The Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan are some of the most rugged and beautiful on Earth, soaring upward where the Himalayas, the Tien Shan and the Hindu Kush meet.
Central Asia is a region filled with the romance of the Silk Road, yet despite documentaries and books about its conquerors (Alexander the Great, Tamerlane and Genghis Khan) and explorers (Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, and Sven Hedin to name just three), to many people this vast swathe of the world remains an enticing and mysterious blank on the map. This is part of its appeal. Lacking the mass tourism found in many parts of Asia, a journey here offers true adventure.
Join us on an unforgettable journey to the very heart of Central Asia and the Silk Road – Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Together, we will explore its most remotes villages and captivating cities and in doing so we will travel in the footsteps of some of the world’s most magnificent travelers, traders, conquerors, and explorers.
We start the journey in the youngest capital in Central Asia – Dushanbe of Tajikistan. Traveling along the famous Pamir Highway, one of the highest roads in the world. It runs between Khorog in Tajikistan to Osh in Kyrgyzstan and zigzagging its way through the Parmir Mountains. The 23,000ft peaks earning this route the title ‘roof of the world’. As we travel through isolated communities scattered along the Highway and beyond, we stay in welcoming homestays, immerse ourselves in a cacophony of cultures, and enjoy the unique scenery.
Then we continue our journey in Uzbekistan visiting oasis cities of Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand – 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 legendary Samarkand.
We’ll also look at where Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are today, and talk to locals about how the countries fared as part of the sprawling Soviet Union until 1991, not so very long ago.
This tour is fully immersive, so we’ll also get up close to traditional village life in mountainous Pamir, talk to locals, prepare a meal with locals in a traditional house, dance with a local folklore band, and climb city walls for the best possible sunset view.
Day 1 (Mar 4): Istanbul/Dushanbe
Welcome to Tajikistan! Arrive at the airport early in the morning. Transfer to the hotel and early check-in. You can have a rest after your long flight. We will regroup again at noon to discuss the itinerary and chance to know each other while we enjoy lunch in a local restaurant.
We start the sightseeing of the capital of Tajikistan with Navruz Palace. The building displays the best of crafts from Tajikistan in the form of plasterwork, carved wood, decoration with precious and semi-precious stones, and more. Then we drive to the local market – Mehrigon. This gives us a chance to see the different ethnic groups coming in one place, and a great opportunity for portraits. Later on, when the lights are much warmer we go to the tour of the boulevards and soviet blocks. Poets’ Union has a very interesting wall for photography. Then, we visit the statue of Ismail Samani. The large monument honors the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State, the heyday of the Tajik nation when science and arts flourished. From there we walk up to Rudaki Park, dedicated to the great Persian poet Rudaki, who also lived during Samanid time in the 9th century.
Before dinner, we will have a chance for the panoramic view of the city from above the tallest building in the capital, and then we will go to the restaurant for a welcome dinner. Overnight in Dushanbe.
Day 2 (Mar 5): Dushanbe/Nurek/Holbuk/Kalaikhumb
Today we will drive to Kalai Khumb village. En-route, We will see the Norak water reservoir that is called the Tajik Sea. The highest point of the day is Shuraba pass (2 267 m) and after a drive along Afghanistan border starts. This part will amaze you with its unique mountains – it is already Territory of the Pamir Mountains.
Over the centuries, the Pamirs have inspired the world’s greatest explorers – Marco Polo, Hsuan Tsang, Mirza Muhammad Haidar. And now, we also have a chance to travel here. We will drive along the natural border – Panj River. Having visited the Pamirs, many travelers called this giant mountain system the ocean of white and blue mountains. Overnight in Kalaikhumb.
Day 3 (Mar 6): Kalaikhumb/Khorog (250km, 6-7 hrs)
The road follows the Panj River with Afghan villages on the other side. It passes through the Vanch region from where all trekking to Fedchenko glacier start, here mountains have very good quality marble, visible from the road. Rushan village starts the Ismaili portion of this route. Shortstop to see Vamar fortress. Near to Khorog (10 km) visit Parshinev village to see shrine Piri Shoh Nosir, museum and holy spring dedicated to Nosiry Khusrav (1004) the founder of Ismaili religion in this area. We arrive in Khorog in the late afternoon.
The capital of Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Khorog is a minor town. At different times is was part of Russia, the Emirate of Bukhara, and Afghanistan. The fortress was built during the Soviet period, with Khorog being in a highly strategic location on the border with Afghanistan, but today it suffers and is one of the least developed parts of the country. The Aga Khan Foundation contributes to the bulk of the local economy. It holds the distinction of being home to the second-highest botanical garden in the world, at 3900m. Overnight in Khorog.
Day 4 (Mar 7): Khorog
After breakfast in the early morning we will see the Ghunt village with its beautiful Turquoise river. Later visit the world’s second-highest Botanical Gardens and Khorog Museum.
After the museum, we visit Central Park. It should be noted that the people of Badakhshan have their specific culture and it is obvious in their traditional clothing, cuisine, musical instrument, architecture, and folklore. After lunch, We will visit a traditional Pamir house. Here we may learn the symbolism behind every detail of Pamir house and observe how local people make traditional Overnight in Khorog.
