Chris Aslan Alexander

Chris was born in Turkey (hence the Turkish middle name) and grew up in Ankara and war-torn Beirut. In 1998 he moved to Uzbekistan to work on a guidebook. He was adopted by a local family, fell in love with the place and people, and stayed. His book ‘A Carpet Ride to Khiva – Seven years on the Silk Road’ tells this story.

After his time in Uzbekistan, Chris then went on to live in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. A total of fifteen years in the region means Chris has travelled extensively, speaks fluent Uzbek and passable Kyrgyz, Tajik and Pamiri, and has also immersed himself in the history, culture and traditions of the region.

We asked Chris to share his thoughts on who has inspired him, his best travel advice and more…

How often do you travel?

I’ve just spent a couple of years studying full-time at Oxford with the long holidays that come with it and got to travel through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, which was wonderful. I should probably be more adventurous, but now that I don’t live in Central Asia, I’m constantly drawn back because I want to maintain friendships, and not let my languages get too rusty. I also think it’s impossible to tire of the incredible natural beauty of Kyrgyzstan or the breath-taking Silk Road cityscapes of Uzbekistan.

Who has inspired you to do what you do?

I love reading historic travel accounts of Central Asia. There were never huge entourages of coolies and servants or anything like that, but plucky women and men who knew what it was to rough it. I particularly love how Mildred and French, missionaries to inland China and Mongolia, managed to write with wonder, compassion, and respect about the people they met, downplaying their own discomfort or the very real danger they were often in.

What country surprised you?

It was my dream for many years to visit Iran, which is really hard to do as a Brit, although I finally made it last year. I was so surprised at how secular Iran was. Underneath the compulsory chador or headscarves, there’s a whole hidden existence and quiet rebellion towards the government. I was bowled over by the generosity and hospitality of strangers and found the people to be as much a highlight as the place.

Where is next on your travel ‘bucket list’?

I’ve always wanted to visit Madagascar, and have a really good friend who lives there and married a Malagasy. Peru is also high up on my list and I’m itching to do the Inca trail.

Do you consider your carbon footprint when you travel?

Yes. I’d rather go for a longer holiday somewhere and really explore it, rather than short-haul trips.

What is the one essential you travel with?

My kindle. As an author, I’ll always prefer paper, but gone are the days when I used to worry about running out of books on a holiday.

What is your best piece of travel advice?

I was leading a group recently and we went through a particularly demeaning and rigorous security check in an ethnically troubled part of China, which included having the soles of our feet scanned and having to remove all battery-powered items from our hold luggage. “I find it helps,” said one of the women in the group, “to remember that this isn’t a holiday, it’s travel. They’re both wonderful, but they are different.”