Of all the 'stans, Uzbekistan has best sights and there are quite a few to choose from. The capital Tashkent might not be any great shakes, but get on the train and head off to Samarkand and you're heading to what has to be the premiere sight in the whole of Central Asia. The Registan.
My first view of the Registan was from a taxi on the way from the train station. I could see the tops of the minarets from miles away, and as we got closer the view just got better and better. The Registan consists of a large square with three magnificent Medressas on three sides, the final side being an open space that you sit in and take in the beauty before you.
Each Medressa has a facade covered in blue tiles, the closer you get you also spot the tiles form quotations from the Koran, and there are very (un-Islamic) representations of lions and their prey. Inside the Medressas are now shops selling tourist souvenirs - the pupils are long gone.
It's not normally allowed to head up into any of the minarets, but I had a quiet word with one of the guards well away from all the tour groups, some US dollars changed hands, and he whisked me off to a locked gate. A key was produced, and I was hurriedly escorted inside. Steps led up to the base of the Medressa, and although the facades are in good condition the backs of the buildings seem to be a bit of a messy building site.
The guard pointed the way to the minaret and then I was on my own, climbing up a spiral stone staircase with the occasional slit window to light my way. After an age I was thrust out into the daylight - my eyes where at the same level as the small circular copper roof of the minaret. As my eyes adjusted to the bright light a beautiful view came to light. There was the square way below me, with ants moving around with their cameras. Beyond that was the whole of Samarkand with more domes and ancient sites to be visited, and beyond that again the mountains.
And Uzbekistan's delights don't stop there - another train trip up to Bukhara allows you to see another 'Silk Road' city - this one with trading domes that are 10° cooler inside than outside due to their thick walled construction. Not to mention a fabulously intricate 47m tall minaret that you can climb to get views over the ancient city.
Yes, Uzbekistan is a real jewel box!