We start the journey in Uzbekistan visiting oasis cities of Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent – we will walk in the shadows of soaring minarets, mosaic-tiled arches, and turquoise domes. We will travel across deserts, little changed since the days of Genghis Khan, and as we go along we’ll discuss the fascinating histories of the mighty khanate states and walk through their architectural legacies. We will conclude our journey in post-Soviet Tashkent.
We continue our journey to Kyrgyzstan, Turkic state nestled in the heart of Central Asia’s rugged mountain ranges. Witness nomadic tribes and untouched alpine lakes, explore the post-Soviet city of Bishkek, and discover a coalescence of cultures thriving in a series of European- and Asian-inspired villages and towns.
Day 1 (Mar 4): Istanbul/Urgench
Welcome to Uzbekistan! Arrive at Urgench International Airport at 5:00AM and transfer to the historic city of Khiva. We will rest until midday and start the touring after that. We will enjoy our first meal of Uzbek cuisine and discuss the journey ahead of us during the meal.
Though much smaller than the Silk Road cities we are about to visit, the old capital of Khiva Khanate is home to a true architectural spectacle – Ichan Kala. It is the biggest surviving walled city in Uzbekistan with many labyrinth-like alleyways, mosques, madrassas, and bazaars.
We will spend the rest of the day, photographing the people of Khiva, and sunset would be on the observatory platform with blue hour photography. Overnight in Khiva.
Day 2 (Mar 5): Khiva City Tour
Though much smaller than the Silk Road cities that we will visit in the next few days, the old capital of Khiva Khanate is home to a true architectural spectacle – Ichan Kala. We will spend the day discovering this Silk Road stop and have the opportunity of walking on the fortified city walls to see the sunset from atop. For dinner and lunch, we stop in cafes to taste authentic local dishes. We are planning to visit the Palace of the late Khan, and also this afternoon we will be in a local village to see the process of Sumalak preparation (a sweet paste made entirely from germinated wheat, which is prepared especially for the festival of Nowruz in a large pot). Overnight in Khiva.
Day 3 (Mar 6): Khiva/Urgenvh/fly to Samarkand
We will spend the morning discovering this Silk Road stop and have lunch before driving to the airport in the nearby city of Urgench. Our flight to Samarkand from there is an hour. After arriving in Samarkand, we set out on the walking tour of the fabled city and have dinner.
Sublime Samarkand was the capital of the empire of Timur, one of history’s greatest conquerors. His vast empire rivaled any, stretching across the Eurasian steppe, who ruled his kingdom with an iron fist while at the same time patronizing the arts and literature. Much of his architectural heritage has been preserved, allowing us to see how the city might have been at the peak of his power. Overnight in Samarkand.
Day 4 (Mar 7): Samarkand
We start the day with the visit to the Gur-Emir mausoleum, where Timur is buried. We will hear the stories from his life and how did he start the construction of Samarkand. Then, we go to Registan Square – Samarkand’s and arguably Uzbekistan’s most famous landmark. The focal point of ancient Samarkand is framed by three beautiful madrassas (religious schools) – Ulugbek, Sherdor, and Tillya Kori.
Next, we will stroll through the spacious courtyard of the Bibi-Khanum Mosque—a structure that legend says was a gift to Tamerlane by one of his wives, and we will have time to explore the Siab Bazaar, where fruit and vegetables grown from the rich soil of the Zarafshan Valley are sold in a colorful market. After lunch, we would explore Shahi Zinda – the necropolis where family members of Timur are buried. We finish the day with a visit to a bakery in one of the backstreets of the old town, where a family prepares bread for the local communities. You may try to make a loaf of bread after seeing the process. Tonight’s dinner is in a local restaurant not far away from our hotel. Overnight in Samarkand.
