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Central Asia... Borderland of Civilization

April 27 to May 16, 2018

Central Asia presents a colorful melting pot of people and cultures. Since the end of the 2nd millennium nomads from the north have periodically occupied these regions, settling and mingling with the local population to create new cultures and civilizations. From the middle of the 1st millennium BC until the 10th century AD the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan were part of the Persian Empire. You will explore shimmering desert towns, UNESCO-listed palaces, stark soviet towers, bizarre oil-boom buildings and the history of the ancient trading routes between east and west. Stretching all the way from China to the Mediterranean, the Silk Road is a historic and cultural marvel. Caravans laden with, amongst many other things, gold, ivory, spices, furs, jade, exotic animals and of course, silk, trundled along the vast network of trade routes that made up the road for nearly two millennia. Not only were goods transported on the route but it also acted as a bridge that brought cultures and ideas together; Islam and Buddhism reached China thanks to the Silk Road while it facilitated the spread of Persian, Greek, Roman, Indian, Arabian and Chinese influences around the world. 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): $7,995.00
Single Supplement: $850.00   

Led by Professor Norman Jones, History and religious studies (Utah State University, UT)

Credit for not using our included airfare $900.00

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 $480.00 at time of printing).
  • Consular visa fees to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (approximately $330.00 at time of printing).
  • Photography and video making fees.
  • Dayrooms or extra hotel overnights if necessary.
  • Expenses of a personal nature such as: beverages with meals, telephone, email, laundry bills, camera fees, etc.
  • Activities and sites not described in the itinerary.
  • Travel Insurance (highly recommended).

Your tour includes:

  • Round trip airfare from New York City on Turkish Airlines (STS reserves the right to change airlines).
  • Air ticket TAS (UZB) - FRU (KRG), air ticket FRU (KRG)-ALA (KAZ).
  • Airport transfers and travel by modern, air-conditioned motor coach.
  • Superior, first class, 4* or best available accommodations.
  • Meals on full board basis.
  • English-speaking private guides in each country
  • All activities described in the tour and entrance fees to all sites mentioned unless listed as optional.
  • Invitation visa letters for all countries.
  • Gratuities to guides, drivers, porters, restaurant and hotel staff.
  • Bottled water on the bus daily.
  • Domestic flights: ASB – MARY – ASB, ASB – DAS (TKM),  
  • Urgench-Bukhara (UZB), Shymkent-Almaty (KAZ)
  • Bullet train Samarkand-Tashkent (UZB), private Standard coupe per person for Almaty-Turkestan train (KAZ)
  • Folk Show in Bukhara & Boat ride in Cholpon Ata (KRG) 

Trip Grade:

II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides.

III Challenging - Parts of the trip are physically challenging, involve hiking on rough terrain or in sand or at high altitudes. There may be long drives on rough roads; weather conditions with high heat or humidity. You may have simple picnic lunches, primitive bathroom facilities along the road and remoteness from modern cities

LODGING Level:

*** Superior - Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)

**** Luxury - Regular style- usually large- hotels, typical western standard with ample venues, and full amenities. (4 or 5 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. 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.


View Tour Itinerary

Friday-Sunday, Apr 27-29
US to Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)

Depart JFK Apr 27 for Istanbul arriving the next day. Make the connection to the flight to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan arriving in the middle of the night Apr 28 (First hours of Apr 29). You will be met upon arrival and transferred to the hotel where you can rest, relax and refresh after your journey. Late in the morning, visit the fabled Sunday Bazaar of Tolkuchka (Open: Thu, Sat, and Sun). Attracting colorfully dressed people from all over the country to buy or sell camels, cattle and poultry, amulets, carpets, jewelry, and myriads other things. From the market we head back to hotel to have rest. Later on we will enjoy our dinner in the city. (B,D)

Monday, Apr 30
Ashgabat

In the morning we visit the fortress of Old Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. En-route visits 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, and Earthquake Memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1948 earthquake. Then we 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. Overnight at hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 01
Ashgabat - Mary

After breakfast we will drive to the underground lake known as 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. This town 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 and take afternoon flight to Mary city. Upon arrival to Mary you will be transferred to 4* hotel and free evening at leisure. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, May 02
Mary-Ashgabat

