Uzbekistan is indeed a country that has its present glowingly illuminated by the light of bygone centuries, replete with a historical past that dates back to hundreds and thousands of years. The fortunes of its civilisation and people have over the centuries been intricately interwoven into a complex warp and weave of a panoramic tapestry that reflects the compound fates of both neighbouring and distant countries and their peoples. This all the more so finds ample reflection in modern times, as we race further in unravelling the past patterns of human migration, delving through the compilation of a genetic atlas of peoples, where some studies show that around 3000 BC, nomads from the Eurasian steppes had domesticated a horse and ergo, spread their genetic marker M17 throughout the whole territory from Iceland to West Bengal. It thus turns out that about 40 percent of people living in the vast region stretching from the Czech Republic to the Siberian plains, including Central Asia, are close genetic cousins.
So rather than embarking on unending bickering on who preceded whom, it is more logical to take pride in how well countries and peoples have managed to preserve their architectural and cultural memories for posterity. On that count, Uzbekistan, famous for its ancient settlements of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, has done well and has duly been accorded the status of inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Also, worth mention here is the fact that Uzbeks have been uncannily successful in further enriching human heritage through many other intangible cultural artefacts, which have also been enshrined under UNESCO’s “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage.”
Both by a twist and an irony of fate, Uzbekistan, landlocked and isolated by mountains and deserts from access to the seas and the oceans, is located at the very crossroads of world civilizations past and present, not to mention a confluence of major world religions, cultural traditions and even culinary preferences. By adopting, adapting and absorbing the best from the external world to enrich the way of life of its folk, Uzbekistan today is easily cosmopolitan in many ways, with many an Uzbek today easily a multilingual, speaking two-three or in some cases even more languages – Uzbek, Karakalpak, Farsi, Kazakh and Russian, to mention a few. Most can read the Rubiat of Omar Khayyam with gusto in its original, and everyone considers oneself a veritable connoisseur of Uzbek, Uighur, Korean and Russian cuisine. Most Uzbeks can cook Pilaf for a few hundred guests, or oh okay, for at least 10 people, if not hundreds … and each local builder knows deep in his instinct how to build an earthquake-resistant house using clay of a particular mix.
Over more than a thousand years until the discovery of the sea route to India, goods from the East to the West passed through Uzbekistan, which lies as it were bang in the centre of the Great Silk Road. This proved to be both a boon and a bane. Leaving the negatives aside for the moment, the fortunate part is that the Uzbeks and other peoples of the region have turned out to be genetically gifted as merchants and traders – adept in the skills they had absorbed from the Greeks and the Jews, the Moors and Chinese. In modern times, Uzbekistan has assimilated much in many fields of industry as well – as much as it has given to the world too: thinkers, philosophers and mathematicians, theologians and astronomers, generals and rulers, poets and healers, chess grandmasters and sportsmen …
In fact, it would not be wrong to say that many an action and habit committed by the people of this region on the level of instincts surface from genetic memories rather than from traits developed in childhood – to pick up a piece of bread fallen on the ground and put it aside, the first bowl of nosey tea served to guests, the first sip of water in the heat is given to the youngest, seating the guest in a place of honour in the house at a maximum distance from the front door – for the host could protect him from any enemy suddenly bursting in. Many other things – the way to cut melon or make a “scoop” of watermelon. The sprig of sweet basil tucked behind the ear of a dignified man or a young beautiful girl in the summer heat. All this and more are the thousands of beads that make up a breath-taking mosaic of the amazingly beautiful, ancient and eternally young country – Uzbekistan. A country one ought to visit at least once in their lives – if only to have something to tell posterity.