having been there myself, the research has been exciting nonetheless. This is Frontiers*nova after all, and they say Central Asia is one of the world`s last fabled frontier lands. That armchair is comfy and secure without a doubt, but I think I`d rather go for a little stroll and take a peak.