80 Photos that will make you want to travel the Silk Road

The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that connected West and East, and Central Asia, today known as the Stans, was the heart of it.

From Alexander the Great to Marco Polo, many civilizations, empires, and traders have traveled across these lands leaving their footprints behind.

Today, Centra Asia is a culturally rich region full of history, mind-blowing architecture and where you find some of the most important cities in the Ancient world.

However, this remote part of the world is also home to a beautiful and accessible nomadic lifestyle that can’t be compared to anywhere else, as well as some of the most jaw-dropping mountains in the Asian continent.

I spent 5 months traveling in Central Asia and, in this article, I will tell you my journey through 80 photos which, hopefully, will inspire you to also travel the Silk Road.

A nomad lady baking bread with Lenin Peak (7100 meters) in the background, Kyrgyzstan
This is Tulpar Lake, a dreamy, alpine lake located in the Alay Valley in Kyrgyzstan, a few kilometers before Lenin Peak base camp
On the way to Lenin Peak advanced base camp, one of the most epic treks I have ever done
The landscape in this part of the world changes dramatically. These landscapes still belong to the trail to the advanced base camp of Lenin Peak
This is, officially, Lenin peak advanced base camp
The Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, often called the roof of the world and one of the most epic roads to drive through. In the end, you can see lake Karakul
A Marco Polo sheep statue and the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, at 4280 meters above sea level
Kyrgyz people doing a horse race. Note that this photo belongs to Tajikistan, not Kyrgyzstan. Most people living in the eastern Tajik Pamirs are ethnically Kyrgyz
Walking over the Pamir Highway, or M-41, once an important ”Silk Road” route, along which Marco Polo, as well as tens of civilizations and empires, traveled
More Kyrgyz people, this time practicing horse wrestling, a popular sport among Kyrgyz nomads
A Kyrgyz nomad milking her yak, somewhere in the Tajik Pamirs, very close the border with Kyrgyzstan
A Kyrgyz Muslim woman during her prayer time and her family, somewhere in the Tajik Pamirs
A nomadic yurt camp and some yaks
A Kyrgyz nomad separating the fat from the milk
A Kyrgyz grandfather and her grandchildren, inside their yurt
At the top of Gumbezkul Pass, a 5200m mountain pass that belongs to the Pamir range in Tajikistan
The Tajik Pamirs. Photo taken from 5000m above sea level. Can you spot a very tiny person?
Getting down from Gumbezkul pass, extremely steep, and so dangerous
Murghab’s main mosque, the main settlement in the Pamir Highway.
Murghab, the main settlement in the Pamir Highway, and a water tank which they still use from the Soviet Union times
Turkestan, the most important Silk city in today’s Kazakhstan
A beautiful Kazakh woman playing traditional music in Turkestan, Kazakhstan
A smiley Kazakh woman selling eggs in Shymkent, Kazakhstan
A cute nomadic Kyrgyz girl, somewhere in the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan
This is Tash Rabat, and the building used to serve as a caravanserai during the Silk Road times
Taking a break after a long trek with this beautiful horse, somewhere near Tash Rabat, Kyrgyzstan
Horse trekking, on our way to Tash Rabat Pass, at 4000m
Balbals, a sort of grave marked by the Turks during their journey through Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan
One of the most outstanding Silk Road Heritage sites in Kyrgyzstan, Burana is a minaret, the only thing that remains from an ancient city once called Balasagun, which was sacked by the Mongols in the 12th century and then finally destroyed in the 14th
Beautiful Song Kul, one of the most visited places in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz nomads live in these tents made of animal skin. They are called yurts
An epic sunset over a nomadic camp
More Kyrgyz man practicing horse wrestling, but this time in actual Kyrgyzstan
