Central Asia & Western China... Pearls of the Silk Route
October 14 to November 08, 2018
China’s breathtaking western region, comprising Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang, occupies a mind-boggling swathe of remote territory inhabited by a variety of peoples and cultures. This region lies at the edges of Chinese consciousness and on the road less travelled, and the sheer physical distances involved are daunting – the city of Kashi (Kashgar) is closer to Baghdad than it is to Beijing. From Gansu the route leads westwards to Xinjiang before dividing into two strands, one north and one south of the formidable Taklimakan Desert. This trade link from China to the shadowy barbarian lands beyond brought wealth and worldliness to the remote oasis towns. Few landmarks have tantalized travelers more than the legendary caravan centers of Central Asia. Tucked behind remote mountains and deserts, these cities were rarely visited by travelers from the west. Long forbidden to all but Muslims, for much of the 20th century they were hidden within the Soviet Union. No longer inaccessible, one can now travel the length and breadth of the Great Silk Road and follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. From the time of the Roman Empire, the Silk Road connected China with Europe crossing spectacular landscapes and enriching cosmopolitan cities. Before Islam, Tibetan Buddhism and Zoroastrian cultures flourished there, all leaving their marksin ruins, temples, mosques, mausoleums, madrasahs, souks and caravansaries. Turkic cultures mingled with Bactrian, Greek, Tibetan, Chinese, Islamic and Russian, creating astonishing art and customs. The western region of Central Asia presents a colorful melting pot of peoples and cultures. From the middle of the 1st millennium BC until the 10th century CE the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were part of the Persian Empire. Later the Silk Road connecting China with Europe ran through the region. Central Asia was a major center for three great religions: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Islam. Mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and traditional souks offer a glimpse of times past.
Per person sharing in double occupancy (air and land from NYC): $8,995.00
Single Supplement: $1,100.00
Led by Dr. Mehreen Chida-Razvi, lecturer, historian and archaeologist
Credit for not using our International included airfare from NYC into Almaty & out of Ashgabat (based on Turkish Airlines schedule and fare): $800.00
Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 14 participants
Your tour does not include:
- Round trip airfare from other cities or gateways besides NYC.
- Fuel surcharges, border departure taxes, airport taxes and security charges (approximately $495.00 at time of printing).
- Consular visas to all countries visited (approximately $700.00 at time of printing including Visa service & shipping).
- Turkmenistan Immigration tax at the border US$ 12.00 per person (subject to change).
- Photography and video making fees.
- Meals not specified in the itinerary.
- Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.
- Dayrooms or extra hotel overnights if necessary.
- Expenses of a personal nature such as: beverages with meals, telephone, email, laundry bills, camera fees, etc.
- Travel protection Insurance.
Your tour includes:
- Round trip airfare from New York City on Turkish Airlines (STS reserves the right to change airlines) into Almaty and out of Ashgabat.
- Airport transfers and travel by modern, air-conditioned motor coach throughout.
- Superior tourist class and first class hotels. Based on full board basis.
- Entrance tickets to the sites, museums, mausoleums.
- Sightseeing in each city as per itinerary.
- English Speaking Escort Guide.
- Invitation visa letters.
- Gratuities to guides, drivers, porters, restaurant & hotel staff.
- Bottled water on the bus daily (one per person).
- Connection flights between countries: Almaty to Urumqi / Urumqi to Kashgar / Bishkek to Dushanbe / Mary- Ashgabat-Mary.
- Bullet Train Tashkent to Samarkand
II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides.
*** Superior - Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)
The Fine Print:
We reserve the right to change the order of activities or places visited due to unforeseen schedule conflicts or in order to make the itinerary run smoothly. Some of the hotels can be rather spartan and plain especially in small towns. You must be in good health to participate as there are days with long walks, some on uneven ground. Elevations can reach up to 6,000 ft above sea level. Some drive days are very long and can be exhausting in nature but we will be making frequent rest stops. Bathroom facilities along the way may be rather primitive and at times that will mean “in the wilderness”.