After an early breakfast we will explore Mary (ancient Merv); the oldest and the best preserved of the oases-cities along the Silk Route in Central Asia. The remains in this vast oasis span 4,000 years of human history. Merv blossomed during the Iranian Empire of the Achaemenids and later under the Parthian, Sassanian, Arab, and Seljuk Turk domination. Also visit Gyaur Kala and Sultan Kala; the giant circular rampart of Erk Kala, the remains of a 6th century BC fortress and Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum, an impressive building of exquisite brickwork completed in 1140 AD. Visit the history museum of Mary city. Afterwards transfer to the airport for your flight back to Ashgabat and return to the 5* hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 03
Ashgabat – Dashoguz – Kone Urgnch - Dashoguz -Khiva (Turkmenistan -Uzbekistan)

Have breakfast then transfer to the airport for your flight to Dashoguz. Proceed to Kunya Urgench; once the capital city of the powerful state of Khorezm and its territories. It was the center of scholars in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and literature under the patronage of Khorezm Shah. Genghis Khan destroyed the city, slaughtering all male souls to avenge the killing of his emissary sent earlier to the court of Khorezm Shah. Items of interest include the mausoleums from the pre- Mongol period and the later Mongol period, the Tomb of Turabeg Khanum, and an ancient caravanserai with a 62m Kutlug Temir minaret and winding brick staircase. Drive back to Dashoguz and cross Shavat border. Drive to Khiva and overnight at the 3* hotel. (B,L,D)

Friday, May 04
Khiva

After breakfast, visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Khiva, described as one of the best-preserved cities along the Silk Road and the most homogenous agglomeration of medieval Islamic architecture in the Islamic world. Explore Ichan Kala, a forest of tall minarets and domed roofs surrounded by dwellings and public buildings reflecting rich traditions of popular oriental architecture. See Kalta Minar the symbol of Khiva, and the madrassas of Amin Khan and Mukhammad Rakhim Khan. Tour Kunya Ark a massive, fortified citadel at the center of the city that was once the residence of the rulers of Khiva. 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. Continue to the Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud, the Shir Gazi Khan Madrassa, the Islam Khodja Madrassa and Minaret, the Djuma Mosque, and Tash Khauli. End your day at the Toza Bagh Summer Palace of the Rulers before returning to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 05
Khiva to Bukhara

Depart overland for Bukhara through the heart of the Kyzyl-Kum desert (the red sands). This wasteland was the route of the invaders coming from the north as nomadic hordes and the armies of the Persians. Alexander the Great marched his troops through the heart of the desert to the 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. Arrive late in the afternoon at the hotel in Bukhara where you will have dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, May 06
Bukhara- Shakhrisabz- Samarkand

After breakfast head to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane also known as Amir Timur. Upon arrival start your tour by visiting the magnificent architectural monuments of the Timurids. See the remains of the Ak-Saray palace of Tamerlane, the Mausoleum of Djehangir; the Khazrat Imam Mosque; the Mausoleum of Sheik Shamsiddin Kulal; the Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum; the Kok Gumbaz Mosque and the Chorsu trade dome. Depart for Samarkand and after checking into the hotel, enjoy some free time to explore your surroundings. Have dinner and overnight at the 4* hotel. (B,L,D)

Monday, May 07
Samarkand to Tashkent

After breakfast, explore Samarkand which was coveted by invaders who wished to make it part of their empire. The “Jewel City of the Silk Road”, Samarkand has always been admired for its beautiful gardens and riches. It was once an important town that served as the major way station for caravans traveling along the Great Silk Road. Marco Polo spoke of its booming trade and gardens. Tamerlane made Samarkand his capital and called it the “capital of the world”. Visit Gur Emir, the 15th century mausoleum of the family of Amir Timur and Registan Square, the site of a 14th century bazaar. See three madrassas: Ulugbek a monumental madrassa built by a grandson of Tamerlane that was the greatest University of Central Asia in the 15th century, Sherdor Madrassa and Tillya-Kari Madrassa, both built in the 17th century. Tour Bibi-Khanum, once the biggest mosque in Central Asia, it was erected by Tamerlane after his victorious Indian campaign in 1399. Continue to Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, a complex of 20 mausoleums located near the grave of Kusam Ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. A few more stops before you end this busy day of sightseeing: the Observatory of Ulugbek, the Afrosiyab Archaeological Museum with murals from the 7th century. Head to the railway station and board the bullet train to Tashkent. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 08
Tashkent

