We’ve been blogging away, writing endless posts about this enchanting, little-visited land known as Central Asia. But what is Central Asia? Where the hell are the Goats? I think it’s about time that we fill our readers in on the area and why we’ve decided to travel here.

What Is Central Asia?:

Central Asia comprises of six countries: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Present Day Central Asia
Present Day Central Asia

A Brief History:

A good way to get a feel for a region is to know a little bit about what happened long ago. I know you’re not here for a history lesson so I’ll make this quick.

330 B.C: Alexander the great left Macedonia and conquered much of Central Asia and some of the Hindu Kush in India.

350 B.C – (arguably) Present Day: The Great Silk Road is born from the wonder and legends of Alexander’s conquests and slowly a network of trading routes begin to criss-cross through Central Asia, stretching from Turkey and Western Russia all the way to China. There was never ONE silk road, but many different routes and trading posts which ran through all the Central Asian Countries, as well the Middle East and Parts Of Europe. China pretty much ran the show sending Silk, Paper, porcelain and medicinal herbs to the west, while the orient received horses, gold, silver and ivory coming the other way.

William Robert Shepherd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Silk Road Route In Ancient Central Asia
The Silk Road is perhaps most notable for being the worlds first intercontinental information highway as religion, astronomy and mathematics travelled the roads with more historical significance than any material product.

680 B.C: Islam takes over Buddhism in the region just a few years after the Prophet Mohammed’s death.

1218 B.C: A Governor in present day Kazakhstan kills one of Chingis (Genghis) Khan’s messengers sent from Mongolia and this pisses off the greatest conqueror of all time. He sweeps his armies through the entire region. Nobody can match his archers’ skills as his armies battle their way all the way to the Ukraine. By the time of Chingis’s death in 1227 he owns one of the largest empires in history.

By Tsog (Private collection) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
Statue Commemorating Chingis Khan Near Ulan Bator In Mongolia
1271-98: Marco Polo and his family travel across Central Asia and Marco writes one of histories great travel epics: “The Travels Of Marco Polo”.

The 1800’s: The Russian’s come and swiftly (and cheaply) take over all of Central Asia. They bring with them a new dress code and the attempted abolishment of Islam in the region (it didn’t work).

The 1900’s: Russian policies, like forced collectivization and ongoing political repression cripple the region’s economy and moral. Resentment for Russian rule fuels numerous uprisings and eventually causes a revolution and civil war.

1991: All soviet republics of Central Asia claim independence from Russia. As they iron curtain rises from the lands, not all is positive. Subsidies stop coming from St.Petersburg and many of the Central Asian nations fall into an economic crisis.

Central Asia Today: 

Much of Central Asia’s population speaks Russian as a unifying language. In Northern Kazakhstan and many Central Asian cities there is a large population of ethnic Eurasian Russians. However, Russia’s liberal fashion sense and ethical behaviour is only left in small pockets, with much of the region returning to its conservative Islamic past.

Eyes Of A Young Muslim Girl Arslanbab Kyrgyzstan

The influence of Chingis Kahn also continues to resonate in the region, with each Central Asian republic claiming that he was a direct descendant of their ancestors. Even today, tracing one’s bloodline back to the conqueror is a source of great pride.

Islam is a large part of life for many Central Asians, though outside of Afghanistan there are very few extremest and many muslims even drink alcohol and wear shorts! There are mosques in every village and town and many make the pilgrimage to mecca (haj).

Why Did We Decide To Come Here?

Central Asia is spoken of in hushed tones amongst adventurous backpackers. This great, unknown spot on the map has been calling to us ever since we first heard stories of its wonder and cultural diversity. Perhaps one of the few places on our planet yet to be “discovered” by mass tourism, Central Asia has all of the main tourist draws without the throngs of visitors.

Kyrgyz Woman On A Horse

The region boasts stunning mountain scenery, immense steppe, dazzling alpine lakes, bewildering architecture, beautiful beaches, great fishing, unbelievably hospitable people, a dying nomadic lifestyle and some of the world’s most scenic drives. All of this excitement moves to the slow, welcoming tune of the Imam’s call to prayer that can be heard in any of these Islamic nations.

Muslim Man Walking To The Mosque

We are in Central Asia, a vast and astonishing place with something new to learn around every corner. We’ve slept with local families in their yurts, we’ve hiked over mountain passes on foot and trekked on horseback, we’ve dined in 5 star restaurants and gnawed on gristly mutton fresh from the fire pit. We’ve slept in beautiful hotel rooms and camped under the stars. We’ve learned about Islamic culture and about local traditions that vary between each neighbouring country. We’ve had our eyes opened as wide as they’ve ever stretched at the hands of world travel, and we’ve only just begun. We’ve barely dipped our toes in the vast pool that is Central Asia and we can honestly say… we love it.

Did you already know about Central Asia? Have you been here or hope to visit? Let us know below!

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Written by

Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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9 thoughts on “Goats On The Silk Road: Where The Hell Are We?

  1. I’m not good at history at all!!!!
    so surprised to see that you have traveled so many places after China.
    Now it’s the national holiday. We went to Jhonny’s house to take part in another BBQ.
    Missing you and Coleen. T.T
    Good Luck and Best wishes.

    No more history!!!!

  2. I am fascinated by this region and yet, have found that I’ve done almost no reading or research on it. Thanks for the brief history lesson. Is it possible to drive your own vehicle through the region?

  3. Hi Lina!

    Nice to hear from you. We miss you guys and China as well.

    We’ll try to not make you learn so much about history next time. haha.

  4. Hey Rhonda,

    Most people don’t know much about this region of the world – ourselves included, until we came here.

    It is possible to drive through the region, however there is a lot of red tape and bureaucratic nightmares associated with that. Getting insurance, parts in case of a breakdown, proper petrol, etc. are all difficult to come by. We’ve met many, many people who are cycling through the region, which is easier than having your own car.


  5. I took a university course about Central Asia. It was pretty interesting. I think it would have been really fascinating to see the region back in the early 5th century when the Chinese monk pilgrim Fa-Xian wrote “A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms” about his journey over land to India.

  6. It would have been fascinating for sure…travel days would have been even harder than they were for us doing it now in the 21st century 🙂

  7. Hi,

    Great article! Were you teaching in China before you left for here? I want to do a similar trip for you and I’m struggling to get an Uzbek visa in China. Do you have any advice?


  8. Yes, we were teaching English in China before doing the trip. I don’t know how to get an Uzbek visa in China, we got ours in Tajikistan.

  9. Just a quick note to say your years are a bit mixed up…you’ve gone from 330BC to 350BC as if 350BC is after 330BC. Remember BC is Before Christ so the bigger number is first. Because of this, some (most) of your dates should actually be AD (After Death)…Ghengis Khan was definitely not around in 1218BC if he only died in 1227AD. He was likely only born in 1162AD. 680BC should also be 680AD as Muhammed the Prophet of Islam lived from 570 – 632AD. Just thought I should let you know.
    I love your blog and after using it a lot for previous travel I am not looking to you again for a trip, hopefully next year, to Central Asia so thanks for keeping notes for us all 🙂

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