Uzbekistan and the Silk Road: Pre-trip reading and viewing suggestions

Textile Reading

Traditional Textiles of Central Asia– Janet Harvey.  An illustrated survey of the opulent velvets, exquisite embroideries, magnificent felts, fine cotton weaves, decorative motifs, materials, dyes, and looms of the region. There are vivid descriptions of the types of objects made and the diverse regional and tribal variations; clothes and costumes; and lavish embroideries and embellishments.

Silk and Cotton: Textiles from the Central Asia that Was by Susan Meller.  The traditional textiles of Central Asia and the legendary Silk Road. Whether nomadic or sedentary, the people of this region created textiles for every aspect of their way of life, from ceremonial objects marking rites of passage, to everyday garments, to practical items for the home: suzanis for the marriage bed; prayer mats; patchwork quilts; bridal ensembles; bags for tea, scissors, and mirrors; lovingly embroidered hats and bibs; and robes of every color and pattern. Meller documents their history, use and meaning through archival photographs and fascinating travelers’ narratives spanning many centuries.

Modernity of TraditionUzbek Textile Culture Today by Gabriele MentgesLola Shamukhitdinova, Waxmann Verlag. Usually, advertising formulas which fix Uzbekistan in a transfigured oriental past of long ago perfect for the travel industry, prefer to forget that there is also a modern Uzbekistan in which, as some researchers suggest, a new Silk Road is beginning to evolve. The present volume intends to provide an initial insight into these evolving connections and processes, on the one hand to present the textile facets that they encompass and on the other hand to show how, from the perspective of Uzbek researchers, the problem and the current status of textile research and of textile revitalisation are developing.

Bright Flowers: Textiles and Ceramics of Central Asia by Christina Sumner and Guy Petherbridge

Beyond the Silk Road: Arts of Central Asia by Christina Sumner with Heleanor Feltham

Traditional Textiles of Central Asia by Janet Harvey

Ikat: Splendid Silks of Central Asia by Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale

Uzbekistan: Heirs to the Silk Road by Johannes Kalter and Margareta Pavaloi

Kyrgyzstan: Costumes of Nomadic Peopleby Klavdiya Antipina, Rolando Paiva and Temirbek Musakeev

Architectural Textiles: Tent Bands of Central Asia by Richard Isaacson


The Great Game: the Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk

The Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia by Karl E Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac

The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization by Jonathan Lyons

Travels into Bokhara by Alexander Burnes

To The Tashkent Station by Rebecca Manley

The Golden Ring of Khorezm V.N Yagodin and A.V.G. Betts, UNESCO publication available for free download. It includes excellent information on the desert fortresses in Russian and English.

General Reading

Uzbekistan, the Golden Road to Samarkand by Calum Macelod & Bradley Mayhem

Friendly Stepppes: A Silk Road Journey by Nick Rowan

Central Asia: A Traveller’s Companion by Kathleen Hopkirk

Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan by Saffia Farr

Kyrgyzstan by Laurence Mitchell – Bradt Travel Guides

A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road by Christopher Aslan Alexander The author was born in Turkey and grew up in war-torn Beirut. After university he moved to Central Asia. While writing a guidebook about Khiva, he fell in love with this desert oasis boasting the most homogenous example of Islamic architecture in the world, and stayed. Accompanied by a large parrot, a ginger cat, and his adoptive Uzbek family, Christopher Aslan Alexander recounts the sheer magic of Uzbek culture alongside his efforts to rediscover the lost arts of traditional carpet making and establish a self-sufficient carpet workshop offering employment to local women and disabled people.

The Dancer from Khiva : One Muslim Woman’s Quest for Freedom by Bibish (Translated by Andrew Bromfield.  An unflinchingly honest memoir, The Dancer from Khiva is a true story that offers remarkable insights into Central Asian culture through the harrowing experiences of a young girl.

In a narrative that flows like a late-night confession, Bibish recounts her story. Born to an impoverished family in a deeply religious village in Uzbekistan, Bibish was named “Hadjarbibi” in honor of her grandfather’s hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. But the holy name did not protect her from being gang-raped at the age of eight and left for dead in the desert. Bibish’s tenacity helped her survive, but in the coming years, that same tough-spiritedness caused her to be beaten, victimized, and ostracized from her family and community. Despite the seeming hopelessness of being a woman in such a cruelly patriarchal society, Bibish secretly cultivated her own dreams–of dancing, of raising a family, and of telling her story to the world.

The product of incredible resilience and spirit, The Dancer from Khiva is a harrowing, clear-eyed dispatch from a land where thousands of such stories have been silenced. It is a testament to Bibish’s fierce will and courage: the searing, fast-paced tale of a woman who risked everything.

Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron:  Shadow of the Silk Road records a journey along the greatest land route on earth. Out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran and into Kurdish Turkey, Colin Thubron covers some seven thousand miles in eight months. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart and camel, he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, to the ancient port of Antioch—in perhaps the most difficult and ambitious journey he has undertaken in forty years of travel.

The Silk Road is a huge network of arteries splitting and converging across the breadth of Asia. To travel it is to trace the passage not only of trade and armies but also of ideas, religions and inventions. But alongside this rich and astonishing past, Shadow of the Silk Road is also about Asia today: a continent of upheaval.

One of the trademarks of Colin Thubron’s travel writing is the beauty of his prose; another is his gift for talking to people and getting them to talk to him. Shadow of the Silk Road encounters Islamic countries in many forms. It is about changes in China, transformed since the Cultural Revolution. It is about false nationalisms and the world’s discontented margins, where the true boundaries are not political borders but the frontiers of tribe, ethnicity, language and religion. It is a magnificent and important account of an ancient world in modern ferment.


Ali and Nino by Kurbin Said

Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov

Samarkand by Amin Maalouf

The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov

Note: The above list is by no means exhaustive.  If you’d like to recommend a book or movie that you’ve enjoyed or found informative and inspiring, please email us at