It’s everything you imagine Kazakhstan to be, but we’re still inside Uzbekistan, if only just. A rough steppe landscape stretches out in front of us, an endless expanse of greenish grasses on a sandy plain, with the distinct smell of wormwood entering our nostrils. Herds of furry, fat-bottomed sheep hobble across the only road, followed by a lone shepherd hiding in vain from the sun. The start of the Nuratau mountains, a wall of granite tracks the southern edge of the road. There seems to be no way in, but then a road veers off, heading straight for the rockface.
Big boulders alongside the road point to a valley carved out by a river. All of a sudden, the lush leaves of walnut trees present themselves. Grass is growing on the banks of the stream. Out of the semi-desert, an oasis emerges, the village of Sentyab (or Sentob), carved from stone and water over the past 2 millennia.
Sentyab is a Tajik village, whose inhabitants found refuge here when fleeing from Alexander the Great’s army when he marched through Tajikistan. Together with the other villages hidden in the Nuratau mountains, it forms a chain link with the past, as caravans from Bukhara to Tashkent passed by here until as late as the 19th century. Petroglyphs and inscriptions in Arabic in the rocks stand testament to those historic travelers.
Nowadays, Sentyab, as well as neighbouring Asraf, Eski Forish, Hayat, Urum and Upper Urum are set up for tourism, a ploy to give villagers another income besides livestock, which was overgrazing the Nuratau Ecological Reserve just beyond the boundaries of the village.
Besides relaxing on the topchan or ayvan (a roofed topchan from stone and wood), visiting and commenting on village gardens and stargazing the night away, what else can you do here?
In summer, you can do some great walks/horse rides/donkey rides: a wonderful day hike leads past petroglyphs through the Sentyab food forest sprinkled with walnut, pistachio and fruit trees. It’s a great place to discover local flora and do birdwatching, as well as get in touch with the locals who built little summer houses here, to get away from the “busy village” (?). The hike ends at a waterfall, where you can take a refreshing dip on a hot day. Longer routes go up to the village of Majerum with its majestic arbor vitae or to a mountain lake called Fazilman.
In May, you can help raise silk worms, whereas from mid-November until the end of March, games of kokpar are organised. To visit the nature reserve and see the endangered Severtsov mountain sheep, you’re better off starting from one of the other villages, located closer to the reserve.
All in all, Sentyab is a great place to spend a few days relaxing, regaining strength for another round of Uzbekistan’s many mosques and madrassahs. For more practical details on visiting Sentyab and the other villages in the area, see our guide to the Nuratau mountains or contact Nuratau Ecotourism Association to arrange your trip.