Day 5 (Mar 8): Samarkand/Village Visit
We drive to the rural town of Urgut, the home of the ancient merchants and very strong Kupkari players. Kupkari, also known as buzkashi, was a sport originating at least 1,000 years ago with the nomadic Turkic groups who inhabited the Central Asian steppes. Today we are projecting to witness the game in the foothills of the Gissar mountain range.
We return to the city in time for lunch and continue the exploration of the city with a visit to the studio of a well-known designer – Lena Ladik. Our next stop would be Konigil Paper Mill – where you may see the process of paper production from mulberry tree bark – just like in 8th century Samarkand. Overnight in Homestay.
Day 6 (Mar 9): Samarkand/Bukhara (by train)
After leisurely breakfast, we go to the train station to take the high-speed train to Bukhara. Upon arriving we start the touring of this ancient city.
Bukhara is an old Silk Road city with buildings dating back thousands of years. We’ll explore the old city, marveling in the ancient mosques and the baroque brick-layered Mausoleum of Ismail Somoni, who founded the powerful tenth-century Somoni dynasty. We also visit the Poikalon Complex, which has become the symbol of Bukhara. During the day our guide will take us to meet masters of different crafts, such as calligraphy, miniature, blacksmith, and perhaps a puppet maker. We will have time to freely wander on our own, or shop for spices, silk scarves, or exquisite jewelry before regrouping for the dinner in a local house. Overnight in Bukhara.
Day 7 (Mar 10): Bukhara
We begin this morning at Labi-Havuz Plaza, located in the heart of the old town. The plaza is at the center of Bukhara’s old town and is a place to meet friends, eat, drink, and relax in the shade for locals. Today we will explore the surroundings with a visit to Nodir Devon Begi Khonakoh – the place of abode for the Sufi dervishes. Next, we go to the famous Trading Domes of the city that once housed the best merchants of the Silk Road in them. In the afternoon you will have time for yourself to soak up the experiences and explore the city on your own. We will get together in the evening to enjoy dinner in a local house. Overnight in Bukhara.
Day 8 (Mar 11): Bukhara
Today we drive out of the city to visit the Mausoleum of Naqshbandiy. There are many orders in Sufism and representatives of all the orders were present at different times in what is Uzbekistan today. The Sufi order Naqshbandiyya had the greatest and longest-lasting influence and the memorial place is still well visited by pilgrims. Next, we visit the summer residence of the last Emir of Bukhara – Sitorai Mokhi Hosa. ‘The place where the moon meets the stars’ is what the name of the palace means in Persian.
We will go to a local restaurant to enjoy the great performance arts of Uzbekistan as we are hosted by the Bukhara Philharmonic band. We plan on visiting a wedding in Bukhara today for photography. We go to bed early as we have a big day and a very early start tomorrow. Overnight in Bukhara.
Day 9 (Mar 12): Bukhara/Tashkent
We start the day very early today, so we can get to the train station for our trip to the capital. The train leaves Bukhara at 4:50AM and arrives in Tashkent at 8:40AM. Upon arrival we set out to the café to have full breakfast and start the photography of the capital.
For many travellers, Uzbekistan holds the heart of the Central Asian Silk Road. Tashkent, a Soviet-era showcase of orderly streets, museums, and monuments provides enough entertainment for the day. Tashkent has filled with treasures from the USSR as well as a diverse mix of inhabitants from all around the region. It also happens to be the home to the oldest Koran in the world – we would see the book and also the square inspired by Islamic architecture.
We, then, go to the city’s Amir Temur and Independence squares. There is a chance of seeing an Opera or Ballet performance in the State Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Tashkent today, provided there is a scheduled event. We would have dinner in a local restaurant this evening. Overnight in Tashkent.
Day 10 (Mar 13): Tour of Tashkent
Today we have aanother great day in Tashkent – our guide will take us to more areas of the city – to the former soviet metro stations (a showcase in elegant design), to the market, and local promenade for more photography opportunities. This evening we would like to take you to the house of the ceramic master for you to create a piece of art with the local master. We will have the work ready for you by tomorrow’s flight to take home as a masterpiece. Overnight in Tashkent.
