Oct 2020 – The Great Silk Road: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan

Group #1 – Oct. 8-25, 2020 – Small Group 12-20 – Hosted by Aynne

Group #2 – Oct. 21-Nov. 6, 2020 – Small Group 12-20 – Hosted by Regina

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Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, & Kazakhstan Ashgabat • Dashoguz • Khiva • Bukhara • Navoi • Nurata • Yamgikazgan Village • Kyzl Kum Desert • Samarkand • Penjikent • Tashkent • Almaty • Very Easy to add Istanbul before or after tour

Daily Itinerary

Join Aynne on an historic adventure along the Great Silk Road via plane, train, camel, & automobile.  Rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, culture, and history this journey through Central Asia is one of a kind. If you like to get waaaaay off the beaten path, on the road less traveled—this is the trip for you! And who wouldn’t want a chance to ride a two humped camel (Bactrian) or spend a night in a Yurt! 

SMALL GROUP ADVENTURE/12-20 PEOPLE

***A signed waiver & insurance are required for travel***

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Itinerary with Historical Notes

Oct 10, Sat,  Arrive Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 

We will be met at airport and taken by private vehicle and driver to our hotel.  The balance of the day is at leisure. Depending upon arrival time, our guide will offer suggestions how best to spend our time.

Oct 11, Sun,  Ashgabat Turkmenistan

Beautiful Gold and Marble Ashgabat, the Capital Turkmenistan

Today’s Highlights
• Explore Ashgabat City Tour • Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) Bazaar • Nisa • Arch of Neutrality • Independence Park • Ashgabat ‘Olympic’ Village • Ertugrul
Ghazi Mosque 

Today we explore Ashgabat …In spite of its location on a trade route, Ashgabat never achieved the status and influence of other Silk Road cities like Khiva or Bukhara. Originally known as Konjikala, the city was destroyed by Mongols in the 13th century. In 1881 the Russians built a fortress on the site as a buffer against English-dominated Persia, and by the early 20th century Ashgabat was a prosperous and flourishing city. In 1948 a massive earthquake leveled the city, killing over two thirds of the population. Recently Ashgabat has seen a boom in new construction, which has had a major impact on the look of the city. Modern marble and gold monuments have sprung 4 up all over town. In fact, in 2013 the Guinness Book of World Records awarded Ashgabat the record for the highest density of white marble buildings in the world.

Bazaar in Ashgabat

Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) Bazaar …We’ll spend some time at the Altyn Asyr Oriental Market, brimming with all types of goods for sale, from household items to traditionally patterned carpets, electrical appliances, and even animals. At a local restaurant, we will enjoy a meal of traditional favorites at our Welcome Lunch. 

We will marvel at the Nisa Ruins (UNESCO World Heritage Site)…
The beautiful Kopet-Dag Mountains rise up around Nisa, a site 15 miles outside of Ashgabat that was once a major center of the ancient Parthian Kingdom. More than two thousand years ago the Parthian Empire spread out from Nisa and took its place among such kingdoms as the Achaemenid under Cyrus the Great and the Macedonian under Alexander the Great. Though Nisa was ruled by a succession of dynasties, it remained an important center in the ancient world until the 13th century, when the Mongols sacked it. Today archaeological work continues at Nisa, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007
Arch of Neutrality in Ashgabat

Arch of Neutrality…Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov originally built the 250-foot Arch of Neutrality, on which a 40-foot golden statue of himself revolved to continuously face the sun. In 2011, current President Berdimuhamedov moved it to the Berzengi Settlement and renamed it the “Monument” of Neutrality rather than the “Arch.” Today it includes the Museum of Neutrality as well as a transparent elevator. Independence Park Wander the fountain-cooled Independence Park, planned in 1993. A huge green space in the center of the city, the park is lined with monuments and statues.


Ertugrul Ghazi Mosque

Ertugrul Ghazi Mosque…Admire the stately Ertugrul Ghazi Mosque, inaugurated in 1998. Designed to be reminiscent of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, the white marble building with its four minarets has an interior decorated with stained glass.  

We’ll pass by the Olympic Complex in the city center, consisting of 30 different sites, including a 45,000-seat stadium and an Athletes’ Village, built for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. A monorail transported spectators and participants around the complex. The competitions stretched over 12 days, and included more than 160 sessions.

Oct 12, Mon,  Ashgabat • Dashoguz • Khiva, Uzbekistan

Travel Day – Fly to Uzbekistan – Free Time

Oct 13, Tue,  Khiva Uzbekistan 

Today’s Highlights • Khiva Walking Tour • Ichon Qala (Inner City) • Monument to al-Khworizmi • Ata Darvaza Gate • Muhammad Amin-Khan Madrassah • Kunya Ark • Zindan (Prison) • Muhammad Rahim-Khan Madrassah • Sayid Alauddin Mausoleum • Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum • Islam Khoja Madrassah & Minaret • Juma Mosque • Allakulli-Khan Madrassah • Tash-Hauli Palace 


 The perfectly preserved medieval walled town Ichon Qala (Inner City) Khiva

Khiva Walking Tour…Legend says that the ancient Silk Road oasis of Khiva was founded at the place where Shem, son of Noah, discovered water in the desert, and that the city got its name from Shem’s joyful shout, “Hey va!” at the discovery. Today the living city is part museum town, part re-creation of life hundreds of years ago. Archaeologists have found traces of human habitation around Khiva dating from the 5th century BC. It was for hundreds of years a stop on the old Silk Road and a fortress town, but it was not until the 16th century that Khiva became the capital of the Khorezm Khanate. The khanate ruled the surrounding area for over 300 years.

