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Panoramas of the remaining Stans (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan)

We’ve already shown you our favourite panoramas of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and below are the author’s selection from the remaining Stans on our trip. They are all very different, so the contrast between the panoramas of these neighbouring countries might surprise you as much as it did us.

Tajikistan is a country of rugged mountains, deserted valleys and roads, snow-covered peaks, crystal-clear raging mountain streams and incredible, often overwhelming hospitality.

Uzbekistan stands out with its famous trio of ancient silk road towns full of mosques, minarets, medrassas and mausoleums decorated with beautiful blue mosaic tiles. It also stood out with consistently serving the the worst food of the trip (somebody had to say it) even though we had our best breakfasts here, pretty decent drops of wine, fantastic handicrafts and is unfortunately the home of the biggest recent environmental disaster in the world. It was also the only country where we stayed in hotels more than we camped due to the old USSR registration rules.

Turkmenistan of all the former USSR states retains the strongest feel of a police state. You are not allowed to take photos of the brand new white marbled buildings in the capital and people are forced to leave their homes to make space for shiny, new apartment buildings, all of white marble of course. It is also home to the biggest campfire in the world, one of the world’s biggest deserts, the forefathers of the thoroughbreds of today and some seriously amazing carpets. It also knows how to make people feel incredibly welcome and people are genuinely friendly, generous and helpful.

Enjoy the contrasts!

Tajikistan – Lake Kara-kul

Tajikistan – Lake Kara-kul

A beautiful lake created by a meteor impact 10 million years ago, situated at 4000m altitude just across the border from Kyrgyzstan. Whilst we had beautiful weather everything froze overnight.

Tajikistan – Lake Kara-kul

Tajikistan – Lake Kara-kul

As it was a beautiful, sunny and wind still day at Lake Kara-kul, we couldn’t resist going out for a quick paddle enjoying the silence and snow capped peaks.

Tajikistan – Shor-kul lake

Tajikistan – Shor-kul lake

Another beautiful lake along the Pamir Highway. The snow covered peaks in the distance are in China. We set up camp right on its shores, amazed to see mosquitos at 3,750m. Later we were treated to a spectacular moon rise.

Tajikistan – Lake Yashil Kul

Tajikistan – Lake Yashil Kul

Yashil-Kul means ‘green lake’ and the contrast with the desert of the central Pamirs is striking. An exciting 4WD track leads to two ancient stone circles, estimated to be 4000 years old, where we had morning tea for Jude’s birthday.

Tajikistan – Zong

Tajikistan – Zong

After hiking up the hill to see the fortress (built in the 12th century to guard this branch of the Silk Road from Afghan and Chinese invaders) we were rewarded with this view across the Wakhan Valley. The mountains on the far side of the river are in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan – Khaaka Fortress

Tajikistan – Khaaka Fortress

The track to the impressive Khaaka Fortress went through this apricot orchard in beautiful autumn colours.

Tajikistan – Bartang Valley

Tajikistan – Bartang Valley

View upriver from the pulley bridge where we crossed to start our hike up the Gisev Valley, visible on the far right of the panorama. The clear waters of the Gisev stream are still visible before they mix in with the milky white waters in the Bartang Valley.

Tajikistan – Gisev Valley

Tajikistan – Gisev Valley

Our host village was hard at work in preparation for the coming winter months.

Tajikistan – Iskander Kul Lake

Tajikistan – Iskander Kul Lake

We sat on this tiny beach for a few hours, enjoying our lunch, the views, a wash and a good book. The President’s dacha (holiday house) is just along the shoreline.

Tajikistan – Penjakent

Tajikistan – Penjakent

This is ancient Penjakent, which made for an atmospheric campsite. New Penjakent, where we had Lara’s fuel tank welded, is located at the foot of this hill, invisible from the historic site.

Tajikistan – Seven Lakes

Tajikistan – Seven Lakes

This is the 7th lake of the chain of seven lakes in the eastern Fan Mountains, located furthest up the valley at the end of the steep 4WD track. From here only a small walking trail continues past the lake and into the next stunning valley.

Tajikistan – Alauddin Pass

Tajikistan – Alauddin Pass

The stunning blue Alauddin Lakes in the Fan Mountains are just visible from the pass (3850m) located a 1000m above. We had lunch at the pass before descending into the Kulikalon Valley.

Uzbekistan – Samarkand

Uzbekistan – Samarkand

The stunning Gur-e-Amir mausoleum in Samarkand is the final resting place of Timur the Great (also kown as Tamerlane), whose empire stretched from India to Turkey. He died in 1405 whilst invading China. This was our first blue mosaic tiled building and we fell in love with it.

