Having previously worked as a Tour Leader, Simon Grove is now Explore's Head of Product. His tour leading job took him all over the world, but what inspires him when it comes to deciding where to travel next? Here he recalls twenty-year-old memories of when his desire to visit Uzbekistan blossomed.
"In 1996 Uzbekistan was somewhere I had heard of, but in reality knew very little about. I was in my first year as a Tour Leader for Explore, had just returned from Egypt and was about to set off for India. My mind was beginning to turn to where I would like to apply to work for my summer contract upon my return from India. During the brief time at home between my travels, my dad decided to introduce me to what was a new phenomenon to me at the time - a car boot sale. He thought it was great and I just found it absolutely baffling. I never thought it would be life-changing.
Amongst a pile of car radios, incomplete jigsaw puzzles and tomato plants, I came across a book; Eastern Approaches, by Fitzroy Maclean. It looked like a travel tale so, naturally, I bought it. I started reading it there and then whilst my dad looked through boxes of broken tools. It was a book that I couldn’t put down; a true story of the adventures of a remarkable man. In the 1930s, as a junior diplomat, Maclean set off to explore the forbidden states of Central Asia. Through his tales he introduced me to the fabled Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bokhara, brought to life the Great Game (that’s a whole other fantastic book by Peter Hopkirk) and ignited a desire in me to travel to Central Asia.
Nine months later I was there. I was leading groups through Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan, through the Tien Shan into China and then along the Karakorum Highway to Rawalpindi. To this day I still feel privileged to have explored Central Asia, especially to have done it when it was still so new to foreign visitors.
The architecture in Uzbekistan is stunning; the blue domes of the Registan in Samarkand are mind-blowingly beautiful and whilst standing in front of the Ark Fortress in Bokhara it was very easy to imagine being in 1842, watching the beheading of two British diplomats, Stoddart and Conolly, jailed on spying charges following an unsuccessful British incursion into Afghanistan...
The books I read were a great inspiration to travel and I’d recommend them to anyone with an inkling to travel to Central Asia. It's still a little–visited part of the world that has so much to offer, with reality being just as great as the stories I had read while wandering around a British car boot sale."
Follow in Simon's footsteps and find out more about our tours to Uzbekistan.
By Simon Grove