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 transferred 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 a 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 Konye Urgench. Although destroyed over 800 years ago by Ghengis Khan there are still many ruins to see today, including Central Asia's tallest brick minaret. Afterwards we drive southwards through the Karakum Desert to Darwaza and the giant gas crater, popularly known as "Gateway to Hell". We will arrive at Darwaza around sunset where we will set up our camp and have dinner under the stars. Overnight in dome tents.


Day 20: To Ashgabat via Damla and Erbent desert settlements

This morning we drive off-road into the heart of 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. We have our lunch in Damla Village, 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 (optional), or perhaps just have a cup of tea with the elders. After Damla, we continue driving off-road through the desert to the village of Erbent before returning to Ashgabat. Overnight in Ashgabat.


Day 21: Ashgabat, Archaeological Site of Nissa

We start today with a visit to the Sunday Bazaar, one of the largest in Central Asia. In numerous nicely laid out pavillions you can find everything from electronics to camels, and from melons to silk scarves. People from all over Turkmenistan come here to sell their local produce. Just outside of Ashgabat, we visit the archeological site of Nissa which contains the remains of Old and New Nissa. The original fortified city was an important center in the early days of the Parthian Empire, and existed from 300 BC to 300 AD. Nissa was a royal residence of Parthian rulers with a palace, a fire temple and a 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. In the afternoon we visit the National Museum of History and Ethnography. Its 5000 exhibits include the most spectacular artefacts found at the treasury of Nissa, the collection of ivory ritual drinking vessels of local priests. Overnight in Ashgabat.


Day 22: To Mary and ancient Merv

This morning fly to Mary followed by a 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 through the desert for 2 hours, into the area that used to be the delta of the Murgab River, to the site of the ancient country of Margush, believed by many to be the birthplace of Zoroastrianism. We visit the remains of Gonur Depe, the center of Margush country, which dates back to the Bronze Age (3000-3500 BC). Archeologists debate whether Margush classifies as a fifth ancient civilization or culture, on par with ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. The famous Bactrian gold, found at graves in northern Afghanistan, would have been from people belonging to Margush, which is also referred to as Bactria-Margiana. Returning to Mary, we will also visit the Mary History and Ethnography Museum, where the most impressive artifacts found at Margush are on display, and confirm the importance and high levels of development in this Bronze Age culture. We take an evening flight to Ashgabat. Overnight in Ashgabat.


Day 24: Ashgabat surroundings, to Turkmenbashi and Awassa

We have a day trip in the surroundings of Ashgabat. First we pay a visit to the Geok Depe Mosque, built in commemoration of the battle at Geok Depe (1879-1881), where thousands of Turkmens of the local Tekke tribe were killed in a two-year battle against the tsarist armies, who came to the region in their quest to conquer it as a new area for cotton production, and to build the Transcaspian Railway. We then get closer to the mountains, and visit Kowata underground thermal lake near Baharden Town. For a swim in the lake, you will need to descend 175 steps to the lake, which is located at 60 meters depth. From Kowata, we drive into the Mountains to Nohur village, and visit its unique tribal cemetery, the nearby Kyz Bibi pilgrim site and a local home where women practice traditional silk weaving. We return to Ashgabat and transfer to the airport for an evening flight to Turkmenbashi. Overnight in 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 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, we 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 old 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 Awaza and overnight.


Day 26: To Ashgabat

We fly to Ashgabat this morning. Upon arrival visit the Carpet Museum and a private Ahalteke Horse stables to see these famed horses noted for their speed and endurance. 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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