Come along to hear the footsteps of history as we explore the sites and cities of the Silk Road, which once ran all the way from China to Europe, with Uzbekistan right at its heart. The steppes, deserts, mountains and gleaming blue-tiled cities tell a story of trade and conquest. Join us in 2018 on the road to Khiva, Bukhara and fabulous Samarkand; cities built to dazzle the travellers who have passed by for thousands of years. For centuries — if not millennia — this is where not only goods, but knowledge, ideas, and cultures crossed from East to West. We journey in the footsteps of those ancient caravans, from grassy plain to desert voyaging from city to city, crossing Uzbekistan in an unforgettable journey.
- We visit no fewer than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Samarkand, Shahrisabz, and Bukhara
- Explore the winding streets of the great Silk Road cities, dazzling blue-tiled domes, mosques, and centres of learning
- Travel the ancient trade routes, where caravans of silk, spice, and textiles once crossed the landscape
- Cultural Excursion
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
Our overnight flight departs for Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s historic capital at the heart of Central Asia. Destroyed by Genghis Khan, and restored by the admired Mongol ruler Tamerlane (also commonly known as Timur), this great trading city has much to offer those interested in the ancient Asian world.
We touch down in Tashkent and transfer to our hotel, where we enjoy a period of rest before an afternoon visit to the History Museum. Founded in 1876, and formerly known as the Lenin Museum, this is one of the oldest institutions in Central Asia, and boasts an epic assortment of artefacts. Highlights include the remains of a primitive man dating from 1.5 million years BC, as well as significant statues and reliefs from the country’s Buddhist period.
This evening we enjoy a welcoming meal together – a chance to get to know the group over dinner and drinks.
After a comfortable night’s sleep we drive to the ruins of Shahrukhiyah, an important Silk Road city sacked by the Mongols in the 13th century, and now concealed beneath a verdant mound.
We return to Taskhent for a walking tour this afternoon, exploring ancient mausoleums, beautiful mosques and bustling bazaars in the traditional streets of the charming Old Town, as well as taking in the remnants of the city’s Soviet past.
This morning we fly west to Nukus, a large Soviet city located near the border of Turkmenistan. Upon arrival we make our way to Gyaur Kala, the “Fortress of Infidels”, a settlement established at the time of the First Persian Empire. Its surviving mud brick walls and towers are indicative of Zoroastrian inhabitants.
After lunch we continue to the Medieval city of Mizdakhkan, site of Uzbekistan’s oldest necropolis, first founded some 2,000 years ago. Still a place of pilgrimage and mysticism, the legends surrounding this settlement include that of the “World Clock”, a building that is said to shed just one brick a year. The story goes that its eventual collapse will signify the end of the world.
In the morning we visit the world-renowned Savitsky Museum, which contains some of the richest collections of artefacts in Central Asia. Expect remarkable galleries featuring ethnographic and archaeological objects, as well as thousands of works produced by the Russian avant-garde artists of the early 20th century – initially acquired as a controversial rebuttal to the Socialist Realist school.
Next we travel south along the Amu River to the remote ruined tepe of Chilpik Dakhma, a Zoroastrian tower of silence used in funerary “sky burial” rituals until the Arab invasion of the 7th century AD.
Our final destination for the day is Khiva, an important Silk Road city famous for its role as a slave trading post.
The sixth day of our trip begins with an excursion to the mighty fortresses of Ayaz Kala. Dramatically situated on the edge of the Kizilkum Desert, and erected to protect local inhabitants against nomadic attacks, these ancient strongholds were largely destroyed at the time of the Arab invasions.
We continue to the abandoned city of Toprak Kala, a complex built by the slave-owning Khorezm, with an extended line of crumbling walls that is visible for miles around. Built in the 3rd century AD, its remains include the residences of Khorezm governors, workshops which formerly manufactured bows, and a palace with three imposing towers.
Step into a world of Arabian Nights made real: we spend a whole day in Khiva, with its narrow alleys, graceful minarets and thriving markets. Khiva was the centre of an independent Uzbek Khanate until it was captured by the Russians in the 19th century. The first of Uzbekistan’s sites to achieve World Heritage status, the city still boasts its original defensive walls and gates, as well as a wealth of ornate mosques and mausoleums.
