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Silk Road Express

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Day 1. Astana

Arrive Astana. After some chance for rest we wander around this new and shining capital city of Kazakhstan, see Bayterek Tower, Pyramid and palace of Independence, ethno park of Astana “Map of Kazakhstan-Atameken”. Continue sightseeing: President’s Cultural Centre, Museum of Modern Art, Seifullin Museum, The Museum of the First President of Kazakhstan. In the evening transfer to airport for onward flight to Almaty. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 2. Almaty
In the morning we visit the most interesting sites of ex capital: History museum, 28 Panfilov’s guardsmen park, Zenkoff cathedral - the second tallest entire wooden building in the world, museum of national instruments. Medeo – the highest in the world ice skating rink, history museum. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 3. Almaty - Bishkek
Drive (250 km) to Bishkek - The capital of Kyrgyzstan. Border formalities might take a while before we continue for lunch in downtown. PM Sightseeing tour of Bishkek visiting  Ala-Too square, History museum, Museum of applied art, Osh market etc. O/N in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 4. Bishkek - Issyk Kul lake
Drive 60 km to Burana tower on the site of ancient settlement dated to 11th century. Sightseeing. From here take a short drive to the nearby village of Don Aryk to see horse games.  Reflecting the important role horses have played in the traditional Kyrgyz nomadic life style, the country is famous for at least four types of horse games such as oodarysh or wrestling, tiyin-enish, where riders try to pick up coins at full gallop and kobber or buzkashi, a type of goat-snatching polo. We then drive to Issyk Kul lake (190 km). This lake, at 1,608 meters or 4,824 feet above sea level, is the second largest mountain lake in the world. On the way stop in Tamchy village to visit Baktygul Asanalieva.  We will have the opportunity to have a detailed demonstration on the making of shydraks, or felt carpets with sewn-in patterns, and ala kiyiz or pressed felt carpets. O/N in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 5. Issyk Kol lake - Karakol - Tamga
Drive to Karakol - on the east end of Issyk Kul lake. See Gingerbread cottages houses (take a walk there along calm streets), visit lively local market, go to Dungan Mosque, see Holy Trinity Cathedral.  Continue to Tamga, on the way see broken heart and seven bulls rocks formations in Jety Oguz valley. Accommodation in guest house. Meals: BLD

Day 6. Tamga - Kochkor - Song Kol
Drive to Kochkor along the south shore. See Skazka canyons. Visit small yurt workshop in Kyzyl Tuu. Continue to Song Kul lake. Overnight in yurts - traditional kyrgyz tent-like dwellings. Meals: BLD

Day 7. Song Kul lake
Full day at Song Kul lake. Free time for rest. Optional walk to the lake or uphill to see the great panorama of the valley. We stay close to shepherds camps and see at first hand how kyrgyz nomads live in their enviroment. Optional horseback ridding. O/N in yurts. Meals: BLD

Day 8. Song Kul lake - Chichkan
Drive to Chichkan valley. We cross Kara Keche - the biggest in Kyrgyzstan coal mine and Suusamyr valley. Today we stay in Ozon motel on the bank of mountain river rushing down to Toktogul reservour. Overnight in motel. Meals: BLD

Day 9. Chichkan - Osh

Long day drive to Osh - the south capital of Kyrgyzstan. Accommodation in guest house. Dinner with Uzbek family. O/N in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 10. Osh - Sary Tash
Sightseeing of Osh including oriental bazaar - one of the biggest  bazaars  in  Central  Asia,  Suleiman Too  - the sacred hill of local Muslims also known as Solomon throne and local history museum in cave. PM drive to Sary-Tash village (190 km). Here the mountains are Pamirs - the roof of the world. Overnight in homestay. Meals: BLD

Day 11. Sary Tash - Murghab
Drive towards Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border enjoying the views of Lenin peak (7,134 m) which dominates over the area. End of Kyrgyz section at Kyzyl Art pass (4,280 m) which forms the border with Tajikistan. Continue 95 km to the shore of Karakul lake which at 3,915 m is too high to support aquatic life. Karakul is the largest of a range of about 800 ancient lakes in the Pamirs which were created by earthquake, tectonic activity and glaciers. By the lakeside, there are some mysterious stone circles. Continue to Murhgab (135 km) over Ak-Baital Pass (4,655 m), the highest section of road in the former USSR. Murgab is a center of the most highest mountain region in CIS bordering China. The terrain here is becoming barren and rocky. This region is inhabited by nomadic Kyrgyz herders. Murgab is located in a valley at about 3,000 m above sea level and surrounded by high peaks. Also from this point you can see Muztag Ata peak – one the highest mountain in Pamirs of 7546m. Overnight in homestay. Meals: BLD

