Central Asia's Silk Road Tour
This tour will lead you through cities in Central Asia that were once important stopovers on the Great Silk Road. You will discover the cultural treasures and traditions of the nomadic people who have crossed the region for ages, and of the people who have settled in its cities. Explore the sprawling Soviet-styled cities and tour three modern capitals of Central Asia. Absorb the architectural legacies of flourishing Islamic culture and the great Timurid Empire in Samarkand, Bukhara & Khiva. In your short stay, you will live through the centuries of the Central Asian Silk Road.Read more
This tour will lead you through cities in Central Asia that were once important stopovers on the Great Silk Road. You will discover the cultural treasures and traditions of the nomadic people who have crossed the region for ages, and of the people who have settled in its cities. Explore the sprawling Soviet-styled cities and tour three modern capitals of Central Asia. Absorb the architectural legacies of flourishing Islamic culture and the great Timurid Empire in Samarkand, Bukhara & Khiva. In your short stay, you will live through the centuries of the Central Asian Silk Road.
Tashkent is the biggest city in Central Asia and one of the oldest. Unfortunately, in an earthquake in 1966 most of its historic buildings were destroyed. Nevertheless, a few buildings notably at the Khast Imom Complex have survived and this is where we are heading first on today’s city tour of Tashkent.
The complex contains ancient Quran book of Caliph Uthman (from 7th century!) and the mausoleum of the Islamic saint, Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi. We then join the animated throng of traders at Chorsu Bazaar before taking a ride on the Tashkent Metro and visiting the Amir Temur & Independence Squares. You will also have a chance to see the History Museum of Uzbekistan.
Hotel Itchan Qala or similar
Today we have to get up very early to catch the morning flight to the western part of Uzbekistan. From the airport in Urgench it takes another 40 minutes by bus until we reach Khiva, where we check in at the hotel. Khiva is bursting with historical sites – and today you will get a chance to see them all.
We will visit the walled inner-city section of Khiva called Ichan-Kala. This old section of town preserves more than fifty historic monuments and hundreds of old houses dating back hundreds of years. The entire citadel is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you walk through the enormous city gates, you are confronted by the glistening Islamic beacon, the Kalta-minor Minaret. Delve deep into the town on a guided tour that embraces all of the city sites, and includes an ascent of the Islam Khodja Minaret, the highest minaret in Khiva. Enjoy broad views of Old Khiva atop the Kunya-Ark Citadel.
Hotel Asia or similar
Leaving Khiva will be a drag, but as our destination today is the equally delightful Bukhara, we are sure you will forgive us. Heading west, we follow the highway that takes us right into the Kyzylkum (“red sand”) desert, just as the ancient Silk Road traders once did. The mighty Amudarya River cuts through the desert and we will stop on route to see this important waterway that flows into what remains of the Aral Sea. It is a long day on shaky roads, so prepare yourself with plenty of snacks and charge up your devices so the music does not run out. At the end of this arduous drive, the reward will be Bukhara, where we arrive in the late afternoon. Check in at the hotel and go for a walk in the Old Town.
Overnight in Komil Boutique Hotel or similar
The second of our UNESCO World Heritage stops - even the very name Bukhara conjures up images of the exotic Orient. Today, as for centuries, it is an important trading post and you have numerous opportunities to see traditional Uzbek products being bought and sold. The Old Town has been well preserved and is crammed full of minarets, mosques, and madrassas. Its once notorious canals and pools, the source of many an epidemic, have now been drained but the most famous, Lyabi-Hauz, is still there, an oasis shaded by mulberry trees at the heart of the city.
Your guide will show you the city’s unmissable sights and you can soak up the atmosphere wandering through Bukhara’s labyrinthine alleyways. In the evening, we are invited by a local family for dinner.
Komil Boutique Hotel or similar
After breakfast, we depart Bukhara to drive to the capital of Timur’s impressive empire, Samarkand. On the way, we stop at Shahrisabz – birth place of Timur – for lunch and a short city tour. You will see the ruins of Timur’s summer palace Ak Saray, Mosque Chasrati-Imam and Kok-Gumbaz as well as the Darus Saodat complex. As birth place of Timur, the buildings of Shahrisabz should demonstrate the power of the emperor. The ruins of the summer palace are indeed still today impressive and witness of the past grandeur of the Timurid empire. From Shahrisabz it is another two-hour drive to Samarkand. Check in at the hotel. Dinner in the restaurant of the hotel.
Hotel Platan or similar
Sublime Samarkand evokes an almost mythical past full of romance and intrigue. This was the domain of Timur, one of history’s great conquerors. His vast empire rivalled any, stretching across the Eurasian steppe, who ruled his kingdom with an iron fist while at the same time patronizing the arts and literature. Much of his architectural heritage has been preserved, allowing us to see how the city might have been at the peak of his power.
We begin the city tour just outside the city in the village Koni Ghil to explore the traditional way of making Samarkand paper from mulberry. Back in the city we then visit Ulgubek’s observatory, once the biggest research center of Central Asia. Ulugbek was decades ahead of the West with his observations of the solar system and the earth and we will learn more about his story in this prestigious setting. Our next stop is Shah-i-Zinda, the necropolis where family members of Timur are buried. After lunch we visit the impressive Bibi Khanum Mosque, before delving into the world of dried fruits and other local delicacies at nearby Siyob Bazaar. Dinner at a local family’s house, just outside the city.