Shopping in Old Khiva

We will stroll through Ichon Qala (Inner City) Khiva’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been extensively preserved and restored, and exists today much as it did hundreds of years ago. Approaching the old town, modern-day travelers face the same sight as Silk Road caravans did, the dun-colored city walls, the main gate opening on a dusty stone thoroughfare, merchants hawking their wares from each side, and the distinctive minarets watching over the whole scene. The walled Old City was an independent entity and the seat of the Khanate of Khiva.

Tash Hauli Palace

The largest of the existing buildings is the Tash Hauli Palace, the home of the Khan and his four legal wives. The intricate blue and white tile-work in the open-air throne room offsets the airy space set aside by the carved wooden columns.

Wood carving is a traditional specialty of Khiva, and more wooden columns are found at the Dzhuma Mosque. The mosque is partially below ground level and the 115 carved columns that support the wooden ceiling create a forest-like effect around two square light wells.

Grab Your Camera for some Stunning shots of the Kunya Ark!

The Kunya Ark was originally built in the 12th century as the khan’s fortress and residence, and encompassed numerous small courtyards surrounded by administrative buildings, sleeping quarters, kitchens, guardhouse, stables, parade area and weapons strongholds. Much of it was lost when Persia invaded the Khivan Khanate in the 18th century, but what remains, including the mosque, harem and throne room are beautifully decorated with ceramic tiles and majolica. There are several places that offer aerial views of the city, and from any 3rd or 4th story balcony the unique minarets with their blue-green tiles stand over the domes, mud-brick walls, and quiet feel of this museum town.

Monument to al-Khworizmi …The giant seated statue of Muhammed al-Khworizmi at the west gate of Khiva’s Old Town pays homage to the father of algebra. Of Persian origin, al-Khworizmi was born in Khiva around 783, and produced a popular book on algebra, including how to solve quadratic equations. He also made original contributions to the fields of geography, astronomy, and cartography. 


Ata Darvaza Gate the main gate into the western part of Khiva’s Old Town. (Darvaza means “gate.”)
The largest madrassah in Khiva is named after ruler Muhammad Amin-Khan who ordered its construction, which was completed in 1855 with richly detailed majolica, arched niches, carved wooden doors, domes and corner towers, and living quarters for 260 students. Inscribed in Arabic above its entrance portal is a tiled inscription that reads, “This beautiful building will stand to please its descendants forever.”

Zindan (Prison) The square in front of the Kunya Ark fortress was used as a parade ground as well as a place of execution. The prison, or zindan, was attached to the eastern wall. Today there is a small exhibit with manikins showing the conditions in the prison.

Muhammad Rahim-Khan Madrassah: Muhammad Rahim-Khan was a 19th-century enlightened pioneer and one of Khiva’s most educated rulers, carrying out reforms in business, politics, and especially in education. In 1876, he completed construction of a new type of school with his name on it, the Muhammad Rahim Khan Madrassah. It focused not only on religious subjects but secular ones as well: sciences, mathematics, astronomy, geography and even poetry and debate. Located across from Kunya Ark, the school was the largest madrassah in Central Asia at the time, and today remains a dominating presence in Khiva’s Ichon Qala (Old Town). The two-story building boasts a magnificent blue majolica entrance portal flanked by two small towers, four porticos, summer and winter mosques, library, and student living quarters.


Sayid Alauddin Mausoleum

Sayid Alauddin Mausoleum, located east of the Kalta Minor, and one of the oldest structures in Khiva. Dedicated to a local Sufi sheikh, this small mausoleum dates back to the early 14th century, when Khiva was still under control of the Golden Horde. While unassuming from the outside, the interior contains a brilliantly decorated sarcophagus covered in blue, black, and white majolica tiles — a specialty of Khorezmian Khiva.

Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum The mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud was built in 1810 to honor the patron of Khiva, Pakhlavan Makhmud, a poet and wrestler who died in the 14th century and is thought to be buried here. Its full turquoise dome has become a symbol of Khiva, along with the nearby Islam Khodja Minaret, banded in dark and light blue.

Islam Khoja Madrassah & Minaret Built in 1910, this madrassah was named for early 20th century grand vizier Islam Khoja, who brought long-distance telegraph technology to the city, as well as Khiva’s first European-style school and hospital. The complex, though small compared to other madrassahs in the city, is one of Khiva’s most prominent sites due to its towering minaret, which at a height of 187 feet is the tallest in Uzbekistan. Banded in glazed turquoise and red tiles and crowned with stalactite shaped finials, the minaret is a popular spot during the early morning and golden sunset hours, when visitors attempt to climb the staircase to the top for fine views of the dusty squares and sun-baked buildings of the Ichon Qala.

Juma Mosque Wood carving is a traditional specialty of Khiva, and filigreed wooden columns are found at the Juma Mosque. The mosque is partially below ground level and the 115 carved columns that support the wooden ceiling create a forest-like effect around two square light wells.


Allakulli-Khan Madrassah

Allakulli-Khan Madrassah Completed in 1835, this madrassah was funded by Khiva’s ruler, Allakulli Khan, who ordered the most beautiful school be built in Khiva, made of baked brick instead of plaster. The Allakulli-khan Madrassah is considered a prime example of Khorezm medieval architecture, with its large scale and harmonious symmetry. The entrance portal and arched niches of the two-story school are brilliantly decorated in majolica with Khorezm’s famous colors of blue, black and white. Along with a city library and two mosques, there is a lecture hall and 99 rooms for students’ living quarters. Located between the eastern gate of Ichon Qala and the covered bazaar (Tim), today the madrassah is home to the Abu Ali ibn Sino Medical History Museum, along with a restaurant featuring Khorezm cuisine.