This morning we drive across the Karakum Desert, marvelling at shifting dunes and modern caravanserai; perhaps even stopping at one of the tea houses which huddles the sporadic clumps of communication antennae.
Our journey brings us to the World Heritage site of Bukhara, a city inhabited for well over 2,000 years, and a prominent hub of commerce on the old Silk Road. We base ourselves here for our next round of adventures, taking time before dinner to enjoy the fine views of the Amu and the land of Turkmenistan beyond…
Today is all ours to wander brilliant Bukhara, judged by UNESCO to be “the most complete example of a Medieval city in Central Asia.” Long a part of the Persian Empire, the city was seized by the Samanids in 903 AD, and went on to become a significant centre for intellectualism in the Islamic world.
As part of our tour we visit the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, a dazzling example of Samanid architecture, and the Poi Kalyon religious complex, a gleaming collection of sacred buildings, so transcendent that not even Ghengis Khan could not bring himself to destroy it.
We enjoy special access to ongoing excavations at the ruined city of Paykent today. Once a rival to Bukhara, Paykent was established in around the 14th century BC, and flourished as a trading post for the Silk Road in the 7th century. Known as “the City of Buyers”, and long thought to be impenetrable, it was eventually ransacked by Arab invaders and deserted. Heaped mounds and crumbling walls mark the remnants of a long-abandoned metropolis.
Today we follow the Silk Road route to Samarkand, an extended drive east across the scenic plains of central Uzbekistan.
On the way we stop at Ribat-i Malik, an 11th-century caravanserai with an intricate Persian façade matching those found on palace walls at Persepolis – a quality of décor that far surpasses that of its contemporaries, and which has led some experts to postulate that this building was once in fact a summer residence used by Karakhanid rulers.
We wake in Samarkand, a principal and prosperous city on the Silk Road route, and prepare ourselves for a full day of dazzling discoveries.
Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and has passed through all manner of incarnations – ruled not only by Ghengis Khan, it also came under the control of Alexander the Great.
The original core of the city survives along with later monuments, meaning that there is plenty to keep us enthralled.
Among today’s many highlights is our trip to Afrosiab in the Zerafshan Valley. Here we find Samarkand’s oldest archaeological site, once the location of a Samanid palace, and now linked to an illuminating museum.
We also admire the plaza of Registan, an impressive public square bordered by three stunning madrasahs, or Islamic schools. A breath-taking monument to power and learning.
This morning we transfer to smaller vehicles and drive to the turquoise-domed city of Shahrisabz, ancient birthplace of Tamerlane. Legend states that the city was destroyed by the Khan of Bukhara when his favourite horse died from exhaustion on the steep ascent to the gates.
What remains today are the looming towers and delicate mosaics of Tamerlane’s stupendous 14th-century White Palace, and the emperor’s intended tomb, which was ultimately abandoned in favour of a final resting place in Samarkand.
We begin our last full day by exploring more of central Samarkand, first visiting the restored Gur i Emir Mausoleum complex where Tamerlane was buried. The attraction is home to the world’s largest piece of jade, in the form of Tamerlane’s gravestone.
Our next stop is the Ulugh Beg Observatory, a 15th-century marvel of astronomical research which was unearthed in 1908. Ulugh Beg is widely considered to be one of the finest historical observatories in the Islamic world.
We continue on to the enormous Bibi-Khanym Mosque, with its magnificent columns, portals and minarets – a grand site established during the reign of Tamerlane.
We finish our time in Samarkand with a visit to the vibrant imperial necropolis at Shah i Zinda, said to house the cousin of the prophet Muhammad.
We return to Tashkent by high-speed train this afternoon, and mark our arrival with a convivial last night’s supper – a thrilling end to a thrilling day.
Flight times permitting, we start our final morning in Uzbekistan at the modern Timur Museum, in a bid to discover the real stories behind the country’s celebrated hero.
Having fed our curiosity on some of the museum’s 3,000 exhibits, we transfer to the airport for our return flights home. Time to say good bye to this magical country, and all the new friends we have made.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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