Sogdiana, the Pearl of the East
Heritage Tour of Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan
|Countries:||Uzbekistan - Turkmenistan||View the route map »»|
|Tour duration:||12 days / 11 nights|
|Best time to travel:||April - June, September - October|
|Itinerary:||Ashgabat - Darwaza crater - Dashoguz - Konya-Urgench - border point “Shavat” - Khiva - Bukhara - Samarkand - Tashkent|
Visit the area that was in ancient times the territory of Sogdiana (or Sogdia, Suguda, Sogdiane, Sogd, Sugd), a region in the east populated by the tribes of the Saka and Massagetae, one of whose representatives, Spitamen, might have defeated the invincible Alexander the Great had the former not been murdered treacherously. Нere you’ll feel the atmosphere of the East and be able to have a look at the historical monuments of later periods and get to know lifestyle and mindset of modern population composed of the descendants of the proud Sogdians.
The tour “Sogdiana, the Pearl of the East” will guide you across two Central Asian republics - Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - where powerful states - Bactria, Sogdiana, Margiana and Khwarezm were located in ancestry. The ruins of ancient fortresses of Khwarezm and Afrosiab are preserved till nowadays and remind of the bygone might of perished empires. Such ancient monuments as the mausoleum of Tamerlane, the Registan Square, and the Kalyan Minaret harmoniously blend and even amplify the colour of the modern eastern cities. Besides, this tour will show you the most fascinating attraction - the “Doors to Hell”, or Darwaza Gas Crater! You will feel a legendary babel of real oriental bazaars and discover the culture, original traditions and perpetual hospitality of the local nations.
- ITINERARY / SERVICES & COST
ITINERARY IN DETAIL
- USEFUL INFORMATION
- OPTIONAL EXCURSIONS & LEISURE ACTIVITIES
|Day 1.||Arrival in Ashgabat.
Meeting at airport. Transfer to hotel and check-in. Leisure time. Overnight at the hotel.
|Day 2||Ashgabat sightseeing tour.
Breakfast at the hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Ashgabat: Independence Park and Neutrality Arch, Parthian Fortresses of Nisa (UNESCO), Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque in the village of Kipchak, which is the largest mosque in Central Asia. Overnight at the hotel.
|Day 3.||Ashgabat - Darwaza crater (Karakum).
Breakfast at the hotel. Half day city tour including visits to Anau mosque ruins, Ahalteke horse stables, Carpet Museum and (Sunday) bazaar. Transfer to Darwaza gas crater in Karakum desert. Camp dinner and overnight in tent.
|Day 4.||Darwaza crater - Dashoguz - “Shavat” border point - Khiva.
Breakfast on the open air. Further drive to Dashoguz. Visit Kunya Urgench (UNESCO Heritage site). Sightseeing program in Konya-Urgench: mausoleums of Turabek-Khanym, Sultan Tekish, Il Arslan, Minaret of Tamerlane. Transfer back to Dashoguz and further transfer to “Shavat” border point for border crossing. Customs formalities, crossing the border. Transfer to Khiva, and check-in at the hotel. Overnight at the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Khiva: Ichan Kala (historical inner city), Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex, Kunya-Ark Fortress, Islam Hajji Madrasah & Minaret. After lunch: Tash Khauli Alakuli Khan Palace, Juma Mosque, Muhammad Aminkhan Minaret & Madrasah, and Avesta Museum. Overnight at the hotel.
Additional option this day (not included into the cost of the trip):
|Day 6.||Khiva - Bukhara.
Breakfast in hotel. Transfer across the Kyzyl-Kum Desert and along the Amudarya River to Bukhara. Lunch en route. Arrival in Bukhara. Leisure time. Visiting traditional workshops and souvenir shops is recommended. Overnight at the hotel.
Additional option this day (not included into the cost of the trip):
Breakfast in hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Bukhara: Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Chashma Ayub Mausoleum, Bolo Khauz Mosque, Ark Citadel, Po-i-Kalyan Complex (Kalyan Minaret and others), Ulugbek Madrasah, Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah. After lunch: Lyab-i Hauz Architectural Ensemble, Kukeldash Madrasah, Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah, domed shopping arcade. Overnight at the hotel.