Hotel Platan or similar
Today, finally you get to see Samarkand’s and arguably Uzbekistan’s most famous landmark, spectacular Registan Square. The focal point of ancient Samarkand is framed by three beautiful madrassas – Ulugbek, Sherdor and Tillya Kori. We will also visit Gur-Emir mausoleum, where Timur is buried and Afrasiyab Museum, where you can learn more about the ancient city of Samarkand that was destroyed by the Mongols in early 13th century.
In the late afternoon, we will take the high-speed train back to Tashkent. Check in at the hotel and Uzbek farewell dinner.
Hotel Ichan Khala or similar
After breakfast, we say goodbye to marvelous cities of Uzbekistan and transfer to Oybek border crossing with Tajikistan. Go through border formalities on both checkpoints on foot and meet Tajik guide & driver on the other side of the border. Transfer to Khujand, where you will check in at the hotel, have lunch and then city tour.
Khujand is situated not far from the Fergana Valley on the Syr Darya river. It is another ancient city with its history dating back to Cyrus the Great of Persia and Alexander the Great. Today it is the second largest city in Tajikistan with Tajikistan’s largest market – Panjshanbe Bazaar. City tour includes the bazaar and adjacent Maslihaddin Mosque, and the historical Museum of Khujand. In the evening, we will have a walk around Kmaoli Khujand park and see the Lenin statue.
Grand Hotel or similar
Today is another long, but very scenic driving day through the Zarafshan mountains to Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. On the way, just a bit more than an hour from Khujand we make the first stop at the ancient city of Istaravshan. Recently it celebrated its 2500th anniversary. From medieval times until today its artisans are highly regarded in Central Asia. Istaravshan is particularly well known for its blacksmiths who produce knives of high quality. At the entrance of the market, we will visit such a workshop. We will also meet a famous wood carving master, who will tell us more about his work and passion. The short tour in Istaravshan will be completed by a visit to the Hazrati Shoh Mosque and Mugtepa fortress.
The road from Istaravshan to Dushanbe is very scenic and we cross two passes, first Shahriston then Anzob on almost 3000m altitude. After Anzob tunnel we drive along Vazob river down to the Varzob gorge, weekend getaway for locals from Dushanbe, from where the city is already not far. In the evening we arrive in Dushanbe, check in at the hotel and have dinner.
Sheraton Hotel or similar
Today we spend the full day in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. Originally, Dushanbe was a small village around a market that took place every Monday. The word Dushanbe translated from Persian literally means Monday. It was during the Soviet Union that it became the industrial center of Tajikistan.
We start the day just outside Dushanbe at the historic Hissar Fortress (7th – 17th century). Once an official residence of the delegates of the Emir of Bukhara, you can still feel and experience the grandiosity of the fortress. Back in Dushanbe we visit the National Archeological Museum of Tajikistan with the famous Buddha statue. We will then visit Ismail Samani statue. The large monument commemorates the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State, the heyday of the Tajik nation, when science and arts flourished. From there we walk up to Rudaki park, dedicated to great Persian poet Rudaki, who also lived during Samanid time in the 9th century.
Sheraton Hotel or similar
Today you can have some free time in the morning before we will make our way to Dushanbe International Airport to catch the Air Astana flight departing at 13:30 and arriving in Almaty at 16:15 local time. Meet your Kazakh guide at the airport and transfer to the hotel for check in. We will then go to the city center to have dinner.
Rixos Hotel or similar
The flight to Bishkek will be only in the evening so we will have time for most of the day to see Almaty. Almaty is the largest city of Central Asia’s richest country, Kazakhstan. Until 1997 it was the country’s capital and it remains today the country’s business and educational center. Roads are wide and tree-lined and there are good views of the Zailisky Ala-Too mountains that form a backdrop to the city. The name Almaty means “the place with apples” and it is believed that this is where apples originated from.
We will start the day with a visit of the State History Museum in Almaty, where you can learn more about the country and its rich history. Next, we visit Panfilov Park to see the most famous sight of Almaty, Zenkov Cathedral. It was built in 1904 without a single metal nail and is one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings. In the same Park is the impressive Soviet Glory Memorial, a tribute to 28 men who, as the narrative goes, repulsed 50 German tanks from the outskirts of Moscow during World War II.
At the Green Bazaar, you get a chance to explore local Kazakh culture as you shop for fresh fruits and vegetables. We will end the city tour on Independence Square. We will transfer to the airport at 15:00 to catch the flight to Bishkek departing at 18:00. At 18:55 arrive at Bishkek airport and meet your guide and driver for transfer to the hotel.
Park Hotel or similar
We start the day with a 2-hour drive to Burana Tower, 85km east of Bishkek. The minaret was built in the 11th century in the medieval town of Balasagun, capital of the mighty Karakhanid emprie. You can climb up the winding staircase to enjoy a nice view of the Chuy valley. There is also an open-air museum featuring a collection of ancient balbals, carved stone figures used as monuments. We then drive back to Bishkek to have lunch in a nice restaurant in the city center.
Bishkek, the charming capital of Kyrgyzstan, is relatively young. It started as a Russian garrison “Pishpek” in the late 19th century and it was only during Soviet Union time that a city was built. It is a very green city, with tree-lined boulevards, and many parks. Our sightseeing program in Bishkek includes stops at the newly renovated National History Museum, Oak Park, the Central Square Ala Too and the Philharmonic Hall.
Park Hotel or similar
Transfer to airport for departure flight back home. We hope you enjoyed your trip to Central Asia and will return soon to discover more places in this beautiful part of the world!