The western region of Central Asia presents a colorful melting pot of peoples and cultures. Since the end of the 2nd millennium nomads from the north have periodically occupied these regions, settling and mingling with the local population to create new cultures and civilizations. From the middle of the 1st millennium BCE until the 10th century CE the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan were part of the Persian Empire. Later the Silk Road connecting China with Europe ran through the region. Central Asia was a major center for three great religions: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Islam. Mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and traditional souks offer a glimpse of times past.
Few landmarks have tantalized travelers more than the legendary caravan centers of Central Asia. Tucked behind remote mountains and deserts, these cities were rarely visited by travelers from the west. Long forbidden to all but Moslems, for much of the 20th century they were hidden within the Soviet Union. No longer inaccessible, one can now travel the length and breadth of the Great Silk Road and follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. From the time of the Roman Empire, the Silk Road connected China with Europe crossing spectacular landscapes and enriching cosmopolitan cities. Before Islam, Tibetan Buddhism and Zoroastrian cultures flourished there, all leaving their marksin ruins, temples, mosques, mausoleums, madrasahs, souks and caravansaries. Turkic cultures mingled with Bactrian Greek, Tibetan, Chinese, Islamic and Russian, creating astonishing art and customs.