Additional option this day (not included into the cost of the trip):
|Day 8.||Bukhara out-of-town guided sightseeing tour.
Breakfast in hotel. Out-of-town guided sightseeing tour (4 km from Bukhara): Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace, memorial complex of the Islamic saint Baha-ud-Din Naqshband, Chor-Bakr Memorial Complex. Return to Bukhara. Leisure time. Overnight at the hotel.
Additional option this day (not included into the cost of the trip):
|Day 9.||Bukhara - Samarkand.
Breakfast at the hotel. Transfer to Samarkand. Arrival in Samarkand. Visiting Afrosiab ancient settlement site and local ‘Afrosiab’ Museum. Leisure time: Siab Bazaar recommended. Overnight at the hotel.
Additional option this day (not included into the cost of the trip):
Breakfast in hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Samarkand: Registan Square (Ulugbek Madrasah, Sher-Dor Madrasah, Tilla-Qori Madrasah), Gur-e Amir Mausoleum (Tamerlane’s sepulcher), Rukhabad Mausoleum. After lunch: Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, Ulugbek Observatory. Overnight at the hotel.
|Day 11.||Samarkand - Tashkent (evening railway transfer).
Breakfast in hotel. Visiting Samarkand Paper Mill, where famous Samarkand paper is made by hand on ancient technologies; Samarkand carpet factory “Hudzhum”. Transfer to railway station. Departure for Tashkent by the high-speed train Afrosiab. Arrival in Tashkent, transfer to hotel and check-in. Overnight at the hotel.
|Day 12.||Tashkent. Departure.
Breakfast in hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Tashkent: Khast-Imam Square, Barak-Khan Madrasah, Kafal-al-Shashi Mausoleum, Kukeldash Madrasah, the oldest bazaar of Tashkent - Chorsu. Depending on departure time a program schedule can be corrected. Transfer to airport. Departure.
The cost of the tour 2017 in USD for 1 person:
|Group||1||2||3-4||5-6||7-9||10-15||Supplement for single accommodation|
|Hotels of 2-3*||2730||1645||1565||1325||1245||1235||+ 180|
|Hotels of 3-4*||2965||1800||1720||1475||1395||1385||+ 270|
Cost does not include:
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 2-3* - 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 3-4* - very comfortable hotels providing excellent facilities and services; mainly located in or near city centers.
|City||Hotels 2-3*||Hotels 3-4*|
|Ashgabat||Ak Altyn 4*||or similar||Grand Turkmen 5*||or similar|
|Khiva||Orient Star Khiva Hotel 3*||or similar||Asia Khiva Hotel 3*+||or similar|
|Bukhara||Siyavush Hotel 3*||or similar||Asia Bukhara 3*+||or similar|
|Samarkand||Arba Hotel 3*||or similar||Grand Samarkand 4*||or similar|
|Tashkent||Samir Hotel 3*+||or similar||Park Turon Hotel 4*||or similar|
ITINERARY IN DETAIL
Day 1. Arrival in Ashgabat.
Welcome to Ashgabat, which is the capital of, and the largest city in Turkmenistan. Thence we shall begin our trip in the lands of the legendary Sogdiana.
Sogdiana is an ancient historical region situated in the territory of present-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in the area between the Oxus and Jaxartes (the ancient names for the Amudarya (Amu Darya) and Syrdarya (Syr Darya) Rivers), with a centre in the Zeravshan River basin. The name ‘Sogd’ (which translates as ‘holy’, ‘burning’ or ‘pure’) was mentioned for the first time in Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians. The region Sogdiana had retained its ancient name to the medieval period, when it was known as Sogd of Samarkand.
Ashgabat is situated in Central Asia, between the Karakum Desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range, in the Turan depression, 25 km from the border with Iran, and lies in the same latitude as Athens, Seoul and San Francisco do. The name “Ashgabat” in Persian means "city of love" or "city of devotion".
Day 2. Sightseeing in Ashgabat and its environs.
Today we shall see the most interesting of Ashgabat’s attractions.