A young boy eating shorpo, a traditional regional broth
A nomadic Kyrgyz woman preparing some shorpo
Uzbek girls from Arslanbob, a town in Kyrgyzstan with a majority of Uzbek population
A Uzbek young boy and his donkey in Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan
A beautiful yurt somewhere in the Alay Valley
The Alay Valley in Kyrgyzstan is one of the most beautiful places in the country. This picture was taken at more than 3000m above sea level
Walking along the Alay Valley in Kyrgyzstan
The former Aral Sea, what used to be one of the largest bodies of water on Earth is today a desert that has turned into a ship graveyard. Photo taken in Moynaq, Uzbekistan
Bukhara, the birthplace of Imam Bukhari, a Muslim scholar and narrator of Prophet Muhammad, who wrote the Bukhari Shareef, the most important book about Islam after the Quran
Chor Minor, a tiny mosque with very little historical importance but it is very cute and very different from any other mosque I had seen before, Uzbekistan
The city walls of Khiva
The Old City of Khiva, Uzbekistan
Khiva is my favorite city in Uzbekistan, as it is small, cute and very pleasant to walk around
An Uzbek family wandering around the old city of Khiva at sunrise
The old city of Khiva
One of the many boats you can find in Moyaq, Uzbekistan
In the dried-out Aral sea, we camped next to the ship graveyard
A wedding in front of the Registan, in Uzbekistan
Traveling on a Soviet train through the endless Kazakh steppe
The train station of Atyrau, Kazakhstan
A camel wandering around the city of Aralsk
The semi-abandoned city of Aralsk, Kazakhstan
Aralsk used to be one of the most important cities for the fishing industry in the Soviet Union but today, it is a city filled with abandoned factories. The disappearance of the Aral Sea is the planet’s worst environmental disaster
This Lenin bust is located of a hanging out area that belongs to an abandoned factory in the city of Aralsk
Dried fish is a popular snack sold during the long train journeys in Kazakhstan
Aralsk and the dried out Aral Sea
A statue of Yuri Gararin, the first person to ever go to outer-space, today one of the most heroes in the former Soviet Union. I took this photo in the forbidden city of Baikonur, Kazakhstan
The Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan. The left side of the river belongs to Afghanistan and the right side Tajikistan
Afghan people in the weekly market that takes place in no man’s land, between Tajikistan and Afghanistan
Wakhi people somewhere in the Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan
More pictures of the Wakhan Valley. This is Panj river, whose left side is Afghanistan and the right side Tajikistan
Traditional, Tajik people somewhere in the Fann Mountains of Tajiistan
Happy kids somewhere in the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan
Doing village-hopping in the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan
A little shepherd girl and her baby goat, one of the most beautiful portraits I have ever taken
Tajik women hanging out in Khujand
Tajik women selling fruit in the main market of Khujand
A Tajik family hanging out in Khujand
The Silk factory of Margiland, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
The Silk factory of Margiland, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
The Silk factory of Margiland, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
Muslim man in Andijan, the most Muslim city in Central Asia, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
The Registan is the most imposing building in Uzbekistan and, perhaps, the most breathtaking Islamic building in the world, as its dimensions can’t be compared to anywhere else, not even the Shah mosque in Esfahan, Iran.
Inside the Registan
Uzbek woman visiting a beautiful shrine in Samarkand
Composed of three giant madrassas, you can easily spend the whole afternoon in the Registan. I recommend you come at sunrise, when nobody is around and, if you bribe the guard, you will be allowed to climb the minaret.
A beautiful mosque in Bukhara

