The Nukus Museum

Who would have thought ten years ago that tourists would be clamoring to travel to Karakalpakstan? It's true; these days more and more people are making it a point to include Nukus, the home of the Savitsky museum, into their Central Asian tour.

There they can see two extraordinary and different collections; both are the life's work of one man, who turned an artist's eye an everything he saw. The first collection is comprised of ancient and folk treasures. As a young man and painter Savitsky (born in Russia) worked on the historic archeological dig at Khorezm, and it was there that he fell in love with the culture and light of Karakalpakstan. Although he was a talented painter, his teacher so discouraged him that he turned instead, to collecting and preserving what he encountered around him. He unearthed artifacts, and more dramatically, he found wondrous jewelry and textiles that were not valued by the Karakalpaks, whose culture had been subverted by the Soviets. Savitsky was instrumental in preserving this heritage. The second collection is comprised of paintings from the Stalinist era, some by local painters, some by Russians. All these works were banned in their day as "subversive" as they were not state-approved Social Realism. But through Savitsky's perseverance (and the fact that Nukus was an isolated backwater) a world-class collection of what came to be known as Russian Avant-Garde came into being. It is now formally acknowledged that the Nukus Museum is among the great museums of the world. Tragically, Savitsky died from overexposure to chemicals he used in his restoration work. His story, told in the excellent documentary "The Desert of Forbidden Art" (a hit worldwide) drew global attention to this hidden treasure of a museum. As a result Nukus has seen some development, with the addition of more local hotels to accommodate tourists, and a music center in 2012. The museum itself is now housed in an impressive new building that reflects its cultural importance.

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The Beauty of Uzbek Textiles and Embroidery

The textiles of Uzbekistan are world famous, particularly the embroideries known as Suzani, and the magnificent silk weaves know as Khan-Atlas. Suzani are an important part of Uzbek culture, and they are recognized world wide as some of the finest textiles and examples of folk art. The Uzbek people were originally nomadic, and these embroideries were meant to decorate their movable homes. All females were expected to embroider, along with all other homemaking skills. As these techniques spread, they also mingled with the techniques of other cultures along the silk road, as well as with other tribes. For example, one can see the influences of Asia and of Persia in the embroidery of Bukhara. The great courts of royalty were decorated with Suzani, and nowadays, high-end interior decorators and fashion designers get inspiration (and designs!) from this tradition. Today, grandmothers and mothers still pass down the skills to their daughters. While older suzani may command a higher price, if you are not looking for investment alone, look for good technique and imagination in the piece you are looking at. Is it cleanly executed? Is it on silk or cotton?  Is it work intensive, or only sparsely covered? Does it have unusual motifs? And never wash a suzani, even if the vendor tells you it is okay to do so. Always dry-clean!
Silk weaves known as Khan Atlas are still used in clothing, although the real weave (not the prints) are generally reserved for special occasion wear. Most of the best Khan Atlas are woven in Margilan, and scarves and bolts are sold in almost any Uzbek market. Look for a dense, tight weave with a decent heft to the fabric, and bold patterns.

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Planning to Travel the Silk Road in 2014?

It has been such an amazing busy start to the New Year! We have had a lot of visitors ask us travel questions as they plan their next trips to Central Asia and other Silk Road destinations.
We are often asked when is the best time to travel to Central Asia, China, Caucasus? We suggest between April and November and advice that spring and autumn are the seasons for the many great regional festivals. Spring is one of the most beautiful seasons because nature emerges from the sharp continental winter so you can see trees burst into leaf, and flowers bloom in brilliant colors. But autumn provides perfect cool, clear, days that make traveling more enjoyable.
When is the best time to buy your International airline tickets? This question is difficult to answer, most airlines do not release discount tickets before 4 months of departure, but the few low cost tickets often sellout even 9m before departure. So our advice would be to track prices and get experienced on what is a good price and stay within the 9-4m prior to departure for the best prices.
Since all visitors to Central Asia, Caucasus, China, and Russia need to have a visa. Visitors often want to know about the border crossing procedure. Because my first rate team on the ground prepares all the necessary documents for our travelers it is our experience that visitors have a smooth border crossing. It takes from half hour to one and half hour to cross from one border point to the other.
Many of our travelers want to get involved in experiencing the local customs and meet with local people. We recommend that before you travel you learn some useful local words and expressions which you can then practice during your trip and when meeting local people. On our trips you will be able to visit the homes of local people, celebrate the local festivals and sip tea in the local tea houses.
Inspired by the suggestions and ideas from our travelers we have created a special Vegetarian Silk Road Menu for all the visitors to enjoy our local authentic cuisine. Now the vegetarians will have an opportunity to enjoy more than 20 different kinds of Silk Road meals. This menu is available at the major Silk Road cities and also in most of the smaller exotic villages and places.

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