Central Asia and the Caucasus display a melting pot of Russian and Slavic roots with middle east Asian customs. Home to arid plains, deserts and mountain regions, it is an incredibly traditional and diverse place to explore with nomadic culture at its heart.
Central Asia consists of 6 independent countries, these include: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia. The region covers approximately 1,542,207 square miles and includes some of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. The total population of the area is estimated at around 51 million people with more than 30 million being from Uzbekistan.
Well known for its oil and gas reserves the region has undergone heavy industrialisation and education efforts and is comparatively as literary as other European countries. The region also features a variety of types of environments from arid plains, to deserts and mountain regions.
Culturally, central Asia is a melting pot of Russian and Slavic roots mixed with more traditional Middle East Asian customs. A considerable amount of culture comes from the soviet era when the then Soviet Union had interests in the region. The dominant religion is Islam, with most belonging to the Sunni branch. However, Buddhism (specifically Mongolian Buddhism) has also been observed within the region.
Often referred to as the crossroads of Asia, one of the regions indigenous form of art is a kind of improvisational oral poetry. The orator, often called akyns engage in a kind of lyrical battle against others, sometimes with an accompanying string instrument.
Mountain ranges block moisture loaded winds from the oceans leaving the air relatively dry in most of land-locked central Asia. Although mostly temperate, the region can experience large fluctuations in temperatures going form extreme heat to extreme cold.
There are many different regions within Central Asia with different climates and biomes. Some areas like the southern third of Kazakhstan experience a true desert climate with dry air and very little rainfall whilst some areas like the western third of Turkmenistan experience a steppe-like climate with more rain but still have arid plains.
The region’s east and south sides are bordered by Iraq, Afghanistan and western china and a majority of settlements can be found living alongside various rivers and in the foothills of mountains. The landscape of central Asia can be divided into the Aral Sea drainage basin in the south and the expansive steppes of Kazakhstan to the north. Over half of the region consists of desert land, the biggest of which is the Karakum. Most of the desert areas are too dry and hot for most life and most settlements in the region can be found close to the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river systems, which work their way through the region and drain into the Aral Sea.
This peaceful town in Kyrgyzstan the perfect gateway to experience authentic Krygz culture. Located on the east of Lake Issyk-kul Karakol encompasses many stunning sights from the Chinese built Dungan Mosque to the Impressive Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Skiers flock avidly to this region to experience the famous slopes and admire stunning views of the lakes from the peaks! The true highlight of visiting this quaint location however is undoubtedly people watching, rise early on a Sunday morning to watch local life flourish in the biggest cattle market of the region!
Mongolia's Gobi desert is one of few places on Earth to find complete solitude and serenity. Here ancient culture is preserved entirely, with farmers and their families living in traditional yurts called ‘Geers’ in isolated locations. A stunning expanse, the desert is filled with colossal sand dunes, ice filled canyons and endless plains. It is also home to the last remaining Bactrian (two-humped) camels, Mongolian khulan, and the only bears to survive the desert; the indigenous Gobi bears.
Travelling on horseback is an unbeatable way to explore many central asian countries and immerse yourself in the traditional nomadic culture. Far more than just a means of getting from A to B, these journeys are liberating experiences in themselves. As you ride through fields of wildflowers past breath-taking mountains you will experience the true heart of the region.
Featured Destinations in Central Asia & The Caucasus