Silk Road - Journey to Samarkand

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Day 1: Arrive in Islamabad, Pakistan

Upon arrival in Islamabad, you are met at the airport and transferred to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax and recover from the long flights to Pakistan.

In the evening, we have a welcome dinner where you will have the opportunity to meet your guides and the other members of the group. Dinner and overnight in Islamabad.


Day 2: To Besham; The Karakoram Highway

In the morning, we depart for what is likely the longest drive of our journey (time will vary according to road conditions). Our day long drive takes us through some of the highest mountains on earth with stunning vistas of high peaks, beautiful lush green valleys, along the Indus River which eventually meets the Karakorum Highway at Basham.

The Karakoram Highway, also known as the "Friendship Highway", was built jointly by 15,000 Pakistani and 10,000 Chinese engineers and workers from 1966 to 1978. At various stretches, the ancient Silk Road merges into the Karakoram Highway. This option will give us the opportunity to enjoy this scenic and interesting route with a rapidly changing variety of landscape and tribal settlements. Basham is the most important town in Baltistan.

Dinner and overnight in Besham.

Please note: On several occassions, depending on road and weather conditions, ElderTreks has deviated from our regular itinerary and flown the group to Skardu instead of driving to Besham. There is no extra charge for this and the extra expense is taken care of by ElderTreks. We would love to make this a regular part of our journey but we can never guarantee this as it is completely dependant on weather conditions and flights are often cancelled if it is not safe to fly. If we do fly, the itinerary will be as follows:

Day 2 Fly to Skardu
Day 3-4 Shigar
Day 5 To Skardu
Day 6 To Hunza
Day 7-8 Hunza
Day 9 Hunza - Baltit Fort, To Gulmit


Day 3: Scenic drive to Gilgit; First Century Petroglyphs

After breakfast we depart on our long but stunning drive to Gilgit. We continue along the Karakoram Highway, with frequent scenic photos stops. Upon arrival in Chilas, we stop for lunch. Chilas is a small bazaar town from where we can glimpse petroglyphs dating back to the 1st century BC. In addition, intricate inscriptions and carvings appear on hundreds of rocks along the bank of the Indus River.

Stop to view Nanga Parbat 26,660 ft (8,126m), the world's 9th highest mountain. One of the most interesting stops of today is the confluence of the world's three largest mountain ranges: the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush.

Arrive in Gilgit, a fertile orchard valley region and fabled kingdom once ruled by Maharajahs and Mirs. As capital of the Northern Areas, Gilgit is strategically located at about the halfway point on the Karakoram Highway to Kashgar. The market town of Gilgit has been populated for thousands of years and has seen Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic influences. Dinner and overnight in Gilgit.


Day 4: To Shigar; Gateway to the World's Highest Mountain Ranges

After breakfast we proceed to Skardu. We temporarily leave the Karakoram Highway at the confluence of the Indus and Gilgit Rivers and turn eastwards to Skardu.

We continue to Shigar valley, the gateway to four of the world's highest mountains including K2 28,251 ft (8611 m), the second highest peak on earth and hundreds of peaks above 22,966 ft (7000 m).

Tonight we stay at the Shigar Fort Residence. At an altitude of 7382 ft (2250 m) this fort palace is standing on the bank of the Shigar stream, built upon a massive rock. This 350 years old fort has been renovated by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture and is the only one of its kind in Pakistan. Dinner and overnight in Shigar.


Day 5: Sites of Shigar

In the morning we visit Shigar Village to see the 14th century Amburiq Mosque. One of the most ancient mosques in the Shigar Valley, it was built by the Amir Kabir Syed Ali Hamdani, the first Islamic preacher in Baltistan who converted the majority of the people to Islam. Stroll around in the village and visit the small local bazaar and the intricate Khanqa-e-Moallah Mosque. In the afternoon relax or enjoy an optional hike in the Shigar Valley. Dinner and overnight in Shigar.


Day 6: To Skardu a.k.a. Little Tibet

After breakfast, we depart for Skardu, the capital of Baltistan and is the gateway to the beautiful trekking routes in the Karakoram mountain range. Skardu is also known as "Little Tibet" and the local language is called Balti which is spoken in Baltistan, Kargil and Ladakh regions in India. This morning we visit the local bazaar followed by lunch at a local restaurant.