Day 12. Murghab - Bulunkul lake - Langar
Long day to approach Wakhan valley through Alichur. The view is stark and desolate. Drive to Bulunkul lake thru picturesque Alichur valley. Bulunkul village of just several houses is a small settelment on the shore of Bulunkul and Yashilkull lakes. Fish lunch with local family following one hour hike to the shore of Yashilkul lake. Get back to main road to drive to Langar (126 km) over Khargush pass of 4,344 m. As we enter Wakhan, there are amazing views of Pamirs to the right and Hindu Kush to the left. We now drive along Afghan border to Langar. Here the people are Pamiris, not Tajiks, a number of separate tribal groups with their own languages. Arrive Wakhan in the evening. Overnight in Pamiri house. Meals: BLD

Day 13. Langar - Yamchun
In the cool of the morning we make a steep climb above the village and see the petroglyphs carved into the rock, depicting mountain goats, caravans, horse riders with banners, and the Ismaili symbol of a hand. Continue to Vrang where on a cliff-side pitted with caves, stands a Buddhist complex dating from 4th-7th centuries. In Yamchun we visit Yamchun fort of Fire Worshippers and overlook wakhan valley from the towers. Further up the hillside are the hot springs at Bibi Fatima. The crystal clear water is full of minerals and believed impoves ladies health being, it is possible to take a natural steam bath in a rocky cave. Overnight in homestay. Meals: BLD

Day 14. Yamchun - Ishkashim - Khorog
Drive north to Ishkashim, which stands at the mouth of the Wakhan River valley. This is where the 19th century Great Game ended, when Britain and Russia signed a treaty adding a strip of the Wakhan valley to Afghanistan to create a neutral buffer zone between their two empires. We stop here for quick lunch. Continue to Khorog (130 km) - the center of Gorny Badahshan. Optional stop to bath at the hot, mineral filled springs at Garmchashma on the way. Overnight in guest house. Meals: BLD

Day 15. Khorog
Full day in Khorog exploring the environs and visiting the most highest in the world botanical garden. If that day falls to Saturday morning visit Afghan market to buy traditional Afghan hats and scarfs. Visit small History Museum. Overnight in guest house. Meals: BLD

Day 16. Khorog - Kala i Khum
Long day drive (240km) to Kala i Khum – a small village on Pamir Highway following a fascinating road along the Afghan border. On the Tajik side, the road is asphalted and buildings have metal and glass in their construction. On the Afghan side, about 100m away, everything is mud, wood and donkey tracks. Overnight in homestay. Meals: BLD

Day 17. Kala i Khum - Dushanbe
Long day drive west from Kala i Khum towards Dushanbe – the capital of Tajikistan. Today's drive is a sharp contrast to the first few days of the tour. This region is much more strongly Muslim and this can be seen in the conservative dress and beards. Over a mountain pass to Dushanbe and the scenery and people change again. Overnight in hotel (***). Meals: BLD

Day 18. Dushanbe
Full day wander around Dushanbe: See Rudaki square, Ismail Somoni monument, friendship palace. Anyone with an interest in archaeology will enjoy the Museum of National Antiquities. The exhibits in this museum are mostly from Tajikistan's pre-Islamic civilizations (Greek/ Bactrian, Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian). The centerpiece is the 14m reclining Buddha in Nirvana. Since the tragic destruction of the Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan, this is the largest surviving Buddha statue in Central Asia. Next door is Craft and Textiles museum. See history museum if time permits. PM visit nearby Hissor Fort, former capital of Eastern Bukhara province; the site has two fine 18th/19th century madrassas one of which is now a fine ethnographic museum. Overnight in guest house. Meals: BLD

Day 19. Dushanbe - Istaravshan - Khojand
Long day drive to Khojand as we drive over 2 mountain passes (380 km). From Dushanbe we start climbing to the top of Anzob pass 3373 m and then decent to Ainy. Continue drive to Istrafshan over Shahriston Pass 3,378 m. Istarafshan history has shaped the character of the people who live in the city. It's a fascinating place with some of the oldest and most intact Islamic buildings in Tajikistan where the traditional street layout of the old city has been preserved. Continue to Khojand. If time permits sightseeing around city: history museum, Oxus embankment, Old mosque. Overnight in hotel***. Meals: BLD.

Day 20. Khojand - Oibek - Tashkent
Drive to Tajik–Uzbek border crossing "Oibek". Border formalities. Meet Uzbekistan agent. Transfer to  Tashkent.  Accommodation in hotel. Free time before dinner. Meals: BLD.