Day 5 (Mar 8): Khorog/Ishkashim
Famous for their therapeutic properties, the hot mineral springs of Garm Chashma are located just 40 km from Khorog. Just a stone’s throw away is the mesmerizing ruby mines of Khuhi Lal, famous for its Badakhshani rubies. The road to Ishkashim is a smooth journey. Ishkashim is a small town at the mouth of the Wakhan corridor, where the 19th century Great Game, between the Russian and British Empires, ended. Continue up the north side of the river with amazing views of the Pamirs to the left and the Hindu Kush to the right; several peaks in view are above 6,000m. We can see the Crosse border Tajik-Afghan market on the Afghan side. For crossing to the market, we do not need an Afghan visa. Overnight in Homestay.
Day 6 (Mar 9): Ishkashim/Yamg
Today we embark on another journey along this scenic route – this day’s travel is about 45 km, with many stops en-route for photography opportunities. We visit Namadgut village to see Kushan Empire ancient fortress Kah Kaha and typical Ismaili shrine Oston-I Shobi Mardon 11th century with unique beautiful wood carvings and petroglyphs.
After the day’s interesting activities from road journeys, We will experience the warmth and values of the Tajiks first hand by spending the night in one of the local’s traditional homes in the village of Yamg. Homestay in the house of Aydar Malikmamadov in traditional Pamir house.
Pamir folklore is very specific. Pamir dance, which is famous as Eagle Dance is performed by Pamir people not only in Tajikistan but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Men and women in pairs dance and it is very interesting to observe the simultaneous movements. The songs are performed in both Tajik and local Pamir languages. The theme of the songs include patriotism, daily life issues, and religious spiritualism, and we have the chance to photograph all the performances. Overnight in Homestay, Yamg.
Day 7 (Mar 10): Yamg/Langar
After breakfast in the house, we visit a village where traditional crafts produced by locals, to see the making of musical instruments by a very humble Pamir man as he is both master and player of these instruments. It is famous all over the Islamic world and it is very specific in Badakhshan as the people here are very fond of music. If participants want, they can see how local women make Pamir rugs. We also visit the museum of Sufi Vakhani, a famous local traveler, scholar, theologian, and poet, where some of his most famous works can be seen.
Next, we visit the Buddhist Stupa in Vrang, a huge place of worship in this region, and the hot springs of Bibi Fatima Zahra. Guarding the Silk Road, the ruins of the Yamchun fortress is the last stop on this road. See the famous Wakhan corridor across in Afghanistan later continue to Langar. On arrival transfer to a local Pamiri House overnight. We may climb up 300-400 m to see the largest gallery of petroglyphs, located in this area and see the valley from a wide-angle. Overnight Homestay, Langar.
Day 8 (Mar 11): Langar/Murghab
After breakfast, we depart to the Eastern Pamirs – Murghab. This phase of the journey is 250km and we pass some of the high mountain passes with the chance to see amazing Bulunkul Lake and Yashilkul Lake. This is still part of Tajikistan but inhabited primarily by ethnic Kyrgyz people. Kyrgyz used to be nomads and many still today live a semi-nomadic life, living permanently in a village and during summer in a yurt on the summer pasture, where their cattle can graze. We will start to notice Kyrgyz yurts and herds of sheep, horses, and yaks as we drive through this amazing lunar landscape towards Murghab, the center of Eastern Pamirs.
We anticipate arriving in Murghab in late lunch. Murghab (3670 m) itself has few attractions, but it will serve as our base for one night as we explore the area a little. The 7546 m – high Chinese peak of Muztag Ata is visible to the northeast of town, 135 km away in a direct line. Overnight in Murghab.
Day 9 (Mar 12): Murghab/Karakul Lake (130km, 2-3 hrs)
The views of mountains and glaciers along the way today are simply breath-taking as the road takes us to the Ak Baital Pass (The White Horse Pass 4655m). This is the highest pass in the former USSR, real “The Roof of the World” and the hidden site in this expanse of the arid landscape is the stunning Karakul Lake, created millions of years ago. We will photograph the most dramatic scenery of the trip, with the lunar-like landscapes and bright blue lakes providing plenty of opportunities to take our breath away. Karakul means “black lake” but in summer the water is almost always turquoise blue. Surrounded by high mountains that block humid air masses the valley has less than 30 mm of precipitation a year which is 3 times less than in Karakoram desert. The fluctuation of temperatures is usual in Karakul lake. Overnight: Homestay
Day 10 (Mar 13): Karakul Lake/Sary Mongol/Tulpar Lake (145km, 3hrs)
Today, we go onto cross the Kyzyl Art Pass (4280m), which forms the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is time to say farewell to Tajikistan. After border formalities, we drive to the picturesque Tulpar Kol Lake at the foot of majestic Peak Lenin (7139m). En route, we stop in Sary Mongol village for lunch and some photography of the local life. Tonight we stay in a yurt next to the lake. Feel free to relax with the shepherds or go for a hike towards Peak Lenin and try how high/ far We can get. Overnight in Yurt Camp
Day 11 (Mar 14): Tulpar Lake/Osh/Andizhan/Tashkent (290km, 5hrs) – Tashkent (train, 6hrs)
Prepare for an early rise this morning, as today we will be heading into the longest day of our journey, driving for about 6 hours over the course of the day, crossing the border, and then taking a train to Tashkent. We set out early to drive to the south as we pass Taldyk Pass and arrive in Osh at lunchtime, we cross the border to Uzbekistan and have lunch in Uzbekistan before driving to Andizhan to board our train to Tashkent. We arrive late in Tashkent and transfer to the hotel from the station on a comfortable bus. Overnight in Tashkent.
