Two Different Places to Explore Central Asia’s Silk Road

Grand Mir Hotel, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Photo by Susan McKee)The Silk Road — a network of trails from China to Europe — passes through large cities as well as country villages in Central Asia.

Tashkent, with a population of more than 2.3 million, is the capital of Uzbekistan. Kaji-Say, a resort on the southern shore of Issyk-Kul (a lake in the northern Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan) remains a small town. Although both share a storied past, each has developed along a different path. Tashkent is a bustling metropolis with one of the busiest airports in Central Asia. About 565 miles east, Kaji-Say is known as a laid-back summer resort from the days when Central Asia was part of the Soviet Union.

Location is always a key consideration when booking accommodations in a big city, and Tashkent is no different. The Grand Mir Hotel, 2 Mirobod Street, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (pictured, above), is a short drive from both the airport and the Central Railway Station yet it’s considered a downtown hotel and is surrounded by the offices of international businesses.

Loffy, Grand Mir Hotel, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Photo by Susan McKee)Water splashes in the fountain at the covered entrance to the hotel. Inside, a large lobby with plenty of seating and a gift shop welcomes guests. Next to the check-in counter was a small table of complementary treats — iced tea and cookies (refreshments for the travel weary).

Grand Mir Hotel, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Photo by Susan McKee)There are 126 rooms with all the usual amenities (hair dryer, television, bottled water). My room was clean and tidy. The furnishings are OK, but a little dated (hint: hotels don’t use bedspreads anymore). Guest rooms are ready for a 21st-Century-worthy remodeling.

Although I didn’t have time to check out the fitness center, swimming pool, or the spa, I did make good use of the free WiFi.

Breakfast is included in the room rate, which starts about $160. There’s a reservation form on the hotel website, but you can also use one of the usual booking sites.

Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan (Photo by Susan McKee)Things are more relaxed at Kaji-Say, as befits life in a sleepy resort town. It was mid-October when I was there, and we were the last group of guests to stay at the Art-Al-Hayat Hotel, 14 Dzhumanazarova Street 14, Kaji-Say, Kyrgyzstan, before it closed for the season.

Guest rooms were still furnished, but the main draw was already shuttered: Visitors come here during beach season to watch the artisans at work. In the central courtyard of the hotel are a series of workshops that would be bustling with the work of sculptors, painters, potters, metal crafters and more. The artists were gone, but their artwork remains on view.

ceramic fish, Art-Al-Hayat Hotel (Photo by Susan McKee)Evidence of their artistry is found throughout the hotel, including my favorite: fish-shaped ceramic tiles on the walls of the restaurant.

The flurry of summer activity at Art-Al-Hayat Hotel is reminiscent of medieval times along Issyk-Kul Lake. It was a stopover on the historic Silk Road and many historians point to it as the transmission vector (shudder!) of the 14th century’s Black Death. Traveling merchants stopped here and swapped out their fleas, spreading the plague. Fortunately, I didn’t know any of this when I stayed there — and I detected no fleas.

The hotel has free WiFi, a television with satellite channels and a small refrigerator in each guest room. The hot water comes from one of those on-demand tanks in each bathroom, so there’s never a problem.

Ethnic Russians own the hotel, which includes a small restaurant and bar plus lots of shaded outdoor seating. There’s a tour desk and you can rent bikes (the beach is just a short walk to the north). The owners have an eclectic assortment of antiques and vintage Soviet items on display, including a stack of more than a dozen World War II-era radios.

Rooms start about 40 euros with a cooked-to-order breakfast at 5 euros per person. The hotel does not have its own website, but you can use Hotels Combined.

(Photos by Susan McKee)

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