Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have long been the crossroads of civilisations and a vital link in the Silk Road. This 17-day tour explores the rich tapestry of history and cultures of this region, from the excellent archaeological sites and cities of the Achaemenids, Persians and Parthians, to the palaces, mosques and mausoleums of the emirs and Tamerlane’s capital, Samarkand. The tour takes you beyond these great civilisations of the past, allowing you to
discover the distinctive culture of the ‘Stans’, from their traditional arts and crafts to the thriving cities of Central Asia.
The city walls of Khiva’s old town and its mosques, minarets and madrassas
Fine Central Asian architecture and design at the World Heritage-listed site of Kunya Urgench
The ruins of ancient Parthian kings dating from the 3rd century BC, at Nisa near Ashgabat
The oasis city of Merv, with its outstanding archaeological sites from the Sassanid and Achaemenid periods
Bukhara and the Samanid monuments of the last Persian dynasty to rule Central Asia
Tamerlane’s Samarkand and Shahrisabz, the heart of the Silk Road
Days 1–3: Arrive in Tashkent and tour the Uzbek capital; fly to Khiva and explore the old town.
Day 4: Drive to Nukus and visit the Savitsky Collection.
Days 5–6: Cross into Turkmenistan and visit Kunya Urgench; fly to Ashgabat and visit the carpet museum and the ruins at Nisa.
Days 7–8: Fly to Mary and visit the oasis city at Merv.
Days 9–12: Return to Uzbekistan, and explore Bukhara, Samanid sites, mosques and palaces.
Days 13–15: Drive to Shahrisabz and see Tamerlane’s city of Samarkand.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Tashkent. Korean Airlines offers the best connections into Tashkent from most Australian cities. A stopover in Seoul is required in each direction. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Friday 10 September: Arrival
The tour begins at the Tashkent hotel in the late evening, once the Korean Airlines flight has arrived.
Saturday 11 September : Exploring Tashkent
An important trading post in Central Asia, Tashkent has a chequered history of invasion from Genghis Khan to the Russian occupation. Our orientation of Tashkent begins with Amir Timur Square, dominated by a statue of the powerful Timurid military leader and statesman Amir Timurid on horseback. The buildings around the square are all built in differing styles of architecture from the Samarkand style to the baroque. We pass by the modern Parliament building and the Navoi Opera and ballet theatre and see Independence Square, a favourite resting place for the locals with its impressive monuments, fountains and gardens. Early this afternoon we travel to the airport for our flight to Khiva where we have a short introductory walk through the town before a welcome dinner in the hotel. (B, D)
Sunday 12 September: Exploring Khiva
Entering the walled city of Khiva, a trading post and minor fort since the 8th century, is like stepping into another era surrounded by history. Our sightseeing includes the Kunya Ark, the citadel of the Khiva rulers complete with the Khan’s harem. Inside the city walls we visit the mosques, minarets and madrassas of the old town. Of particular note is the Pakhlavon Mahmud Mausoleum the resting place of Khiva’s patron saint (B, D)
Monday 13 September : Khiva to Nukus
We depart for Nukus, making an extended stop to visit the ruins of the ancient Khorezm fortresses, Ayaz Qala and Tuprak Qala. This afternoon we visit the Savitsky Museum, which has a collection of unique paintings and applied arts items. (B, L, D)
Tuesday 14 September : To Ashgabat
Today we cross into Turkmenistan, meeting our Turkmen guide and coach driver having completed the lengthy border crossing procedures. We continue to Kunya Urgench, destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century it was rebuilt and is listed as a World Heritage site. We visit the Najmitdin Kubra Mausoleum,and the Turabek Khanum complex with its geometric patterned octagonal dome featuring beautiful mosaics. We travel to Dashoguz Airport and board an evening flight to Ashgabat. (B, L, D)
Wednesday 15 September : Touring Ashgabat
A short drive Ashgabat to Nisa where we explore the ruins of the ancient Parthian kings dating from the third century BCE. We visit Gypjak, site of the Turkmenbashi Mosque and mausoleum, the largest in Central Asia with its four minarets soaring above the gold dome built as a monument to Turkmenistan’s first president. Ashgabat, meaning the city of love in Arabic, is a modern city with many interesting sites. Our afternoon touring commences at the Turkmen carpet museum, which boasts the world’s largest hand-woven rug, followed by a visit to the Ertogrul Ghazi Mosque, which is reminiscent in style of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. (B, L, D)
Thursday 16 Septmeber: To Mary
This morning we visit the National Museum of Turkmenistan, a sprawling complex surveying the country’s long history and containing some exceptional archaeological and ethnographic exhibits. This afternoon we depart from Ashgabat Airport on our flight to Mary (B, L, D)
Friday 17 September: Touring Merv
The ancient city of Merv is strategically located at an oasis on the Silk Road and was a major centre for religious study and an important commercial metropolis. Occupied at various times by Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Uzbeks we explore the Sassanian fortress of Gyaur Kala and the Achaemenid city of Erk Kala. Although Zoroastrianism was the state religion the area was home to Christians, Jews and Buddhists and the remains of a stupa and monastery can be seen at Gyaur Kala making it the westernmost point to which Buddhism spread. We visit the Citadel of Sultan Kala and its testimony to Seljuk power and recently restored Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, under whom Merv reached the height of its prosperity throughout the 11th and 12th centuries. We return to Mary for lunch and free time to explore the bazaar. (B, L, D)
Saturday 18 September: To Bukhara
We depart Turkmenistan today for Bukhara, a drive of 380km including a stop for lunch en route. Crossing the border back into Uzbekistan we once again undergo the lengthy border procedures before continuing to our hotel and check in. (B, L, D)
Sunday 19 September: Exploring Bukhara