In the afternoon we walk to the Buddha Rock carvings dating from 8th Century A.D. A huge Buddha figure is carved in the rock surrounded by Buddhisatvas. Due to erosion, the carvings are considered an endangered cultural monument in the region. Dinner and overnight in Skardu.


Day 7: To Hunza Valley a.k.a Shangri-La

We have an early morning departure for the Hunza Valley driving along the Indus River, stopping in Gilgit for lunch. After lunch, we visit the Bazaar and a suspension bridge dating from the Raj era, which is considered to be one of the longest suspension bridges in Asia.

We have a short drive to the Hunza Valley with some interesting stops on the way: one which marks the old Silk Route, followed by a second stop at the photogenic mountain of Rakaposhi 25,551 ft (7,788 m). This is one of the few places in the world where you can take in nearly 4 vertical miles of mountain in a single glance.

Karimabad is the capital of Hunza Valley, the valley that formed the inspiration for Shangri-La in the novel Lost Horizons. We stay in Karimabad, which serves as our base for exploring the green terraces of the Hunza Valley; an area in which the Ismaili Islamic sect prevails and commercial barter transactions are still the norm. The local Hunzakuts are known for their longevity, many of whom are reportedly over 90 years old! Dinner and overnight in Karimabad.


Day 8: Hunza Valley, Eagle's Nest

On our jeep excursion today we stop at a view point above Altit Fort and Altit Village. Altit Village is one of three ancient villages of Hunza Valley which has retained its old traditional houses.

We continue with a steep jeep drive to Eagle's Nest Hotel at 9,514 ft (2,900 m). This is the only place in the world from which you have views of 5 peaks above 22,966 ft (7,000 m). Besides the spectacular view of high mountains, the panoramic view of Hunza and Nagar Valley is superb from here.

Afterwards, we have the opportunity to just relax and wait until the jeeps start driving down or hike down for some or all of the trail. The jeeps will pick you up anywhere during your hike down if you no longer feel like walking back down. Upon our return to Karimabad, feel free to stroll through the bazaar. Dinner and overnight in Karimabad.


Day 9: Hunza, Baltit Fort, to Gulmit

This morning we visit the almost 800 year old Baltit fort - a Tibetan style fort built by the Balti artisans. The fort was built as a dowry when a Balti Princess married a Prince of Hunza. It remained the residence of the local ruler until a new residence was built in 1950. The fort was later restored as a historical building. After a short drive to Gulmit, we check in and then have lunch in a local house with food served the traditional way.

Gulmit, the capital of Gojal (upper Hunza) is a fertile plateau 8202 ft (2,500 m) high with irrigated fields on either side of the road. Prior to the expansion of the Hunza Valley, Gulmit served as the summer capital for the Mirs of Hunza. There are many interesting places in and around Gulmit, such as the Gulmit museum, with its traditional ethnic artifacts from the region, located in a room of the present Raja Bahadur Khan's home. In addition, the former Mirs residence, water mills, old houses, carpet weaving and handicraft centers are all worth visiting. If time permits, we will be able to stroll through the village. Dinner and overnight in our simple accommodations in Gulmit.


Day 10: Khunjerab Pass - Highest International Border Crossing in the World

Today is a long day as we drive over the Khunjerab Pass into China along the Karakoram Highway. This is a fantastic trip through a high pass which at 4,730m (15,372ft), is the highest international border crossing in the world and has spectacular mountain views.

On the other side of the pass we reach the Chinese town of Tashkurgan, where we complete our immigration formalities and spend the night. The town itself has a Tajik and Chinese population. Dinner and overnight in Tashkurgan.


Day 11: To Kashgar via KaraKul Lake & 2 Pamir Mountain Giants

This morning we drive to Kashgar, stopping to visit Kara-Kul Lake located between China's two Pamir mountain giants, Mustagh Ata, 24,524 ft (7475 m) and Kongur, 25,086 ft (7646 m). We visit a small village along the way and reach Kashgar in the afternoon, where we settle into our hotel for the next three nights. Dinner and overnight in Kashgar.


Day 12: Kashgar - Id Kah Mosque & Sites

A full day to explore the interesting city of Kashgar. In the morning, we explore a cottage industry market, a handicraft factory and the central mosque, Id Kah. In the afternoon, we visit a beautiful mausoleum and wander the streets of the old city. Dinner and overnight in Kashgar.


Day 13: Ancient Kashgar Market

Today we visit the fabulous market in Kashgar. This bazaar is the destination for a variety of colorful Central Asian nationalities who gather to barter everything from rugs to radios to horses.

