‘Silk Road’ – the very phrase conjures up images of camel caravans heavily laden with precious goods, slowly moving along barely-visible tracks through an endless desert. Conquered by names engraved in history books – Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan,Tamerlane – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are where empires were born. But the merchants, missionaries, and warriors who traversed these paths also carried the major religions of Zoroastrianism (one of the world’s oldest religions), Buddhism, Christianity, Manicheaism, and Islam over the course of time. And the architectural remains of these great belief systems are as breathtaking as they are grand.
Travel with Far Horizons on the Silk road tour to these Central Asia countries that echo with history and along the way explore the legendary cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Nisa, Merv and Dushanbe, to name only a few, as we piece together the remnants of this ancient trade route.
Depart on a flight bound for Turkmenistan.
Arrive in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, in the early morning. Transfer to the hotel with time to rest. After a late lunch, drive to nearby Nisa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This huge mudbrick city, still enclosed within an imposing wall, was one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian Empire, a major power that dominated this region from the 3rd century BCE to the3rdcentury CE. Overnight for three nights at the Grand Turkmen Hotel in Ashgabat. (B/L/D)
Our drive through the Kara Kum Desert takes us to Anau, a settlement, dating back seven thousand years, with evidence of a Bronze Age walled city. The city rose and fell over the millennia. In the 15th century the shrine complex of Shaykh Jamal al-Din was created. The building is unusual as it has two minarets and two domes, and above the entrance there was intricate mosaic work depicting two large yellow dragons against a blue background. Return in the afternoon for a city tour of Ashgabat, newly built after the 1948 earthquake. We will visit the National Museum and, time permitting, the Wheat Museum. (B/L/D)
An early morning flight takes us to the city of Mary, from where we drive to Merv, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Across the vast flat landscape stretch the remains of an array of towns whose city walls enclose nearly 2,500 acres. There have been many incarnations of Merv. Archaeological surveys have shown that a village existed here as far back as the 3rd millennium BCE. The Ancient Persians developed the city in the 6th century BCE and, under Alexander the Great, it was renamed Alexandria. This was the Silk Road’s main trading route between Bukhara in the 12th century, before the Mongol invasion, was reputed to be the world’s largest city. After exploring the extensive remains, walk through the museum that exhibits archaeological finds from sites excavated in the Mary oasis, including material from the Bronze Age sites of Gonur Depe and Togoluk, along with ancient Merv. Return to Mary for the evening flight back to Ashgabat and the Grand Turkmen Hotel. (B/L/D)
Fly to Dashoguz and drive to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Konye Urgench (Köneürgençin Turkmen), once the capital of the Khorezm region and part of the Achaemenid Empire. A major trade center on the Silk Road from the 10th – 14thcenturies, the old town contains a fascinating series of monuments including a mosque, the still standing gates of a caravanserai (an ‘inn’ for caravans), fortresses and fortification walls, several graceful mausoleums, and a brick minaret with delicate geometric designs towering almost 200 feet into the sky. After exploring this magnificent city, drive across the border into Uzbekistan and on to Khiva. Overnight for two nights in the Malika Kheivak Hotel located inside the old town city walls. (B/L/D)
Khorezm is a large region where oases once dotted the Kyzyl Kum (red) and Kara Kum (black) Deserts with the Aral Sea on the northern edge. Spreading across today’s borders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the area has been occupied since the Bronze Age and is dotted with ancient remains of settlements, some more than 5,000 years old. Fed by the fabled Oxus River, these fortified towns thrived on lush agriculture and were important stops for traders and caravans that crisscrossed this land for thousands of years. Today’s all day excursion takes us to three captivating Silk Road centers. Dating back to the 1st millennium, the impressive ruins of the fortified capital of Toprak Kala covers more than 42 acres and is encircled by mighty adobe brick fortifications topped by protective towers. It also contained a Fire Temple with a sanctuary. Towering over the city is the 2nd century palace-stronghold of the local Khorezm rulers, once containing more than one hundred rooms. It is one of the most remarkable architectural constructions of Oriental antiquity. Nearby Kyzyl Kala, or Red Fortress, was a defensive stronghold in the line of battlements created to protect the north-eastern borders of Khorezm. Lunch today will be in a yurt camp next to Ayaz Kala, a site consisting of three fortresses built between the 4th century BC and 7th century AD. Return to Khiva in the late afternoon. (B/L/D)
Spend today exploring the old walled city of Khiva, once the capital of the kingdom of Khorezm and the last resting-place for caravans before crossing the desert towards Iran. Founded about 900 AD, it was conquered by Mongols in the early 13th century, invaded by Turks in the 1400s, and became part of Russia in the 1800s. Khiva’s outer city, Dishan Kala, was once protected by earthworks with eleven gates, and Ichan Kala, the inner section, still retains its enormous enclosure wall. With wealth derived from the Silk Road trade and now a remarkable open-air museum of history and architecture, Khiva was the first site in Uzbekistan to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The historic district contains over fifty monuments as well as many traditional houses. Djuma Mosque, originally built in the 10th century was rebuilt later using over one hundred exquisitely-carved wooden columns. Sheikh Mukhtar-Vali Complex, a mausoleum built in the 16th century, is famous for its beautiful incised wooden doors. Kunya Ark was the stronghold-palace where the Khans lived from the 17th -19th centuries and housed the harem. The magnificent 19thcentury Tash-Hauli Palace was constructed around three courtyards with walls covered with striking azure tiles and brightly painted ceilings. Spend the day exploring this fascinating town and in the evening fly from Khiva to Bukhara. Overnight for three nights in the Lyabi House Hotel, housed within a former mansion conveniently located within the historic area of the city. (B/L/D)
Located on the Silk Road and more than 2,000 years old, fabled Bukhara has long been a focal point of trade, learning, culture, and religion. The most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, this breathtakingly beautiful city is like a whimsy from the Tales of Arabian Nights. We spend two full days exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site and will seldom be out of sight of ever more stunning monuments. The famous tomb of Ismail Samani is a masterpiece of 10th-century Muslim architecture. Built for the founder of the Samanid dynasty, has graceful terracotta brickwork disguising walls that are six feet thick and has not needed restoration in almost one thousand years. The city’s citadel, known as the Ark, was the palace of the ruler and his family. More than 500 years old, Balyand Mosque is filled with elaborate mosaics and gilded, vibrant paintings. One of the most impressive sights in Bukhara, the 12th-century Kalon Minaret, was probably the tallest building in Central Asia when it was first constructed. Standing almost 150 feet tall, it is a masterpiece of design with deep foundations cushioned with reeds to prevent destruction by an earthquake. Dating from the 12th century, Maghoki-Attar Mosque is thought to cover the remains of a 5th-century Zoroastrian temple. Built in 1417, the Ulugh Beg Madrasa is the oldest religious school in Central Asia and is decorated with sparkling azure tiles. (B/L/D)
This morning, travel by train to Samarkand, surely one of the most mythical cities in Central Asia, and the magnificence of its architecture lives up to the legend. Founded in the 7th century BCE, in the 14th century CE it became the capital of the empire of Tamerlane and is the site of his mausoleum. In the afternoon, visit Bibi-Khanum Mosque, which commemorates Tamerlane’s wife and was originally built using wealth seized during his conquest of India. Overnight for three nights in the Malika Prime Hotel in Samarkand. (B/L/D)
Today will be spent exploring Samarkand, a UNESCO World Heritage city. Begin in the fabled Registan Square, dominated by three imposing monuments that are masterpieces of Islamic Architecture. The Ulug Beg Madrasa, built by the peaceful ruler for which it was named, was a famous theological school for the sons of wealthy families. Over the entrance way arch is a mosaic panel decorated with stylized geometric forms. The imposing entrance portal of the 17thcentury Shir Dor Madrasa depicts lion-like tigers pursuing gazelles below human-faced rising suns, a zoomorphic motif that mysteriously violates orthodox Islamic conventions. The Tilla Kari Madrasa and Mosque was conceived as the last, largest, and most embellished structure of Registan Square and encompasses extravagant gilt decoration in the mosque’s domed chamber.
Located directly behind Shir Dar, Chorsu was the medieval commercial center. Nearby Gur-Emir Mausoleum was built for Tamerlane’s beloved grandson, Muhammad Sultan. When he died at an early age, Tamerlane ordered this mausoleum built for his burial. In 1405 Tamerlane died in a nearby city and his body was brought here since it was closer than his mausoleum at Skakhrisabz. Ulug Beg was Tamerlane’s grandson; he was an astronomer and a prince, the governor of Samarkand. This intellectual ruler created an amazing observatory in 1428 that housed the largest 90 degree quadrant the world had ever seen, and he constructed a three-story building to support and house it. His observatory influenced subsequent Islamic astronomy, and his star atlas, constructed from observations at Samarkand, was the first original astronomical publication since Ptolemy. It survives today as one of the great artifacts of astronomy and culture, not just of Central Asia but of the world. We will view this and the excellent onsite museum. (B/L/D)
Today we venture outside of Samarkand and drive to Shakhrisabz, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, the 14th century conqueror Timur, known in the west as Tamerlane, took forty years to construct his palace. The exquisite beauty of the enormous iwan, or monumental entryway, is all that remains of the once huge Ak Saray Palace, but still broadcasts the wealth and power of the ruler. Return to Samarkand in the afternoon and visit the sprawling Urgut Bazaar. (B/L/D)
Begin today at Shah-i Zinda, located just outside Samarkand and built into an ancient tell. This street of extraordinary tombs belonged to Timur and his family and are richly adorned with the finest of majolica tile-work. After lunch, we board a train to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Overnight for two nights at the Tashkent Palace Hotel. (B/L/D)
Tashkent is often called the cultural capital of the Islamic world because of its many historic monuments. Our explorations begin in Independence Square, the largest city quadrangle in the former Soviet Union. Its most prominent feature is a globe with a map of Uzbekistan that replaces a 30-meter-tall statue of Lenin, a poetic expression of the birth of the nation. Next visit Navoi Theatre Square, where the opera house was built by the same architect who designed Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow. Then see the Crafts Center, where traders have plied their goods for centuries, and the Abdul Kassim Madrasa. Enter the Russian Orthodox Church that is over 135 years old, and the oldest in Central Asia. End today’s tour at one of the most remarkable medieval architectural monuments, the Barak Khan Madrasa, richly decorated with engravings, gilt, and glazed mosaic. (B/L/D)
This morning we leave Tashkent for Tajikistan and on to Khujand, the site of another Ancient Persian city, dating back about 2,500 years. It was conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century CE, and was besieged and then destroyed by the army of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Located on the Great Silk Road, and connecting Samarkand with the Fergana Valley, Khujand enjoyed a favorable geopolitical location and significant transport importance. Here we will visit the Historical Museum of Sughd, next to a restored portion of the Khujand Fortress, and the Muslihhiddin Medressa. Continue on to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Overnight for two nights at the Serena Hotel. (B/L/D)
Dushanbe, which means “Monday” in Tajik, developed on the site of a Monday marketplace village. Today it is a rapidly-developing metropolis. Our tour of the city this morning includes the Tajikistan National Museum, the Museum of Ethnography, Shohmansur Bazaar,and the Gurminj Musical Instrument Museum. In the afternoon, we travel outside the city to see Hissar Fortress, the remains of an 18th century fort occupied until 1924. Return to Dushanbe for our farewell dinner. (B/L/D)
An early morning flight from Dushanbe takes us to Istanbul in time for the connecting flight home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for a mile or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging 3-4 miles of walking. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least half an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 30 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking for a mile or two every day. We feel that this preparation will increase your enjoyment of the trip. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.
This trip is for the hardy! Fairly recently opened to tourists, infrastructure of these countries is immature. The itinerary has been designed for adventure loving travelers and may involve schedule changes, unusual foods, poor roads, and local staff not used to groups of tourists. Guides may not be as knowledgeable or educated as we would like. Most of the so-called 4- and 5-star hotels were built in the 60s and 70s by the Soviets and are run by the government; they have not been maintained well and generally are not up to American standards. Recently small hotels in several cities have been built using private money, several in historic buildings. When possible, we will stay in these hotels, though they are sometimes simple. If you have questions about your ability to handle this sort of challenge, please call us.