The Stans of Central Asia

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Day 1: Arrive in Almaty

You will be met on arrival at the airport in Almaty and transfer to your hotel. The remainder of the day is free for you to explore on your own before meeting for dinner and our orientation meeting/welcome dinner in you hotel. Overnight in Almaty.


Day 2: Almaty

Today, we enjoy a full day tour of Almaty including visits to the Zhenkov Cathedral; an extraordinary Russian Orthodox Church built of wood and a walk through beautiful Panfilov Park. We also visit the Central State Museum, which exhibits more than 40 different musical instruments; even today in remote villages, music is a big part of the Kazakh way of life. In the afternoon, we will take a cable car to the top of Kok Tube Hill for a wonderful panoramic view of Almaty. Overnight in Almaty.


Day 3: To Chong Kemin Valley

Today we will drive from Almaty to the Chong-Kemin Valley in Kyrgyzstan where we will have the opportunity to visit an old soviet farm (kolkhoz) village and enjoy a short hike in the Valley. This evening experience true Kyrgyz hospitality with a traditional dinner in the Kalmak Ashuu Guest House. Overnight in Chong Kemin Valley.


Day 4: Chong Kemin Valley to Lake Issyk-Kul

Today we drive to the Pearl of Tian-Shan, Lake Issyk-Kul. Enroute, stop in the village of Tamchy for a demonstration of felt production. We continue driving to Cholpon-Ata. We will have boat cruise on the Issyk-Kul Lake with lunch on board. After lunch we visit the open air Museum of Petroglyphs , which covers about 42 hectares, the Petroglyphs date from the 2nd millennium BC to the Middle Ages. Overnight in Cholpon-Ata.


Day 5: To Karakol

Today we will drive to the town of Karakol to visit to the Preshevalsky Museum, which is dedicated to the memory of Nikolai Michailovich Preshevalsky, an enthusiastic explorer accredited for his excellent works on flora and fauna of the Issyk-Kul region. He was also known for breeding a tiny horse on the steppes of Tibet, which later came to be known as the Preshevalsky Horse. We also visit the local Orthodox Church and mosque before returning to Cholpon-Ata. Overnight in Cholpon-Ata.


Day 6: Lake Issyk-Kul to Bishkek

Today we continue to Bishkek stopping enroute at the Burana Tower Archaeological Museum, which is situated on the site of a caravan town dating from the 10th Century. Surrounding the area are mysterious stone heads perhaps representing ancient Kyrgyz Gods. Enjoy a local lunch in a traditional Kyrgyz Yurt and view a Kyrgyz Horse Show. Overnight in Bishkek.


Day 7: Day Trip to Al Archa Park

Enjoy either an easy or strenuous hike at Al Archa Park, with snow-capped peaks reaching 9200 feet (2,800 meters). Overnight in Bishkek.


Day 8: To Osh

A very early start as we drive from the mountains to the lush Ferghana valley. Through mountain passes and a tunnel almost 2 miles long you descend from 3686m above sea level to where there are vistas of seemingly endless fields of cotton. Overnight in Osh.


Day 9: Osh, Sulaiman Too Sacred Mountain

This morning we visit the first UNESCO World Heritage site on this trip "Sulaiman - Too Sacred Mountain" revered as a place of worship for over a millennium. In the afternoon we have a complete change of scenery when you visit the Osh Bazaar, one of the largest in Central Asia. Overnight in Osh.


Day 10: To Khujand, Tajikistan

After breakfast drive to the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border where we will clear immigration and customs formalities. Our new guide and driver will then take us to Khujand. We visit the Citadel, Masoleum of Sheikh Massal ad-Din, Madrassah, Mosque of Sheikh Massal ad-Din, Panchshanba Bazaar. Overnight in Khujand.