The largest of the existing buildings in the Ichon Qala is the Tash-Hauli Palace, the former home of the khan and his four legal wives. Built between 1832 and 1841, the palace was designed as a more sumptuous replacement for Kunya Ark, encompassing more than 150 rooms surrounding nine courtyards. They include a throne room, a ceremonial and banqueting hall with brick bases for yurts, and the khan’s own personal harem quarters, beautifully decorated with elaborate blue and white tilework, wooden columns, and intricately carved and painted plaster known as ganche. 

Oct 14, Wed,  Khiva • Bukhara Uzbekistan  

Today’s Highlights • Train ride via the Kyzyl Kum Desert • Explore Bukhara City Tour • Nadir Divan-Begi Khanaka • Nadir Divan-Begi Madrassah • Kukeldash Madrassah • Magoki Attori Mosque 


Kyzyl Kum Desert

Kyzyl Kum Desert Day Trip… The Kyzyl Kum, or Red Sand, Desert covers about 115,000 square miles between Central Asia’s Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. Much of Uzbekistan and parts of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are carpeted by the dunes and sparse shrubbery of this desert. Both the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya flowed into the Aral Sea, and their diversion for cotton irrigation contributed to the sea’s disappearance.

Colorful Bukhara

Explore Bukhara Walking Tour… An oasis in the desert, UNESCO-listed Bukhara offers cool shade and rest to the modern traveler as it did to the camel caravans that plied the Silk Road hundreds of years ago. Bukhara is as old as Samarkand, and has preserved its ancient architecture and design to an arguably larger extent than that city.

The Old Town in Bukhara has a unified feel, drawn together by a central reflecting pool and plaza, by commonality in the structure of the domed bazaars and by the major monuments ringing the Old Town: the Kalon Assembly, the Zindan Prison, and the Ark Citadel. Bukhara was the site of one of the bestknown episodes (to westerners) in Central Asian history, the 19th century capture and ultimate execution of two British spies posing as explorers. They were involved in what was then known as the Great Game between Russia and England for control over Central Asia, and access to India. The last emir of Bukhara was a notoriously brutal and crafty leader, and kept the men imprisoned at great length before their public execution. The city was also an important merchant center of Sephardic Jewry. The term “Bukharan Jews” refers to a large community of Jews originally from Persia who lived in the lands formerly ruled by the emir of Bukhara.

Ancient Bukhara

The Khanaka of Nadir Divan-Begi was the first component of the Labi-Hauz ensemble, built even before the reflecting pool. The massive structure was originally a place of study and meditation for traveling Sufis.

Nadir Divan-Begi Madrassah Two phoenixes spread their wings on each side of a shining sun on the archway that leads into the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrassah. Seated on the east side of the Labi-Hauz pool, the 1622 madrassah was originally built as a caravanserai. At its opening, Bukhara’s leader, Imamkulikhan, dedicated it to the “greater glory of Allah,” and Nadir Divan-Begi quickly had it converted to a madrassah, adding student rooms and the portal with its phoenixes. In the evenings, a performance of Uzbek folk music and dances takes place in the courtyard of the former madrassah. The Kukeldash Madrassah on the north side of the Lyabi Hauz reflecting pool is the largest Koranic school in Central Asia. Named for the statesman and general Kulbaba Kukeldash, the madrassah was built in 1568.

The Magoki Attori Mosque was originally built in the 12th century and restored in the 16th. In 1991 a carpet museum was established in the former mosque, displaying fine examples of Bukharan, Turkmen, Persian and Caucasian carpets and handwoven decorative objects. Our Hotel is located in the old part of Bukhara within easy walking distance of 16th century shopping streets and tourist attractions.

Oct 15, Thu,  Bukhara Uzbekistan

Today’s Highlights • Kalon Mosque and Minaret • Zindan Prison • Ark Citadel • Bolo Hauz Mosque • Samani Mausoleum • Artisan Development Center • Ulugbek Madrassah • Bazaar: Trade Domes of Bukhara • Dance Performance with dinner in Private Uzbek Home 

Restaurant in Old Bukhara

Kalon Mosque and Minaret… Visit Poi Kalon, also called the Bukhara Forum. The 12th century Kalon assembly, including the Kalon Mosque and Minaret, and the Mir-i-Arab Madrassah, surrounds an open plaza teeming with merchants and local vendors. The minaret towers over the dusty square, looking down from a height of more than 150 feet, and casting its shadow between the mosque and the madrassah. Fourteen distinct and unique bands of brickwork circle the tower at intervals, and at the top of the minaret resolve into a traditional stalactite formation.

Zindan Prison Just behind the Ark Citadel is the infamous Zindan Prison and the even more infamous “bug pit” or “black hole,” the cell where two of Britain’s finest Great Game players were imprisoned before their execution.

The Ark Citadel is the original fortress of Bukhara and likely dates back two thousand years or more. The current structure has been built and rebuilt on the same site throughout its history, and has preserved something of the form, purpose and function of the first Ark. Like the medieval castle complexes of Europe, the Bukhara Ark served the Emirs of Bukhara as a residence, audience hall, as protection from neighboring enemies and for more mundane purposes, such as a trade center and a police station.