The city of Bukhara has long been a centre of trade, scholarship, culture and religion, and the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sightseeing includes the 9th/10th-century Ismail Samani mausoleum, one of the most highly-regarded expressions of Central Asian architecture. In contrast, the Chashma Ayub (Job’s well) mausoleum features and unusual Kharakanid-style conical roof. We also visit the Ark Fortress, Bukhara’s oldest structure occupied from the 5th-century and the Bolo-Hauz Mosque, the Emirs’ official place of worship with beautifully painted wood and carved columns. Dinner this evening is in a madrassa and includes a folkloric performance. (B, D)
Monday 20 September: Around Bukhara
Further exploration of Bukhara takes us to Zindan, a jail which is now a museum, the Balyan and Kalon Mosques and the House of Faizullah Khodjaev, an infamous Bukhari personality who plotted with the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Emir and was rewarded with the presidency of the Bukhara People’s Republic. The afternoon and evening are at leisure. (B)
Tuesday 21 September: The Emir’s Palace
Today we to Char Minar, built as a gatehouse to a madrassa and the Emirs’ Summer Palace where the last Emirs of Bukhara ruled until the early 20th-century. We return to the hotel where the afternoon is free. (B, D)
Wednesday 22 September: Shahr-i-Sabz
We travel to Samarkand stopping at Shahr-i Sabz, the birthplace of the great warrior Timur in the 14th-century, and most of the monuments we see date from the time of his rule. Our sightseeing includes the ruins of the White Palace, Tamerlane’s most ambitious project, the Kok Gumbaz or ‘House of Contemplation’ – two blue-domed 15th-century mosques and the mausolea of Jakhongir and Omar-Shaykh. We continue to Samarkand in the afternoon. (B, L, D)
Thursday 23 September: Exploring Samarkand
Our touring begins at the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the jewel in Tamerlane’s empire. Registan for many people epitomises a Silk Road city and is the heart of ancient Samarkand. Here we visit the main square and the three imposing madrassas, adorned with large central arches and mosaic panels. After lunch we visit the Ulugbek Observatory, destroyed after Ulugbek’s death and only unearthed again by archaeologists in 1908. Our final stop is the Gur Emir Mausoleum which is Tamerlane’s resting place as well as that of his sons and grandsons including Ulugbek. (B, L, D)
Friday 24 September: Around Samarkand
This morning we visit one of Uzbekistan’s most important archaeological sites. Afrosiab was the capital of ancient nation of Sogdiana and has a museum which contains a 7th-century fresco of King Varkouman receiving foreign dignitaries as well as various terracotta and bronze artefacts. From the museum we visit Shah-i-Zinda, an avenue of mausoleums that contain some of the richest tile work in the Muslim world (B, D)
Saturday 25 September : Return to Tashkent
We depart Samarkand and make the 300km journey to Tashkent where we have lunch and check into our hotel. This evening we meet for our farewell dinner (B, L, D)
Sunday 26 September : Departure from Tashkent
Today is free with the option to visit the Chor-su bazaar and the old town. Rooms are available until we transfer to the airport this evening. (B)
An historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa, having spent several years in Arabia.
Chris Bradley is a cultural historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa. After many years of leading tours he has built up an enviable knowledge and personal photographic library that he uses to enhance the Academy Travel tours that he leads to Ethiopia, Iran and Central Asia.
Chris gained an honours degree at the University of Liverpool and spent several years working in Arabia, which gave him a good foundation for understanding the Middle East in general. The Arabic that he learnt through the 1970s proved invaluable for his own travels throughout the Middle East whilst researching, writing and photographing more than a dozen guidebooks as well as countless travel articles. For 30 years he has supplied international picture libraries with photographs that are used worldwide in newspapers, magazines, websites and museums, including the V&A and British Museum in London. This experience also led to his filming and producing credits on many television documentaries for the BBC and National Geographic TV.
Chris was invited by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to analyse sustainable tourism development, initially for Libya and later Egypt. His interest in Islamic and early Christian art is an underlying theme for many of his illustrated talks and lectures for the Arts Society (formerly NADFAS) in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and around the world. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and regularly gives lectures at their various locations. His study days on Islamic Art, The Silk Road, Roman and Islamic Art of North Africa are always over-subscribed.
In the 40 years since Chris started leading group tours in the Middle East he has worked in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia. This experience has allowed him to design and develop his own itineraries to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. His tours aim, where possible, to go beyond the obvious major sights and search for the hidden gems.
We asked Chris, what do you enjoy about tour leading?
“Because of the scope of my interests I enjoy making connections between countries and religions that are often not obvious and I am always searching for links along the lines of ‘where did that idea come from?’ Working with each country’s national guides (many of whom are now personal friends), I love to expand every aspect of the subjects that we cover for the groups, which could be the Queen of Sheba, Zoroastrianism or Shia Islam.”
Hotels on this tour vary from five star to simple three-star hotels according to what is available, and there is an overnight stop in a very simple two-star hotel. Some hotels are large constructions and lack any distinctive atmosphere. Others are small and simple, but well located. Please also note that the overall quality and service standards in the hotels are not necessarily at the same level as other countries. It is not unusual for hotels to change before the departure date, so we have listed a couple of choices in some cities.
Tashkent, Lotte City Tashkent Palace (2 nights)
Khiva, Asia Khiva or Erkin Palace Hotel (2 nights)
Nukus, Jipek Joli (1 night)
Ashgabat, Yyldyz or Olimpiya Hotel (2 nights)
Mary, Mary Hotel (2 nights)
Bukhara, Omar Khayyam or Zargaron Plaza Hotel (4 nights)
Samarkand, Registan Plaza or L’Argamak Hotel (2 nights)
Hotels may be subject to change (to another hotel of equivalent quality). Any changes will be advised to all clients booked on the tour.
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity