A lack of originality in their names is more than made up for in the unique cultures, landscapes and experiences that these diverse countries have to offer. Each one conjures up images of tales from long ago, where the roads from the Far East to Europe were built upon silk routes and exotic goods travelling around the globe. Even though these countries were at the heart of this world changing trade route, very little is known about them, being shut off from the outside world during Soviet rule and as such are still shrouded in a certain sense of mystery and intrigue, 20 years after gaining their independence.
Nestled between Russia, China and India, the 'stans are a combination of desert, mountains and their infamous steppe grasslands. From the breathtaking turquoise waters of Lake Issyk-Kul, the vast Karakul desert and the red rock formations of Jeti Oguz Gorge to the impressive Tian Shan Mountains, you will be spoilt for choice whichever country you choose as they all have stunning scenery and landscapes for you to enjoy.
This is the ‘stan you’ve heard of, the one that might be on your list but you’ve never quite got around to visiting... well, we suggest you start your discovery of the ‘stans right here, in the heart of Central Asia. With a comparatively mild climate and being the most settled of the five it is a perfect way to get a taste for the region. Uzbekistan is a wonderful muddle of contradictions, in the middle of the bustling modern cities you can immerse yourself in the eastern bazaars and tea houses that evoke times gone by. Marvel at the impressive architecture in the brightest colours, their madrassahs and mosques are a spectacular sight to behold.
A vast country, it would take years to see the best of Kazakhstan. When touring around this newly revived country you will see gorgeous tulips blanketing the famous steppe and clear blue lakes in the mountains; with some of the most varied flora and fauna of the region, you will not be disappointed.
One for the nature lovers, with the most beautiful and serene glacial lakes and picturesque valleys, you’re unlikely to see anywhere more beautiful in Central Asia. Spring hills will be awash with colour in the form of wild flowers and you will be enthralled by the sight of Kyrgyz horses running sure-footedly over the mountain terrain.
Tajikistan has struggled since gaining independence, being the least stable of the five, but for those with a wild steak of adventure, the rewards of dramatic highlands await; they are the mountain climber and trekkers dream. If you make it to the Wakhan Valley and the ‘Roof of the World’ you will undoubtedly feel that it was worth going off the beaten track and stepping outside of your comfort zone to find this largely undiscovered gem.
Turkmenistan, a large desert state, has breathtaking sights, including the desert city of Merv, sacked by Genghis Khan himself and the Kopet Dag mountains (which translates as ‘a lot of mountains’ so you can imagine their scale!) Internet access is severely limited here, by the former dentist who is now President, but there is so much to see, you won’t mind leaving the modern world behind for a week or two.
Explore the ‘Stans with Jules Verne
The ‘stans are waiting to be explored by the intrepid traveller, either in one epic adventure or a few individual trips, each one promising to be as fascinating as the next.
The Golden Road to Samarkand is a great introduction to Uzbekistan and will show you why this ‘stan is the most popular and well known.
Peaks and Petroglyphs ventures deeper into the unknown, showing off the best landscapes and lakes of Kyrgyzstan and the typical Soviet style cities and high mountains of Kazakhstan.
For the more adventurous traveller, we recommend the Silk Road Express where you can follow in the footsteps of ancient traders and tick Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan off your list in one go, travelling in style on a private train.