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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 our orientation meeting/welcome dinner.
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 State Museum of Arts housing a collection of over 22,000 artifacts of visual and applied arts featuring cultures of Kazakhstan, Russia, Western Europe as well as the peoples of Asia and Eastern countries. In the afternoon, we will take a cable car to the ski resort of Shymbulak located in the Zaiilisky Alatau mountain range (2300m / 7545 ft) and enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of the Medeu Valley.
Day 3: To Chong Kemin Valley, Kyrgyzstan
After breakfast, we drive from Almaty to the Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan border. Once we will clear immigration and customs formalities, we continue to the Chong-Kemin Valley. This evening experience true Kyrgyz hospitality with a traditional dinner in the Kalmak Ashuu Guest House.
Day 4: Chong Kemin Valley
Today we will have the opportunity to visit an old soviet farm (kolkhoz) village and enjoy a short hike in the Valley. After lunch we will see a performance of a Kyrgyz horse show and in the evening experience true Kyrgyz hospitality with a traditional brandy and vodka party.
Day 5: Chong Kemin Valley to Lake Issyk-Kul
Today we drive to the Pearl of Tian-Shan, Lake Issyk-Kul and make a stop along the way in the village of Tamchy for a demonstration of felt production. We continue driving to Cholpon-Ata and board our boat to enjoy a lunch cruise on Lake Issyk-Kul. 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.
Day 6: 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.
Day 7: 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.
Day 8: 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). In the afternoon, we will enjoy a city walking tour of Bishkek's historic buildings.
Day 9: To Osh, Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain
This morning we will take a very early flight to Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, located in the Fergana Valley. Upon arrival 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 we visit the Osh Bazaar, one of the largest in Central Asia.
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.
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 local knife makers . After lunch, we return to Khujand and time permitting we will visit the Arbob Cultural Palace.
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 with a visit to the Old city that includes the Khast Imam complex, Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum and Kukaldash Madrassa. We also visit the Museum of Applied Arts.
Day 13: Tashkent, to Samarkand
This morning we visit Independent Square, Navoi Theatre Square and Amir Temur Square. After lunch we 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.
Day 14: Samarkand
On our city tour of Samarkand we visit Registan Square, the heart of ancient city, Temur's burial place; Mausoleum Gur Emir and famous Bibi Khanum Mosque, which intended to out-rival everything Tamerlane had ever seen.
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. Depending on performance schedules, we may have the opportunity to enjoy a puppet show. Puppet shows were popular entertainment in public places, festivals and at private family celebrations in past times.
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.
Day 17: To Khiva
We have an early morning departure for our full day's drive to Khiva (480 KM / 300 miles.)
Day 18: Khiva
Today we explore the world heritage site of Khiva, 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.
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.
Day 20: To Ashgabat
This morning we drive through the Karakum Desert to Ashgabat. At nearly 350,000 sq. km in total area or about 79 per cent of Turkmenistan's territory, Karakum means "black sand". 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.
Day 21: Ashgabat, Archaeological Site of Nissa
We start today with a visit to the Russian Bazaar, one of the oldest in Ashgabat. Just outside of Ashgabat, we visit the archaeological 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 archaeological 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.
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. 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.
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). Archaeologists 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. We take an evening flight to Ashgabat.
Day 24: Ashgabat Surroundings, to Turkmenbashi and Awaza
We have a day trip in the surroundings of Ashgabat. As we travel closer to the mountains, we 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.
Day 25: 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, 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.
Day 26: To Ashgabat
We fly to Ashgabat this morning. Upon arrival visit Weekend bazaar Tolkuchka. 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. After the bazaar, we 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 adventure.
Day 27: Departure from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Transfer to the airport for your departure.
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