Kashgar is truly a triumph of commerce over both nature and ideology. Historically, it was the nexus of at least four branches of the Silk Road despite being surrounded by awe-inspiring physical barriers of mountains and deserts. See thousands of people from the countryside traveling by cart and donkey, to sell their produce, woven goods, and livestock. Dinner and overnight in Kashgar.


Day 14: Drive to Naryn, Kyrgyzstan

We depart Kashgar for the short drive to China's western border with Kyrgyzstan. At the border, we change vehicles for our long drive through the beautiful rural landscape of Kyrgyzstan to the town of Naryn.

The town, set between the fast flowing Naryn River and the steep sides of the river valley, was founded in 1868 as a Russian garrison and currently has a population of about 40,000 people. Our accommodation for the night is in a basic guesthouse. Dinner and overnight in Naryn.


Day 15: Stunning scenery of Lake Issyk-Kul

We drive from Naryn to the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and surely its most beautiful. We relax and take in the view from our lakeside hotel as we prepare to continue on to Bishkek the following day. Dinner and overnight in Cholpan Ata, Lake Issyk-kul.


Day 16: To Bishkek via Altan Mountains

We continue our drive through Kyrgyzstan heading west to the pleasant capital city of Bishkek. The snow-covered 13,000 ft (3962 m) peaks of the Kyrgyz Altan Range are only 25 miles from the city and the melting snow from these mountains provides a continuous source of water, feeding the abundant trees within the city.

In the early evening, enjoy a short walking tour of the downtown area. Dinner and overnight in Bishkek.


Day 17: Fly to Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Today we fly to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Tashkent rightfully claims to be the biggest and most cosmopolitan city of Central Asia.

Although it has been continuously inhabited for over 2000 years, a massive earthquake in the 1960's leveled the entire city and a modern city was born out of the debris. The remainder of the day is at leisure in Tashkent. Dinner and overnight in Tashkent.


Day 18: Fly to Urgench, Walled City of Khiva

In the morning, we fly to Urgench, followed by an excursion to the fabled city of Khiva. A trip to Khiva is a journey back in time. The town's mud streets and inward looking squares are so well preserved it feels like a film set.

With its intact walls, Khiva is the best preserved oasis city on the old Silk Road with one of its highlights being the beautiful painted ceilings of the Tash Khauli Palace and the spectacular minarets. Overnight in Khiva.


Day 19: Drive to Bukhara via the Kyzylkum Desert

A full day's drive across the Kyzylkum Desert takes us to Bukhara, regarded by many to be one of the most cultural and evocative cities in the world.

Time permitting, we will have an evening walk through the old city maze, in the intact and still inhabited historic core. Dinner and overnight in Bukhara.


Day 20: Ancient Monuments of Bukhara

A full day to explore the beauty and history of Bukhara; a city rich in historical monuments and dramatic architecture. Our full day tour includes the 1000 year old tomb of Ismail Samani, the founder of the Samanid Dynasty and the richly-decorated Bolokhauz Mosque.

We also visit the Ark of the Citadel and the multi-shaped domes of Chashma-Ayub, the place of miracles. Dinner and overnight in Bukhara.


Day 21: To Samarkand

A four hour drive from Bukhara takes us to Samarkand, the Eastern capital of the ancient world. Set on the edge of the Kyzylkum Desert within sight of two mountain ranges and watered by the Zerafshan River running between them, Samarkand has provided a home to people for the last 10,000 years! Many have called Samarkand the most inspiring city in the world, as all visitors are enchanted by its rich and romantic history. Dinner and overnight in Samarkand.


Day 22: Samarkand - Registan Square

In Samarkand we visit the famous Registan Square, Ulughbek's Observatory, the madrassas Shir-Dor and Tillya-Kari, as well as one of the world's most significant monuments, the Mosque of Bibi Khanym.

The mosque was built in the early 15th century with the help of 200 architects, 500 laborers and master craftsmen and masons brought in from the rest of the empire. Dinner and overnight in Samarkand.


Day 23: Tashkent Tour

This morning we drive from Samarkand to Tashkent. On arrival we embark on a city tour, which includes a visit to the Museum of Applied Arts. Tonight, we can savor our experiences along the Silk Road at our Farewell Dinner. Overnight in Tashkent.


Day 24: Depart Tashkent

Tour arrangements conclude in Tashkent. We transfer to the airport to connect with departing flights.

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