Uzbekistan spans several ecosystems, and topographic and geographic shifts.
Its eastern fringes tilt upwards in a knot of rugged mountains – Tashkent’s Chatkal and Pskem Mountains run into the western Tian Shan range, and Samarkand’s Zarafshon Mountains and a mass of ranges in the southeast flow into the Pamir Alay.
This isolated,rocky and forested terrain makes up an important habitat for the bear, lynx, bustard, mountain goat and even the elusive snow leopard.
To the west of the well-watered mountains are vast plains of desert or steppe.
The Amu-Darya (Oxus) river drops out of Tajikistan and winds its way westward along the Turkmen border for more than 2000km before petering out short of Moynaq, cleaving the landscape into two halves: the Karakum (White Sands) desert and the Ustyurt Plateau to the west; and the Kyzylkum (Red Sands) desert to the east.
Despite its bleakness, this land is far from dead; the desert is home to the gazelle, various raptors and other critters you’d expect to find – monitors, scorpions and venomous snakes.
There are some 15 zapovednik (nature reserves) in Uzbekistan, the largest of which is the Hissar Nature Reserve (750 sq km), due east of Shakhrisabz.
This remote region of pine and juniper forests is home to the country’s highest peaks – 4425m Khojapiryokh and a 4643m peak on the Tajik border still known by its wonderful Soviet sobriquet, 22nd Party Congress Peak.