Selected departures available from March to October 2020
The fabled Silk Road from China to Europe was, in reality, always a number of differing and competing routes, but the most successful of them passed through present-day Uzbekistan. In particular, the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. The region was well known in ancient times as the land of the Scythians, conquered back in 329BC by Alexander the Great.
Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes passed through in the 12th-century, followed by Tamerlane, known locally as Amir Timur, a century or so later. Timur initiated a vast building programme and ‘invited’ the greatest artisans in his empire to help create the extraordinary monuments you will explore on our tour. In the nineteenth century, the British in India vied with Imperial Russia to control the area in the so-called ‘Great Game’. After some unsuccessful diplomatic manoeuvres and military defeats in neighbouring Afghanistan, the British lost out to the Russians who finally gained full control after the 1917 revolution. Uzbekistan remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the 1990s. For modern, independent Uzbekistan, Timur has now become the national hero and his colossal statue has supplanted Karl Marx in the main square of the city. The many years within the USSR nevertheless created good infrastructure and a secular society, proud of its ancient past.
As well as its rich history and culture, Uzbekistan has much to offer to those who appreciate art and architecture too. Striking ceramic tiles can be found scattered around the cities, with many of the ornate mosaics decorating the incredible monuments. The region is also famed for its intricate wood carving, found not only on the buildings but also in the local handicrafts of the area. The bustling bazaars are a hive for impressive hand-made ornaments, an abundance of authentic street food and ingredients and a variety of carpets, particularly well-known for their colourful, hand embroidered textiles. Look out for the famous chugirmas too, distinctive, furry handmade hats, made historically from sheepskin.
On our fascinating guided tour, be sure to try the culinary traditions of the region too. Authentic Uzbek cuisine is brimming with modest mutton dishes, dumplings and hand-spun noodles. The signature dish of the region is plov, also known as pilaf, a simple rice recipe cooked over an open fire, which often features carrots, onions, raisins and locally sourced mutton. With the abundance of sheep in the country, you’ll notice a lot of mutton dishes on Uzbek menus. Again, it is showcased in the likes of their shurpa (traditional soup), dimlama (stew) and qasqoni or manti (steamed dumplings) often prepared in a special steamer known as a mantyshnitsa.
From mosques to madrassas and mosaics to mausoleums, take in the sights of the Silk Road on this unmissable Uzbekistan tour. Absorb the culture of the ancient cities and astounding desert landscapes of this dynamic destination, full of wonder, culture and history. With recent renewed interest in both the historical and modern Silk Road, now is the ideal time to discover this endlessly intriguing country as it starts to open up to the world, with the bonus of no visa requirements and less than seven hours flying away.
You should arrive at the airport for your overnight direct flight to Uzbekistan.
After our morning arrival to Tashkent, we drop our luggage at our hotel, the excellent four-star superior Lotte City Palace, and have a spot of breakfast. We continue with our first taste of Uzbekistan with a stop at the Amir Temur Square, overlooked by one of the most iconic buildings of the Soviet era, the Uzbekistan Hotel. Tashkent was hit by a devastating earthquake in the 1960s, so most of the city was rebuilt with more ‘modern’ blocks of apartments and wide, tree-lined avenues, and there’s only a small area left of the old city, which we visit. In the afternoon we’ll have a guided walk through the Chorsu bazaar, the largest in the country – a perfect introduction to the foods, smells and exotic produce of Uzbekistan.
After an early breakfast we catch the short flight to the city of Urgench in the far west of the country. A 45-minute drive takes us to the amazing living museum that is the UNESCO World Heritage city of Khiva. Fully enclosed by its spectacularly buttressed mud-brick walls, this is the best-preserved of the country’s Silk Road cities, and as soon as you pass through its fortified gates, you’ll really start to understand what it must have been like in its heyday. Surprisingly compact, all the incredible sights are conveniently close together and, since no cars are allowed, it’s the perfect place to walk around.
Amongst many of the highlights visited, we’ll see the Khan’s palace, the Tosh-Hovli Palace, and harem, the great, beautifully tiled Kalta minaret, which would have been the highest in the country, had it been completed. Close by is the current holder of that title, the Islam Hodja minaret, which is an incredible 56m tall. Khiva was also infamous for its slave market – many slaves were from Persia but surprisingly from Russia as well. Astoundingly, the trade was only officially abolished after the the Russian Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks finally gained full control over the region. We stay two nights in the centrally-located three-star Asia or Malika hotels, with breakfast.