In general, the most notable of memorials is «Old Nisa». As a matter of fact, Nisa is an ancient settlement situated 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 New Nisa was one of the first capitals of the Parthians (alternate names are Parthaunisa, Mithradatkirt). 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 location of the capital was changed, it was transferred to Asia Minor. When the Sassanid came to power, Nisa absolutely lost its influence; the city was ransacked and forgotten. New period of Nisa’s 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 C, and in the 20-s of the XIX C Nisa was already in ruins.
The next object we are to visit is the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque in the village of Kipchak, which, opened in 2004, has become the principal mosque of Turkmenistan, the largest mosque in Central Asia and the biggest one-dome mosque in the world. The construction of the mosque cost $ 100 million. The sumptuous building of white marble is 55 m high, occupies an area of 18,000 sq m and accommodates 10 thousand believers.
Day 3. Ashgabat - Darwaza crater (Karakum).
Today you will make a trip the most interesting place in Central Asia - to the “Doors to Hell” or Darwaza gas crater. In 1971 in the Karakum desert, not far from the Darwaza village (also known as Derweze) that is translated from Turkmen as “Gate”, Soviet geologists started to drill at the site where they tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. During the drilling an accident happened, equipment and transport fell down in a big hole. No one was injured, but there was gas coming out of the hole. Fearing that the hole would lead to the release of poisonous gases, the team decided to burn it off. It was hoped that the fire would use all the fuel within few days, but weeks, months and years passed, and it is still burning today. In 2004 Turkmenistan President GurbangulyBerdimukhamedov issued an order for the Darwaza village to be moved to another place for safety reasons. No one know how long it will still be burning, whether the gas supplies will run out or will the hole will be closed in the end as gas is a valuable resource and it is not burning idle for a few decades. Nevertheless, this natural gas fire remains one of the most enigmatic sights of Turkmenistan attracting numerous tourists every year.
You will spend the whole night near the crater and enjoy the magnificent sight.
Day 4. Darwaza crater - Dashoguz - “Shavat” border point - Khiva.
After breakfast on the open air you will drive to Dashoguz(also Dashkhovuz, Dashhowuz, Dashoguz) and visit its primary attraction - an ancient historical city called Kunya-Urgench (also known as Old Urgench, Konya-Urgench or Urganj) located at a distance of 100 km from Dashoguz.
Ancient Konya-Urgench is a National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve, located near the old river-bed of the Amu Darya River at the site of the ancient town of Urgench, the capital of Khwarezm in IX-XVI centuries. It is a colorful picture of achievements in architecture and crafts, which were made by the ancient civilization of Khwarezmshakhs. Kunya-Urgench is both a tourist sight with impressive architectural monuments, such as mausoleums and a minaret, and significant object of Muslim pilgrimage. Since 1999 the government of Turkmenistan and UN Development Programme have been carrying out the project of cultural development in the area, and since 2005 the ruins of Kunya-Urgench have been protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Kunya-Urgench is mentioned under the name of ‘Urva’ and ‘Urga’ in Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians. The oldest fortress in the territory of the archaeological site, Kyrkmolla (‘Forty mullahs’), is referred to the 5th-2nd centuries BC. Once Kunya-Urgench was one of the principal points on the Great Silk Road (Route), but in the 16th century the capricious Amudarya changed its direction and the city was abandoned and became part of the desert. Some of the unique monuments of the medieval Islamic architecture have remained to our days.
While in the city, you will also visit such memorials as the mausoleums of Turabek-Khanym (14th c.), Sultan Tekish (13th c.), Il Arslan (12th c.), and the 60-metrer Minaret of Tamerlane (14th c.) which is the highest brick minaret in Central Asia.
On this note we are leaving Turkmenistan for Uzbekistan, where we make our way to Khiva, another pearl of ancient Khwarezm (also spelled Khorezm, Khwarezmia, Chorasmia, Khwarizm, Khwarazm, Khoresm, Khorasam, Harezm, Horezm, and Chorezm) situated 150 km from Kunya-Urgench. Khwarezm was one of Sogdiana’s closest neighbours.
Overnight at the hotel of Khiva.
Day 5. Khiva.
Khiva is an amazing historic city called “a museum under the open sky”. Khiva has no tall modern buildings and wide roads with much traffic. It seems time has stopped here to preserve what was built centuries ago. You are seeing a lot of magnificent Oriental architectural monuments and medieval adobe homes.
