Category Archives: Central Asia

A Town in China with Roman Empire Descendants

At the edge of the Gobi Desert, Liqian, a remote town, YongChang county in China inhabits descendants of the ancient Romans with striking Caucasian features of blond hair, green eyes and that typical roman nose.

It isn’t a surprise that these Chinese look astonishingly Central Asian, this area of China was part of the  Silk Road, a 7,000-kilometer trade route that linked Asia and Europe more than 2000-2500 years ago.

What was surprising however, Chinese archeologists in 1990s found remnants of an ancient Roman fortification in this village.

The villagers practise a game similar to the ancient Roman bull fighting and also worship bulls. DNA testing in 2005 confirmed that some of the villagers have 50% Caucasian origins which lead to the conclusion they are descendants of the ancient Roman army. This however has detractors apprehensive due to the county being part of the Silk Route, where the Asians and Europeans intermingle.

Liqan Roman descendants

Cai Junnian has yellow wavy hair, a hooked nose and green eyes. A DNA test in 2005 confirmed he is of 56 percent European origin.  Image by Natalie Behring

“Mr Cai said his great-grandfather told him that there were Roman tombs in the Qilian mountains a day and a half’s walk away, but he had never connected them to the unusual appearance he inherited from his father. “People thought I had a skin problem,” he said.”

China roman map


Aral Sea in Uzbekstan

That’s me in the Aral Sea, north of Uzbekistan with the rusting fishing boats.

The Aral Sea is one of the places you must visit in Uzbekistan. The boat graveyard serves as a remember of how an inland sea can quickly disappear within 1-2 single generations. Remember to bring really thick and warm clothes as the winds can be crazy cold.

Ayaz Kala Fort, Khorezm Desert, Uzbekistan

Khorezm Desert

Ayaz Kala Fort, Khorezm Desert, Uzbekistan

“I don’t want to travel to everywhere, I just want to travel to Somewhere.”

It got cold while I was there, temperatures dropped from 5 – 1oC and with me not bringing my winter clothes, I was wearing everything I brought. Just like my quote here, I don’t wanna go everywhere in every part of the world, just a few places.

Ayaz Kala, Khorezm Desert

Karakalpakstan Region

Ayaz Kala (Kala means Fort),  Khorezm Desert,  Karakalpakstan Region of Uzbekistan

Once a vibrant city fort two thousand years ago, now a crumbling pile gradually weathered away into dust in this semi dry arid Khorezm Desert. Most people here are nomadic and I hardly saw anyone in this deserted area.

The Aral Sea, Moynaq, Karakalpakstan State

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Moynaq (Munyak), Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan

It’s timely I am posting this, there was recent news about the Aral Sea. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters. The Aral Sea, situated in the Karakalpakstan State of Uzbekistan, was once the world’s fourth-largest in-land sea, it has since shrunk by 90 percent, the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a failed Soviet cotton production project. The disaster had ruined the once-robust fishing economy around Moynaq town and left fishing trawlers stranded, as seen in the photos, impoverishing the whole area.  The whole area lost so much water that the whole area has turned into a salty sandy wasteland.

I met these young kids chopping fire wood from the salt bushes around the desert areas, they speak a little english and asked me where I came from and how old was I and if I could spare them some american dollars. Although I declined, they continued communicating with me, through my notepad, we drew little objects as a way of asking questions, quite a friendly pair of boys, I came to know they lived around the area in town and walked here for fire wood and for their goat, and one was part of the Kazakh people and the other was half russian, they were about 14 years of age. They were quite enthusiastic about getting me to take their photos by posing in various places. They gave me their address and I promised to send them photos, I don’t know if those photos ever reached them.

The later part of the evening, a few other groups of children came along to collect fire wood, I chatted with them, interesting to find out that almost half of them had russian parents who migrated to this region (probably for fishing and soviet organised industries)  and the other half was from the Kazakh area. However one particular group of  young children came along later, much younger and were quite the  rude ruffians when they demanded for some money.