Day 11: To Istarafshan

Our day starts with a relatively short drive to Istarafshan, a city that is one of the oldest in Tajikistan, dating back over 2,500 years. Once an important stop on the Silk Road, you will visit the Kok Gumbaz mosque, Khazreti Shokh mausoleum and the Mugtepa bazaar. We will enjoy our lunch in the national chayhana before returning to Khujand. Time permitting we will visit the Arbob Cultural Palace. Overnight in Khujand.


Day 12: To Tashkent, Uzbekistan

After breakfast drive to the Uzbek border. After border formalities, we continue our drive to Tashkent. Upon arrival, enjoy a city tour of Tashkent. Visit the Old city: Khast Imam complex, Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, Kukaldash Madrassah, bazaar, Amir Temur Square, Independence Square and Alisher Navoi Square. Overnight in Tashkent.


Day 13: Tashkent, To Samarkand

This morning visit Independent Square, Navoi Theatre Square and Amir Temur Square, afterwards depart for Samarkand. The historic town of Samarkand, recently declared a World Heritage Site, was and still is a crossroads and melting pot of world cultures. Founded in the 7th century BC as ancient Afrosiab, Samarkand had its most significant development in the Timurid period from the 14th to the 15th centuries. Overnight in Samarkand.


Day 14: Samarkand

Full day city tour of Samarkand. Visit Registan Square, the heart of ancient city, Temur's burial place - Mausoleum Gur Emir, famous Bibi Khanum Mosque, which intended to out-rival everything Tamerlane had ever seen.

Also visit Shakhi Zinda necropolis and Ulugbek observatory. Visit the Silk paper center. In the evening, participate in plov preparation at a Uzbek local family restaurant. Overnight in Samarkand.


Day 15: To Bukhara

Depart this morning by coach 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. Overnight in Bukhara.


Day 16: Bukhara

One of the grandest of Uzbek centers, Bukhara is an open museum with many mosques, madrassahs and a grand minaret. We spend the day visiting some of the finest examples of Islamic Architecture in the world, where exquisite tile and mosaic work complements the beautiful brickwork; it is no wonder this city is a World Heritage Site. Our visit includes the Lab- e-Khauz Complex with the Nadirkhon Devanbegi Madrassah, the Mogak Attari Mosque and the Poi Kalon Minaret. We also visit the Madrassahs of Aziz Khan and the Ulugbek Ark Fortress, the residence-cum-army headquarters of the Bukharan Emirs that houses an interesting collection of objects from those days and the Mausoleum of Ismail Samanid, which features some of the best 10th century brickwork, with a marked Persian influence. We conclude the day with a visit to Sitora-I-Mokhikhosa, the Summer Residence of the Emir. Overnight in Bukhara.


Day 17: Bukhara, Train to Khiva

A free day in Bukhara to explore it's magnificent sites on your own. Relax or stroll around Bukhara and perhaps indulge in a little bit of shopping. In the evening, we prepare for our overnight train to Khiva. Overnight Train to Khiva.


Day 18: Khiva

Upon arrival in Khiva, we explore this World heritage site. Khiva is a city where time has stood still in the age of the Arabian Nights. Our visit starts with the main site of Itchan Kala followed by Kalta Minor, the Kunya Ark, the Rakhimkhon Madrassah, the Mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud, the Friday Mosque and the Tashauli palace and harem. To complete this extraordinary day, we climb the Khodja Minaret to take in the amazing fairy tale panorama. Overnight in Khiva.