When you are in Ichan-Kala, you feel you find yourself in a Scheherazade’s story of 1001 Nights. You can climb the stairs of the 44.5-meter-high Islam-Hajji Minaret - the highest minaret in Ichan-Kala and the symbol of Khiva - and have a fabulous panoramic view of the city from its top window. Do not miss Djuma Mosque, which was built in the 10th c and rebuilt in 1788 - 1789. It is famed for its hypostyle hall, which still has 213 wooden pillars of the previous 10th-century structure, decorated with unique carvings. Take a look at unfinished minaret Kalta-Minor, Kunya-Ark Fortress and the complex of Pakhlavan Mahmud, the famous Khiva’s poet and powerful knight who became a local saint after death. Avesta Museum in Ichan-Kala deals with the history of Zoroastrianism; Khwarezm, with Khiva as its center, is believed to be its cradle. It is really worth seeing these and many other sights in Khiva "live".
We recommend that you also visit Khiva’s handicraft workshops where they sell traditional Khiva’s carpets, suzane tapestries, robes, embroidered scull-caps and an abundance of smaller souvenirs.
Day 6. Khiva - Bukhara.
After breakfast you set out on a long (7-8 hours) and exciting journey to Bukhara across the Kyzylkum Desert (also spelled Kyzyl-Kum, Qyzylqum) and along the Amudarya River (also spelled Amu Darya; known as the Oxus from its Ancient Greek name in historical sources).
Bukhara (in Sogdian βuxārak means ‘a lucky place’; also spelled Bukhoro, Buxoro, Buchara, Bokhara, Buhara) is one of the world’s oldest cities. It is over 2,500 years old, and seems to be emanating the breath of history. In the old times Bukhara was part of Sogd. The toponym ‘Buxara’ was mentioned for the first time on the earliest copper coins of Bukhara with Sogdian inscriptions (4th-5th centuries).
The city was a large political and religious center in the Middle Ages; it is one of the seven holy cities of Islam. Bukhara boasts a large number of old mosques of different architectural styles, as well as a lot of madrasahs, minarets and mausoleums. The historic center of Bukhara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After you have checked in at your hotel, you still have some leisure time to spend before your overnight rest. We recommend that you stroll about the surroundings, feeling the charm of the city in the evening, and visit souvenir shops. In Bukhara you can perceive the Orient in full. At every step you will encounter a trader offering fine craftwork: astrakhan hats, masterly embroidered suzani, national shirts, skullcaps, knives and artfully decorated jewelry. This urge for trading seems to be inherited from the ancestors who used to travel in caravans along the trails of the Great Silk Road.
The medieval Hammam bath complexes are a special Bukhara attraction. They were built in the 16th с and became an integral part of the cultural and architectural panorama of the city. Visiting bathhouses was the favorite leisure activity of people in all the cities in Central Asia and beyond.
The medieval bathhouses in Asia differed as to location use and sex. There were city bathhouses at bazaars and neighborhood ones. Among Bukhara bazaar bathhouses were Hammam Gavkusho, Hammam Hajji Parso, Hammam Sarafon and, of course, the most popular and oldest Hammam Bozori Kord dating from the 17th c. Despite its age, it still functions, and anyone can visit it for washing.
The relaxed ambiance, good service, incense aromas, unique aura and, of course, washing and various types of massages in Bukhara bathhouses will certainly be remembered as sheer bliss.
Day 7. Bukhara.
After breakfast you start your exploration of Bukhara - the city of poetry and fairy tales! Here the labyrinth of the city streets is home to many legends; the vertical silhouette of its minarets represents the flight of man’s genius, and every stone in the lace-like brickwork is covered with the dust of eternity. Bukhara has won the fame of a city-museum, its romantic image attracts tourists from all over the world.
First you visit Ismail Samani Mausoleum (9th c. - 10th c.), which is a pearl of Central Asian architecture. It was built as the sepulcher of Ismail Samani, the founder of the last Persian dynasty ruling in Central Asia. The mausoleum features fascinating brickwork patterns that look different as the light changes during the day. Ismail Samani 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 pre-Arab religious traditions, however, in the period of wide Islam dissemination in 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 Central Asia has developed based on it.
