11-13 SEPTEMBER 2022
Sometimes it takes a lot of preparation to travel to distant places. And yes, it will take me three days to arrive at my destination of Almaty. In the case of what travelers typically lump together as “The Five Stans,” my first challenge was locating the countries on a map, remembering their five names, and learning how to spell them. Though we tend to lump them together as one destination, each country is unique and deserves more than telling friends I am headed for the 5 Stans of Central Asia.
First, these countries consist of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. All were once under the boot of the Soviet Union; all are fiercely independent; all have large Muslim populations; all have fascinating roots in ancient history; and all five deserve a visit.
It has been four years since I began planning this trip – consisting of two Covid cancellations and repeated scheduling and rescheduling experiences. At this point, I am relieved to be able to just get there. With flying iffier than in the past, I find it wise to take it slower with longer layovers. After all this time, I do want to be in Almaty on the 13th.
Booking this trip has not been easy. I was to fly into Almaty, Kazakhstan and depart from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Not a lot of airlines service this route, at least not ones I want to board. However, Turkish Air schedules flights and they partner with United, my preferred airline. The difficulty is United and Turkish do not play nice with each other. Nor does Turkish Air have good connections leaving Istanbul (I don’t count 7-8 hours on the ground good connections even if it is in their new airport).
BUT NOW THERE ARE FOUR
After the disastrous effects of Covid-19, closed borders, a country that forbid its news to even mention the offensive “C” word, it comes as no surprise that Turkmenistan is no longer on the itinerary. Its borders remain closed. The tour has been shortened by a week and some very interesting sites eliminated. So back to my drawing board to make lemonade from the lemons the Turkmen autocrats have dealt me.
I look forward to learning about the remaining four Stans, all lesser-traveled countries of Central Asia. I am always fascinated with the history of ancient civilizations and of those countries who were successful in removing the USSR boot from their necks. This is the part of the globe which hosted travelers along the Silk Road. Genghis Khan slept here (but then Genghis really slept around a lot). It is the region of the infamous “Mongol hoards.” Marco Polo hoofed it across the region. Tamerlane and Alexander the Great recognized these lands as special. And they are.
I fly to Almaty, Kazakhstan. I am ready to learn what these great men saw in this part of Central Asia. I’m open to see what goat polo is all about.