Day 12 (Mar 15): Tashkent City Tour
Today we explore Tashkent – the capital of Uzbekistan. For many travelers, 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 is 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 made of Islamic Architecture We will weave through Chorsu Bazaar offering good raging from crafts to dried fruits to spices and taste anything that looks tempting. This is a great Bazar for portrait photography about the region, as people are never shy to pose for a photo. After lunch, we’ll explore the rich decorations in Tashkent’s famous metro system. We, then, go to the city’s Amir Temur and Independence squares. There is a chance of seeing 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 13 (Mar 16): Tashkent/Urgench (flight, 1,5hrs) – Khiva (35km)
We set out the day early to catch our flight to Urgench at 7:25, and after arriving in Urgench we are met by our driver and comfortable transport to drive to Khiva. Today Khiva is the most architecturally intact and tightly packed of Central Asia’s Silk Road cities. Its intense blue-and-green tilework ranks as some of the most luxurious of Uzbekistan. It also has the feel of a movie set or open-air museum city. We explore the highlights of the inner fortress – Ichan Kala and then have time for our own to wander around this fabled town. Make sure you join the tour manager for the sunset walk where you may have the chance of going on the walls, to see the town during dusk, then we walk do dinner with the group. Overnight in Khiva.
Day 14 (Mar 17): Khiva City Tour
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 day discovering this Silk Road stop and have the opportunity of walking on the fortified city walls for seeing the sunset from atop. For dinner and lunch, we stop in cafes to taste the authentic local dishes. Overnight: Erkin Palace Hotel.
Day 15 (Mar 18): Khiva/Bukhara on road
After morning photography, we embark on a journey through the desert of Kyzyl-Kum on road, with the backdrop of various villages, steppes, and rivers during the ride. We arrive in the holy city of Bukhara – which is hidden in the desert. En route, we pass by the river – the Oxus, that brings the waters from the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. It happens that we are following the path of the great Oxus river too.
Known as the Sacred city, Bukhara is one of the oldest Silk Road stops of Central Asia. The heart of the ancient Bukhara is Ark – the Royal Citadel. Although it was burned during the Bolshevik’s siege of the town in the 1920’s travelers get to know the history from here, and so do we by visiting it. We explore the old quarter of Bukhara, to learn about the Trading Domes and Jewish Quarter. We enjoy our meal in a local restaurant to wrap up the day. Overnight Safiya Boutique Hotel.
Day 16 (Mar 19) Bukhara City tour
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 your own, or shop for spices, silk scarves, or exquisite jewelry before regrouping for the dinner in a local house. Overnight Safiya Boutique Hotel.
Day 17 (Mar 20): Bukhara/Samarkand
After a leisurely morning in the holy city, we go on to one of the holiest places in the country for locals – the mausoleum of the founder of Naqshbandi Sufi order, where we learn about the faith and their teachings. We also have a chance to see the summer residence of the last Emir of Bukhara – Sitorai Mohi Khosa. After we are back in town, we have a chance to see the local professional folklore band performing for us in a unique setting to get the best light for our photography also. We’ll depart the Bukhara to arrive in Samarkand by high-speed modern train. For dinner, we’ll enjoy a delicious Samarkand Shashlik – which has become a culinary favorite in Uzbekistan. Overnight Bibikhanum Hotel, Samarkand.
Day 18 (Mar 21): Samarkand City Tour
Thought to be over 2,770 years old, Samarkand was once a Sogdian trading center along the Silk Road connecting Asia and Europe. We will spend the day tracing Samarkand’s extraordinary ancient history and architecture, from mosques to mausoleums to Bazaars. Registan – the central square rounded by three glorious medieval madrassas (universities). Also, navigate the street of blue-tiled mausoleums of Shahi Zinda necropolis, which is also a great location for people watching and photography. After lunch, spend time in Bazaar or walk in the colonial quarter of the city parks and see stark Soviet buildings. This evening, we visit the local family house to prepare food with the family and enjoy the delightful dinnertime. Overnight Bibikhanum Hotel, Samarkand.
Day 19 (Mar 22): Samarkand Departure
After more than three weeks of adventure, packed with stories and full of new experiences you’ll fly back home. A better-known traveler on these Silk Road some 700 years ago – Ibn Batuta said, “traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”