Upon leaving the Park of the Samanids have a look at the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum (or Mazar), Chashma Ayub is translated as ‘Job’s spring’ in Persian. According to a legend, the biblical saint Job (Ayub) once visited the place during a severe drought in the area and opened a spring with a blow of his staff. This spring water is still there, fresh and pure, and is considered to be healing. The mausoleum was built in the 15th century by master builders Tamerlane had brought from Khwarezm after capturing Khiva, so the building features a Khwarezm-style conical dome, uncommon in Bukhara. 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?
Then comes Bolo Hauz Complex (17th c.). It is the hauz ‘pond’ and two surviving structures of Bukhara registan central square complex - a mosque, still functioning, and a minaret. Very rich in ornaments, the mosque is called ‘a mosque of 40 pillars’ because all its 20 pillars, decorated with beautiful engravings, are reflected in the pond.
Next, you go to the Ark, the impressive Bukhara citadel (6th c. - 7th c.). It is the location the city grew from. 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. Today’s Ark is a most interesting tourist attraction featuring reconstructions with dummies and housing a few museums.
Po-i-Kalan Complex (12th c. - 16th c.) you proceed to consists of Kalyan Mosque, Mir-i-Arab Madrasah and the famous Kalyan Minaret which is the highest tower in Bukhara - a 45.6-meter-tall circular-pillar brick tower, narrowing upwards (built in 1127). The minaret miraculously survived many wars and invasions. It was used as an observation tower and an execution tool in the past: criminals were killed by being tossed off the top of it in the past, so it is also known as Tower of Death. There are a lot of legends about this grand structure. The Po-i-Kalyan complex is the central one in Bukhara.
You also see Ulugbek Madrasah, built in 1417, just as in Samarkand, by order of Ulugbek, Tamerlan’s grandson, the famous mathematician and astronomer called ‘a scientist on the throne’. Ulughbek 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 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!
After lunch you visit Lab-i Hauz Complex (1568-1622) consisting of Kukeldash Madrasah (1568-1569), a khanaka monastery and hospice for Sufi travelers (1622) and Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah (1622). All the structures of the complex stand around a large pond that is a perfect place to relax in the outdoor teahouses around it in hot summertime. You can also take a look at the statue of a man riding his donkey there. It is Nasreddin, the legendary medieval Central Asian folk character, famed for his wit and humor.
Visiting the above-mentioned Bukhara sights, you go past unique medieval domed shopping arcades. They are still used for retail sale and offer an abundance of souvenirs and other traditional merchandise: garments, old Bukhara coins, jewelry, and spices.
Day 8. Bukhara out-of-town guided sightseeing tour.
Today you will make a ride outside the city (it’s just a 15-20 minutes ride from Bukhara), where you will see the countryside residence of Bukhara emirs called Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace (‘Star-like and Moon-like Palace’, 19th c.). The palace features a mixture of western and eastern architectural styles. In comparison with the rest of Bukhara, the climate in the palace is different: it is never hot there even on the hottest days.
Next, you go to the unique Chor-Bakr Memorial Complex (‘memorial complex of four brothers’). They began building it during the reign of the Samanids as long ago as the 16th c. It is also called Town of the Dead, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The first and the main grave the necropolis of the complex began to grow was Abu Bakr Saad’s, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Also let’s take a look at the complex of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari, which is sometimes treated as the Central Asian Mecca. Baha-ud-Din Naqshband was a mentor of Tamerlane and a powerful Sufi, who became the founder of the Sufi Order called Naqshbandia, which soon became one of the most famous orders. The complex includes many different buildings: mosques, a minaret, a mausoleum, and a khanaqah.
Tea ceremony is widespread all over Uzbekistan. Uzbek people drink tea whenever an opportunity presents itself: for breakfast, lunch and dinner, at work, at home or while being a guest in somebody’s house. The favorite tea of any Uzbek person is green tea - kok-chai. No party, no celebration or meeting of friends can go without it. Tea is served in piala (a drinking bowl) together with fruits and oriental sweets: parvarda (uzbek caramel), halva, navat (crystallized sugar), puff cookie, thick pancakes with butter, kaymak (boiled cream), dry fruits or honey.
