Beam Me Down

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The Independent Travel
FIRST REACTION

I wonder if that ancient steppe farmer with the straggly beard might have a global-positioning satellite system tucked away in his tent.

COUNTRY AND REGION

This is the southern region of the Uzbekistan Republic, just on the border with Turkmenistan. You may wish you had landed in a more populated area.

NEAREST SETTLEMENT

You are not too far from the cotton-growing village of Alat, which is 64km from Bukhara and accessible via the Trans-Caspian Railway.

NATURE OF THE TERRAIN

Monotonous dry, treeless steppe, dotted with the odd grazing camel, for as far as the eye can see. And much, much further.

ALTITUDE

Between 100 and 200 metres.

LIKELY WEATHER CONDITIONS

Extreme. While the summer months can be sizzling hot, with temperatures reaching 45C, right now it is winter and temperatures are plunging below zero. When the wind blows, man and beast must seek shelter or perish.

USEFUL LANGUAGES

Uzbek is the official language and is spoken by 74 per cent of the population. Russian is also spoken by 14 per cent of the population, but if you really want to impress people in Samarkand and Bukhara, try speaking Tajik.

POSSIBLE HAZARDS

Since independence from Russia, the national health system has deteriorated, creating a medicine shortage. Take your own first-aid kit and watch out for undulant fever, caused by bacteria in unpasteurised milk products. The police are not above asking for bribes either.

TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER

President Islam Karimov of the Republic of Uzbekistan has been in charge since Soviet days. He is your main man here and he smiles down from most roadside billboards.

REASONS FOR HANGING AROUND

This is one of the most fascinating of the Central Asian Republics. The region was part of several old Persian states and was conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. In just one country you can visit three of the major stopover cities of the Silk Road: Bukhara, Khiva and the mythical Samarkand.

GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE

Hitch a ride on a farmer's horse-cart and aim for Alat or Karakul. From there you can take the Trans-Caspian Railway - originally launched as a route across Asia by the Russians in the 19th century - to Samarkand. Catch a flight to Europe from Samarkand or nearby Tashkent.

Compiled by Sara Manuelli

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