In May of 2012, I travelled all over Uzbekistan for almost 3 weeks. This fascinating but struggling country, still relatively infrequently visited or understood by Westerners, contains several of the most renowned cities and related treasures of the fabled ancient Silk Road which led from China to the Middle East. On my journey, I learned much about its people, culture, arts and environmental concerns.
The northwestern edge of the country sits at the edge of the Aral Sea, once the 4th largest freshwater lake in the world. Soils depleted by years of Soviet and ongoing irrigation projects and over use of pesticides, primarily to support the world’s 2nd largest cotton production, have caused severe worsening of air quality and the shrinking of most of the Sea to a now virtual desert. Most of the birds and mammals, and all of the fish, have disappeared. Considered one of the planet’s worst man-made environmental disasters, this has led to vast unemployment, economic hardship and disease, most notably tuberculosis, cancers, birth defects and high infant mortality.
Uzbekistan contains a wealth of artistic and artisanal riches in the form of historic and current paintings, silk ikat weaving and embroidered textiles, carpets, ceramics and many other beautifully made products, made by charming and wonderful people, which are enjoying a renaissance of interest around the world and will hopefully lead to an improvement in the country’s economy and prosperity.