Day 9. Bukhara - Samarkand.
After breakfast at the hotel you will start towards Samarkand that is probably the best-known Uzbekistan’s historic city. Samarkand (also spelled Samarqand), once was the capital of Persian province of Sogdiana - Marakanda (or Marakanda, Maraqanda).
Marakanda became the capital of Sogd in the 8th century BC. The city was situated at the junction of the most important caravan routes from India, Byzantium, China, Tibet, Iran, Siberia and Scythia. This was a point where active trade, cultural and production exchange was taking place. For instance, the Sogdians learnt the art of paper and weapons making from peoples living farther to the east, while the Chinese brought a number of cultivated plant species from Sogdiana, such as the lucerne, grapevine, pomegranate and others. For a long time the Sogdians controlled the silk trade on the section of the Great Silk Road from Merv to Mongolia and China. Businesslike merchants from Sogdiana founded their colonies along the whole length of the ancient trade route, establishing economic and business contacts with trading and non-trading local people.
Over 2,750 years of age, it boasts very impressive architectural monuments and has a rich history. This is a city-museum, a city that was a heart of the caravan trade. Amazingly, but Samarkand, which saw a lot, has managed to keep the spirit of the Asian Middle Ages. In 1220 Genghis Khan almost totally demolished the city. However, in another 150 year, during the rule of Timur Lang, Samarkand became a well-known capital of a vast empire. As for the trade, carpets weaved in Samarkand were highly valued. Geographers and poets called Samarkand ‘Rome of the Orient’ and even ‘Eden of the Orient’ in the past. Samarkand, like Khiva and Bukhara, boasts world-famous masterpieces of medieval Islamic architecture, most of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
After arrival in Samarkand you go see the ruins of Samarkand ancient settlement site Afrosiab (also spelled Afrasiab). It was founded in the 7th century BCE and existed until the 13th century CE. It is the site where archeologists excavated remains of various adobe structures and unique frescoes giving us some idea of the culture of ancient Sogdiana and its center Samarkand known as Maracanda then. You also visit “Afrasiab” Museum that tells the story of life, culture and traditions of the people who inhabited this area in very different eras and left their mark in the form of works of art, household items, and tools.
We recommend you to visit Siab Bazaar that is located not far from the Registan Square, near Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis. The bazaar is roofed, so you can visit it in any weather. Once you are inside, you find yourself among many colors, scents and sounds. The best time to visit an Asian bazaar is summer and early autumn. It is hard to name everything you can see at bazaars in these seasons: colorful fruits, berries, vegetables, gourds, cereals, salad greens… In other seasons the bazaar is not poor either. We also recommend to taste Samarkand bread (flat round loaves) which do not spoil and keep their unique taste for months.
Some Samarkand loaves today are made especially for tourists; they have various symbolic designs, relief pictures and inscriptions.
In 1868 Russian businessman D.M.Filatov organized the production of Uzbek wines in Samarkand that earned reputation in the world wine market at that time. Later the plant of Filatov was headed by M.A. Khovrenko. During the work he improved the plant, and developed new varieties of grapes, from which now wines are produced not only in Uzbekistan, but all over the world. Filatov’s gold reserves were discovered 50 years later.
Nowadays, most of them are exhibited at House Museum named after Filatov, which was opened at Professor Khovrenko Wine Plant. The museum and the plant are functioning to this day. At the territory of the plant there is its own tasting room, which hosts a tasting of the wines produced here. Local wines have the exclusive astringent flavor and aroma.
Day 10. Samarkand.
This entire day will be devoted to Samarkand. First, you see the Registan Square and the three grand madrasahs (Islamic colleges) on its sides. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is certainly one of the world’s most impressive historic squares. The madrasahs date from different times. Ulugbek Madrasah, the earliest of them, was built in 1417 - 1420 by order of Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson. Two centuries later Sher-Dor Madrasah (“Possessing Lions”) and Tilla-Qori Madrasah (“Gilded”) were erected by order of Samarkand governor. Each of the madrasahs features unique decoration: fascinating tile mosaics, delicate stone carvings, splendid gilt ceilings, etc. The word “Registan” means a “sandy spot”. The Registan emerged as the centre of trade and handicrafts at the crossing of six roads outstretched from the city gates. Right here, in the Registan, merchants coming with camelcades were selling their goods and purchasing local ones.