This morning we drive out to the vast plains of the Khorezm desert. This will give us a glimpse into the seemingly never-ending distances and inhospitable country that Silk Road caravans had to cross. The Ayaz Qala is just one of a series of castles that were built to protect these trade routes until they were destroyed by the Mongol invasions of the 12th-century. After a stop for refreshment at a nearby yurt camp, we return to Khiva, for an afternoon to explore at your leisure.
Perhaps take a walk around the historic city walls of the old town, Ichon Qala, which date back to the 18th-century. Some of the impressively high mud stone walls, with over a mile of preserved wall nearby the North Gate, where you can take in some memorable views. For a small entry fee, you can access the viewing platform, best visited in the evening for unbelievable sunsets.
Today we have a long drive to the city of Bukhara, a spiritual city with ancient architecture and a grand royal fortress. On the way we’ll cross the fabled River Oxus, which was also crossed by Alexander the Great and his army over 2,000 years ago. On arrival in Bukhara we’ll check into our hotel for three nights with breakfast, the three-star superior Shakristan or Omar Khayam in the old city. One of the first places we’ll see is the Lyab-i Khauz complex, with some of the finest 16th-century buildings in the city constructed around a water reservoir. It’s now surrounded by popular open-air tea houses.
Larger in scale than Khiva, Bukhara was a richer city and it still shows, with hundreds of fascinating monuments. We’ll have two full days to explore it in depth, with plenty of free time on your own as well. Bukhara was also one of the cities involved in the ‘Great Game’ and is the place where two unfortunate British officers, Stoddart and Connelly, were imprisoned and ultimately executed by the local Emir. We’ll visit the Arc fortress, the Emir’s palace, set high above the city walls, as well as the prison where the officers were held. The most prominent landmark in the city is the Kalyan minaret, with its intricate decorative brickwork, rising 47 metres into the sky, it would have been the tallest building in Central Asia when it was completed in the 12th-century.
Today we’ll visit the old summer palace of the last Emir, just outside town, which was built in the early 20th-century. It’s an intriguing mix of Russian imperial design and local craftsmanship, and now houses many fascinating artefacts from that time. The Emir’s harem was said to have contained 400 wives and concubines and he even had his own personal zoo, with a pet elephant! This afternoon, you’ll have time to browse in the many local dome-roofed bazaars. Look out for the market bakers making traditional bread from scratch, traditionally eaten warm and fresh with kaymak, more familiar to us as clotted cream.
We say goodbye to Bhukara and set off on the road to the greatest of all the central Asian cities, Samarkand. On the way there, we’ll stop by the little village of Gijduvan, famed for its master potters. We’ll visit a family who have perfected their craft over seven generations, still producing superb pieces on traditional foot-powered potters’ wheels and mud-brick kilns. We stay two nights in Samarkand, at the charming three-star superior Grand Samarkand or Dilimah hotels, with breakfast.
Samarkand’s extraordinary Registan Square is the crowning jewel of Islamic architecture in Central Asia. Just the sheer scale of the place is staggering! As the capital of Tamerlane’s empire, it benefitted from a huge building programme, supported by the very best artisans from his numerous conquests. You won’t miss the 14th-century mausoleums of Samarkand either, which are said to have inspired the Taj Mahal. The Gur-e-Amir in particular is a sight to behold, with its striking turquoise dome and beautiful floral-patterned tiles. Fittingly, Tamerlane himself was interred here, and we will visit his mausoleum which is still impressive after all these years.
Today we head slightly out of town to visit the small community of Komi Ghil where the ancient craft of producing paper from mulberry tree bark has been revived. We’ll also stop at the Afrosiyob museum which contains a remarkable series ancient frescoes discovered nearby. In the afternoon we transfer to the railway station to catch the fast train back to Tashkent and our final night back at the Lotte City Palace Hotel, with breakfast.
We depart for home this afternoon, arriving later the same day.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a room. Single rooms are subject to availability, at the relevant supplement. The price includes:
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Tashkent International Airport||Tashkent||15 mins||Tashkent||Tashkent International Airport||15 mins|
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