A Silk Road-inspired journey through three cities of Uzbekistan reveals a treasure trove of mesmerising art, architecture and cultural heritage, along with hints of modernisation. Text & Photographs by Aamir Wani

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The minaret of Kalta-Minor has become emblematic of Khiva. With a diameter of 15 metres at the foundation, the structure is 29 metres high. The tower was originally supposed to rise 70 metres above the ground, but its construction was stopped when the ruler of Khiva was killed in 1855.

The Silk Road played a significant role in not just the commerce of the old world, but also in shaping the future of the countries that lay on it. Today, it is mostly relegated to history books and travel pamphlets.

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The Islam-Khodja minaret is the tallest one in Uzbekistan, and in my opinion, the most beautiful. You can expect the view from up here to be really special.

Many destinations market themselves to tourists as important stops along the legendary trade route between China and the Mediterranean.

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Shah-i-Zinda is a shrine complex in the ancient city of Samarkand where faithful hearts remain in communion with God. It is a place for everyone with a sense of calm and openness; the beautiful patterns and details inside a tomb at the necropolis.

In Uzbekistan, the charm of a Silk Road-inspired journey lies in its simplicity. The Central Asian country has only recently opened its doors wide to tourism.

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Shah-i-Zinda consists of 11 mausoleums, which were built one after another in the 14th–15th centuries.

But I recommend you visit it sooner than later, before this path too is trodden by throngs of selfie-obsessed tourists.

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The site exhibits rows of sparkling blue tombs harmoniously juxtaposed in a lively and moving composition.

People often talk about the Chinese stretch of the Silk Road. Perhaps, this is why the Central Asian section of the route is far less travelled, but it certainly has no less to see.

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The Abdulaziz Khan Madrasah is a little gem in the town of gems, Bukhara. Its mostly unrestored 16th-century interior exhibits beautifully intricate detailing.

From the beautiful blue-tiled city of Samarkand to the unspoilt Bukhara and the ancient fortress city of Khiva, Uzbekistan has an abundance of charm.

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Khiva’s Islam-Khodja Complex is the first of Uzbekistan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is home to a towering minaret and a madrasa.

The cities I visited present thousands of years of history, art, architecture and cultural heritage—restored after repeated ransacking of the cities over time.

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Small bazaars, like this one in Khiva, transport you to an era gone by.

Many of the mosques and madrasas in the old towns have been turned into museums and offices, but the focus now seems to be on preservation.

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Situated in front of the Ark of Bukhara is the Bolo Hauz, which is the only monument of medieval architecture in Bukhara. It includes a Friday mosque, a minaret, and a water reservoir. The winter building was built in 1712, and the summer terrace with its decorated ceiling and wooden pillars in the 20th century.

Just like any country influenced heavily by modernisation, Uzbekistan’s camels have been replaced by bikes and cars, caravans of traders have been substituted by tourists and old mansion-style homes have become guesthouses.

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The mosque of Imam al Bukhari in Samarkand is a highly regarded religious centre built in 1998.

But don’t let this transformation detract you. With its intimate back alleys, bazaars and mesmerising domes, Uzbekistan is one of the few places in the world that makes you feel as if you have barged into another era, experiencing something wonderfully timeless.

Related: Here’s Why Uzbekistan Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List In 2019