Day 11 (Mar 14): Tashkent/Bishkek
After leisurely morning we will pack and have lunch. After lunch we will take our flight to Bishkek, the capital of the most democratic country in all Central Asia. Your flight will arrive at 18:00PM local time and we will invite you to restaurant for dinner. Overnight in Bishkek.
Day 12 (Mar 15): Bishkek/Burana/Chon Kemin valley/GH Kemin
Today we depart to Chon Kemin valley. On the way stop in Tokmok to visit the Burana historical complex, which houses the ruins of the ancient city of Balasagun. Here, at this historic site, we will also have a group of local designers and models show us the traditional Kyrgyz costumes.
The Chon-Kemin natural park is located around 150 km East of Bishkek. It stretches over 500 ha and has an altitude between 1,400m and 2,800m.
The park has one of the most picturesque landscapes in Kyrgyzstan with its vast river, its lakes, its glaciers, and its immense forest. It’s a delight both for nature photography and local life.
We will walk to panorama to Panorama (1.5h), take a ride on a horse cart, make a photo of the biggest hoe. Also we’ll take part in sumolok and boorsok making process. Overnight in Kemin guest house.
Day 13 (Mar 16): Chon Kemin/Kochkor/Almaluu Yurt camp via Southern shore of the lake Issyk Kul
We’ll leave Chon Kemin this morning around 06:00am to see frozen Ara Kol lake, located in 30 km from Kochkor village. When water freezes it becomes beautiful in a whole new way. The formation of frozen water takes on an emerald colour and causes unique patterns.
On the way to Issyk Kul region we stop at Orto Tokoi water reservoir. Created in 1956 on the Chu River, today its main function is irrigation of agricultural land of Chu region and Southern Kazakhstan. In different places the water changes its color: soft blue, emerald green or almost black.
We’ll continue on our drive, skirting the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul to visit Kyzyl-Tuu village. It’s a small village of about 1,800 inhabitants. It is located 230 km (143 miles) from Bishkek, on the south shore of Issyk-Kul Lake. This village is a fascinating destination for tourists interested in all of the secrets of yurts and Kyrgyz nomadic culture. We will drive some 3km towards mountains to Uchastok Alkym to try to put one up ourselves.
Today’s highlight would be meeting with the family of eagle hunters from Bokonbaevo village. Traditionally, the eagles were captured and trained as an integral part of nomadic life. With their huge wingspans – some reaching well over two meters in length – the golden eagle is adept at not only hunting down prey such as rabbits and foxes but can in rare circumstances even be relied on to defend against wolves.
Hundreds of years of heritage though were almost wiped out during the Soviet era, as the nomads of Kyrgyzstan and other Soviet Republics were forced to settle into villages, and much of their way of life was lost under communism.
You will spend time in the remote Kok-Sai village near Jaychi yurt camp watching the demonstration of the eagle hunting.
Spend a night in a comfortable yurt camp, to wake up to a splendid landscape of mountains and one of the world’s deepest lakes. The ethno-complex Almaluu was formed in 2014 on the place of an apple garden, existing since the time of the USSR. Alma means Apple and it is one of the most famous natural fruits of Issyk-Kul, very popular in Central Asia.
Day 14 (Mar 17): Almaluu/Skazka/Shatyly Panorama/Almaluu
After breakfast we are driving to visit and walk by the Skazka canyon, located just in 2 km from the main road.
After lunch we’ll drive to Boz Salkyn valley with Shatyly Panorama of Issyk Kul lake. It’s located 10km from Bokonbaevo village and is part of Boz Salkyn valley. Walking through a spruce forest you will have an amazing view of the Mars Canyons, Lake Issyk Kul and Kungei Ala-Too mountain range on the opposite shore. Overnight Almaluu Yurt Camp.
Day 15 (Mar 18): Almaluu/Barskoon/Karakol
Today we have an early start towards Karakol town.