Admire the serene Bolo Hauz Mosque, across from the Ark. Called the forty-pillar mosque because of the reflection of its colonnades in the pool, the mosque was founded by 18th century emir, Shah Murad.

Shopping in Bukhara

In a clearing in a tree-filled park a small plaza is marked with a single building, the Ismael Samani Mausoleum. It is the 10th century resting place of Ismael Samani, founder of the Persian Samanid Dynasty, and was buried under centuries of sand and not discovered until the 20th century. Though small, it is detailed in a fashion not seen in many other Bukharan monuments. More than sixteen styles of brickwork adorn the face of this cubic memorial, and their elaborate pleats and layering are still fresh today. From inside, the transition from square walls to circular roof, created using bricks of identical size and shape, testifies to the engineering know-how of the designers.

Artisan Development Center The Artisan Development Center is located in Saifutdin caravansarai in the Labi Hauz area. The main goal of this organization is to revive and develop ancient handicrafts. There are many different workshops, for puppet makers, coppersmiths, cloth printers, wood carvers, gold and silk embroiderers and jewelry makers.

Ulugbek Madrassah… Ulugbek built three madrassahs during his lifetime; the one in Bukhara was his first. Constructed in 1420 near the Nadir Divan-Beghi Khanaka, the building has two floors of rooms for pupils and the façade is decorated with majolica. The Labi-Hauz pool was not dug until around 1620.

Bazaar: Trade Domes of Bukhara Wander the covered bazaar, admiring deep stacks of vivid handwoven carpets, felt hats, exotic jewelry and gorgeous embroidered suzani. Constructed in the 16th century to sell the wares that arrived with the caravans, the arched trade domes organized the merchandize and crafts by types, as well as kept the traders cool. Four of the stately domed markets remain, originally occupied by currency exchanges, metalware, carpets, books, jewelry and fabrics.

This evening, enjoy a dance performance and dinner in the private home of a local Uzbek family.

Bukhara

Oct 16, Fri,  Bukhara Uzbekistan 

Today’s Highlights • Emir’s Summer Palace • Bahauddin Naqshband Mausoleum • Chor Minor • Suzani Coop Workshop in Shafrikan Village • Plov Class/Meal Full day private English-speaking guide service. 

Full day private vehicle & driver services. Emir’s Summer Palace A small distance outside of the city sits the Palace of Moon and Stars, or the Summer Palace of the last Emir of Bukhara. The palace was built for the Emir at the turn of the century, after the Russians took control of Bukhara. The grounds here are heavily planted, and arbored walkways connect the various pavilions and buildings. Wild peacocks and peahens stroll through the park-like setting, strutting with their long showpiece plumage. The palace itself is something of a showpiece, as it was designed to keep the emir in luxury, but removed from the city, isolated and politically impotent. Stop at its Museum of National Crafts to admire the vivid suzani, embroidered coverlets that Uzbekistan is known for. The palace grounds also hold a smaller residence, often referred to as the harem, though that is probably an inaccurate description of its use. It overlooks a large reflecting pool, and is in turn overlooked by a platform on which the emir could recline and relax. Bahauddin Naqshband Mausoleum Bahauddin Naqshband was a 14th century Sufi mystic and founder of the Naqshbandi order of Sufis. His mausoleum complex grew from a simple tomb over his grave to a 16th century hostel for visiting dervishes, then to a spiritual complex in the 17th century with a mosque added in the 18th century. The complex was restored in 1993 for the celebration of the 675th anniversary of the saint’s birth. 16 Chor Minor Admire the early 19th century Chor Minor Madrassah, whose four slender, blue-topped minarets give it its name. Suzani Coop Workshop in Shafrikan Village Venture outside Bukhara approximately 45 minutes to a village studio specializing in the art of suzani. See a demonstration of the process from start to finish: silk cocoons, dying, design, drawing, and embroidery in this home workshop of a multi-generational family who has been practicing the art for many years. Plov Class/Meal Your meal today includes a master class in the art of making plov, Central Asia’s most ubiquitous dish. Learn how the freshest ingredients are combined to create the savory concoction that you will then enjoy. Overnight at Lyabi House Hotel or similar Meals: B, D 

Oct 17, Sat,  Bukhara • Navoi • Nurata • Yamgikazgan Village Uzbekistan 

Today’s Highlights • Navoi • Sarmish Gorge Petroglyphs • Debaland Khasan and Khusein Mosque • Explore Nurata City Tour • Yamgikazgan •  A night spent in a Yurt at a desert camp

Navoi is a mid-size industrial city about 60 miles northwest of Bukhara. Set on the banks of the Zarafshan River, Navoi is a new city, founded only in 1958.


Sarmish Gorge Petroglyphs

Sarmish Gorge Petroglyphs, some 20 miles from Navoi in the foothills of the Karatau mountain range, reveals the presence of humans beginning in the Bronze Age. From 3.000 to 4,000 petroglyphs were etched into the canyon walls, showing ancient people, their rituals, and the animals they hunted.

Debaland Khasan and Khusein Mosque Stop in the ruined fort of Debaland, once an important link in the chain of fire message outposts. Here you’ll find the 16th century Khasan and Khusein Mosque. Khasan and Khusein were the grandsons of the prophet Mohammed. Thier tombs are set in identical halls eparated by a small mosque. Some believe three visits to this sacred mosque are equal to one visit to Mecca. Explore Nurata Nurata is a small Kyzyl Kum desert town set at the foot of the Nurata mountain range between Samarkand and Bukhara. Said to have been founded by Alexander the Great, the town began near the site of a natural well, which legend says was formed by a meteorite. Known for its ancient karez system of underground irrigation pipes, Nurata is also the site of a mosque visited by pilgrims.

Get a taste of life in the Kyzyl Kum Desert in the little village of Yamgikazgan. A well in the center of town provides the inhabitants with water, and two-humped Bactrian camels and goats doze in corrals of woven branches. Local Yurt Camp or similar The yurt camp in Yamgikazgan is a simple and modest collection of round canvas yurts with communal facilities. Meals: B, L, D


Yamgikazgan Yurt Camp and Bactrian Camels

Oct 18, Sun,  Yamgikazgan Village • Kyzl Kum Desert • Samarkand Uzbekistan 

Today’s Highlights • Aydarkul Lake • Camel Safari into the Kyzyl Kum Desert • Samarkand

Lake Aydarkul is a large manmade lake formed when the Soviets dammed the Syr Darya River in Kazakhstan. The excess water behind the dam is diverted to the saline Arnassay Basin, creating a chain of three lakes near the Kazakh border above Samarkand. Aydarkul is a shallow saline lake that provides habitat for several species of fish and for migrating birds.

Our New Friends: Bactrian Camels!

After breakfast at the yurt camp, and a few introductory tips on camel riding, set off on “ships of the desert,” a centuries-old mode of Central Asian transport. Get a new perspective on the sandy dunes and travel as the ancient caravans once did. This afternoon, the destination is Aidarkul Lake, a beautiful oasis in the midst of the Kyzyl Kum sands. Framed on the north by the Nuratin Mountains, Aidarkul Lake is a haven for migrating birds. A picnic lunch is served, after which depart overland to Bukhara. Arrive Samarkand and check-in to hotel. City Hotel or similar Opened in 2007 and located within walking distance of Samarkand’s historic city center, the City Hotel features a swimming pool and a restaurant serving national and international cuisine. Rooms are air conditioned, and feature satellite TV and hair dryer. Meals: B, L, D

Oct 19, Mon,  Samarkand Uzbekistan 

Today’s Highlights • Explore Samarkand City Tour • Registan Square • Gur-Emir Mausoleum • Bibi Khanum Mosque • Siab Bazaar • Shah-i-Zinda Complex 19 • Afghan-Uzbek Silk Carpet Factory • Bread Baking Demonstration • Janona Dance Troupe Performance 

Perhaps the most well known of Silk Road towns, Samarkand, fabled oasis on the fringes of the Kyzyl Kum Desert, has been settled since the 6th century BC. Because of its location on the plains where the Zeravshan River spills out from the Pamir Mountains, Samarkand became a major Silk Road crossroads. A World Heritage Site, Samarkand is called “Crossroad of Cultures” by UNESCO. It has been visited through time by many of the world’s conquerors — Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Alexander said of Samarkand, “Everything I have heard about the beauty of the city is indeed true, except that it is much more beautiful than I imagined.” Tamerlane made it his capital city and gathered the finest architects, builders and artisans of the time to enhance its beauty.

Registan Square in Samarkand

Registan Square is the centerpiece of Samarkand, and the most recognizable landmark for visitors. The three emblematic madrassahs frame the square, and loom over the empty space in the center. It was this central space that originally gave the place its name, for “registan” simply means “place of sand.” This sandy place was at the center of ancient Samarkand and was a public square and marketplace before the Ulug Bek, Tillya-Kori, and Shir Dor madrassahs were built.

In its reconstruction, the square maintains the majesty that it has radiated through the ages. Gur-Emir Mausoleum Gur-Emir Mausoleum is the final resting place of Tamerlane, but was originally built for his grandson after the latter’s death, at the turn of the 15th century. The interior of the mausoleum has been restored and is brilliant in gold leaf and fresh tile. The heavily gilded central dome opens over the set of tomb-markers resembling sarcophagi (the bodies are located well below, 20 but are on site). All are marble, with the exception of Tamerlane’s, which is a slab of solid jade reportedly from Mongolia.

Visit the Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane to be the largest mosque in the Islamic world, and dedicated to the memory of his favorite wife. Architects from India and Persia were brought in to build the mosque, and it is said that 95 elephants were used to transport the marble and other building materials from India to Samarkand. Siab Bazaar Browse the animated Siab Bazaar, just across the street from the Bibi Khanum Mosque. Vividly dressed women oversee neat stacks of brilliant produce and burlap sacks of nuts and spices. Uzbek and Tajik men in black and white skullcaps, called doppi, sell cabbage rolls and shashlik. For a pittance, an entrepreneur with a brazier of special incense will cleanse you of all bad luck.

Shah-i-Zinda Complex


Shah-i-Zinda Complex

The row of tombs and mausoleums collectively called Shah-i-Zinda, or “place of a living king,” stretches between the present and the past. At its front is living Samarkand, and at its back the dusty slopes at the edge of ancient Afrosiab. Even on hot summer days the mausoleums remain shady and cool, and seem to lure the traveler to approach the oldest tomb at the far end. Behind the complex and set into the hill lies an active cemetery with grave sites dating back as far as the 9th century, and as recently as the present day. Afghan-Uzbek Silk Carpet Factory This joint venture carpet factory uses natural vegetable dyes to color the thread used in its carpets.

Tour the gardens outside the factory where the weavers grow indigo, coleus and dahlias to use for dye. Observe the entire process of dying the thread and weaving the carpets, with an opportunity to shop afterward. 21 Bread Baking Demonstration Enjoy a demonstration of traditional Uzbek bread making at the home of a local. Traditionally called noni, or patyr, Uzbek bread is baked in round, flat loaves in a clay oven called a tandir. They are usually shaped like a dish with a depression in the middle and decorated using a special patterned stamp.

Janona Dance Troupe Performance
Enjoy a performance of traditional Uzbek dances by the young Janona Dance Troupe, consisting of schoolchildren ages 7 to 11. The young dancers study, rehearse, and perform at the former Soviet-era Palace of Pioneers, a massive white building which – after the breakup of the U.S.S.R. – was renamed the Palace of Children’s and Youth Creativity. At this afterschool venue, children are encouraged to take up sports, join hobby clubs, and learn Uzbek culture – from national songs and dance to poetry and art. Meals: B, D 

Oct 20, Tue,  Samarkand • Penjikent, Tajikistan • Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Today’s Highlights • Explore Penjikent • Visit a local school (if desired) • Penjikent Excavations and Museum of Archaeology • Penjikent NGO Speaker • Rudaki Museum (if desired) • Central Bazaar  • Bonus Stop! UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sarazm

Ruins in Penjikent, Tajikistan

As a bonus, we will make a quick stop at the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sarazm either on our way to or back from Penjikent.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sarazm, Tajikistan

The road from Samarkand to Penjikent follows the Zerafshan River across the border with Tajikistan, where the valley begins to narrow near the dry foothills of the Pamir Mountains. Modern Penjikent, an isolated city of 130,000, is most famous for its past. On a ledge above the new town are the ruins of what was an important Sogdian trade center. Called Bunjikath, 22 meaning “five villages,” the town was built in the 5th century AD, and survived for three hundred years until the Arabs burned it during their 8th century invasion.

Sogdian Frescoes in Penjikent

Discovered in 1933, the early medieval site includes the remains of the shakhristan, or town center and the frescoed foundations of the houses of wealthy merchants. The finest frescoes, sculptures and pottery were claimed by Tashkent and St. Petersburg museums, however. Two Zoroastrian temples demonstrate the importance of the old city. Visit the site of an archaeological dig at Old Penjikent, excavations which began 50 years ago. Tour the remains of Shakristan, two Zoroastrian temples, the citadel, and the houses of wealthy families. Visit the Rudaki Museum of History and Regional Studies, named after the celebrated founder of Tajik and Persian poetry.

Penjikent Excavations and Museum of Archaeology

Penjikent Market

On a ledge above the new town are the ruins of what was an important Sogdian trade center. Called Bunjikath, meaning “five villages,” the town was built in the 5th century AD, and survived for three hundred years until the Arabs burned it during their 8th century invasion.

Rediscovered in 1933, the early medieval site includes the remains of the Shakhristan, or town center, and the frescoed foundations of the houses of wealthy merchants. Two Zoroastrian temples demonstrate the importance of the old city. An onsite museum explains the history and significance of the ruins.

Visit a local school (if desired) Visit one of two local schools where students study English in Penjikent for a chance to interact with students and faculty.


Penjikent Bazaar

Browse the local Penjikent bazaar, mingling with shoppers and admiring the array of fruits, vegetables, nuts and everyday necessities. Penjikent NGO Speaker Over lunch, meet with an English-speaking spokesperson from one of the many NGOs contributing to development in Penjikent. Currently active NGOs represent tourism development, women’s rights, youth development and health and disease prevention. Rudaki Museum (time and interest permitting) Visit the Rudaki Museum, filled with Sogdian artifacts and natural exhibits from the area. The Samanid court poet Abdullah Mohammed Rudaki, born in Penjikent, is considered the father of Persian poetry. Frescoes from the archaeolgical site, statues, ossuaries and costumes complete the exhibits. Meals: B, L

Oct 21, Wed,  Samarkand • Tashkent Uzbekistan 

Today’s Highlights • Afrosiab History Museum • Ulug Bek Observatory • Paper-making Workshop • Afternoon free for independent exploration• Fast Train to Tashkent 

Afrosiab History Museum… Just outside of modern-day Samarkand lie the dusty hills of the ancient city of Afrosiab, once a potent capital, now an archaeological site guarding treasures of antiquity. Scientific digs here began in the 1800s under Russian rule, and continue to this day. On site is the Afrosiab History Museum, which houses artifacts from the area, including pottery and tile found among the excavated walls of the town.


Ulug Bek Observatory

Ulug Bek Observatory… Though concerned with conquest, politics and other matters of terrestrial importance, Tamerlane’s grandson, Ulug Bek, found his true interest in the heavens. The astronomer-king was fascinated by the stars and the cosmos and built one of the most advanced observatories of the ancient world. The observations, which he undertook with the naked eye only, predated the telescope by over 150 years. They were aided by the building itself, which housed a large vertical half-circle, only a quarter of which remains today. By using careful methods, rigorous observation and meticulous recording, Ulug Bek calculated the length of the year to within a minute of the modern accepted value. He also created the most comprehensive (to that date) catalog of the heavens, earning his place in history.
Paper-making Workshop Visit a workshop where handcrafted paper is made according to traditions handed down from the 8th century, when paper making began in Samarkand. Founded in 1997 with the support of UNESCO, the workshop of Abdurakhim Mukhtarov, located in the village of Koni Gil on the outskirts of the city, produces lovely paper crafts and stationery as you watch.Afternoon free for independent explorationTransfer by private vehicle & driver, hotel – railway station. Train High-speed train Afrosiab Samarkand – Tashkent, 5:30 PM – 7:40 PM (estimated times, subject to change) Transport by private vehicle & driver, railway station. Meals: B, L 

Oct 22, Thu,  Tashkent Uzbekistan

Today’s Highlights • Explore Tashkent City Tour • Independence Square • Alisher Navoi Opera & Ballet Theater • Courage Monument • Khast Imam Square • Rakhimov Family Art Studio • Oldest Koran • Chorsu Bazaar 
Afternoon Options: Choose 2 of the following: • Metro • Museum of Applied Arts • Abul Kasim Madrassah • Human House 25 

Although it doesn’t look it today, Tashkent is one of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan. Rock paintings in the Chatkal Mountains about 50 miles away show that humans have been here since perhaps 2000 BC. In the 2nd century BC the town was known as Ming Uryuk. A major caravan crossroads, it was taken by the Arabs in 751 and by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Tamerlane feasted here in the 14th century and the Shaibanid khans in the 15th and 16th. The Russian Empire arrived in 1865, and Uzbekistan was not an autonomous country again until 1991. Tashkent lost much of its architectural history in a huge earthquake in 1966, and although it is an old city, most of it has been built since then. Today, the city is a jumble of wide tree-lined boulevards, oversized 20th century Soviet buildings and reconstructed traces of the old city with mud-walled houses, narrow winding lanes, mosques and madrassahs (Islamic religious schools).

Independence Square… The history of Independence Square (Mustakillik Maydoni) is revealed in the different names it has borne throughout its existence. Originally named Cathedral Square in honor of the Orthodox cathedral built here by Konstanin Kaufman, the first Russian Governor-General of Turkestan, it became Red Square in 1917. In 1966 it was designated Lenin Square, and it was not until 1992 that it became Independence Square. Enter the spacious park-like square through a silver arch embellished with white storks. The golden globe of the Monument of Independence, constructed in 1991, sits above the 20-foot Happy Mother statue, who gazes lovingly at her child, the future of Uzbekistan. Among the fountains and flower beds other, sadder, mother figures wait for their sons around an eternal flame that honors the many Uzbeks who perished during WWII. On the outskirts of the square are Tashkent’s administrative and government buildings.

Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre.


Alisher Navoi Opera & Ballet Theater…Alisher Navoi, who lived and wrote at the end of the 15th century, is Uzbekistan’s most beloved poet. The Navoi Opera and Ballet Theater was built in 1947 by Japanese prisoners of war, and includes six foyers representing the main cities of Uzbekistan. Each foyer is decorated differently, using carved and painted plaster (ganche), woodcarving and frescoes.

The repertory of the theater includes Uzbek music and dance, and international operas and ballets ourage Monument Tashkent is built in a seismically active area, and has suffered from earthquakes all during its history. In April 1966, a 7.5 quake destroyed the homes of 300,000 people, hitting the older sections of the city hardest.

The Courage Monument was built near the dividing line between the old town and Tashkent’s newer section to honor the workers from all over the Soviet Union who came to Tashkent to help rebuild the city. Khast Imam Square Stroll through a labyrinth of mud-walled houses surviving from the 19th century to Khast Imam Square, where some of Tashkent’s oldest monuments remain. The 16th century Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, the tomb of one of the first imams of the Muslim world, and BarakKhan Madrassah, also 16th century, are flanked by the 19th century al Bukhari Madrassah and the early 20th century Tillya Sheikh Mosque, which houses the oldest Koran in the world. Rakhimov Family Art Studio The private studio of the Rakhimov family offers examples of ancient traditional Uzbek ceramics. Alisher Rakhimov is a sixth-generation Uzbek ceramicist whose family has been making pottery since the 1790s. He and his father, Akbar, have made an extensive study of the history and methods of Uzbek ceramics, with a scholarly emphasis on the period from the 2nd century BC to the 15th century AD. Alisher and Akbar are adept in ancient glazing and dying techniques, and can reproduce the golden ceramics of the Surkhandarya style and the stamped decorations of the Kashgary region. They have revived the lost art of natural dye use, and are teaching contemporary Uzbek ceramicists their rediscovered techniques.

Oldest Koran… The Uthman Koran, considered by Sunni Muslims to be the oldest Koran in the world, is safeguarded in the library of the Tillya Sheikh Mosque in the Muy Muborok Madrassah, where several of Mohammed’s hairs are said to have been enshrined. Written on calfskin some time after the death of Mohammed, the manuscript is believed to have been compiled in Medina by Uthman, the third caliph of Islam. (Shi’a Muslims believe that Uthman’s successor, Ali, was the first true caliph, and his version of the Koran is held to be the only true version.) Only a third of the manuscript remains, about 250 large pages bound into a huge book. It has been 27 inscribed onto the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The experience of viewing this 7th century sacred document is a powerful one.
Chorsu Bazaar On Chorsu Plaza across from the Kukeldash Madrassah, Chorsu Bazaar spills out of the tiled dome that shades its merchants from the sun. Open every day, the bazaar is at its most exhilarating on weekends when traders and shoppers come in from outlying areas to buy and sell anything from spices and produce to woodwork and embroidery. 

