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10 Things You Didn't Know About Central Asia

by Huw Owen

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It's fair to say that Central Asia is a weird and wonderful place. We thought we would summarise below some of the many curiosities that have come to our attention over the years. Feel free to add any of your own below.

1 - Tulips, apples and walnuts all came to Western Europe from Central Asia. The word "tulip" is derived from the Persian "delband", meaning "turban", an object that the flower is said to resemble. Apples came to us from the Tien Shan mountains on the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border and apparently have more genes than humans! The world's largest single natural source of walnuts is an enormous forest near the Kyrgyz village of Arslanbob.

2 - Central Asia also played its part in giving us the Black Death. In 1347, at the port of Caffa on the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, the Golden Horde, a remnant of the Mongol Empire that ruled Kazakhstan and southern Russia, laid siege to the town - then ruled by the Genoese. The Mongol troops carried with them the bubonic plague, endemic to the Central Asian and Mongol steppe. The Horde catapulted their corpses over the walls and into the town, infecting the inhabitants, who later unwittingly carried it with them across the Mediterranean and back to Genoa - and thence to the rest of mainland Europe.

3 - Tajikistan has an austerity law to prevent wedding parties being too large. The law was brought in to prevent families bankrupting themselves by throwing enormous parties they could not afford, previously a common occurrence.

4 - The Kugitang Nature Reserve in Turkmenistan has about 400 footprints of the Megalosaurus, of around 150 million years of age, preserved in a fossilised lake bed.

5 - The Continental Pole of Inaccessibility - or "the furthest place in the world from the sea" to you and me, lies not far from Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Province.

6 - The Last Emir of Bukhara, Mohammed Alim Khan, lived until 1944. 24 years earlier his reign had ended when the Red Army invaded Bukhara.

7 - Uzbekistan has the world's largest open pit gold mine at Muruntau, deep in the desert. It's apparently visible from space.

8 - The people of Yaghnob village in Tajikistan are the only speakers worldwide of Sogdian, the language of ancient Sogdiana - conquered by Alexander the Great, and home to Roxana his future wife.

9 - Any climber able to ascend the five highest peaks of the former Soviet Union (3 in Tajikistan, 1 in Kyrgyzstan and 1 in Kazakhstan, all over 7000m) is given the Snow Leopard award. The first westerners to receive the award were William Garner and Randall Starrett in 1985. Starrett, a lawyer from Virginia, remarked "I climb because I've never met another lawyer above 7000m".

10 - Silk was traded throughout and across Central Asia for hundreds of years. The earliest practical example of this trade that criss-crossed the region, and facilitated the trade and transference of many other items and ideas, is the silk fragments found in the hair of an Egyptian mummy, dated circa 1070 BC.

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