Uzbekistan – Samarkand

Uzbekistan – Samarkand

The famous Registan in Samarkand, a beautiful square with 3 medrassas (Islamic schools) built around it between 1400 and 1600. The proportions of the buildings and overload of beautiful blue tiles make for a fitting centerpiece for such a famous city.

Uzbekistan – Ellis Qala (50 forts)

Uzbekistan – Ellis Qala (50 forts)

We only visited 5 or 6 of the 50 forts. Ayaz Qala, from the 6th century was one of the most impressive ones. Amazing that, after 1500 years, the mud brick walls are still standing.

Uzbekistan – Khiva

Uzbekistan – Khiva

This historic silk road town, completely surrounded by fortified mud brick walls, reached its heyday in the 16th century. It was a delight to walk around in the inner area of the town filled with old houses, mosques, medrassas, museums and shops.

Uzbekistan – Khiva

Uzbekistan – Khiva

The Juma mosque in Khiva is unusual because its roof is supported by 218 wooden pillars, in a design more often seen in the Middle East, but not in Central Asia. Around 7 or so original wooden pillars are still standing after 1000 years.

Uzbekistan – Aral Sea

Uzbekistan – Aral Sea

Cows now venture into what once was a sea to find their food.

Uzbekistan – Aral Sea

Uzbekistan – Aral Sea

The wrong kind of ships of the desert…

Turkmenistan – Ashgabat

Turkmenistan – Ashgabat

Unfortunately we didn’t take many panoramas in Turkmenistan, but this one shows the new grandiose style of Ashgabat. Taken from the front steps of an enormous mosque, which can hold 10.000 people, you can see the tomb of Turkmenbasi (self-proclaimed father of the Turkmens) on the left. He was a mad dictator whose priority appeared to be renaming the months of the year and days of the week after members of his family. He built much of extravagant white marbled Ashgabat using precious gas revenues. Fortunately, his successor appears slightly less flamboyant.

Panoramas of Mongolia

It’s become a tradition now to show you our favourite panorama photos of a country or region.

As Mongolia is such a beautiful and panoramic country we managed to take lots and lots of panorama photos. Some with Lara or us in it, but also a lot of the stunning landscapes on their own. It was hard to make a selection, but after much debate we are now proud to present to you our favourites.

Enjoy!

Lara in Dugany Am, a narrow canyon in the Gobi Desert

Lara in Dugany Am, a narrow canyon in the Gobi Desert

a lone tree in the Gobi Desert with an offering site next to it

a lone tree in the Gobi Desert with an offering site next to it

Lara and rainbow in the Gobi Desert

Lara and rainbow in the Gobi Desert

desolate images in the Gobi Desert

desolate images in the Gobi Desert

emptiness in the Gobi Desert

emptiness in the Gobi Desert

staying with a local family in the Gobi Desert, this is their herd of goats and their shed

staying with a local family in the Gobi Desert, this is their herd of goats and their shed

Jon on top of the tallest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

Jon on top of the tallest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

Jude on top of the tallest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

Jude on top of the tallest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

offering place in the Gobi Desert

offering place in the Gobi Desert

nightmare in the Gobi Desert, Jon is trying to remove the prop shaft

nightmare in the Gobi Desert, Jon is trying to remove the prop shaft

opening ceremony of Naadam in Ullanbaatar

opening ceremony of Naadam in Ullanbaatar

dj's and classical music on the main square in Ulaanbaatar

dj’s and classical music on the main square in Ulaanbaatar

deer stone and burial mound in Hustain National Park

deer stone and burial mound in Hustain National Park

waterfall in the Orkhon Valley, look closely to spot Jude

waterfall in the Orkhon Valley, look closely to spot Jude

camp site, just stunning

camp site, just stunning

crater in Tsaagan Nuur National Park

crater in Tsaagan Nuur National Park

Jon's favourite campsite of the trip so far

Jon’s favourite campsite of the trip so far

Mongolia's first Buddhist Monastery and our camp site in Karakoram

Mongolia’s first Buddhist Monastery and our camp site in Karakoram

our camp site for 2 nights at the edge of Uureg Nuur

our camp site for 2 nights at the edge of Uureg Nuur

Buddhist monk inside his family ger

Buddhist monk inside his family ger

Panoramas of South East Asia

We’ve been traveling 2 months through South East Asia and have seen some amazing things, done some pretty cool stuff and tasted some interesting delicacies. It’s not easy to give you an impression of what we do and what we eat, but we thought we’d try to give you an idea of what we see through these panorama shots. Let us know your favourite!

Malaysia - Lake Kenyir

Malaysia – Lake Kenyir

A beautiful lake full of islands in eastern Malaysia. We enjoyed an evening paddle and camped on the lake shore.

Malaysia - Cameron Highlands

Malaysia – Cameron Highlands

Beautiful mountain scenery of this famous tea growing area. This was the first night we used the duvet (dekbed) due to the altitude of our campground.

