I would like to introduce a very good online resource dedicated to Central Asia, one of those regions where traveling still comes with a fair amount of headaches. Caravanistan is a complete regional guide divided by country that I used a lot to check for actual information in the labyrinth which Central Asian bureaucracy can be.
I decided to contact the author, Steven Hermans, and ask him a few questions regarding his project. He decided to start Caravanistan doing an overland trip from Europe to China in 2010.
“I had done all my research through the usual channels (Lonely Planet forum, Wikitravel etc.) and I thought I knew what I was doing. However, when I arrived to Kazakhstan and applied for a Chinese visa, they told me it was not possible for foreigners, even though previous reports said it was no problem. As I was stubborn and did not want to fly, and there was a revolution in Kyrgyzstan at the time, I had no choice but to return to Europe by Russia. Things keep changing all the time in Central Asia and I noticed a lot of people get stuck in similar ways, having to change their travel plans because of bad information”
Steven has kept an interest in Central Asia after he married a local girl he met during that same trip in Kazakhstan, and moved into the region. But what is so good about Central Asia for an independent traveler? “Outside of a few tourist hotspots” he says,” you’re always the only foreigner around. For those independent travelers trying to get away from the tourist circus of Asia or South America and get into the life of people, it’s a great region. People are very open and hospitable, and it’s very easy to make friends with almost anyone and experience a totally different culture and view of life”. After my recent visit to Central Asia, I can agree with Steven. “Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are the only places in attracting mass tourism, and they may surprise the overlanders who are used to being left alone in other parts of the region. But this is inevitable, I feel, as they are major world historical sites. So we need to accept that, or go outside of the tourist hours. See the Registan moonlit at 3am, or visit Khiva snow-covered in winter, and I promise you, you will be all alone!!” he continues.
Caravanistan is building up steadily and already provides a wealth of good information to help plan serious travel to Central Asia, and there is much more in the pipeline. “My main aim” says Steven ”remains to keep the practical information up to date: visas, transport, border crossings… There has to be a trusted source, as I am expecting a lot of instability to hit the region over the next few year. Furthermore, no other established travel brand has managed to fill that gap: for this reason, I also would like to slowly build a complete travel guide to all the destinations in Central Asia, one that is much more detailed than those currently on offer from Bradt, Lonely Planet or Wikitravel. With the online version of Caravanistan I want to introduce the region’s culture, both old and new, but also discuss the current issue. Central Asia is not Thailand – you cannot travel here without having an interest in human rights, politics or ecology. I want to discuss these things with my readers, for me these topics are not separate from travel. And ultimately, I want to make a connection between crafts people and tourists, and promote ecotourism, as the infrastructure is there, but people are just not showing up, nobody knows about it. I hope my website can function as a gateway for them in the future”.
Planning a trip to Central Asia? Look no further, log onto Caravanistan and start getting the latest, most useful information!!