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Central Asia… Borderland of Civilization

October 06 to 29, 2017

The western region of Central Asia presents a colorful melting pot of peoples 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 BCE until the 10th century CE the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan 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.


I was thrilled with the trip, very comprehensive. You will be busy. Ihab simplifies the visa procedure, can be complicated and annoying. Mansour, local guide is marvelous. This is a fascinating part of the world...
– Marcia Henderson

Gladly… the trip was marvelous: A+. We saw and did everything. We were treated like royalty, everything was spotlessly clean, the food was great and the night skies blew me away. And I slept like a baby
– John Goldstein

Tour Escort: Led by lecturer, historian and linguist Bruce Wannell

Tour cost (air and land from NYC): $7,995.00 per person sharing in double occupancy

Single Supplement: $850.00

Credit for not using our included airfare $900.00

Price based on a group size of 6 to 14 participants


Your tour Includes:

  • Round trip airfare from New York City on Turkish Airlines (STS reserves the right to change airlines).
  • 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 and separate guides in each city in Tajikistan.
  • 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: Ashgabat – Mary – Ashgabat, Ashgabat – Dashoguz,
  • Khodjent – Dushanbe, Osh – Bishkek, Bishkek – Almaty.

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 visas to all countries visited (approximately $440.00 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.
  • Travel Insurance (highly recommended).

Tour Notes

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.

About your lecturer…Professor Bruce Wannell has been traveling  for over 40 years through North and East Africa, the Levant, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, Northern India and the Deccan sometimes living in such places for an extended period of time. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Africa, Asia, the Near East and the Islamic world and is a linguist fluent in French, German, Italian as well as Arabic and Persian languages. Mr. Wannell was educated at Sandhurst in Surrey and at Oriel College, Oxford, in the UK. His background has served him well as he regularly translates and gives lectures related to his field of expertise. He has also worked as a teacher with refugees. Bruce enjoys an eclectic array of pastimes, from gardening to French cuisine and chamber music (piano and harpsichord, accompanying instrumentalists and singers in the classical and Baroque style). We believe he is the perfect companion to accompany you across this rich historical crossroad of civilizations. His engaging, captivating personality and eloquent, narrative style will entertain as he seeks to enlighten you on the interdisciplinary subjects related to the Silk Road and its past.

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)


View Tour Itinerary

Saturday-Sunday, Oct 07-08
US to Ashgabat

Depart JFK for Istanbul arriving the next day. Make the connection to the flight to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan arriving in the middle of the night. You will be met upon arrival and transferred to the hotel where you can rest, relax and refresh after your journey. After breakfast at the hotel the remainder of the day is at leisure. (B,L,D)

Monday, Oct 09
Ashgabat

After breakfast, head to visit Ashgabat famous Oriental Bazaar, Hippodrome of Ashgabat, Arche of Neutrality, Presidential Square, Gulistan Bazaar Also visit Monument of Lenin and Ertogrul Gazy Mosque. Afterwards return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Oct10
Ashgabat

Spend a relaxing day visiting the famous sights of Ashgabat. Begin at the Tolkuchka Bazaar, the Sunday market of Ashgabat, the most interesting sight is the carpet sellers. Continue to the State Museum of History that includes exhibits from the pre-historic periods. It also houses an exquisite collection of carpets. Tour the grand mosque of the city before visiting Nissa in the foothills of the Kopetdag mountain range. This archaeological site dates back to the 1st century BC. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Oct 11
Mary

After an early breakfast transfer to the airport for your flight to 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. A number of monuments are still visible, particularly from the last two millennia. 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. Afterwards transfer to the airport for your flight back to Ashgabat and return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Oct 12
Ashgabat to Nukus

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. Depart for the Uzbekistan border checkpoint near the town of Khodjeyli. After border formalities, which can be quite slow and time- consuming, drive to the hotel in Nukus for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Oct 13
Nukus to Khiva

Begin your day with a visit to the Savitskiy Museum to see some of the collection of over 95,000 pieces including Karakalpak Folk Art, and ancient art from the region of Khorezm. Drive to the ruins of Toprak Kala, a settlement from the Kushan period built in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Continue to Kizil Kala, a frontier fortress from the Kang Kuyi period, and Ayaza Kala that was inhabited from the 2nd century BC to the 3rd century AD. End your day at a hotel in Khiva where you will have dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Oct 14
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. This compact, walled city was once rather isolated and a haven for slave traders. The fortunes and importance of Khiva rose when Amu-Darya changed its course leaving the capital town of Kunya Urgench in almost oblivion when all the attention was drawn towards Khiva. 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, the most beautiful architectural gem of the city. 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)

Sunday, Oct 15
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)

Monday, Oct 16
Bukhara

Today you will explore Bukhara, the “pearl of the east” – the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as one of Central Asia’s most ancient living cities. Bukhara was the first oasis that caught the eye of invading Arab armies and their impetus for exploring the region and expanding into the heartland of Central Asia. The ancient town of Bukhara goes back in history more than 2500 years and during that period it kept changing hands from one ruler to another. It was one of the important towns along the caravan route and the richest of the Transoxiana countries. Some of the sights you will see include the Ark Citadel, home of the rulers of Bukhara for over a millennium; the Mausoleum of the Samanid Dynasty, the rulers of Iran in the 9th and 10th centuries; the Kalon Complex with the oldest Minaret in city; Ulugbek Madrassa, one of three built by Tamerlane’s grandson Ulugbek; Abdul Aziz Khan Madrassa; Magoki Attor where archaeologists found remains of a 5th century Zoroastrian temple destroyed by Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple underneath. Wander through the covered bazaars, the specialized markets in the town that were built at the junction of caravan routes. Some that remain to this day are Toki Zargaron (jewelers), Abdulla Khan Tim (silk), Toki Telpak Furushon (caps), and Toki Sarrafon (moneychangers). Explore the Lyabi Khauz in the heart of the city, the Jewish Quarter and the synagogue. Enjoy a walk in the old city and attend a folkloric performance this evening. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Oct 17
Shakhrisabz and 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 hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Oct 18
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. Its impact can be seen in the great archaeological finds that include fascinating murals. 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. It has been a pilgrimage site since the 11th century. 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)

Thursday, Oct 19
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)

Friday, Oct 20
Tashkent to Khodjent and Dushanbe

After breakfast, travel to the border point at Oybek, about a 1.5-hour drive. Upon arrival meet your guide and depart for Khodjent. Tour the Museum of Archeology and the fortress from the 7-8th century that is situated in the middle of the northern part of the city. It was destroyed several times throughout its history by several different conquerers and the last reconstruction took place in the 18th century. Continue to the Payshanba Bazaar and Samani Square Arbob Palace named after S. Urunhodlaev. Depart for the airport for the flight to Dushanbe, the capital of sovereign Tajikistan. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Oct 21
Dushanbe

Begin your tour of the city with a visit to the Tajikistan State Museum to see the exhibits on history and art. The Buddha in Nirvana is one of the more interesting exhibits of the museum. Continue to the daily market at the Grande Bazaar and Ismail Samani Square. Drive west to Khissar to explore the remains of an 18th century fortress that had been occupied until 1924. Beside the fortress are two madrassas, one dating from the 18th century and the other from the 19th century. Just beyond them is a mausoleum from the 16th century. Return to the hotel in Dushanbe for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Oct 22
Dushanbe to Fergana

After breakfast, depart for Uzbekistan via the Anzob Pass and tunnel. En route stop in Istaravshan at the Khazrat Shah architectural complex to see the Hazrat Shah Mausoleum, the Khudayar Valami Mausoleum, and the Namazgah Mosque. Cross the border near Kanibadam, famous for its almond groves and head to Fergana City. En route visit the town of Rishtan, an important ceramic center in Central Asia. Learn about traditional floral designs of the region. Upon arrival check in to a hotel and enjoy some free time before dinner. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Monday, Oct 23
Fergana to Kokand to Margilan

After breakfast, trip around Uzbek part Fergana Valley to visit famous sites Kokand, Margilan: 18th and 19th cc capital of the Khanate – Kokand town. Khan’s palace, Friday mosque; Norbutabiy madrasah, Margilan, known for its silk factories and considered the center of silk production of the whole of Central Asia. Observe the age-old process of silk production and learn more from the masters about the distinctive colors and patterns historically coveted by Chinese and Persian merchants, local bazaar and Madrasah. Said Akhmad-Khoja Madrassah used as Handicrafts Center; Museum of Fergana holding historical and ethnographical objects from the region. City Park, Statue of Ahmad Al Fargoniy, known as Al Farangus. Afterwards return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Oct 24
Fergana to Osh to Bishkek

Depart for Dustlik on the border and cross into Kyrgyzstan. You will be sujbect to formalities on both sides before meeting up with the Kyrgyz team that will take you to Osh city. Centrally located in southern Kyrgyzstan, Osh is known as one of the oldest cities in the Fergana Valley. Upon arrival start tour by visiting Suleiman-Too (Solomon’s Mountain), the Museum of History, the Main Square and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Continue to the Osh Bazaar, a market that is located at the same place as it was in the times of the Great Silk Road. Afterwards depart for the airport for your flight to Bishkek. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Oct 25
Bishkek

Begin your day at Manas Republic Square and National Flag Square before heading to the Museum of History. Continue to Philharmonics Square to see the Statue of Manas, then on to University Boulevard and Victory Square. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Oct 26
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 hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Oct 27
Issik kul to Almaty

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. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Oct 28
Almaty

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. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Oct 29
Almaty to the US

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.“

Travel Insurance:

BHTP