Afternoon Options: Choose 2 of the following: 

Tashkent Metro
  • Metro Tashkent boasts the first metro in Central Asia. (The second is in Almaty.) Begun in 1977, each station has a different theme, some incorporating Central Asian decorative motifs and some resembling Russian palaces. With granite and marble, chandeliers and mosaics, the stations on Tashkent’s three lines are meant to be “art galleries for the people.” 
  • Browse the Applied Arts Museum. A wealthy czarist diplomat to Turkestan admiring Uzbek architecture, Alexander Polovtsev built a traditional mansion in 1898 and invited artisans from Samarkand, Bukhara and Fergana to decorate the interior. Featuring the painted carved plaster called ganche, carved wood, and tile work, the house itself is a main attraction. Exhibits include the Uzbek embroidered wall coverings called suzani, ceramics, and rugs.
  • Visit the Abul Kasim Madrassah, where each tiny student cell has been transformed into a different craft workshop. Here you can observe craftspeople painting their brilliant lacquer boxes, woodcarvers fabricating elaborate stands for the Koran, and painters working on miniatures. This is great place for buying keepsakes or just for browsing and people-watching.
  • Human House is the best place in Tashkent to find authentic Uzbek arts and crafts, including ceramics, embroidered susani, silk fabrics, toys, and fashions. In 2017 the renowned shop moved to its present home and expanded to offer master classes, workshops, artwork, and a courtyard garden for sipping tea.

Meals: B, L

Oct 23, Fri,  Tashkent • Almaty, Kazakhstan 

This morning enjoy time at leisure before the flight to Almaty and, flight times permitting, enjoy a brief orientation of Almaty late this afternoon.
Flight Tashkent – Almaty, mid-afternoon times anticipated.
Meals: B

Oct 24, Sat,  Almaty Kazakhstan 

Today’s Highlights • Explore Almaty City Tour • Green (Zelyony) Bazaar • Panfilov Park • Zenkov Cathedral • Art Center with Felt-making master class • Falcon Farm Full day private English-speaking guide service. 

Explore Almaty…Spread out at the foothills of the Zaili Ala-Too Mountains in the Tien Shan range, Almaty is the largest city in Central Asia’s richest country, Kazakhstan. Present-day Almaty sits on the site of an old Silk Road oasis town called Almatu; laid waste by the Mongols in 1211, the city left no ancient remains. Almaty’s name means “the place with apples,” and the many varieties of wild apple in the vicinity give scientists reason to believe that this is where apples were first domesticated. Today the city is thriving on the considerable foreign investment it has attracted, primarily in the oil and gas industries.


Green (Zelyony) Bazaar… Experience local Kazakh culture as you shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, including the delicious apples that Almaty is famous for. Meat, eggs, flowers, plants, spices, dried fruit, delicacies, cheese, and mare’s milk koumiss can all be purchased at the Green (Zelyony) Bazaar. Jewelry, clothing, toys, and elegant chocolates from the 70-year-old Rakhat chocolate factory are also on sale here.

Visit Panfilov Park, a green oasis in Almaty’s central area renamed by the Soviets in honor of the 28 Kazakh soldiers led by General Panfilov who died on the outskirts of Moscow during WWII. A monument in the park honors the soldiers, and an Eternal Flame memorializes all the people who died during the war. Also in the park is Zenkov Cathedral, a wooden Orthodox church built at the turn of the century. A widespread myth says that the cathedral was built without the use of nails, due to the precision of its building.

The Orthodox Zenkov Cathedral sits in Panfilov Park in the center of Almaty. Its yellow and green facade and golden domes are from the era of czars; it is one of the few buildings in Almaty that came through the devastating 1911 earthquake. A widespread myth says that the cathedral was built without the use of nails, due to the precision of its building Please note: The Cathedral has been undergoing renovation lately, and may still be closed when you visit. If that is the case, you will only see it from the outside. 

Kazakh Oner (Kazakh Talent) Art Center with Felt-making master class Meet one or more local up and coming Kazakh artists at the center working with felt, leather, pottery, painting on fabrics, jewelry or wood carving. While at the Art Center, take part in a one-hour master class in felt making, a tradition that has lasted through the ages in this region. Kazakh and Kyrgyz culture have always used felted wool to cover their yurts, and to make rugs, bags, slippers and hats.

Falcon Farm…Steppe nomads have used birds of prey for hunting for thousands of years. The birds’ keen eyesight and ability to survey the grasslands from far above give them an advantage that humans were able to harness to their own ends. A few Kazakh falconers were able to keep the tradition alive through Soviet times, when it was discouraged, and today more and more young people are interested in learning the art. Make a visit to a traditional Kazakh falcon farm outside of Almaty to observe the birds and admire the handmade gear the hunters use when they ride out to hunt. Meals: B, L 

Oct 25, Sun, Depart Almaty Kazakhstan 

Depart Almaty Transfer by private vehicle & driver, hotel – airport. Meals: B (aloft)

Tour Costs & Other Pertinent Info

Tour Cost: $5499 double/$5999 single (Price includes hotels, transportation, intra tour rail tickets & intra tour air*, meals & sights as outlined above) *Air taxes are subject to change and price may need slight adjustment

SAVE $500 AND PAY BY CASH OR CHECK: $4999 double/$5499 single (Full payment not required for this discount, just pay $500 deposit by check/cash/paypal and then final by check as well and you save $500!)

Approx Air Cost from USA: $1199 on Turkish Air with one stop each way

Nonrefundable Deposit: $500 add 3% if paying by credit card ***A signed waiver and Proof of Insurance is required upon deposit***

Travel Guard Insurance: $289 and up based on age *Proof of Insurance is Required to take this trip

Visa Costs: $299 approx. (Our tour company will assist)

Call Aynne to Place Deposit at 630.369.2995

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