Note on visas:
The process of obtaining all visas is simple. Starting from 2017, Tajikistan visa is obtained online. Chinese visa requires the standard procedure. No visa required for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan requires letter of invitation or visa support letter to claim your visas. For all travelers we will assist with arrangements of letter of invitation. We need to start applying for the letter of invitation 2 months prior to the start date of the trip, WITHOUT need for actual passport, just a scanned copy of it. In very rare occasions letter of invitation may not be secured by issuing authorities with no given reason. On basis of approved letter of invitation you are eligible to claim the tourist visa at the Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Embassies located in Washington, DC or use the visa company recommended by us.
About your lecturer Dr. Mehreen Chida-Razvi; earned her BSc and BA from the University of Florida, Gainesville, before moving to London, England where she completed an MA in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and a second MA and a PhD in the History of Art & Archaeology from SOAS, University of London. She specializes in the history of Islamic art, architecture and material culture in the early modern era, with a particular emphasis on the Persianate regions of Mughal South Asia, Iran and Central Asia. Dr. Chida-Razvi’s primary research examines the history of architecture and the built environment and she has carried out extensive fieldwork and site-research in Pakistan and India. Another area of particular interest is the cultural and artistic interactions between Europe and the Persianate world and the social and historical circumstances which allowed for such connections to take place. Since 2007 Mehreen has given lectures and taught courses on Islamic art and architecture in London and Oxford, and has furthermore been an academic contributor and consultant for a documentary on the Taj Mahal.
View Tour Itinerary
Sunday-Tuesday, Oct 14-16
US to Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Depart JFK Oct 14 for Istanbul arriving the next day. Make the connection to the flight to Almaty in Kazakhstan arriving in the middle of the night Oct 15 (First hours of Oct 16). You will be met upon arrival and transferred to the hotel where you can rest, relax and refresh after your journey. Free day at leisure and prepare for your tour.
Wednesday, Oct 17
Start your morning with a tour of Almaty, known locally as the ‘father of apples’ because of the delicious, juicy apples grown in the region. Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and the former capital of the Republic. Almaty was the capital of Kazakhstan till December 1997. Sudden exposure to the outside world has turned Almaty into Central Asia's most cosmopolitan city with shops, restaurants, hotels and casinos that would make the place unrecognizable to anyone who had been away since 1990. The city has long straight avenues and low-rise architecture. The Zailijski Alatau Mountains rise like a wall along Almaty's southern fringe and form a superb backdrop. Explore Panfilov’s Park where the Holy Ascension Cathedral, the Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments, the State Museum of History, the Grand Mosque and Republic Square are located. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Oct 18
Almaty-Urumchi (Western China)
Have breakfast at hotel and morning free at leisure then in the afternoon head to visit the Green Bazaar. This bazaar in Almaty on the crossroad of Zenkov and Jybek Joly streets looks like a usual oriental market where you can purchase everything: starting with meat, spices and fruits up to textile and furniture. Anyone should bargain here, vendors praise their goods and try to treat the customers; and customers, in their turn, prefer to choose and socialize; life is on. For those tired and hungry during shopping, there are places to rest, drink tea and have a snack. Green bazaar amazes some with its abundance of goods and colorful atmosphere of the East, and some remain indifferent. Shop in TSUM largest souvenir place in the city, then in the evening transfer to the airport for your evening flight to Urumchi, upon arrival meet your guide and transfer to hotel for check in. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Friday, Oct 19
After breakfast, drive to Turpan, one of the driest parts of China, upon arrival head to visit Jiaohe City ruins. Jiaohe is translated from Chinese as an “inter stream area”. Indeed, it is true that the city lies on a cliff in the intertwining of the two rivers; such location was contributing much to the protection and prosperity of the city for centuries. It was one of the safest trade points on the Great Silk Road. Upon arrival transfer to hotel for check in and have short refreshment. Start your sightseeing tour in Turpan. It is one of the most ancient cities which sprang up on the Great Silk Road. It managed to preserve numerous monuments of ancient Uyghur architecture, the most famous of which is the XVIII century Emin minaret, located 2 km from the city. The minaret was built in 1777 in honor of the well-known Uyghur general and later Turpan governor Emin Khoja, who during the Junggar rebellion fought with Qing China. By way of gratuity the Chinese emperor gave him possession of Turpan, making the post of a ruler inheritable. After the death of Emin Khoja, it was his son Suleiman who began to rule Turpan, and it was his money the minaret was built on. We will visit unique irrigation system. The karez irrigation system is a system of underground and surface channels connected by wells. It is fed with water flowing during the deglaciation. Initially, the water is accumulated in so-called collecting wells, and from there by special channels it comes to agricultural valleys for irrigation and directly to Turpan. The length of the canal system reaches 5000 km – its scope and grandeur of idea are comparable only to those of the Great Wall of China. The system delivered water not only to the oasis of Turpan, but also to other cities on the Silk Road, and was the only saving grace for caravans and lonely travelers for a great while. Our final stop will be vineyards of Turpan, famous for its raisins. The Grape Valley has already existed for several hundred years. The huge 8 km-long plantation with grape and fruit orchards covering about 400 hectares seems at first a surprising mirage, since the landscape, surrounding the valley is far from paradisiacal. Have dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Oct 20
After breakfast, drive to Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves at Flaming Mountains. Originally, the entire complex consisted of 83 caves, of which nearly 40 almost intact caves with murals and paintings only survived. Many of these paintings are over 1300 years. They were created within several centuries, up to the XIII century, when Islam started supplanting Buddhism from East Turkestan. Many of the well-preserved frescoes withstood the ravages of time. Most of them are an image of Buddha in various forms, in addition, many of the images tell us not only about religion, but also about the history and culture of the region. Visit the site with the remains of Buddhist Culture and Religion, then continue to Gaochang city Ruins, once the stop over Silk Road in Taklimakan Desert. The city’s history begins in the I century BC during the opposition between China and the Huns. The Huns originally built Gaochang as a military fortress. Gradually the fortress was expanded developing into a city. At the beginning of the new millennium, the city passed into possession of the Turcuts, and in the middle of the V century it became a part of the Zhuzhan Khanate. However, in the VII century the Uyghur tribes separated to form the Uyghur Kingdom in this and surrounding territories. During this period, the city was called Dukhu, which means a “royal city”. Gaochang existed up to the XIII century, until it was destroyed as a result of the Mongol invasions. Drive back to Urumqi, upon arrival transfer to the airport for your flight CZ6801 to Kashgar, upon arrival meet and transfer to hotel. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Oct 21
After breakfast, begin your tour to one of the most popular events in the province, the Sunday bazaar (open Sundays only). It is located on the east bank of the Tuman River. The Oriental Bazaar is one of the largest international markets in Central Asia, because people come there not only from Central and Eastern China, but also from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Nepal and other neighboring countries and regions. Of especially fascinating sight is Sunday bazaar, which attracts farmers and artisans from all the villages and remote nomad camps. Among the various items you can find truly unique pieces of original culture of the Uyghur and other local nationalities. When you get to Sunday market, at first you may feel as though you found yourself in a medieval city. There you can find bullock cart drivers and riders, stalls abound with all kinds of oriental and Uyghur traditional sweets, and what is more all the newcomers and local merchants are dressed in costumes traditional to their nationality. In the afternoon we will head to visit the old town. One of the main Kashgar attractions is the Id Kah Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Central Asia. Friday prayer brings together up to 10,000 people, many of whom are praying in the square outside the mosque. The Id Kah Mosque is a kind of Mecca for Chinese Muslims, where up to 100,000 people gather during holiday. Near the city’s center there is another religious attraction - the Mausoleum of Khoja Abajo, built in 1640. It is a deposition place of five generations of his family, including Khoja Abajo himself, the famous Islamic preacher. This also includes the tomb of Turkish Princess Syanfey. She was a favorite concubine of the Chinese Emperor Qianlong, a native of Kashgar. The Kashgarians say that the princess was not only a beautiful woman, but also a great warrior, master of martial arts. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Monday, Oct 22
Kashgar –Tashrabat –Naryn (Western China - Kyrgyzstan)
Early breakfast then drive to the border crossing with Kyrgyzstan (long procedure which requires patience and time). After border formalities, meet local team in Kyrgyzstan and drive to Tashrabat, the ancient Caravanserai and meeting point of different cultures. This is a carefully restored stone building that once housed an inn on the Great Silk Road. Its date of origin is strictly unknown - but there is archaeological evidence to suggest that the site was occupied in the 10th century. Set some 15 km up a small, beautiful valley in the foothills of the Tian Shan, embedded against the hillside. There is evidence that it was a place of both rest and worship and would have served to protect caravans to and from China from both the ravages of the weather and of bandits - from before the time of either Tamerlane or Genghis Khan. Continue drive to Naryn. Transfer to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Oct 23
After Breakfast depart to Issyk Kul, the Nature wonder of the country. Issyk-Kul (“hot lake” in Kyrgyz) is the world's second largest salt lake (after Caspian) and is 1609 above sea level. The lake is about 180 km long by 70 km wide and 668 meters deep at the deepest point, (the average depth is about 300 meters).The lake never freezes (hence the name), even though surrounded by mountains. Upon arrival to Balykchy town we will make stop and take photos of Issyk Kul. After lunch we will continue our way to Bishkek by making another authentic stop at Burana Tower which is seven km. far from the city of Tokmok. It is an 11th century minaret, and one of the first buildings of such type in Central Asia. The original height of minaret was 45 meters. Today the tower is 24.6 meters high; the remaining part came down during an earthquake in the 15th century. Drive to Bishkek, upon arrival short sightseeing tour. Transfer to the hotel. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Oct 24
Bishkek-Dushanbe (Kyrgyzstan - Tajikistan)
We will take morning flight to Dushanbe. Before starting sightseeing we will check in to the hotel. In the afternoon begin sightseeing tour. Dushanbe, the capital city of the republic, is located in Hissar Valley in the south of Tajikistan. Although the name of the city is rather new, its historical past dated back as far as 3 thousand years. Archeologists have dug out the remains of Greek-Bactrian settlements, the site of ancient settlement from Kushan period, site of ancient Shishi Khon village and other medieval settlements. Visiting of National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan (closed on Mondays) that includes the exhibits on history, natural history and art (Buddha in Nirvana is one of the valuable exhibits of the museum). Our next stop will be Gurminj Musical Instruments Museum. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Oct 25
After breakfast head to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane alsoEarly morning depart for Khujand. It occupies mainly, the left bank of the Syr-Darya River, is surrounded by mountains with the slopes planted with orchards. Being home of famous scientists, writers and musicians, Khujand preserves the status of the scientific and cultural center in Tajikistan. The city has a theater, regional history museum and an archaeological museum as well as the Khujand State University. We shall take route to Khudjant via Shahristan Pass with beautiful views. Our first stop will be at Istarafshan to visit Kok Gumbaz mosque. You will immediately notice the light-blue dome of Kok-Gumbaz mosque-madrasah as if floating in the air over it. The building is located in the western part of the city. This 16th-century structure was erected by the order of Abdullatif Sultan - the son of the well-known scientist, astronomer and philosopher - Ulugbek, the grandson of Tamerlane. Later we shall continue to Khujand and on arrival visit the shrine of Shaikh Moslehuddin with its lapis lazuli dome and golden interior of the same. Khujand is one of the oldest cities of Central Asia, according to some sources it was founded in the VII-VI centuries BC. It was conquered by Alexander the Great, who rebuilt, fortified and re-named it to Alexandria Eskhata. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Friday, Oct 26
Khudjant-Tashkent (Tajikistan - Uzbekistan)
Morning depart for Uzbek border point and after the border formalities proceed to Tashkent. Meet guide and transfer to the hotel. In the afternoon begin your tour of Tashkent, including a visit to the highlights of this once 4th largest city in Soviet Union, re-planned after an earthquake in 1966. Tour the old city complex. Nowadays the most picturesque places of the Old City are located in the region of Chorsu Bazaar and Sebzar massive. A pearl of the Old City is the Khast Imam complex. It is a square where the Mausoleum of St Imam Kaffal Shashi after whom the complex was named, Islam Institute named after Imam al-Bukhari and the building of Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Uzbekistan are situated. The central place in the square is occupied by a new Friday Jami mosque. Two minarets of 56m-high each are located along the both sides of the mosque. Opposite to the mosque, there is the Library of Spiritual Administration which holds one of the most respected and sacred relics of the whole Muslim world – caliph Osman’s Koran (VII century).of Khazrat Imam to see the mosque, Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, Tillya Sheikh Mosque, Barak Khan Madrassa and the Museum of Islamic Books. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Oct 27
Begin your day exploring the metropolis and capital of modern Uzbekistan, the city along the Silk Road known as the “City of Friendship and Peace”. This wonderful city is a real embodiment of the modern elegance that is inherent in many world capitals. At the same time it remains to be an oriental city. Tashkent has its own unique flavor. It combines medieval buildings as if descended from the pages of old oriental tales, elegant European architecture from the period of the Turkestan governor-generalship, standard concrete "boxes" of the Soviet era and, finally, glittering skyscrapers of glass and concrete. Continue to the State History Museum housing archaeological finds from ancient to modern times in Central Asia, Independence Square with its Arch of Independence and the Memorial to the Victims of World War II. Tashkent Bazaar Chorsu, the age of which is more than hundred years, also was always located on the main square of the city Eski-Juva. Old bazaar constructions destroyed and went bad, but the traditional architecture remained unchanged – domed large premises. Wander through the Chorsu Bazaar before returning to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Oct 28
Tashkent-Samarkand (bullet train)
Take comfortable morning train to Samarkand. Upon arrival you will be transferred to the hotel. Samarkand is situated in the valley of the river Zerafshan. It is the second largest city of Uzbekistan and is of the same age as the city of Babylon or Rome. The history of Samarkand is about 2,750 years old and has witnessed many upheavals during the times of Alexander the Great, the Arabic Conquest, Genghis-Khan Conquest and lastly Tamerlane's. Hence, the culture of Samarkand was developed and mixed together with the Iranian, Indian, Mongolian and a bit of the Western and Eastern cultures. Majestic and beautiful city Samarkand has a marvelous and attractive power. Poets and historians of the past called it "Rome of the East, The beauty of sublunary countries, “The pearl of the Eastern Muslim World". Its advantageous geographical position in the Zarafshan valley puts Samarkand to the first place among cities of Central Asia. In the afternoon visit Gur Emir which is the beautiful Mausoleum of the Tamerlane. One of the most significant architectural ensembles of medieval East – the Gur Emir was built in the southwestern part of Samarkand at the beginning of the XV century. This majestic complex consisted of a khanaka, the madrasah of Muhammad Sultan - grandson of Amir Timur, and, later, tombs of Amir Timur himself and his descendants. We will visit museum of local ethnography and lore based at mansion of Kalantarov. Then head for a walk to Registan Square to catch the sunset. The Registan Square is a real gem located in the very heart of the ancient city of Samarkand. It has gained its worldwide fame thanks to the great architectural ensemble that has become a monument of the oriental architecture. From three sides, the square is surrounded with grand madrassah, portals of which are facing the center of the space. All three erections have their own unique décor. It is by virtue of these buildings, preserved on the territory of the city. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, Oct 29
Today Samarkand is the treasure of unique antiquity spirit. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List due to the abundance of material and spiritual values. Unique monuments of ancient architecture, heritage of scientific and arts schools, artisans’ workshops are well-known around the world. The historic town of Samarkand is a crossroad and melting pot of the world’s cultures. This World Heritage Site was founded in the 6th century BC and had its most significant period of development during the reign of the Timurids from the 14th to 15th centuries. Begin your city tour with a visit to Afrosiyab (old Samarkand) where the remains of the ancient Greek city of Marakanda were discovered. Explore the museum that displays important Sogdian mural paintings from the 7th century and the 15th century Ulugbek Observatory with its huge sextant dug into the hillside. Tour the Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis which continues to be a focal point for local pilgrimages, and the Bibi-Khanum Mosque, built by the favorite wife of Tamerlane. Walk to the Siyab Bazaar, the daily market for locals. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Oct 30
After breakfast depart to Shakhrisabz, the hometown of the warlord Tamerlane through the Pamir Mountains and pastureland. Looking at the well-groomed modern appearance it is difficult to believe that this city is 2700 years old and that it has played a significant role in the history of Central Asian region. Formerly Shakhrisabz was the capital of the ancient state of Sogdiana and had the name of Kesh. It was the famous center of culture, trade and handicrafts. In 329 BC Alexander the Great conquered the city and soon Hellenistic culture and cult of the Greek gods appeared there. Over millennium Shakhrisabz was under the reign of various dynasties and in the 8th century it was the center of anti-Arab and anti-Islam rebellion. Upon arrival head to visit the ruins of Ak-Saray Palace, Kok Gumbaz Mosque, Dorut-Tilovat Complex and Dorus-Saodat Complex. Continue to Bukhara, upon arrival transfer to Zargaron hotel or similar for check in, dinner & overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Oct 31
Spend the day examining some of the finest examples of Islamic Architecture in the world, where exquisite tile and mosaic work complements the beautiful brickwork. Visit the Lyabi Khauz Complex with the Nadir Devanbegi Madrasah and Khanaka, Kukeldash Madrasah, the Magoki Attar Mosque where archaeologists have found remains of a 5th century Zoroastrian temple destroyed by Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple underneath and the Poi-Kalon Minaret, Madrasa of Abdul Aziz Khan, Ulugbek Madrasah, Ark Fortress, the residence and army headquarters of the Bukharian Emirs that houses an interesting collection of objects, Trade domes Toki Zargaron (jewelers), Abdulla khan Tim (silk), Toki Telpak Furushon (caps), and Toki Sarrafon (moneychangers). Continue to the “pearl of the east” the Mausoleum of the Samanid Dynasty, rulers of Iran in the 9th and 10th centuries, which features brickwork with a marked Zoroastrian influence. Return to the hotel for rest, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Nov 01
Depart early morning for a long drive to Khiva through the heart of Kyzyl-Kum desert (the red sands), this wasteland was the route of the invaders coming from the north as nomadic hordes or armies of the Persians or Alexander the Great marching his troops through the heart of desert to cities of his Persian enemy, Genghis Khan’s devastating troops crossed these deserts to enter the mainland of his enemy. You will see the expanse of Amu-Darya as it spreads its branches to a network of canals serving as a watering base for the huge cotton economy of the whole region. Upon arrival, transfer to hotel for check in and then start your tour in Khiva, this compact walled city was once rather isolated and a haven for slave traders. Explore Ichan Kala, a forest of tall minarets and domed roofs surrounded by dwellings and public buildings reflecting rich traditions of popular oriental architecture, Kunya Ark, the residence of the rulers, a massive, fortified citadel at the center of the city and built in the 12th century by Ak Sheikh Bobo and later expanded by the khans of the 17th century, it is comprised of living quarters, a mosque, the palace of the khan, the residence of his harem, the mint, the arsenal, the stables and the jail. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, Nov 02
Have breakfast then continue your tour by visiting the tomb of Sayid Allauddin, Mausoleum of Pakhlavan Mahmud, Shirgazi Khan Madrasah, Islam Khodja Madrasah and Minaret, Djuma Mosque and Tash Khauli, the most beautiful architectural gem of the city. Depart to Nukus, the capital of Karakalpak Autonomous Republic arriving late in the afternoon. Transfer to hotel for check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Nov 03
Breakfast early in the morning and visit famous Savitskiy museum. Later on transfer to the border Khojayli between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Border formalities and continue to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kunya Urgench, situated across the Amu Darya (Oxus River), it was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kwarazm that dates back to around 1000 BC. Here at Kunya Urgench the Mongol hordes faced the first serious resistance in the west led by Prince Jalal ad-Din who was known as “the brilliant knight of the east”. See the mausoleums from the pre Mongol period and the later Mongol period Tomb of Tjurabeg Khanum, same period is a caravanserai with a 62m Kutlug Temir minaret and winding brick staircase. In the afternoon drive to Dashoguz. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Nov 04
Late in the morning depart Dashoguz to finish the day in the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. En-route visit ethnic Dashoguz Central Bazaar. Then drive due south, along the main north-south highway, following the traditional travel route across the Karakum desert. Arriving at the border between the northern and southern regions of Turkmenistan we turn off the main road for an exciting eight-kilometre desert drive. The drive over, we find ourselves a couple of hundred metres away from the flaming crater. We will enjoy our photo session. Afterwards we will continue our way to Ashgabat. On the way to the capital we will make a short stop at a desert settlement, Yerbent, which can give us an idea of what desert life, looks like. A mixture of traditional households, satellite dishes and incidental oasis-type vegetation, looking out of place in the yellow-sand neighbourhood, Yerbent is the major and biggest settlement in the Central Karakum. Upon arrival to Ashgabat we will check in hotel and have dinner. Evening at lesisure. (B,L,D)
Monday, Nov 05
In the morning we visit the fortress of Old Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. En-route visit the Spirituality Mosque, biggest in Turkmenistan, and the family mausoleum of the first President. Then we return to the main city to explore the “Pearl of Central Asia”, capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. Within the city we visit the Park of independence with its independence monument, and Neutrality Square, famous for its Arch of Neutrality topped by a rotating gold-plated statue of the first President of Turkmenistan. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Nov 06
Ashgabat - Mary –Ashgabat
Take morning domestic flight from Ashgabat to Mary city. This day we will take a close look at one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ancient Merv. Consisting of a series of cities, succeeding one another as capitals of the famous oasis, Ancient Merv is the only site of its kind in Central Asia. Being an architectural site as well as archaeological, Merv may offer numerous standing monuments, such as the oldest of still standing corrugated mud-brick “keshks” – Great and Little Kiz Kalas, magnificent Seljuk mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammad ibn Zaid, the palace and keshk in the royal Seljuk citadel of Shahriar Ark, Timurid eyvans and Arab tombs of the Profet’s companions, Askhabs, and many more. To make our historical and cultural understanding of the area complete, we return to Mary to visit an exciting ethnographic and archaeological display in impressive Regional Museum. Evening flight back to Ashgabat. Overnight at hotel . (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Nov 07
In the morning, visit the National Museum of History and Ethnography (displaying more than 327.000 exhibits) to see exclusive ancient artifacts from numerous historical & archeological sites of the country. After we continue west, to the underground Kov-Ata cave, accommodating a unique hot-water (+ 35-37C all year round) sulphur lake. After a swim in the lake, we return to Ashgabat. On the way to Ashgabat we make stop at stud farm near Geok Depe. Gok Depe is former Tekke stronghold and was the site of the biggest battle for the Russian domination in Central Asia in the late 19 c. After arrival at the farm, you will be familiarized with the stud-farm and have shown of Turkmen horses- Akhal Teke. Drive back to Ashgabat. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Nov 08
Ashgabat - USA
Transfer to the Airport for your flight back home.
We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed