Great Silk Road
|Countries:||China - Kyrgyzstan - Uzbekistan - Turkmenistan - Iran.||View the route map »»|
|Tour duration:||35 days / 34 nights.|
|Best time to travel:||aprel - october.|
|Itinerary:||Beijing - Xian - Lanchow - Labrang - Lanchow - Jiayuguan - Dunhuang - Turpan - Urumqi -|
|- Kashgar - Irkeshtam pass - Base camp under the Lenin Peak - Osh - Ferghana - Margilan - Ferghana - Rishtan - Kokand - Tashkent - Samarkand - Bukhara - Khiva - Konya-Urgench - Tashauz - Ashgabat - Mary - Merv - Mary - Turkmen-Iranian border - Mashhad - Shiraz - Persepolis - Isfahan - Tehran.|
For thousands of years the Great Silk Road was connecting China to the Mediterranean and facilitating cultural exchange between two major civilizations of that time - the Eastern and the Western one. For thousands of years numerous caravans with expensive silk, exotic spicery and gems were moving along this famous trading route, immense caravanserais, majestic mosques and madrassas were rising along the road. And now you have got a possibility to follow that same ancient route yourself!
You have an opportunity to visit five Asian republics, through the territory of which camelcades were passing long ago, and those are China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. This tour is unique from the beginning to the very ending: starting from the grandiose Chinese wall, mystical Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven in China to Azadi Tower and numerous palaces of majestic Iran. As you are en route the ruins of ancient cities give place to large-scale modern megapolises, exciting local legends are significantly amplified by the impressive surrounding landscape, and spicy atmosphere of the charming East hides at each dastarkhan, in every madrasah and is reflected as a subtle sparkle in the eyes of each passer-by…
Itinerary (please, note that due to different reasons (e.g. weather conditions, transport, etc.) the program of the tour may be slightly changed):
itinerary / services & cost
itinerary in detail
useful information route map
|Day 1.||Arrival to Beijing.|
|Day 2.||Beijing - Xian.|
|Day 4.||Xian - Lanchow.|
|Day 5.||Lanchow - Xiahe.|
|Day 6.||Xiahe - Lanchow - Jiayuguan.|
|Day 7.||Jiayuguan - Dunhuang.|
|Day 8.||Dunhuang - Turpan.|
|Day 10.||Turpan - Urumqi.|
|Day 11.||Urumqi - Kashgar.|
|Day 12.||Kashgar - Irkeshtam pass - Base camp under the Lenin Peak - Yurt camp.|
|Day 13.||Yurt camp under the Lenin Peak.|
|Day 14.||Transfer to Osh.|
|Day 15.||Osh - Ferghana.|
|Day 16.||Ferghana - Margilan- Ferghana.|
|Day 17.||Ferghana - Rishtan - Kokand - Tashkent.|
|Day 19.||Tashkent - Samarkand.|
|Day 21.||Samarkand - Bukhara.|
|Day 24.||Bukhara - Khiva.|
|Day 26.||Khiva - Konya-Urgench - Tashauz - Ashgabat.|
|Day 28.||Ashgabat - Mary - Merv.|
|Day 29.||Merv - Turkmen-Iranian border - Mashhad.|
|Day 30.||Mashhad - Shiraz.|
|Day 32.||Shiraz - Persepolis - Isfahan.|
|Day 34.||Isfahan - Tehran flight.|
|Day 35.||Tehran. Departure.|
The cost tour includes:
|•||Accommodation at the hotels on twin/double share with breakfast;|
|•||Excursion program to the base monuments with guide;|
|•||Entry fees to the base monuments of each city;|
|•||Railway tickets for Beijing - Xian;|
|•||Railway tickets for Xian - Lanzhou;|
|•||Railway tickets for Lanzhou - Jiayu guan;|
|•||Railway tickets for Jiayu guan - Turpan;|
|•||The cost of Tashauz - Ashgabat air ticket;|
|•||The cost of Mashhad - Shiraz air ticket;|
|•||The cost of Shiraz - Isfahan air ticket;|
|•||The cost of Isfahan - Tehran air ticket;|
|•||All transport services during the tour, including airport-hotel-airport transfers;|
|•||The cost of invitation letter to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, China;|
|•||Full board in “Central Asia Travel” yurt camp.|
The cost tour does not include:
|•||International air fare;|
|•||Fly Urumchi - Kashgar;|
|•||Photo and video shooting at museums and monuments;|
|•||Immigration card paid to immigration service after coming at the country-region on Turkmenistan place border - 15USD/pax, including taxes.|
We choose the most conveniently located and reputable hotels for our customers to stay at. The list of the hotels we offer is below. However, due to seasonal conditions and group size this list is subject to change.
- Hotels 3* - inexpensive yet cozy private hotels, with traditional national interiors in many of them, providing all the necessary facilities for comfortable stays; notable for very warm hosting and home-like atmosphere;
- Hotels 4* - very comfortable hotels providing excellent facilities and services; mainly located in or near city centers.
In order to make this tour you need to get visas to the following countries:
|•||China - single-entry;|
|•||Kyrgyzstan - single-entry;|
|•||Uzbekistan - single-entry;|
|•||Turkmenistan - single-entry;|
|•||Iran - single-entry.|
The list of the documents necessary to apply for a visa may vary greatly depending on the country of your residence (e. g. the citizens of Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan (for the period of 60 days) and Kazakhstan can enter Uzbekistan without a visa, because Uzbekistan has bilateral agreements on visa-free travel with all CIS countries except Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). . If you need more detailed information, please, contact our tour operators.
- If possible all necessary documents to enter/exit all countries of the tour must be prepared before your arrival to the starting point of the tour;
- Your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after the supposed ending date of the tour.
You are supposed to use the following types of transport en route:
Plane - 4 local air flights are expected during the tour (Tashauz - Ashgabat, Mashhad - Shiraz, Shiraz - Isfahan, Isfahan - Tehran). Air tickets are included into the price of the tour.
Train - you will have 4 overnight train passages while being en route (Beijing - Xian, Xian - Lanzhou, Lanzhou - Jiayu, Jiayu guan - Turpan). Train tickets are included into the price of the tour.
Car/Minibus/Bus (depending on the size of the group) will be used in all other cases en route. This type of transportation is also included into the price of the tour.
Accommodation en route.
There are two supposed types of accommodation for this tour:
Hotels - we choose the most comfortably located and proven hotels to accommodate our travelers. Below you will find the list of the recommended hotels, however, due to seasonal conditions and group size the list is subject to change.
Yurts - when crossing the border between China and Kyrgyzstan through Irkeshtam pass for one day and two nights you will be accommodated in the yurt camp under the Lenin Peak.
- Shiraz - Isfahan flights never take place on Sunday and Monday.
- Irkeshtam pass is closed for those wishing to cross the state border on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Sunday bazaar in Kashgar works on Sundays only.
Detailed tour description:
Day 1. Arrival to Beijing.
First of all you will visit Tiananmen Square located in the centre of Beijing. Long ago it was a palatial square situated behind the Platform of the Forbidden Palace. Appreciate the chance given to you by luck as in the times of the emperors ordinary people were not able to visit this square! Take a look at its majesty, symmetry and thrilling mightiness. This square is the largest in the world, thus, try to imagine the following: it can fit up to million people at a time!
Then you will see former residence of the Chinese emperors, which without a doubt is the main attraction of Beijing. Full name of the emperor’s palace in Chinese sounds like «Zijin Cheng» - «Purple Forbidden City», and the name «Gùgōng» meaning the «Former Palace» appeared later. Nowadays people in Beijing mostly use the name «Gùgōng» when referring to the palace and this name has almost replaced the first one.
The next place our guide will direct you to is the Great Chinese Wall! Well, of course not all of it. You will see the part of the wall, which is located in Beijing. It’s not just another attraction of China; it is the symbol and the pride of the whole body of the Chinese civilization, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Do you know that this wall has been built for more than 2000 years?! And do you know that its alternative names are «The largest cemetery in the world» and «The Wall of Tears»? Don’t you? then it’s time to pack and head for China, time to start the tour along the great Silk Road! Here you will find a lot of thing, which are impressive, terrifying and intriguing, the things you won’t ever find in any other country of the world.
After visit the “miraculous” wall you will continue your way towards the Mausoleum of the Ming emperors. We have to be quick because, unfortunately, the day is not endless... Well, Ming Tombs… 13 Ming emperors and empresses rest in peace here. Isn’t it scary? Don’t worry! Chinese security systems are up and running. Here you will see not only the tombs by themselves but the whole underground palace (“Underground Palace of Dingling”) - the place where almost every offspring of the Ming dynasty found his/her ultimate and final destination.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 2. Beijing - Xian (T27 21:30 - 08:36).
However, while you are still here you can visit the Summer Imperial Palace, which has got more than a 800-year history. There is the largest and pretty well-preserved Imperial Garden in China, which was laid out around the palace. During the tour around the Summer Imperial Palace you will see the East Glorious Gate, the Hall of Literary Glory, the Hall of Nephritic Waves, the Palace of Tranquil Longevity, roofed gallery, marble boat and other fine monuments of the past centuries’ architecture.
In the afternoon you will find out what the real Temple of Heaven looks like! This is the place where the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties gathered annually for a prayer to heaven for peace and good harvest. The most amazing thing here is the Echo Wall. Could you imagine that every word said by you facing the wall will echo to your interlocutor at the other side of the wall? Well, definitely there is nothing to say about the confidentiality of such a conversation!
In the evening you will be delivered to the railway station to catch a night train to Xian (Т27 (21:30 - 08:36)).
Day 3. Xian.
Nowadays Xian is an administrative centre of the Shaanxi province. It is situated in the western part of the Guanzhong Plain and is the largest urban area there. In ancient times Xian was called Chang"an and was a world-famous capital. The history of the city is more than 3000-year long. For that period many unique monuments were created here.
In Xian you will see the most astonishing attraction of China - the Terracotta Army of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang. The hundreds of warriors of different appearance and with different eye expressions will stare at you amazed by the fact that you’ve dared to trespass upon their domain where they are used to guard the emperor’s peace.
Besides, you will visit the Horse Museum and after the rich lunch you will head for the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in China. Our guide will friendly tell you about the foundation of this monument in 652 AD and the legend related to its origination.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 4. Xian - Lanchow (K119 22:26 - 06:27).
By the way, do you know that the Great Silk Road has got its name in 1877 following the example of the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen? The fact is that this trade route was established due to the profitability of the silk manufacture, which existed only in China and, thus, being an exclusive item was highly demanded. Hence, the title suggested by Herr Richthofen being a pure notional quintessence became a commonly used term.
In the evening you will be transferred to the railway station to take a night train К119 (22:26 - 06:27) to the next destination - the city of Lanchow.
Day 5. Xiahe - Labrang (280 km).
On your way to Xiahe you will visit the famous Binling Monastery, which is 80 km from Lanchow. One can get to the monastery after he/she has ferried over the artificial water reserve, which appeared due to the construction of the dam on the Yellow River (the Huang He River) in 1967. The famous Caves of a Thousand Buddhas are in the Binling. If to evaluate their majesty and historical value they yield only to the caves in Dunhuang and those in the Mingsha Shan Mount. 34 caves and 149 niches with 679 stone-made figures and 82 clay ones are preserved up to now along with 900 m2 of frescos. After the lunch you will continue to Xiahe, where you are expected to be comfortably accommodated at the hotel.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 6. Xiahe - Lanchow - (280 km, 5 hrs.) - Jiayuguan.
You will spend the whole day wondering around the monastery and in the evening you will go back to Lanchow to take a night train to Jiayuguan.
Day 7. Jiayuguan - Dunhuang (330 km, 5-6 hrs.).
Jiayuguan is the very first fortress built at the Silk Road. It is situated at the western end of the Great Chinese Wall. A small town of the same name attached to the fortress appeared a bit later. This fortress was successfully guarding strategic pass ways for the centuries. The pass way surrounded by the forbidding rocks from both sides has always been a great temptation for those thinking about an armed invasion. The Silk Road passing through these natural gates favored the development and prosperity of the city as all caravans passing here were obliged to pay certain “customs” due. This pass is one of the most well-preserved gates of this ancient fortress.
The legend about construction of the fortress is quite noticeable. When his part of the Great Wall was under construction the architect in charge was asked how many bricks he would require. The construction process was stated after they had manufactured the number of bricks declared by the architect. After the construction had been finished it happened to be that a single brick left over. However, this fact didn’t help the architect to avoid an unjust accusation. He was accused of excess expenditures. The unfortunate “excess” brick is still there and you can see it peacefully lying on a visible spot above the central passage.
Having visited the Wall you will continue to Dunhuang - the city, at the hotel of which you are supposed to spend an upcoming night.
Day 8. Dunhuang - Turpan.
Furthermore, 5 km from the city are so called Singing Sands. In fact, these are huge barkhans. It is very hot here in the day time but when the weather is windy (but not stormy) the sands are singing. These barchans are said to be the highest in China as even the dunes of Taklamakan are lower.
After some rest upon coming back to Dunhuang you will take a night train to Turpan.
Day 9. Turpan.
By the way, during your visit to the caves and cavern monasteries in the Flaming Mountains you will figure out how great was the contribution of the Silk Road into the scientific and cultural exchange of the past: the ancient Iranian system of so-called “karez” water supply (constructed by hands) was found here. There are more than a thousand of the underground water channels (karez system) with the total length of 2500 km, and it really deserves praises. In fact, karez channels are often compared to the Great Wall in terms of the scale and usefulness!
Besides, here you will visit an ancient picturesque settlement called Tuek and miraculous grottoes known as the “Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves”. You will learn the history of Buddhism in Turpan. Approximately 15-minute ride is required to get to these grottoes from the centre of the city. They are located in the interior of the Hoyanshan Mountain. Initially there were more than 80 grottoes but now only 67 are left. However, it is not surprising as all the grottoes are centuries old.
An Uyghur family will hospitably meet you in Turpan, thus, allowing you to take a look at unique customs and traditions of the Uyghurs and their local cuisine.
And of course this is the only place where you can taste authentic Turpan grapes, which happen to be the symbol and the pride of the city! Entire lifestyle of the locals is closely related with this fruit one or the other way. Why? Well, because grapes are grown here for more than two thousand years! Even the central street of Turphan is a grape alley. Both traffic way and side pavements look like green tunnels and this “vineyard” stretches for several kilometers! Furthermore, we should mention the most typical elements of the local architecture, which are two-storey cob constructions with tracery decorating the second floor. These constructions function as driers, where grape bunches are hanging on special wooden racks. Further work is done by the dry and hot air. Dried raisins fall on the smooth loamy floor. Now the owner sweeps them together and packs into the sacks. These famous green sultanas from Turpan are then sold at the bazaars all over China and abroad.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 10. Turpan - Urumqi (200 km, 4-5 hrs.).
In the afternoon you will be transferred to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Upon arrival you will be accommodated at a cozy metropolitan hotel and after a short rest you will start a city-tour across Urumqi. Urumqi is a city, which attracts the interest of every visitor! The city strikes at first sight! Skyscrapers of glass and concrete adjoin almost tumbled down slums, the life is everywhere and its motive power is her majesty trade. Here you won’t be able to tell if it’s a weekday or a weekend just by looking out of the windows as there are always thousands of people in the street! Another distinctive feature of Urumqi is almost absolute absence of people with the backpacks, because here the backpack makes you a potential victim of pickers. Therefore, be careful!
After the city-tour you are to visit the Big Bazaar in Urumqi, where you can buy a lot of different things including traditional Uyghur silk and Chinese cotton, different sorts of nuts and dried fruits, medicinal herbs, and aromatic oils… Besides, you will be astonished by the local colour, which is usually the source of lots of impressions and great pictures. Surely, you will remember this contrasting city, which is a harmonic combination of the eastern and western traditions.
Overnight at a hotel in Urumqi.
Day 11. Urumqi - Kashgar (CZ6803 08:30 - 10:15).
In the Middle Ages Kashgar was one of the most important trade spots of the Great Silk Road; numerous caravans started from here to the West (Ferghana Valley), to the South (Jammu and Kashmir) and to the North (Urumqi and Turpan). In 1273 Marco Polo was here and noted that there are Nestorian churches here. At the end of the XIV C the oasis suffered from a heavy blow delivered by Amir Timur invasion, as a result of which islamization of the locals was intensified. In 1755 Kashgar came under the influence of Chinese rulers again. But… that’s enough of history! Let’s discover the city and make up our own opinion about it! After all, Kashgar had always been an important link between the so-called “northern” and “southern” arteries of the Great Silk Road!
The central part of Kashgar is a real old city without any slightest suggestion of a regular city planning, which is full of narrow twisted street, numerous squares used as bazaars, brick or wattle and daub houses, and such dark and narrow back streets that only God knows where they lead to. Here you will see the Id Kah Mosque, which is the largest in China. It appeared here in 1442. Probably, even more intriguing is the Mausoleum of Abakh Khoja, which is the holiest place for the Sufis in Xinjiang. It is dated by 1640. Besides, you are lucky to visit the Craftsmen Street, where a lot of handicraft shops are open to make you happy with masterpieces of the local artisans.
A popular Chinese proverb says: “If you’ve been to Xinjiang but didn’t visit Kashgar, you’ve never been to Xinjiang”. Let’s speak about Kashgar bazaar only! Big Sunday Bazaar is a huge space organized according to the principles of the elementary logic: the name of the trade row allows buyer to understand what is sold here (e.g. signs stating «Fruits», «Ironware», «Foodstuffs» make everything quite clear). But anyway buyers get confused with the quantity and wide variety of goods! It is difficult to figure out all the fruits you can buy here: pomegranates, figs, grapes, melons, watermelons, peaches, apples… There are so many merchants here that not only desks but cribs with fruits, various trays and even a piece of cloth can serve as a trading stand. Here you will find the famous Yangishar knives existing for more than 200 years. It’s distinguished by a fine quality and beautiful shape. The handle is enchased with silver or copper, decorated with pearls, cockle-shells, etc. This is where excellent knives are made! Well, guess, this shopping will please you very much! All the more, you will be able to meet the locals here and watch their way of life.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 12. Kashgar - Irkeshtam pass (260 km, 4 hrs.) - Yurt camp under the Lenin Peak.
Well, now when you’ve successful passed both Irkeshtam pass and border point the next phase of your program is starting. You will get acquainted with the charming nature and picturesque landscapes of Kyrgyzstan. Your travel efforts will be rewarded as soon as you find yourself at the footsteps of the great Kyrgyz Mountains, under the world-famous seven-thousand-meter peak - the Lenin Peak. Don’t worry if you are quite far from alpinism as nobody is going to make you climb this peak. Your tour was claimed to be a cultural one, so everything is going to be done “politely”! Well, apart from joking it must be said that here you will find yourself in a bit unusual conditions as you are supposed to accommodate in the yurt camp far from hotels, high-rank restaurants, marble floors and plastic ceilings. However, still don’t worry! The service in our camp matches the level of a good hotel with the only difference, which is a view from the window.
So, Yurt camp under the Lenin Peak is kind of a small town located at the altitude of 3600 meters above the sea level. Here you will accommodate in warm and cozy national yurts with heating, all necessary furniture and electricity. All conditions for the comfortable rest are guaranteed! There are also an excellent bathhouse with a real sweating-room and proper WC facilities. For your convenience staff doctor is working in the camp. Moreover, there is a cook-house where both traditional European and national Kyrgyz dishes will be cooked for you. Despite the altitude and remoteness from civilization we’ve got a telephone here, so you can call home, and (drum-roll)… we have an Internet connection!
Day 13. Yurt camp under the Lenin Peak.
Today you will continue discovering the nature of Kyrgyzstan and probably meet the alpinists who came here to climb the seven-thousand-meter peak. So, don’t miss an opportunity to learn something about people’s life in the mountains! You can feel like a real mountain-dweller for a while.
Day 14. Transfer to Osh.
The Kyrgyz call Osh the “southern capital”. Nobody know the exact date of its foundation, however, legends related it to Alexander the Great and even Solomon the Prophet (also known in the East as Suleyman). One legend tells that Suleyman was leading its army and there was a couple of yoked oxes ahead of him and after oxes had reached a mountain the ruler said: “Kosh!” (“Enough!”). However, this is not the only version of the city name origin.
Osh is one of the most ancient urban centre of the Central Asia and undoubtedly the most ancient in Kyrgyzstan. Archeological findings prove that the city is at least about 3000-year old. In the X C Osh was regarded as the third largest city of Ferghana, because it was standing at the crossroad of the caravan routes stretching from India and China to Europe. Hence, it was one of the ancient spots along the Silk Road, the tracks of which your route is following. Besides, Osh is one of the Muslim religious centers of the Central Asia. A handful of legends is related to the Suleyman-Too Mountain (the mountain is named after Suleyman the Prophet, who, according to the legend, was able to cure all illnesses).
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 15. Osh - Ferghana.
Overnight at a hotel in Ferghana.
Day 16. Ferghana - Margilan - Ferghana.
At the end of the XV - the beginning of the XVI C Margilan was also famous due to the following circumstance: one of Timur Lang’s grandsons - sultan Babur - was born and raised here. He became a ruler of Ferghana and later founded the Mughal Empire in India. In addition, he was the founder of his own dynasty - the Baburid (note that different sources also refer to it as the Timurids or the Mughal dynasty) - who were ruling till the middle of the XIX C. You will surely have a lot of pleasant memories of this city as being the travelers’ shelter for ages it is still full of verdure! The architectural complex Kaftarlik (XVIII C) will make you believe that you decision to come here was not a mistake as you are about to see the mosque with the unique paintings and mysterious minarets.
Then you will be taken back to Ferghana to continue your tour there.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 17. Ferghana - Rishtan - Kokand - Tashkent (310 km, 5 hrs.).
After that you’ll continue your transfer to Tashkent. However, there is another one attraction to discover while you are still in the Ferghana Valley - Kokand. This city won’t leave you indifferent as not long ago (at the end of the XIX - the beginning of the XX C) Kokand was the second largest city of the Ferghana Valley! In the period of active land trade along the Great Silk Road Kokand, as recorded in Chinese chronicles dated back to the X C, was famous with its handicrafts. During the period of its existence Kokand was ruled by 29 khans, the most famous of which is probably the last one called Khudayar Khan (1845 - 1876). Four times he was deprived of the throne and each time he managed to come back to power.
An old eastern proverb says: “New ruler - new coin”. However, in the case of Kokand governors it must be changed as follows: “New ruler - new palace”. For the rich history of Kokand the palace of Khudayar Khan , which is still well-preserved, was the seventh residence of the rulers for just a century and a half. This magnificent complex was built by the architect called Mir Ubaydullo in 1871. The best artisans from different corners of the Ferghana Valley were decorating it. The palace, surrounded by the carved stone wall, consisted of 7 smaller courtyards and 119 rooms. There was an Arabic inscription above the main gates stating: “Syed Muhammad Khudayar Khan the Great”. Now there is a regional museum in the former palace building.
In bygone days Kokand was a large centre of the religion development. In the years of prosperity there were thirty five madrassas and hundred mosques in the city. Unfortunately, most of them are devastated either by time, earthquakes or the Soviet authorities. The largest religious centre of the city was the Norbutabi madrasah built at the end of the XVIII C. After 1991 this madrasah was opened again and now more than eighty students study there. It is also worth to see the Juma mosque erected in the beginning of the XIX C. The iwan’s covering leans on 98 carved pillars made of a solid nettle tree. Unique ceiling of the mosque is made of the wooden panels “vassa”, covered with elegant frescos and laid athwart the ornamented cross-beams. A minaret rises in front of the mosque and it is seen from everywhere in the city. And as you see the Mausoleum of Modari Khan you will find out a life story of a poetess Nadira executed by order of the Amir of Bukhara and it will make you sad. This necropolis was built in the memory of hers!
After all the excursions you will finally reach Tashkent, where you will be able to relax in a hotel room.
Day 18. Tashkent.
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan, the fourth largest city in CIS with a huge population of about 2,3 million of people. The city is conditionally divided into two parts - the Old and the New city. The names are self-explanatory: in the Old city you will find mausoleums, madrassas and an authentic eastern bazaar, whereas in the New one there are modern monuments, buildings, squares, and parks. These two contrasting faces of the city peacefully co-exist and, moreover, successfully supplement each other. In fact, this distinctive feature of Tashkent conveys the characteristic, which is general for the entire Uzbek state: that is, harmonious combination of the ancient traditions and modern trends.
We will start from the attractions of the Old city:
Afterwards we’ve planned the New city tour:
This is how your day in the Uzbek capital is planned. A night in the hotel will become a perfect addition to a day full of the eastern spirit.
Day 19. Tashkent - Samarkand (330 km, 5-6 hrs.).
There is the Hazrat-Khyzr Mosque on the hill at the city entrance. An impressive view of the ancient Necropolis Shah-i-Zinda, local bazaar and distant mountains opens from that hill. The Hazrat-Khyzr Mosque, which is quite an old construction, was totally demolished by the hordes of Genghis Khan as well as many other objects in Samarkand. However, it was reconstructed in the XIX C.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 20. Samarkand.
>First of all you will see the most impressive square in the entire Central Asia - the Registan Square (XV - XVII C) situated in the centre of Samarkand. The word “Registan” means “sandy spot”. The Registan appeared as the centre of the trade and handicrafts at the crossing of six roads outstretched from the city gates. Right here, in the Registan, merchants coming with the camelcades were selling their goods and purchasing local ones. The square is encircled with three majestic buildings: the Madrasah of Ulugh Bek (1417 - 1420), the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619 - 1636), and the Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1647 - 1660).
In 1417 Ulugh Bek (the grandson of famous Timur Lang) started the construction of the madrasah bearing his name. In 1420 construction process was finished and the square became the centre of the science. Initially, more than a hundred students were living and studying there. The Madrasah of Ulugh Bek was considered as the higher educational institution that time. Therefore, one may conclude that it was an eastern medieval university.
In the XVII C two more buildings were erected in the Registan: the Sher-Dor and the Tilya-Kori Madrassas. They are remarkably large and luxuriously designed. The Sher-Dor Madrasah («Lions Gate») with the facade depicting fantastic catlike animals and chamois is a regular reflection of the Madrasah of Ulugh Bek. It had been under construction for almost 17 years. Its construction was initiated by the ruler of Samarkand called Yalangtush Bakhodur. Ten year after the Sher-Dor had been finished he ordered to lay foundation of the Tilya-Kori Madrasah, which completes the ensemble from the north. The name of the madrasah is literally translated as “decorated with gold”. Except its main educative function this madrasah was also used as the main mosque of Samarkand. The Registan is still considered to be the central city square.
After that you will visit the Rukhabad necropolis. As the legend states the hair of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad (XV C) are kept here. Furthermore, you can head for the Bibi-Khanym Mosque (XV C), which was built according to a special order by the best 200 architects from all over the Timur Lang’s empire, 500 workers and 95 Indian elephants. Another option is to see the Ulugh Beg Observatory (also the XV C) where you find a unique astronomic construction - the sextant.
You can also take a look of the architectural ensemble Shah-i-Zinda (XII - XV CC), which has got its name from the legend about the cousin of Muhammad the Prophet called Kusam ibn Abbas, who was buried here. The name of the ensemble literally means “King Alive”. The legend tells that Kusam ibn Abbas came to Samarkand together with the Arab conquerors in the VII C to preach Islam and was beheaded for his beliefs. However, he was such a strong believer that he managed to take his head split and went down to a deep well where he is supposedly residing now. The remains of the Timur Lang’s courtiers also lie here in Shah-i-Zinda.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 21. Samarkand - Bukhara (300 km, 4-5 hrs.).
After the tiring road you will be able to relax at a hotel in Bukhara looking forward to meet the “God’s delight” - Bukhara.
Day 22. Bukhara.
First, you will explore the Mausoleum of the Samanid (IX-Х CC), which is a pearl of Central Asian architecture. It is a family tomb of a local dynasty, which was founded by Ismail Samani. The mausoleum is unique in various respects. For instance, according to the canons of Islamic architecture the construction of the covered mausoleums was prohibited. However, all evidence shows that for the first time this rule was broken during the construction of this mausoleum. Furthermore, as historians of the architecture state, the building was erected according to the rules applied to the construction of Zoroastrian fire worship temples. Thus, it was built according to the pre-Arab religious traditions, however, in the period of wide Islam dissemination in the Central Asia. Therefore, the Mausoleum of the Samanid is considered as the building, which defined the trend of various cultures synthesis and assimilation. Later original architectural style of the Central Asia has developed based on it.
Upon leaving the Park of the Samanids don’t forget to have a look at the Chashma-Ayub Mazar (or mausoleum) (XII C), which is translated as “the spring of Job”. This place is the best demonstration of the Silk Road impact onto the development of countries interconnected by this route, including even the remotest ones. Who could even think that here, in Central Asia, Christian legends about Biblical characters may appear? Nevertheless, the legend tells us that Job (Ayub) was wondering in this region in the tome of drought. Locals, exhausted by thirst, were asking for water. Then the prophet had stroke the ground with his stick and the next moment clear spring appeared there. It is still accessible for the wonderers.
Today you will admire at the most ancient fortress of Bukhara, Ark citadel (end of the III C), which vividly fits in the local scenery, and is an impressive reinforced fort from which Bukhara was starting long ago. Present-day appearance of the citadel correlates with the time of last restoration of the Ark gates by Shakh Murad Khan, known as the «sinless Amir». It is considered, that in the times of the other governor called Nasrullah Khan, known as the «butcher Amir» for its cruelty, leather lash, was hanging on one of the walls of the fortress being a symbol of his authoritarian power. As a matter of fact, the Ark citadel hosted the whole city including residential and administrative buildings, mosque, prison, treasury, residence of the Amir, etc.
The Po-i-Kalyan complex (XII-XVI CC) is the central one in Bukhara and is translated as the "Grand Foundation" meaning that it is the base of the famous Minaret Kalyan (the height of the minaret is 49 m, it was built in 1127), which is the highest tower in Bukhara. It is a miracle that the minaret is still there after numerous wars and invasions. For centuries it was used as a watchtower. Also it was known as the Tower of Death, as for centuries criminals were publicly executed here (by being tossed off the top). Interestingly, the word “minaret” means in Arabic the “place where something is lighted”. Many legends relate to this majestic tower, however, you will find out all the secrets in place!
The Madrasah of Ulugh Bek (XV C) was built in Bukhara in 1417, just as in Samarkand to raise national literacy. Ulugh Bek was a fair and well-educated ruler, who was always following high ideals of science and enlightenment. Noteworthy is his treatment of women. For example, the words carved on the doors of his madrasah in Bukhara are the following: «Aspiration for knowledge is a duty of every Muslim man and woman». Another maxim from the same source states: «Let the doors of the God’s blessings be open for the people, who are literate and wise, every day». One can easily guess what a negative reaction was displayed by the clergy towards such a policy of the temporal power!
Next you will head to the Lyab-i Hauz (meaning “by the pond”) ensemble (XVI-XVII CC), which contains the Kukeldash Madrasah (1568), and the Khanaqah and Madrasah of Nadir Divan-Beghi (1622). All constructions are grouped around one of the ponds, which survived the mass drainage of Bukhara at the Soviet times (at those times it was kind of a practical requirement, as ponds were disease-breeders among local folks). The pond"s history is the one, which deserves to be told. Long-long time ago there stood a house of an aged Jewish widow in the place of this pond. As Dmitry Page writes: «Divan-Beghi decided this place to be ideal for the pond by Khanaqah. He asked the widow to sell her yard and mentioned an acceptable price. But the Jewess refused at any price. Then Divan-Beghi led her to the Amir, being confident that the latter would impel her to sell the house. But Imam-Quli Khan committed the case to the mufti board. Muslim jurists decided not to force the yard from Jewess, as Jews in their judgement should enjoy the same rights as Muslims. But a sly grandee laid an Aryk to his new pond under the widow"s house… After a time, when water started to scour the base of her house, widow came to Divan-Beghi praying for his conscience. He answered that his offer is still valid and he will immediately pay her the cost of the house if only she agreed to sell it. The widow said she did not need any money. The only thing she asked for was an exchange of her house to an allotment with permission to build a synagogue there. Divan-Beghi accepted her alternative and handed the woman his allotment situated at the quarter, which is now called the «Jewish» one (Mahall-i Kukhma). Shortly, the first synagogue in Bukhara and great hauz (pond) were built due to the above-mentioned people.
Ancient Bukhara will tell you many stories if you are simply able to perceive! But now, please, have a rest at the hotel.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 23. Bukhara.
Today you will go to the country (it is just 4 km away from Bukhara) and visit summer residence of the Amir of Bukhara (XIX C) «Sitora-i Mokh-i Khosa» («The Palace of the Moon and Stars»), which is an amazing combination of the European and Islamic architecture.
Many people are very impressed by the complex of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari, which is sometimes treated as the Central Asian Mecca. Baha-ud-Din Naqshband was a powerful Sufi and also a mentor of Tamerlane.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 24. Bukhara - Khiva (440 km, 7-8 hrs).
On arrival to Khiva, You will be accommodated at one of its excellent hotels, where you can have a rest.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 25. Khiva.
Having found yourself inside the gates of the Itchan Kala, you immediately plunge into one of Scheherazade’s sweetest tales. Here a man could not stand feeling himself being one of the characters of her narrations. That is because the time has magically stopped within these walls. You can climb the stairs of the 44,5-meter high Minaret of Islam-Khoja, which is a symbol of Khiva. From the window on the top of the minaret you can see a fabulous panorama of the city. Not less unique is the Juma Mosque (X-XVIII CC), which has 212 carved wooden columns inside, each one decorated with its own unique ornament. The Kalta-Minor Minaret was built in 1835 and is still here. Have a walk through the Museum of Avesta or the Museum of wildlife. This city has a huge number of museums, which can suit almost everyone. These and many other wonders should be seen at first-hand. After the city tour you will have a rest at a hotel.
Day 26. Khiva - Konya-Urgench - Tashauz - Ashgabat (350 km).
Thus, your visit to Turkmenistan will start from a ride to Tashauz (Dashoguz) and visit to its primary attraction - an ancient historical city named Konya-Urgench. It is situated 100 kilometers away from Tashauz. Ancient Konya-Urgench is a colorful picture of achievements in architecture and crafts, which were made by the ancient civilization of Khorezmshahs. At present, it is not only a well-known tourist centre, but also a significant object of Muslim pilgrimage. Since 1999, the joint project of UNDP and the government of Turkmenistan called «Development of cultural environment of Konya-Urgench» has been carried out here. While in the city, you will also visit such memorials as the Mausoleums of Turabek-Khanym, Sultan Tekish, Il Arslan, and the Minaret of Tamerlane.
After the ancient attractions tour you will be transferred back to Tashauz, and later fly to the capital of Turkmenistan - city of Ashgabat. Upon arrival you will be accommodated at a hotel and spend a night there.
Day 27. Ashgabat.
In general, the most notable of the mentioned memorials is the «Old Nisa». As a matter of fact, Nisa is an ancient settlement sited 18 kilometers away from present-day Ashgabat, which is dated back to 1000 BC - 1000 AD. In its time Old Nisa was an imperial residence in Parthia, while the new one was a capital of the Parthian Kingdom. At the time of Parthia existence Old Nisa was called in the honour of the king Mithridates I, who ordered to build the city. At that time Nisa was the capital of the Empire, but later the capital was moved to Anatolia (Asia Minor). With the arrival of the Sassanid Nisa absolutely lost its power, the city was ransacked and forgotten. The new period of Nisa history begins with its affiliation to the Arab Caliphate. The city recovered again but has never reached its past power. The start of the city"s degradation is dated back to the XVI century, and in the 20-s of the XIX century Nisa was already in ruins.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 28. Ashgabat - Turkmen-Iranian border - Mary - Merv.
On the territory of this astonishing historical memorial, the area of which is 60 square kilometers, you will be lucky to see the Mausoleums of the Sultan Ahmed Sanjar and Mohammed ibn Ziyad, ruins of palaces, dated back to the rule of the Achaemenid, the Parthian, and the Seljuk’s dynasties.
After you’ve become absorbed by the world of the past, we shall transfer you back to Mary, where you can visit the museum of history.
You will spend a night at a hotel in Mary.
Day 29. Mary - Turkmen-Iranian border «Sarahs» - Mashhad (185 km, 3 hrs).
Mashhad, being the first sacred city, has a great significance for the entire Shiite world. The city gets its fame from a sanctuary sited on its territory - the Imam Reza Mausoleum, which one is of spiritual, architectural and historical interest. Approximately 2 million pilgrims from all corners of the Shiite world visit this sacred place daily. You will have a possibility to see these sanctuaries with your own eyes.
So, what is the importance of Mashhad? After the death of Мухаммед prophet, Muslims split into Sunnis and Shiites. The former reckoned that after prophet"s death no man can act as intermediate party in relations with God. The latter asserted that after death of Muhammad the intermediate party role in relations between God and people is acted by Ali, prophet"s cousin, married to his only daughter. After murder of Ali, this role was inherited by his posterity, and later by clergy, the most eminent representatives of which bear the title Ayatollah (the sign of God). The struggle of the splitted-up Muslims was uneven, advantage was taken by different parties, but in the end the Shiites were defeated and for many centuries stayed discriminated minority in nearly all Muslim countries. The only major country where Shiites could gain a foothold was Iran.
You will spend a night at a hotel.
Day 30. Mashhad - Shiraz.
Having visited the complex and Oriental Bazaar, you will proceed to the south-west from Mashhad, to the ancient city of Nishapur. The road will take you approximately 2 hours (114 km). Nishapur is quite often called the «city of tombs», as very many of Iran"s well-known persons were buried there. The city is second largest city in Iran"s north-east Khorasan province. While being in the city you will visit the tomb of Omar Khayyam, which essentially gets the city its fame. The tomb of the XI C poet is surrounded by a beautiful garden, where man can buy books of this remarkable writer, translated to the world"s primary languages as well as disks with the recitations and singing of his poems.
After the whole day of excursions you will be transferred to a city of Shiraz (flight time is an hour and a half). Upon arrival you will be accommodated at a hotel.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 31. Shiraz.
You can visit such historical and cultural memorials as the Eram Garden, Nasir al-Mulk mosque, theological school, the tomb of Hafez (Saadi), The Vakil complex (mosque, bath house, citadel and bazaar), citrus plantation, Kavami Mosque, and the most amazing mirror mosque called The Tomb of Hamza bin Ali.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 32. Shiraz - Persepolis - Pasargadae - Isfahan.