Then you certainly visit Gur-e Amir Mausoleum, the sepulcher of Tamerlane and the Timurid dynasty (1404; also spelled Gur Emir). It contains the graves of Tamerlane, his two sons, two grandsons, and his spiritual mentor.
According to the legend disentombing of his remains is strictly prohibited. Otherwise, the war is to be. How can it be true? Well, the fact is that after archeologists had tried to dig out his remains the Second World War started!
Next, you go to nearby Rukhabad Mausoleum (“abode of spirit”). This small mausoleum dating from the 14th century is said to contain seven hairs of Muhammad the Prophet.
After lunch you go see the Friday communal prayer mosque Bibi-Khanym (“senior princess” or “senior wife”; also spelled Bibi-Khanum). Built in 1404, it is one of the largest historic mosques in the Islamic world. According to Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, a Spanish ambassador to Samarkand in Tamerlane’s times, the mosque was built by order of Tamerlane in honor of his senior wife’s mother by 95 Indian elephants, 200 best architects and 500 workers brought from all the corners of his empire.
Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis (12th c. - 15th c.; also spelled Shohizinda, Shah-i-Zinde means “living king”) you see next is a complex of more than 20 mausoleums with 44 tombstones; most of them are of Tamerlan’s relatives, as well as military and clergy aristocracy. The main of them is the mausoleum of Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of Muhammad the Prophet. According to a legend, Kusam ibn Abbas came to Samarkand with Arab conquerors to preach Islam and was beheaded for faith in the city. However, he took his head and went down to a deep well where he remains alive.
You also see the surviving part of Ulugbek Observatory (15th c.). It still has a section of the mural sextant, once the world’s largest, which Ulugbek used to compile his world-famous star catalogue, the best between Ptolemy’s and Brahe’s. Ulugbek’s discoveries greatly advanced knowledge in the field of astronomy and mathematics in the Middle Ages.
Day 11. Samarkand - Tashkent.
In the evening we will departure for Tashkent, and before leaving we have time to visit Samarkand Paper Mill. Here craftsmen make by hand famous Samarkand paper on ancient technologies. Having existed until the middle of the XIX century, Samarkand papermaking gained wide popularity both in Arab countries and in Europe. With its unique smoothness, Samarkand paper was very comfortable for writing, and good density did not allow absorbing a lot of ink, that was a very important quality characteristic of the paper at that time. Moreover, some types of Samarkand paper were more comfortable for reading, thanks to the fact that the brownish tint of paper softened the contrast with ink.
Then you visit Samarkand carpet factory “Hudzhum” where you find amazing handmade silk carpets. Without leaving the factory, you can watch all stages of the production of magnificent silk carpets from the unwinding silkworm cocoon. All necessary operations are made by hand, using only the most primitive tools. Carpets are absolutely natural: even silk threads are painted by hand with exclusively natural dyes derived from the peel of a walnut, pomegranate peel and stalks of asparagus. Patterns of standard carpets produced at the factory are varied, but performed using different variations of the national ornament what makes them unique and at the same time emphasizes the belonging to the Central Asian school of carpet weaving. Like in ancient times, the carpet pattern has certain information that a man of ability can read as easily as a book.
Transfer to railway station and departure for Tashkent by the high-speed train Afrosiab.
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and one of the oldest Central Asian city, and the 4th largest city in the CIS with a population of around 3 million. Present-day Tashkent is in all respects a regional hub. Although Tashkent is over 2,000 years old, it does not have many historic sites. Tashkent grew to its present size mainly during the Soviet times, especially after the destructive earthquake in 1966. Today it has all the features of a modern metropolis, with a lot of Central Asian-style newly-built structures and Soviet-era buildings.
Day 12. Tashkent. Departure.
After breakfast at the hotel you set out on a guided sightseeing tour of the city.
