Central Asia today consist of five independent republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. From its beginning in 1917, the Soviet state never included Kazakhstan in Muslim Central Asia, preferring to give it a non-Asian identity by linking it closely to Russia and Siberia. Today, however, the Kazakhs themselves and the world at large believe they are very much part of the region. Central Asia covers an area of 3,994,300 square kilometers which includes some of the most sparsely populated regions in the world. Its population of only 51 million people includes more than 100 different ethnic groups, from Germans and Austrians to Tibetans and Koreans. The largest ethnic group is the Uzbeks. Uzbekistan has a population of more than 30 million, and Uzbeks from substantial minorities in all other four republics.
Tashkent and Ashgabat, the capitals of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have long urban histories but the other three capital cities, Dushanbe in Tajikistan, Almaty in Kazakhstan and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, were created by the Bolsheviks to give a sense of ethnic identity to those nationalities. Uzbekistan contains all the most famous historical cities of Central Asia: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand. There were the seats of nomadic empires and settled kingdoms in the past, as well as being centers in the development of Islam throughout the region. For centuries the hundreds of madrasahs, or Islamic colleges in Bukhara and Samarkand attracted students from as far away as Marocco and Indonesia. Bukhara is seen by many Muslims as a place of pilgrimage and the most important city in Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Central Asia was also the birthplace of Sufism, the mystical trend in Islam which spread rapidly to Africa and Asia.
Discover this diverse and rich region for yourself on one of our tours. Book your Central Asia travel experience to explore one country in depth, or visit all five Stans to get a fuller understanding of each country. No matter your choice, travel in Central Asia will leave you with unforgettable memories of an under-explored region!