Only a handful of places still manufacture silk in the traditional way, the most famous of them in the Fergana Valley, a day’s drive southeast of Tashkent across the Tian Shan range.
Although it’s encircled by snow peaks, the ‘valley’ is actually a broad, flat-bottomed basin – well watered, lush and enduringly fertile. The region has enjoyed a near mythic reputation as a land of milk and honey since it was conquered by Alexander in the 4th century BC. Later, generations of Chinese emperors were captivated by the ‘Heavenly’ or ‘Blood-Sweating’ horses believed (erroneously as it turned out) to originate on its green hillsides. Today, Fergana is the most prosperous and densely populated region of Uzbekistan –one rich in wonderful Islamic monuments, a handful of them dating from the time of Babur, the first Mughal Emperor, who was born in its main city, Andijan.
In the town of Margilan, the Yodgorlik Silk Factory offers a unique opportunity to witness the colourful process sericulture in action – from the steaming of cocoons to unravel the fibre, to the dyeing and weaving of exquisite khanatlas (long silk coats).
Traditional Uzbek garb is much in evidence amid the stalls of Kumtepa Bazaar on the outskirts of Margilon, where every Thursday and Sunday, local people dressed in full finery buy and sell fresh produce and livestock.