Our first stop is in Barskoon village. Here we change our minibus to 4WD vehicles. We will visit one of the highest roads in Kyrgyzstan, accessible by any car almost all year round. Arabel plateau – located on the Sary-Moinok pass at an altitude of 3442 m, from where a gorgeous view of 14 serpentines and the majestic Barskoon gorge opens up.
Turning left onto the main road, you can reach the gates of the world’s last mine, Kumtor, located in the permafrost region. And right from the plateau, there is the Sook pass, a frontier post, and after 30 km the lands of China begin. We’ll have a chance to see yaks and talk with shepherd families. To visit you must have border passes.
In the gorge you will see numerous waterfalls, the most accessible of them is Tears of the Bars.
Legends have it that, at one time, the Issyk Kul basin wasn’t filled with a lake, but was home to a number of rich and powerful cities. There is probably some truth in this because under the lake archaeologists have discovered the ruins of several settlements. According to one legend in particular, in one of the cities lived a beautiful girl and a seven headed dragon fell in love with her and pursued her, asking her to marry him. She, however, declined saying that she loved another. The dragon was distraught and cursed the valley, saying that one a month, on the occasion of the full moon, the water in one of the wells would rise and flood the valley, until such time as she changed her mind. He then went into a deep sleep. The citizens decided to cover the well with a golden lid whenever the Full Moon approached, and agreed to take turns to make sure it was in place. Overnight Matsunoki Guesthouse.
span style=”color: #c38614;”>Day 16 (Mar 19): Karakol/Altyn-Arashan gorge/Karakol
After early breakfast we are driving to the Altyn Arashan gorge. This place is inaccessible for ordinary transport and therefore we will ride a Soviet UAZ 452. The gorge is accessible all year round, with the exception of avalanches that descend during the melting of snow. The trip will take almost the entire day.
The hot spring resort is located in the upper reaches of the Arashan River valley at an altitude of 2,600 meters, 10 km east of the city of Karakol. “Altyn-Arashan” stands for “golden healing springs”. And we will have the opportunity to swim in sources of different composition of water and temperature. A grandiose view of the five thousand meters high “Aksu wall” opens directly from the resort. It is a huge snowy peak 5020 meters high, shaped like a snow-white tent.
After returning to the city, we will do a city tour around Karakol and continue our way to one of the greatest mountain formations – Jety Oguz, which is located 40 km from the city. Dinner with a Uyghur family. Overnight Matsunoki Guesthouse.
Day 17 (Mar 20): Karakol/Tokmok/Bishkek
Today we depart Karakol to drive back to the capital Bishkek. Early in the morning visit Karakol Sunday animal market. It is unique and authentic place in Kyrgyzstan and whole Central Asia.
There is a unique tourist site in the vicinity of Karakol , which only a few know about – in the village of Ak-Suu there is a water mill built in 1877 and an oil mill built in 1874. The most amazing thing is that both are still operational thanks to Sergei Mishchenko, who carefully preserved the heritage left to him from his great-grandfather. Suffice it to say that there were already eight mills in the small village, but only one remained. You will be able to see the richest collection of antiques as well. Overnight in Bishkek.
Day 18 (Mar 21): Bishkek
Today the country is celebrating Nooruz. Around 8:30 am, we’ll begin a walking tour of Bishkek, the former Silk Road trade town that was under the thumb of Russian rule for more than a century.
Discoveries include Ala-Too Central Square, Victory Square, and a stroll through Oak (Dubovy) and Panfilov parks. We will also visit Osh Bazaar – the largest market within Bishkek, which reflects the character and flavor of the nation.
Farewell dinner at an authentic Kyrgyz restaurant for the chance to dine with style. A folklore concert will complement the wonderful atmosphere. Overnight Bishkek.
Day 19 (Mar 22): Bishkek departure
Particpants will be transferred to airport to begin their journey home.