Day 19: To Konya Urgench & Darwaza

Today we will enter Turkmenistan through the border crossing of Dashoguz. This day will be dedicated to exploring the UNESCO World Heritage site of Knoye Urgench. Although destroyed over 800 years ago by Ghengis Khan there are still many ruins to see today. Afterwards continue on to Darwaza and the giant gas crater. We will arrive into Darwaza around sunset where we will set up our camp and have dinner under the stars. Overnight in tent


Day 20: To Ashgabat via Damla and Erbent desert settlements

This morning we head off-road into the Karakum Desert. At nearly 350.000 sq. km in total area, or about 79 per cent of Turkmenistan’s territory, Karakum means “black sand”, and if you look carefully, at sunset and sunrise you can see a dark grey glow over the sand, which distinguishes it from other desert sands. Damla Village is one of few remaining secluded desert villages, where we can still observe many aspects of the traditional Turkmen lifestyle that are still adhered to today. We will observe animal herding, nomadic yurt-style homes, taste freshly baked bread from a clay oven, fermented camels milk, or perhaps just have a cup of tea with the elders, After Damla we continue driving off-road through the desert until the village of Erbent before continuing on to Ashgabat. Overnight Ashgabat.


Day 21: Ashgabat, Archaeological Site of Nissa

Just outside of Ashgabat, we visit the archeological site of Nissa which contains the remains of Old and New Nissa. The original city was an important center of the Parthian State, which existed from 300 BC to 300 AD and was a royal residence of Parthian Kings with a palace, temple and treasury. Recent archeological excavations have uncovered 2700 texts inscribed with black paint on clay vessel fragments. We continue on to Kipchak Village to visit the largest mosque in Central Asia. Afternoon visit the National Museum of History and Ethnography with its 5000 exhibits. Overnight Ashgabat.


Day 22: To Mary and ancient Merv

This morning fly to Mary where we transfer to Merv, the oldest of the oasis cities along the Silk Route in Central Asia. The remains of this oasis span four thousand years of human history and a number of monuments are still in evidence. Classical writers often mention Merv or Margiana, as part of the Achaemenian Empire in the 6th century BC until its invasion by Alexander the Great. The "Queen of Cities" as it was known in the Islamic world, Merv was considered as the second city after Baghdad between the 8th and 13th centuries and was an important town on the Silk Road. Overnight in Mary.


Day 23: Margush - Bronze Age of Civilizations, to Ashgabat

We drive to the site of the ancient country of Margush, believed by many to be the birthplace of Zoroastrianism. It is also the site of Bronze Age ruins. Returning to Mary we will also visit the Mary History and Ethnography Museum. Evening flight to Ashgabat. Overnight in Ashgabat.


Day 24: Ashgabat surroundings, to Turkmenbashi and Awassa

Day trip in the surroundings of Ashgabat, including a visit to Geok Depe Mosque, Kowata underground lake in Baharden Town and the tribal cemetery and a silk weaving home work-shop in Nohur Village in the Kopetdag Mountains. Return to Ashgabat and transfer to airport for evening flight to Turkmenbashi. Arrival transfer to Awaza. Overnight Awaza.


Day 25: Day trip to the canyons of Yangikala

This morning we drive northeast through the foothills of the Balkan Mountain Range, past highland areas where camels, sheep and horses graze, and friendly shepherds will greet you with their Alabai shepherd dogs, until we reach the surreal landscape of Yangikala. From a a fabulous viewpoint we can see these impressive limestone formations - remains of massive coral riffs from pre-historic times - rise up from the desert sands with their colorful layers of rock.

Later continue on to the mausoleum and pilgrim site of Gozli Ata, located on a low platform against the backdrop of stunning pink and red limestone rock formations, and one of the holiest pilgrim sites in Turkmenistan. The mausoleum is surrounded by a large Salor tribal graveyard. Gozli Ata (literally: All-seeing Father) was a famous 12th century Sufi teacher who studied in Turkestan (present-day Kazakhstan), and who was said to have the capacity to see inside peoples' souls. Return to Awassa and overnight.


Day 26: To Ashgabat

We fly to Ashgabat this morning. Upon arrival visit the Carpet Museum and Ahalteke Horse stables to see these famed horses noted for their speed and endurance. Last-minute time to get souvenirs in the Russian Bazaar. Tonight we have our farewell dinner to the "Stans" of Central Asia. Overnight in Ashgabat.


Day 27: Departure from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Transfer to the airport for your departure.

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