Tamerlane, ruler of an empire stretching from India to Asia Minor, was as fond of building and boasting as an Egyptian pharaoh. Above the doorway to his massive palace he had inscribed: "If you doubt our power, look at our buildings." Centuries later, that challenge remains the most compelling reason to visit Uzbekistan.

Unlike most of Central Asia, where nomadic traditions prevailed, Uzbekistan is custodian to a rich urban culture. The names of its cities—steeped in the mythology and romance of the Silk Road—evoke legendary images: Samarkand, Tamerlane's imposing capital; Bukhara, the revered place of pilgrimage; and Khiva, the remote and isolated oasis. These cities located along the ancient Silk Road (trade routes that linked China to Europe) still have a wealth of historical real estate, and the signature Central Asian Islamic architecture is the main draw: tall, arched portals, bulbous turquoise-blue domes, minarets resembling smokestacks or lighthouses—all covered in beautiful tile and bearing gorgeous Arabic inscriptions from the Quran.

When it comes to tourist facilities, the level of comfort never reaches a very high mark. However, improvements are gradually being made: New hotels have been built, old ones have been remodeled and bed-and-breakfasts are popping up in every city. All-inclusive group packages are still the most common form of travel, but individual customized tours, which include a car and driver, are gaining in popularity. In spite of jet travel, Uzbekistan remains as much a remote destination as it was in the days of camel caravans. But after a long flight, you'll be rewarded with glimpses of Asia, the Middle East and eastern Europe, all in one country.

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