Central Asia is the general name for the landmass between Iran, China, Siberia and Afghanistan. An area of enormous diversity both geographically and ethnically, it has been shaped by trade and commerce (the Silk Road) and by many invaders, including Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Stalin. Today the area is divided into five 'stans: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The ethnic make-up of these countries is bewildering: Turkish, Chinese, Iranian and Slav to name a very few. There are in fact over a hundred ethnic groups, but tragically many of these peoples are disappearing. They are emigrating, dying or blending into their surroundings, succumbing to the uniformity favoured by an increasingly globalised world. Metcalfe journeys through the five 'stans, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and brings to life the brilliant human tapestry they comprise - uniquely shaped by the immigrants, deportees and conquerors that have settled there. He seeks out six of the least known peoples, travelling from the Aral Sea in western Uzbekistan - where the Karakalpaks are still paying the price for the USSR's 'cotton cold war' - to Bukhara where he disguises himself, harking back to the adventures of Great Game explorers of the mid-nineteenth century, to find the last surviving Central Asian Jews; and then to the green steppelands of northern Kazakhstan in search of the last German descendants of those who settled Ukraine in 1763 at the invitation of Catherine the Great. He then turns to the mountain passes of western Tajikistan and the Silk Road, to the descendants of the fire-worshipping Soghdians. Trying to conceal his English roots once again, Metcalfe travels through Afghanistan as a Muslim, sporting a beard and a shalwar kameez, to locate the Hazaras, who have had to fight for their existence in this Sunni-dominated country. His final trip is from Kabul through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar and then on to Chitral in northern Pakistan, to visit the Kalasha people. These are a tiny group practising their own shamanic religion in three valleys in the Hindu Kush. They are the last non-Muslim people in the region and are threatened daily by their Muslim neighbours. Revealing a Central Asia that is far removed from the home of Borat or the land of international terrorism, Metcalfe unlocks the secrets of this troubled region, glorying in its diversity and also lamenting the economic and cultural changes that threaten to eradicate some of its peoples.
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[Metcalfe's] book has many virtues, the greatest of which are courage and a keen eye for detail, plus an ability to convey the essence of a place through the briefest of anecdotes
'Fresh, witty and full of quirky detail...the book is also a serious, sometimes moving account of environmental degradation, political repression and social isolation' --Financial Times
'A terrific read. Metcalfe writes with sensitivity and great flair ... I was totally absorbed' --Rt. Hon. Lord Paddy Ashdown
'This is an important book: a first hand account from an adventurous traveller who has ... reminded us why travel-writing matters'
Nicholas Crane, author of CLEAR WATERS RISING
This is a book of great warmth and immense scholarship, in the best tradition of travel writing. It opens up a region about which most of us are vague. It is fascinating reading
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Book Description Hutchinson, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110091925525