Day 21. Tashkent - Samarkand
Drive to Samarqand. Sightseeing: visiting of Registan square -the "heart" of Samarkand - ensemble of 3 majestic madrassahs (XIV-XVI c.c.)  –  Sherdor,  Ulugbek  and Tillya Qory, Bibi-Khanum the gigantic congregational  mosque (XV c.), Guri-Emir mausoleum of Timur, his sons and  Ulugbek  - the grandson and well known ruler (XV c.), Ulugbek's astronomic observatory (1420 y.) - the remains of an immense (30  m.  tall)  astrolabe for observing stars position, Shakhi-Zinda – "The  Living  King" (XI-XVIII c.c.) necropolis of Samarkand rulers and noblemen, consisting of set of superb decorated mausoleums, exotic Siab bazaar. Meals: BLD

Day 22. Samarkand - Nurata (220 km)
Drive from Samarkand to Nurata. Lunch and Excursion in Nurata:  Visiting  -  Mosque  of Khasan and Khusein brothers (XVI-XVII c.), a sacred place of Muslims' pilgrimage, madrassah of Sheikh Khasan Nuri,  mosque  Namazgokha (XIV c.), ruins of an antique fortress. PM - transfer  to  yurt camp in desert. Camel riding. Overnight in yurts. Meals: BLD

Day 23. Nurata - Bukhara (240 km)
Ride back to village. Possible stop for swimming in Aydarkul lake. Fresh fish for lunch. Transfer to Bukhara (240 km). One the way see the  minaret  at  Bobkent.  Arrive  in Bukhara. Overnight  in  B&B. Free time before dinner. Meals: BLD

Day 24. Bukhara
Sightseeing of Bukhara: Visiting of Samanid's Mausoleum (IX-X  cc.)  – a skilful brickwork of the mausoleum reminds a plaiting of  baskets and the building looks lighter and more elegant; Chashma Ayub Mazar (graveyard) (XIV-XIX cc.), Poi-Kalan complex (XII-XVI cc.), Ulugbek  madrassa (built in  1417 by grandson of Tamerlan – Ulugbek). Afternoon visiting:  Lyabi-Hauz complex (XVI-XVII cc.) which includes: Kukeldash madrassah (1568), Nadir Divanbegi madrassah (1622); Bolo Khauz mosque, Ark – ancient fortress (VI-VII cc.). Overnight in B&B. Meals: BLD

Day 25. Bukhara
Continue sightseeing in Bukhara. Visiting: Sitorai Mokhi  Khosa  –  "Palace  of Moon and Stars" – summer residence of the last  Bukhara  Emir  (XIX c), Complex Bakhoutdin Nakshbandy (so-called Central Asian Mecca). Meals: BLD

Day 26. Bukhara – Khiva
Drive through the Kyzyl-Kum desert  to Khiva - a long 6-7 hours drive (500 km). En route we will stop on the bank of  the  Amudarya  river,  which hugs the  Uzbek -Turkmen border. Overnight in B&B. Free time before dinner. Meals: BLD

Day 27. Khiva
Sightseeing around Khiva: Kunya Ark – Old fortress (XVII c.), Pakhlavan  Mahmud  complex  (XIV-XIX  cc.),  Islam  Khodja madrassah &Minaret  (1908), Jumma mosque (X–XVIII cc.), Tash Hauli Allakuli –Khan Palace (XVIII-XIX cc.), bazaar. Meals: BLD

Day 28. Khiva –  Dashoguz - Kuneurgench - Dashoguz - Ashgabat
Short drive to Uzbek-Turkmen  border  point  "Shavat".  Border formalities. Meet Turkmen agent. Drive to Dashoguz.  Excursion to Kuneurgench - once  the  capital  of the Khorezm Empire, it is a center of  World  Heritage including Gutluk Timur, the tallest minaret of Central Asia  and  the  Turabek  Khanum Mausoleum. Its twelfth century dome is probably the most spherical and perfect of the Turan, and is one of very few tiled domes of that age worldwide. Kunya Urgench strikes with its characteristic conical domes later to be copied in Bukhara. Drive to Dashoguz. Transfer to Airport for late flight to Ashgabat. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 29. Ashgabat
Late morning start sightseeing of Ashgabat, visiting independence-period parks and monuments, including the Neutrality Square, and the National Museum of history and ethnography, whose halls are dedicated to various themes and historical periods. Demonstrating a rich collection of artefacts from all over Turkmenistan, including ivory rhytons from Old Nisa, the museum will also offer us reconstruction models of most of the sites that we are going to visit. In the evening we head south to the Kopetdag Mountains to take a cable-car ride and see a splendid view of the white-marble capital city. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 28. Ashgabat - Mary
In the morning, we head east along one of the major directions of the former Silk Road in Turkmenistan. We stop near modern Anau, at a former medieval city of Bagabad, featuring the citadel of an important Timurid-period centre and the ruins of the Seyit Jemaleddin mosque, which was highlighted in many historical sources as “house of beauty”. 120 km from Ashgabat, we make a short stop to stretch our legs roaming through the ruins of Abiverd, once an important trading town of northern Khorasan and a key link on the Silk Route among Nisa, Merv and Nishapur. Then we continue to Mary, observing succession of desert, settlements and fields and encountering numerous “depe”, mounds marking and hiding remnants of former fortified strongholds, caravanserais, watch-towers or country-side estates of wealthy landlords. In the afternoon, we arrive in Mary, the capital of the present-day Mary region and the centre of the Murghab oasis. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 29. Mary
This morning we will take a close look at one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ancient Merv. Consisting of a series of cities, succeeding one another as capitals of the famous oasis, Ancient Merv is the only site of its kind in Central Asia. The 7 c. BC Erk-Kala (Alexandria of Margiana in the 4 c. BC), the 3 c. BC Gyaur-Kala (Antioch of Margiana), medieval Sultan-Kala (Seljuk “Queen of Cities”), as well as post-medieval Abdullakhan-Kala and Bayramalikhan-Kala (early and late 15 c. Merv of the Timurids) are not the only places to admire here. Being an architectural site as well as archaeological, Merv may offer numerous standing monuments, such as the oldest of still standing corrugated mud-brick “keshks” – Great and Little Kiz Kalas, magnificent Seljuk mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammad ibn Zaid, the palace and keshk in the royal Seljuk citadel of Shahriar Ark, Timurid eyvans and Arab tombs of the Profet’s companions, Askhabs, and many more. To make our historical and cultural understanding of the area complete, we return to Mary to visit an exciting ethnographic and archaeological display in impressive regional museumOvernight in hotel.  Meals: BLD

Day 30. Mary - Ashgabat

This morning we leave Mary to return to Ashgabat (“the city of love” from Persian). On the way we will make stop for picnic lunch and also a short de-tour for the fortress of Nadirshakh (18 c.) located in a picturesque Sothern Kopetdag area. Astonishing in its accuracy and magnificent setting, still preserving late medieval “refrigerators,” or ice-houses. Leaving the grand historical complex, we reach Ashgabat in the late afternoon. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 31. Ashgabat – Kov-Ata – Ashgabat
After breakfast we drive to see the fortress of Old Nisa - another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. Later on we continue west, to the underground Kov-Ata cave, accommodating a unique hot-water (+ 35-37C all year round) sulphur lake. After a swim in the lake, we return to Ashgabat. On the way to Ashgabat we make stop at stud farm near Geok Depe. Gok Depe is former Tekke stronghold and was the site of the biggest battle for the Russian domination in Central Asia in the late 19 c. After arrival at the farm, you will be familiarized with the stud-farm and have show of Turkmen horses- Akhal Teke. En-route visit the complex of the Spirituality Mosque, biggest in Turkmenistan, and the family mausoleum of the first President in Kipchak. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 32. Ashgabat – Darvaza

In the early afternoon meet the driver and guide to set off north to former Darvaza, along the newly-built north-south highway. Before we turn off the main road for eight-kilometre off-road drive, we visit two other craters, with mud and water bubbling of gas coming out from the deep of the earth. Another short drive to find ourselves a couple of hundred metres away from the flaming crater. 60 metres accross and 20 metres deep, it burns non stop since 1971. Evening walk around the crater. Dinner and overnight next to the flaming crater in tents. Meals: BLD

Day 33. Darvaza – Ashgabat
We head back south towards civilization. On the way, we will make a short stop at a desert settlement, Yerbent, which can give us an idea of what desert life looks like. A mixture of traditional households, satellite dishes and incidental oasis-type vegetation, looking out of place in the yellow-sand neighbourhood, Yerbent is the major and biggest settlement in the Central Karakum. Continue driving to Ashgabat after a short photo session. Arrival in Ashgabat. Free afternoon for leisure. Overnight in hotel. Meals: BLD

Day 34.  Ashgabat - Airport
In the morning transfer to airport for your onward flight home or next destination. End of tour. Meals: B

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