Some facts concerning Persepolis. Persepolis once was a second capital of Achaemenid state, originated in 6-5 BC. The city is situated in 60 km to the north of Shiraz, and in 70 km from Pasargadae. Persepolis now is a palatial complex, with the area of 135 thousands square kilometers, composed of cult buildings" ruins. In Persepolis you will see the Gates of the Koran, and the Persepolis Temple Palace. Believe it or not - it is famous for being built in 500 BC, moreover, not by the slaves, but free workers. Who knows, although what is to believe in? History and documents? Don’t think it"s always reasonable.
Next, bravely we proceed to Necropolis - burial place of great kings of Achaemenid dynasty.
After that, we confidently move to the Pasargadae, the first capital of limitless Achaemenid Persian Empire. Ruins of that city are at 130 km from Shiraz and at 87 km from Persepolis. Its name, translated from Persian, means «Gardens of Fars». Still inter vivos, in 546 BC, Persian king Cyrus the Great began building up his capital. However, he had already gone to the moment when capital was eventually transferred to Pasargadae. Later, though, Darius I built Persepolis, which ended up being a new centre of the state. In ancient Pasargadae you will visit the most valuable landmark of the city - the burial vault of great Persian king Cyrus II. Six narrow rundles lead to the mausoleum. In 330 BC they were used by Alexander the Great, who conquered the Achaemenid state, to climb. However, while Alexander was out for Indian campaign, the burial-vault was ransacked. But when Alexander came back, the robbers paid with their heads for such a barbarism. There was a popular superstition among the Arabs, who later invaded this territory, saying that this building was a tomb of the mother of Suleyman the Prophet, also known as king Solomon. Generally, Pasargadae was associated with the name of Solomon and maybe this is why many of its buildings were not destroyed at the times of the Achaemenid Empire fall and have persisted till nowadays.
After the excursion you will be taken to the airport and, with the evening flight from Shiraz, you are to arrive to another city of formerly great Persia - Isfahan. The flight will take you only an hour and 15 minutes. Having arrived to Isfahan you will be accommodated in a cozy eastern hotel.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 33. Isfahan.
Isfahan is not just a city, but the one-half of the world. It is one of the most attractive regions for tourists. A huge amount of landmarks concentrated here, shocking with their magnificence, nicety and uncommonness. Everything here reminds of Isfahan once being the capital of huge empire. While in this city, you will visit the Imam Khomeini square. Formerly, the square was called the Naghsh-e Jahan Square (meaning «Map (Portrait) of the world»), and prior to 1979 the complex was called the Shakh Square. After the Islamic revolution, every Friday the Friday prayer takes place on the square. The square extends for 560 meters from north to south, and for 165 meters - from west to east. The actual look of the square formed in 16th century, when Isfahan was the capital of the Safavids Empire. Nowadays, the square is listed in UNESCO global heritage list.
The square is surrounded by historical memorials of no less value. Southwards lies Imam"s mosque, westwards - Ali Kapu Palace, eastwards - the mosque of Lotfolly Khan, northwards - Big bazaar, which extends for 2 kilometers! And guess what? You will personally visit all these amazing beautiful places. And in the evening you will admire the waters of the river Zayenderud from the height of the Isfahan"s most beautiful bridges.
Overnight at a hotel.
Day 34. Isfahan - Tehran flight.
Next, stepping resolutely, we proceed to the Cathedral of Vank. Isn"t it an interesting name for the Iranian historical memorial? It is, indeed. After all, this sight, in fact, does not belong to the Iranians. Actually, this one is the temple of the Armenian Church, which is situated in the Armenian Quarter called New Julfa. Full name of the Cathedral is the Saint Sisters’ Cathedral. Interestingly, the word «vank» means the “cathedral” in Armenian, but for the Iranians this word became an impersonal notion. Later all the foreign languages come to feature «vank» in the name of the cathedral. However, the Armenians are not offended by such a tautology. The cathedral was built between 1606 and 1605. It has incorporated contrasting Christian and Muslim styles.
Have you ever suspected minarets can rock? Do you say «no»? Meanwhile, the answer is «yes». They definitely can. And you will see it with your own eyes when, accompanied by your guide, proceed to the Isfahan rocking minarets. And the last memorial on your way through Isfahan will be the Chehel Sotun Palace of forty columns.
In the evening you will fly to Tehran, the capital of Persia. The flight will take an hour and 5 minutes.
Having arrived to the spot you will be accommodated in the metropolitan hotel for another one Arabian night.
Day 35. Tehran. Departure.
Not without reason Tehran is said to be one of the most colourful capitals of the world, and today you can see that by yourself. The most common points of interest for city guests are its splendid museums. Thus, your stay in Tehran is to be not only pleasant but also cognitive. For example, the Golestan Palace-Museum built in the Qajar dynasty times shall tell you how shakhs, said to be the lords of the world for their folk, once lived. The palace hosts several museums, best of which are: the marble throne museum, which is situated in a huge ceremonial hall with an alabaster throne in it; the Negar Khan museum, which hosts an art collection of the Qajar dynasty times; and once said to be the highest building in Tehran the Museum of Sham al-Emarat (Palace of the Sun), which is decorated with a large number of mirrors and is built in a mixed style matching both European and Persian architecture.
So, it’s already evening and it"s time to go home. Our driver will lift you to the Tehran International airport named after Khomeini for departure.
This is where our long journey has come to its logical ending. Throughout the whole journey we tried not to miss anything important. Without any doubt, more surprising things could be found, but surely you have seen all of the most valuable ancient civilizations’ memorials and become aware of the fact that various cultures united by the routes of the Great Silk Road are many-sided and astonishing ones. You’ve visited China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. You saw a lot but much more is yet to be seen in these hospitable lands. And we are looking forward to your future visits. Good luck!
- Useful Information on Traveling in Kyrgyzstan
- Useful Information on Traveling in Uzbekistan
- Useful Information on Traveling in Turkmenistan
- Route Map
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