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”. The background of the low-lying Tien-Shan range gives Tashkent a pleasant climatic condition. It became a place to show the power of the Communist Party in 1966, Tour the old city complex of Khazrat Imam to see the mosque, Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, Tillya Sheikh Mosque, Barak Khan Madrassa and the Museum of Islamic Books. 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. Wander through the Chorsu Bazaar before returning to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, May 09
Tashkent – Khodjent- Tashkent (Uzbekistan –Tajikistan-Uzbekistan)

Early breakfast in the morning. At 08:00 drive to Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border point Oybek (100 km, 1 h 30 min). After completing customs and passport control on sides, Tajik local guide and driver will meet you on the Tajik side and take you to Khujand (70 km, 1 h). Start Khujand sightseeing tour. You will explore the Sughd Historical Museum, Timur-Malik Fortress, Mosque and Madrasah of Shaikh Muslihiddin, You will try delicious Tajik cuisine at the local restaurant. Drive back to Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border point Oybek (70 km, 1 h). After passing the border Oybek, the driver will meet you on Uzbekistan side and transfer to your 5* hotel in Tashkent (100 km, Duration of sightseeing tour: 3-4 hours (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 10
Tashkent to Bishkek (Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan)

Take morning flight to Bishkek by HY 779 06:15 08:30. You will be met your guide and driver. Drive to Ala Archa national park (40 km, 50 min.) which attracts visitors with its beautiful mountain scenery and hiking trails. Fast flowing Ala-Archa River runs through the alpine gorge surrounded by snowy peaks with steep forested slopes. Enjoy free time or a hike in the park. In the afternoon return to Bishkek for city tour. Visit Oak Park, Ala-Too Square, Statue of Manas. See Philharmonic Hall and Victory Monument–bright examples of Soviet architecture. Check in to the 5 *hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, May 11
Bishkek to Issik Kul

After breakfast drive to Issik-Kul Lake, one of the wonders of the country. En-route stops to see the 11th and 12th century AD caravan town ruins of Balasagun, once an important center of trade and commerce. Early Chinese texts state that the city was founded in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD by the Sogdians. The Buddhist monasteries and rock drawings found in Chui valley signify that the town was of great importance. Today you may see an 11th century tower that was once part of a religious complex, the only remnant of this great history. Mongol armies ransacked the town in 1220. Visit a small museum dedicated to the Turkic tombstones in the courtyard. Continue to Issik Kul Lake. Check into the 4* hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 12
Issyk Kul – Bishkek - Almaty (Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan)

Depart after breakfast for a boat ride on Issyk Kul Lake known as “Hot Lake” because it never freezes even at this high altitude. Explore an open-air museum of petroglyphs, with examples from the Bronze Age. Return to Bishkek and head to the airport for the flight to Almaty by KC 110 19:55 20:45. Upon arrival, transfer to the 5* hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, May 13
Almaty- Turkestan

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. The town is set in the Tien Shan range giving it a very subtle climate. Explore Panfilov 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. Transfer to railway station. Take evening train to Turkestan. Overnight in train. (B,L,D)

Monday, May 14
Turkestan

Morning arrival to Turkestan. The guide and driver will meet you at the train station. Start sightseeing Turkestan. Visit Azret-Sultan historical - architectural complex, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum, Turkestan town necropolis, oriental baths and underground mosque. In the evening visit the “night bazaar”. Overnight at the 4*hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 15
Turkestan-Shymkent-Almaty

Early in the morning transfer to Shymkent. On the way visit Arystan-Bab (Khoja Ahmed Yasawi's teacher's mausoleum) and Otrar town excavations. Arrive in Shymkent. The rest of the day sightseeing to Sayram village: “Ibragim-Ata” mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi's father; “Kharashash-Ana” mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi's mother. After dinner take flight to Almaty by KC 970 21:50 23:05.Upon arrival to Almaty, transfer to 5* hotel for overnight.(B,L,D)

Wednesday, May 16
Almaty to USA

Transfer to the airport for your flight back to the US via Istanbul.

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed