Nikuv, and Other Quaint Places Along the Great Silk Road Less Travelled

China has become synonymous with cheap, mass-produced items that are widely available. Despite its current tarnished reputation, in ancient times China was better known for supplying the world with luxurious products like tea, porcelain, spices and especially beautiful silk. Handcrafted Chinese silk became so famous that the international trading route between Asia and Europe was named after it – The Great Silk Road. Always interested in places steeped in interesting history, I decided to explore part of this antiquated trading route. As usual I chose to delve into the less traveled areas where I am guaranteed to get an authentic taste of the place.

One of the ‘stans’ of central Asia in Marco Polo’s wake

Legendary merchant traveler Marco Polo was known as the first tourist to pass through the Silk Road, and I thought it would be fun follow in his five centuries old footsteps. Just like Mr Polo, the fearless adventurer, I wanted to go where no foreigner has ever gone before (or at least where tourists don’t bother going) and really discover one of the five ‘stans’; Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

I chose to visit Nikuv in Uzbekistan

The best way to really get to know the culture of a place is to hang out with the locals. What better way to do this than to go visit an old varsity friend. Oleg Nabiev missed his hometown Nikuv so much during the four years of his degree that I felt I already knew the place intimately. Nothing could prepare me for the real thing.

It is dry and you sit around drinking tea and playing dominoes all day

Like coffee houses are dotted around Mediterranean countries, teahouses abound in Uzbekistan. You need all that tea to keep hydrated! Although the average temperatures are not that high, the dry and arid weather makes you yearn for liquid refreshment. Much to my disgust green tea is the standard. Luckily the coffee was good too, although not popular.


Uzbek Manti, meat-filled dumplings
Uzbek Manti, meat-filled dumplings (source: wikipedia)

The cuisine consisted of dense comfort food, rich in carbs and fat. I really enjoyed Uzbek Manti, meat-filled dumplings served as street food with a sprinkle of chilli powder over. I only learned later that horse meat is a common substitute for lamb in Uzbekistan… According to Oleg this is not common in Nikuv, although likely in bigger cities. To be on the safe side I stuck with the delicious clay-oven baked bread and other vegetarian options for the duration of my stay.

Nights in Nikuv are gentle and entertaining

Nikuv comes alive as soon as the sun starts setting. The breeze seems to blow in a dose of cheerfulness and the tea houses become even fuller. I fell in love with the scent of jasmine carried around on the gentle wind. Friends and neighbours gather to enjoy traditional music and dance. I loved the deep sounds of dutars and the charming locals playing them. The dances were expressive, dancers using arms and eyes as though conveying a message that does not require words.

Home is where the heart is

The most impressive thing about Nikuv and Uzbekistan is the lack of industry. From pottery to knives to hats and silks, everything is locally made on a much smaller scale than in massive factories. A highlight of this trip was visiting my friend’s cousin at her workplace where she was weaving rugs with a manually operated weaving machine, driven by foot pedals. All the things I brought back hold a special place in my heart because it really felt like every item was hand-made with love. Now I know why Oleg was missing home so much.

32 thoughts on “Nikuv, and Other Quaint Places Along the Great Silk Road Less Travelled”

  1. I’ve always wanted to travel along the silk road and visit places that have existed for thousands of years. It’s amazing how to culture and the food affected the different countries along the Silk Road. Great article!


  2. i love to travel and to know people, food and their culture. And reading this article, I saw how Uzbekistan has a lot of things to offer when it comes to tourism. That will be my next destination!


  3. I enjoyed reading about your travels! I can’t imagine a place in the world where coffee is not popular, but each culture is certainly different; green tea is not my favorite either.


  4. Wow what a place like we are in the different world. The scene you have shared in the post is real? I love to take safari in such places this is incredible and awesome view.


  5. Oh my, horse meat in the dumplings? I wonder if Marco Polo had to deal with that too? lol It’s really cool to see a travel blog detailing these “quaint” places. I never much thought of visiting a place like this, but your well written article has planted the idea in my mind. What place in Africa has been your favorite so far?


  6. Curious about this country, people, food and economy! This place seems so tradition but rich, people needs to work by hand.. Which made me impressed!


  7. This is such a lovely article. As long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated By The Great Silk Road. I’ve read everything that I can about Marco Polo and his journey. Nikuv sounds like an amazing place to visit. I’d love to try Uzbek Manti, I bet it’s nice and spicy. I’ll be adding Nikuv to my places to visit list.


  8. Enjoy reading this travel post. I hope that one day I could put my foot down this historic place. By the way, In Chinese, The Great Silk Road is called 丝绸之路 🙂


  9. That was one of the most intresting articles i’ve read so far this week. People are so consumed by the large presence of China that they forget these places. Very well done and written.


  10. It sounds like a nice place to visit! I dont drink coffee myself, so I would have had to settle for some of that green tea. The horse-meat dumplings are probably not that bad, but it’s possible you might be a little ‘hoarse’ afterwards. I wonder what the infrastructure is like,insofar as internet access though.


  11. Nothing wrong with sipping tea and playing dominoes all day, sounds like the good life. And I love food rich in carbs and fat 🙂 Can’t wait to try out some Uzbek manti when I travel there on business this summer!


  12. I do like having cheap items, which means supporting manufacturing in China. However I also feel like this article makes it seem like non-mass produced goods are dying. Which is not true, just look at


  13. A really nice article, it has made me add all the stan’s to my list of places I want to go. Although I will try and avoid horse meat as much as possible!


  14. Uzbekistan looks like it is frozen in time as nothing has changed ever since. No wonder people coming from places like this would yearn for their home. That dumpling looks so tempting and is a favourite food throughout Asia. Well done Rafael, post some more.


  15. I am also thinking to visit in Uzbekistan to take tasty Uzbek Manti, And China diffidently i will go there once in my life time. thanks for you nice article.


  16. Your trip along the old Silk Road sounds amazing! I would love to visit out of the way places myself. It would be such a great way to learn about different cultures. You also can’t beat handmade, locally produced items as souvenirs. I have several that I brought back from Russia.


  17. I completely agree that you have to hang out with locals to really get a feeling for the countries that you visit. Too many foreign travelers seek out hotels and fast food restaurants that look familiar to them. What’s the point of that?


  18. Thanks for sharing your experience of Uzbekistan. It’s indeed the best way to discover a country with the help of local friends. What about the other great 4 “stans”. Which one would you recommend visiting first?


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