Curious about the Karakapalstan state, and had wanted to visit a much wider area prior to travelling to Uzbekistan, I was tempted to stay a night around this town to find out more about how people live around this place. It wasn’t as bleak as I had initially thought it was.

I was with a few other travel companions, and almost wanted to spilt up with them to discover more, they were quite unwilling to stay around this area and a few grew quite impatient with me lingering around the area. Alas one of the many disadvantages of group travelling. You don’t get to choose where you want to go.  This was one of my regret of not staying around the town to visit the Karakapalstan state.

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, MoynaqAral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, Moynaq

Aral Sea, MoynaqAral Sea, Moynaq

Travel Info : Before Getting to Uzbekistan

This has been one of the most expensive travel visa I have ever applied for. As with most Central Asia Countries, they require a letter of invitation from a tour agent prior to applying for a tourist visa. A little hassle, tons of emails and quotes from all the travel agents later, I got my visa and air-ticket.

Here’s all the information

  1. You need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) or Visa Support from an Uzbekistan Travel Agent
  2. The agent will supply you with a LOI number required to apply the travel Visa with your respective Uzbekistan embassy. Took me 1 week to get the LOI.

Getting the Uzbekistan Letter of Invitation (LOI)

Many Uzbekistan travel agents require you to buy their travel products before giving you the visa support for letter of invitation either for a price or for free. It is up to you whether you want to take up this offer, some tour companies require you to book all your accommodations with them, such as Their travel website gives pretty good info on Uzbekistan as well as the different Stans.

There’s the popular whose main business is basically selling Letter of Invitation (LOI) to travellers going to Uzbekistan, Azbebaijan, Kaakhstan, Kyrqyzstan, Turkmenistan. They get their LOI from the travel agents based in the respective stans. If you are planning to visit all the “Stans”, I would recommend you to use them.

The Uzbekistan LOI visa support from Stantours cost us$35 + bank charges.

Don’t pay them through Telegraphic Bank Transfers, it ended up costing me more than us$45 (sg$63), Stan tours require you to pay the bank charges over at their bank of us$20 per transaction. Pay them through Moneybookers which charges a commission of 5%.

The other alternative, a little more hassle is to go direct to the source of the LOI, StanTours gets their LOI from

Arostr Travels require you to pay them through Western Union, although you might be able to negotiate by paying them upon arrival at the airport if you employ their other travel services. They will give you Free LOI if you spend us$500 or more on their services. Be prepared for some slow email response, they take some time to reply.
Updated : Contact Alex of Arostr Travel ,/b>, he may be able to meet up with you personally for the LOI. I also got my train tickets from Tashkent to Bukhara from Arostr. us$21 + us$4 booking fee.

AROSTR travel agency,
Afrosiab street, 66 flat, 13 house, Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Tel: +998 71 256-40-67. Contact: Mr Airat Yuldashev mob.: +998 (90) 186 86 48
email :

Getting the Travel Visa from the Uzbekistan Embassy

You can get a list of Uzbekistan Embassy offices in your respective countries here

I got my travel visa from the Singapore office.

Uzbekistan Embassy in Singapore
20 Kramat Lane, #04-01/02 United House, 228773, Singapore
(Behind Le Meriden Hotel at Orchard Road)
Tel: +65 67343942 , +65 67343943
Operation hours : 10am – 5pm, Mon-Fri

As of September 2008, according to the consulate, submission and collection of travel visa is as above. They have yet to update their website as the time of this post.

It will take 2-3 working days to process the travel tourist visa, call them up prior to check if they have received the LOI application before going over.

You would need :

  • Printed copy of the LOI
  • Two Passport photo
  • Your current passport
  • Two computer printed visa application form, no hand filled form accepted.

You also need to pay them via bank deposit at
USD Account: 260-581954-178

They don’t accept cash payment.

I paid us$65 + rate charges (ard SG$95) for a 15 days travel tourist visa.

It is possible to send a courier down to the embassy, make phone arrangements with the friendly Uzbek consulate at the Singapore Office.

Flying to Uzbekistan
If you are departing from Singapore, best is to fly direct from either Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Other alternatives would be the more expensive Korean Airlines (fly via Seoul), Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul)

Uzbekistan Airways is annoyingly inefficient and does not email you on the flight schedules. Their website is outdated and has faulty info. The Bangkok Branch does not reply any of my email enquires, the Kuala Lumpur fails to provide any helpful information except by referring me to their similarly inefficient and incredibly slow Singapore agent.

Should you need to communicate with them and their Singapore agent, you need an incredible amount of patience and persistency, somehow they are still locked into the old world of thermal paper faxes and telephones. They will take at least 1 week to response to your emails, or a few days over the phone. There is only one person handling all their operations in Singapore , getting that person’s attention is rather frustrating at times. Keep calling them for flight schedules. They seem to change all the time so be prepared for it.

Uzbekistan Airways Agent in Singapore
Golden World Travel
60 Eu Tong Seng #03-28, Furama Hotel Shopping Center
tel: +65 6323332

Uzbekistan Winter Flight Schedule 2008 : Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok to Tashkent flies only Tues, Wed
Check Uzbekistan Airways for latest flight times

A time of travel
My Airticket cost us$870(sg$1240) with taxes included.
Internal Flight from Nukus to Tashkent : Sg$115.00 one way.

Taking the Train in Uzbekistan

You can avoid the hassle of booking the train online by emailing and pay them the commission. Especially if you are buying the LOI from them, get the train tickets and have them meet up at the airport or the train station so that you can pay them in person. They won’t mind meeting you there if you tell them you are from Singapore. *wink wink*

Otherwise here is the train schedules

Uzbekistan Railway –
Only in Uzbek and Cyrillic, you can use google translator to figure around the website

Trains in Uzbekistan Blog
Some kind soul actually post the train schedules, somewhat up to date, but its good and great to plan your schedule.

My Itnerary

Here’s what i did

    Arrive to Tashkent
    Overnight train to Bukhara
    Bukhara to Khiva via Urgench (train)
    Khiva to Nynus (car)
    Nykus to Moynak (car)
    Nykus to Tashkent (flight)
    Tashkent to Feragana valley (flight)

    I would recommend skipping Feragana valley if you are heading to Tajikistan for hiking.

    As much as I wanted to, I could not visit more of the Karakalpakstan state and visit the nomads which surrounds this quite desolate place. Maybe if I ever visit again, this would be the place I would focus on.

Uzbekistan maybe?

Bukhara talisman Bukhara talisman
Silver Talisman from Bukhara

Decided to join T whom I know through a few travellers for a 2 weeks trip to Uzbekistan, Central Asia.

Had always wanted to visit Samarkand and Bukhara (Uzebekistan) ever since I visited a curio shop in Sydney more than a decade ago. This father and daughter outfit had a shop full of antiquities collected from their exotic travels. The shop collections came from tribes of north china, africa, india, middle east to central asia, all collected from the 1980s-early 1990s.

I picked up a few rather overpriced jewellery, was told by the father that it was from Bukhara, Central Asia once it was a vibrant trading centre, his travel stories was quite amazing. Being just a poor student visiting Sydney, never imagined I could ever afford to visit these places he had been. Was quite in awe with his stories and adventures, in a way he did influence me unconsciously. Bought two slightly cheaper priced silver talisman which he had traded from Bukhara, the silver plated jewellery is suppose to be worn on the sleeves as form of protection.

If only someone told me I didn’t need tons of money to travel and explore the world when I was younger, poor unemployed student! I would have taken to the rest of the world!

Will tell you more about my plans when I visit NATAS, the local travel fair this weekend. Hope they have information on central asia.

Update : NATAS had nothing despite having a Uzbekistan booth , they had quite pathetic information, not sure why the travel agent even had a booth at the travel fair perhaps only to entice and frustrate this wannabe traveller? Doing all my research on Uzbekistan, looks like I’m heading there in Oct-Nov 2008 if nothing comes up. Yay!