Today you go to Tashkent’s Old City to see Khazrati Imam Architectural Complex (also Hast Imam), consisting of Barak-Khan Madrasah (also spelled Baraq Khan), Tilla Sheikh Mosque (also spelled Tillya Sheikh), Muyi Muborak Madrasah, Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum (also spelled Kaffal Ash-Shashi, Qaffal Ash-Shashi), Namazgoh Mosque and the new Khazrati Imam Mosque. The complex is the top Tashkent historic site and Islamic center. Thoroughly restored in 2007, the edifices of the complex, with the earliest of them dating back to the 16th century, show their original splendor now. The new mosque featuring traditional Islamic architectural elements adds to the grandeur of the site.
Next, you visit the old Islamic college Kukeldash Madrasah (16th c.) and the large traditional Central Asian Chorsu bazaar near it. Kukeldash Madrasah is one of 23 madrassas of old Tashkent. It was built under the direction of the minister of the Shaybanid sultans known as Kukeldash (which means “foster-brother” or a person who was breast-fed by that same woman who nursed the ruler). The uniqueness of the madrasah is in the fact that it is functioning.
Many Muslim students live and study there nowadays.
Depending on departure time a program schedule can be corrected and if there is time before leaving you can go to see the modern part of the city, including the Independence Square and the Istiklol Square.
This is where our journey across territories of ancient Sogdiana, Margiana and Khwarezm has come to its logical ending. Currently, these historical regions are located in the territories of different Central Asian countries; however, the historical roots and cultural influence can clearly be seen in the life and traditions of the contemporary descendants of the ancient peoples. Alongside other tribes and peoples, the Sogdians were the ancestors of contemporary Uzbeks and Tajik, while the Sogdian language had remained an international language in the territory between the Caspian Sea and Tibet up to the Arab conquest (8th century).
We tried not to miss anything important over this short period of time. Without any doubt, more surprising things could have been found, if you had more time, and ancient Sogdiana - this sparkling pearl of the East - would have showed you more. Nonetheless, surely you have seen all of the most valuable sites. Contrasting and colorful Sogdiana has opened her languishing soul of many faces and will be looking forward to your next visit!
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Optional Excursions & Leisure Activities
|•||You can go to the unique Khovrenko Winery in Samarkand set up by the Russian entrepreneur D. M. Filatov in 1868. The winery was later managed by Professor M. A. Khovrenko, a gifted viniculturist, who could maintain the production of the widely popular wines created by his predecessor and develop new ones. You can sample over 10 best Uzbek wines and visit the local museum on the premises.
The excursion costs - 20 USD per pax.
|•||Dinners at the local Central Asian traditional style art restaurants can be a wonderful addition to the tour. The restaurants feature exquisite Central Asian interiors, wonderful cuisines and gripping shows.|
|•||Take a trip to Bukhara’s gold embroidery factory where over 100 girls and women create beautiful works using antique technologies. You can buy their embroideries and watch the production process there.
The excursion costs - 10 USD per pax.
|•||Enjoy old Bukhara’s bathhouse Hammam Bozori Kord, which dates from the 17th century and still provides traditional Central Asian bath and healing services.
A bath session with a massage costs - 50 USD per pax.
|•||Go to Nugay Caravanserai in Bukhara to sample and buy exclusive local red and white wines, as well as listen to experienced winemakers telling about winemaking process and wine tasting expertise.
The excursion costs - 15 USD per pax.
|•||Take a look at the old-style paper mill and workshop where, using a centuries-old technology, they make antique Samarkand mulberry paper (nicknamed Sultan’s Paper in Tamerlane’s times). The site located in the village Koni Gil near Samarkand was built as a result of a heritage craft revival project supported by UNESCO, Japanese International Cooperation Agency, and Aid to Artisans (an international development non-profit based in Washington, DC, USA). Welcoming guests, there are also other handicraftsmen in the village: ceramists, embroiderers, silk weavers, jewelers, wood and stone engravers, miniature painters, makers of national musical instruments and toys.
The excursion costs - 10 USD par pax.
|•||Visit the Jewish quarter and synagogue in it in Bukhara. The synagogue has an interesting history. Attached to it is the secondary school №36 where Hebrew and Judaism are taught with the permission of the local authorities.|
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