Thailand - Ko Phi Phi

Thailand – Ko Phi Phi

We enjoyed a short break from driving on this tropical paradise. Lots of diving and snorkeling, accompanied by great food and smoothies.

Thailand - Railay Beach

Thailand – Railay Beach

There are no roads to this beautiful area, so we paddled in with our own kayak. We even found a slackline set up between two rocks over the water.

Thailand - Railay Beach

Thailand – Railay Beach

Another of our favourites from Railay beach, this time looking towards the beaches of the mainland.

Thailand - Khao Sok National Park

Thailand – Khao Sok National Park

Great views across this remote national park. We enjoyed an evening hike to a secluded waterfall at the end of one of the trails for a lovely swim.

Thailand - Ayuthaya

Thailand – Ayuthaya

We found this collection of buddhas on our way to the historic city of Ayuthaya. It was a huge temple complex, including a whole section devoted to gory images illustrating what could happen to you if you don’t behave.

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Cambodia – Siem Reap

Sunrise at Ta Prohm, our favourite temple, which we had all to ourselves. Tomb Raider was filmed here. Absolutely stunning!

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Cambodia – Siem Reap

We used our bikes to cycle around many of the temples. This is in the Angkor Thom complex.

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Cambodia – Siem Reap

Our favourite gate from the Angkor Thom complex: the East Gate.

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Cambodia – Siem Reap

Lara at sunset at Baphuon, again in the Angkor Thom complex. This is the principle temple and famous for its 54 statues.

Cambodia - Spean Praptos

Cambodia – Spean Praptos

A bridge built in the Angkor period, and still in use today, although restricted to pedestrians, cyclists and motor bikes.

Cambodia - Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh

Cambodia – Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh

Cambodians congregate here for evening exercise, enjoying the breeze on top of the stands. Aerobics and dancing were particularly popular, along with soccer, volleyball and tennis.

Cambodia - Arang Valley in the Cardamom Mountains

Cambodia – Arang Valley in the Cardamom Mountains

Hunting for the elusive Siamese crocodiles we had an exciting time slithering up and down very muddy roads with Lara.

Thailand - South of Mae Hong Son

Thailand – South of Mae Hong Son

One of our favourite lunch stops, trees for shade and the beautiful Pai river for a swim and a ‘shower’.

Thailand - Chiang Mai

Thailand – Chiang Mai

You might remember this one from the biggest waterfight in the world. Songkran (Buddhist New Year) celebrations, we picked a pub and defended it with guns and buckets.

Laos - Huay Xai

Laos – Huay Xai

View of the jungle from our tree house during the Gibbon Experience. You can only enter and leave via zipline. A memorable experience.

Laos - Huay Xai

Laos – Huay Xai

The view across the Mekong toward Thailand. We crossed into Lao via an (overpriced) ferry.

Laos - Vientiane

Laos – Vientiane

One of the temples in Vientiane had thousands of little Buddha statues everywhere.

Laos - Tad Xay waterfall in Phou Khouay National Park

Laos – Tad Xay waterfall in Phou Khouay National Park

One of the waterfalls near Vientiane. We spent a few hours here, swimming a bit but mainly reading our books whilst sitting in the water on a rock. We then spent the night next to the falls as well. Great spot.

Laos - Van Vieng

Laos – Van Vieng

The karst formations near Van Vieng, spectacular at sunset.

Laos - Phonsavan

Laos – Phonsavan

The Plain of Jars, there were thousands of these in many different sites, we visited the main 3 sites.

Laos - Hintang Archeological Site

Laos – Hintang Archeological Site

An ancient burial site where vertical planking was invented.

Laos - bomb village

Laos – bomb village

There are so many unexploded bombs in Laos people have used them as bbq’s, flower pots and even built whole fences with them. Unfortunately too many people still die from these unexploded bombs every day.

Laos - Viengxai

Laos – Viengxai

Beautiful karst formations with many caves used by the people of Laos to escape the American bombings.

Laos - Viengxai

Laos – Viengxai

The hospital cave, very gloomy even with the electric lights. Imagine how this must have felt in the nine years it was in use during the bombings.

Laos - Houamung village

Laos – Houamung village

We visited the primary school of the tiny village with the English teacher. There were 9 classrooms and around 300 kids there, just from the few local villages. Families with 8 – 10 kids are pretty common here.

Laos - Houamung village

Laos – Houamung village

Kids in the playground of the primary school. They didn’t want to be in the photo until we showed them the camera and they could see themselves. Then they all wanted to be in it.

Laos - Boun Neua

Laos – Boun Neua

An Akha village and its swing. There is no road (yet) to this village where we spent the night with the chief’s family.