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35 comments

  1. Thanks for these pictures and all your interesting blogs. It brought back many happy memories of our tour through these Silk Road countries in Central Asia. Just a pity that we Covid is keeping us home bound! I don’t know when we will ever be able to leave our country (South Africa) since the virus has not even reach a peak yet. We would have touring Western Turkey in September…! So for now we can only dream! Good luck with your plans.

  2. Beautiful pictures of your spectacular journey. As you have mentioned, they are inspirational. And gives me a remembrance of my own journeys many years ago. Travel low and slow and let the world open up before you.

  3. We drove our camper van from Scotland via Turkey, Georgia, Russia (Alania, Ingushetiya, Chechnya, Dagestan and Astrakhan), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (along the Pamir Highway) and China to the Chinese border with Laos before returning through Tibet, Kazakhstan and Russia in 2018. The Char Minar in Bukhara is now a shop, not a mosque. It was formerly the entrance to a mosque.

  4. Awesome collection of photos Joan. Thank you so much for compiling them. It is a visual treat that both me and my son enjoyed. Decades ago, when I was his age I used to read books about the Soviet union so it brought back memories. It is a road less traveled that is fascinating too.
    While looking at photos of Bukhara, (the architecture is breathtaking!) an old saying came to my mind. “Jo sukh Chajju de chaubarey, na Balkh na Bukhare” – it’s in Punjabi, my mother tongue and literal translation to English is-

    “The joy you find in Chajju’s one room home, you will not find in Balkh or Bukhara”
    It also implies that East or west, home is the best. The joy and pleasure of our simple home is incomparable to far away places. In this case the great ancient cities.
    Interestingly, trying to find the originals of the saying on the Internet, I came across another travel blog from Pakistan and apparently this one room home of Chajju actually exists in Lahore!! ( Chajju dey chaubaray)
    http://Www.meemainseen.com
    Check it out!

    God bless you and keep traveling safely and writing.

  5. Olivier Delobbe

    Thx again Joan for the very nice pictures.
    I have been more than 20 times in central Asia but I must admit that your pictures give me a push to go back again. I have still to do the Pamir highway. How could you travel there with Covid 19 crisis. Was it difficult to cross borders. All the best and keep safe

      1. olivier delobbe

        yes I was working there between 2007 and 2009 and I went also a lot there for leisure as my in laws used to live in Uzbekistan until recently. All the best

  6. These photos are incredible. This is a region i would love to travel to. My backpacking days were so long ago. Now with a toddler my travel style has changed drastically. I would love to travel Central Asia with my family. Do you think its feasible traveling with a 4 year old to this region?

    1. Absolutely! Central Asia is for anyone with a small sense of adventure, including families! A very close friend of mine crossed the entire region on a van with his 2-year old son 🙂

  7. Carl Mandabach

    Great Photos . You have a great talent for capturing the moment and showing people as they really live.

  8. Thanks for the photos. It’s nice to see places I know only from my book ¨The Great Game¨ by Peter Hopkirk.

  9. Love the photos Joan – you know how to capture the moment. Seeing some of your photos brought back some happy memories especially Tash Rabat when I cycled through there. Lenin Peak – advanced base camp looks an amazing place to visit. What about accommodation on the way? Did you have a tour guide?

    1. Hello! No, we didn’t have a tour guide. There is a yurt camp in the first base camp (but we slept in a tent) and then there an actual camp for alpinists in the advanced base camp. Going from one to another takes half day

  10. G Kanaga Sabapathy

    Hi Joan, thanks for your inspiring and incredible photos. I am aged 70 and last myself and my wife travelled in Europe in many places. This year we planned to go Turkey via Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. But unfortunately could not carry out the travel due to Corona and quarantine. After seeing these photos we are impressed to visit the country and meet the innocent people.
    I do not know what happened to the Aral Sea. How it dried up. After seeing the entire city of Aralsk, tears roll down my eyes.
    I hope by God’s grace if all are going well we plan next year. Thank you joan.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your message and sorry to hear that your plans got ruined due to Covid, but hopefully, next year you’ll be able to take this trip. The Aral Sea dried out because of the cotton irrigation. For decades, they used the water to irrigate thousands and thousands of hectares of cotton plantations.

  11. Excellent pictures, Joan, which remind me of my own travels in this area. I too visited the market on the island between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, but in which country is It situated? There were several Afghan traders offering their wares, but I don’t know if I have Actually set foot in Afghanistan.
    My Pamir Highway trip also took in Kashgar in China, but I doubt if that border is still open these days.

  12. Ken Harding Australia
    I wish at the start of these great photo’s you would indicate by map which route you took. In 1962 I went through North Pakistan to Gilgit which at the time I understood to be a section of the Silk Road, not as glamorous as the route you took buildings wise, but still very breathtaking with Mount Nanga Parbat 8,126 metres high hovering in the distance

  13. Hi Joan,
    I have no words that Fully express the extent of the beauty and innocence of the pictures that you share. It astonishes me To know that people still live in Yurts and preserve their culture from their ancestors.
    Once again you were able to capture the kindness and love of the people that you encountered. Such a wonderful experience . And I’m sure it’s etched in your mind and always an amazing memory to cherish.
    I am so happy that I have the opportunity to peek into a glimpse of your world. I always enjoy reading about your travels. Many thanks ! Joyce

  14. Thanks for including me. I haven’t been to the silk road but the pictures are And inspiration. So now that you’ve planted the seed it goes on my list 🙂 Joyce

  15. Nazar Mohamed Reyaz

    Thank you for the wonderful and inspirational photos. Hoping to visit the Stans in ’21. Dates not fixed yet. Waiting and hoping for the situation to improve ….

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