Abandoned ruins of Ayaz Kala fortress, Uzbekistan
Abandoned ruins of Ayaz Kala fortress, Uzbekistan

Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan: In the Footsteps of Traders


19 days From $7,095

April 17 2019

The Silk Road. A fabled name whose romantic mystique evokes images of desert caravanserais and merchant camel trains laden with precious silks and spices winding their way from China to the West – a distant era that has left a lasting imprint upon the commerce, history and religions it diffused through Central Asia.

Pride of place on our exploration of this crucible of cultural and ethnic diversity goes to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, neighboring independent republics and former Khanate states whose lavish palaces and mosques were built with wealth derived from control of the treasures flowing through these lands. Today theirs is a timeless backdrop of snow-capped mountains, empty deserts, colorful markets, grazing camels and traditionally-garbed local people – in places fascinatingly juxtaposed with a 21st century veneer.

Our journey visiting no less than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites offers many inspirational rewards in the fields of archaeology and ethnography. Edged by the Caspian Sea and dominated by the Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan is best-known for its extensive archaeological ruins at Merv and Zoroastrian Gonur Tepe. Uzbekistan boasts a plethora of striking mosques, mausoleums and madrassas, the most magnificent at the Registan, a landmark of Islamic architecture in historic Samarkand – while perhaps Central Asia’s most complete example of a medieval city awaits at Bukara, long a center for Islamic theology and scholarship.

Please note - we will only be able to accept bookings through January 2019 for this tour for the purposes of visa applications

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Prof. Craig Benjamin

Prof. Craig Benjamin

Craig Benjamin is a Professor of History in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University, where he teaches courses in ancient Central and East Asian history, and on the Silk Roads.

Book Now $7,095
Includes deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,090

Tour highlights:

  • Discover no fewer than 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including ancient Shahr-i Sabz (site of Tamerlaine’s 14th century palace) and the stunning historic center of Samarkand
  • Visit the impressively excavated and restored ancient fortress town of Gonur Tepe
  • Enjoy memorable Turkmenistan shopping in Ashgabad’s colorful open-air bazaar where the locals sell handicrafts, vegetables, Bukhara-style rugs, traditional costumes – in fact almost anything!
  • Wander among the architectural treasures of Uzbekistan’s atmospheric and wonderfully restored walled city of Khiva
  • Immerse yourself in the culture these fascinating countries have to offer, and revel in the opportunity to sample the local cuisine

Tour details

Dates April 17 2019 - May 5 2019
Duration 19 days
Cost $7,095
Single supplement: $1,090
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by January 23 2019
Activity Level Challenging
Tour code A19TSR

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

April 17 2019: Itinerary

We arrive in the Turkmenistan capital and transfer to our hotel, where we rest. Later, after a scene-setting lecture, we enjoy an exploratory tour of Ashgabat. Set in the heart of the Akhal-Teke Oasis, between the great Kopet-Dag Mountains and the Kara-Kum Desert, this a showpiece and sometimes quirky eye-opener of a modern city, lavishly modernized (thanks to the country’s booming oil and gas revenues) and home to gleaming marble-clad palaces, golden domes and statues, futuristic monuments, wide boulevards and manicured parkland. 

All meals included

Our day opens with a short drive to admire Central Asia’s largest mosque at nearby Kipchak, followed by a visit to the Parthian Fortresses at Nisa. A UNESCO-listed archaeological site, this was a strategic and commercial center at the crossroads of major trade routes – and the capital of a powerful empire at its height for 600 years until the 3rd century CE. After lunch we pay an afternoon visit to the National Archaeological Museum, boasting a superb collection of Turkmenistan’s most significant architectural finds, as well as displays of virtually every facet of its cultural heritage, from art and sculpture to carpets and costumes.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

The first part of our day is spent at Altyn Asyr, Ashgabat’s modern marble-clad oriental bazaar, built upon the sands of the Kara-Kum Desert and among the largest markets in Central Asia. The 7,000 stalls and shops make it an irresistible place to bargain for local items like handicrafts or Turkmen rugs, though perhaps not the camels. Close by are the ruins of Anau, where we can identify traces of human habitation from the 4th millennium BCE, the dawn of civilization. Returning to Ashgabat we take the short flight east to the oasis-city of Mary to check in at our hotel before dinner.

 

All meals included

This morning we drive to Turkmenistan’s important archaeological site of Gonur Tepe, about 40 miles north of Mary. Dating back over 4,000 years to the Early Bronze Age, Gonur-Depe is said to have been home to one of the world’s oldest Zoroastrian civilizations. Its extensive ruins form the centerpiece of a 150-strong network of towns and settlements in the delta region of the River Morghab. Later in the day a visit to Mary’s modern National History and Ethnology Museum offers us an introduction to the history and culture of Mary from ancient times to the present age.

All meals included

Today we explore the UNESCO-listed remains of the vast “vanished city” of Merv, 20 miles across the desert from Mary. Its world-famous archaeological site, embracing the ruins of four ancient walled cities, was once capital of the Parthian province of Margiana. Merv was later to become a major Silk Road metropolis (possibly even the world’s largest city) and eastern capital of the huge Islamic Seljuk sultanate until its destruction by the Mongols in the 13th century. Among the important ruins we see are the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar and the Erk-Kala citadel. Later we return to Mary and fly back to Ashgabat.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

A short flight takes us north this morning to Daşoguz, from where we drive to nearby Kunya-Urgench, capital of the Khorezm region. Kunya-Urgench owes its UNESCO World Heritage status to its long importance as a key Silk Road hub – only to be abandoned after destruction by the armies of Genghis Khan and (in 1388) Tamerlane. A testament to the power of the city in ancient times are the surviving examples of its classic Islamic architecture, among which we visit the imposing mausoleums of Turabeg Khanym and Najmuddin Kubra - and the Kutluk Timur Minaret, at 200 feet the tallest in Central Asia. We then drive across the Uzbekistan border to the gateway city of Nukus, about an hour away.

All meals included

Before leaving Nukus this morning we visit the city museum to see an important collection of Soviet art. Our journey to Khiva then takes us along the vital artery of the Amu Darya river, with a stop on the way to study the eerie site of Chilpik Dakhma. This “Tower of Silence” is thought to be the earliest example of a traditional Zoroastrian funerary ritual site or “dhakma”, constructed some 2,000 years ago and a circular, raised structure created for excarnation – the exposure of dead bodies to vultures or other carrion birds. On reaching Khiva we check in at our hotel for a 2-night stay.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Once a major caravanserai along the Silk Road, walled Old Khiva still seems to wrap itself in a lingering Arabian Nights mystique. Uzbekistan’s first recipient of UNESCO World Heritage Site accreditation, it boasts architectural treasures spanning over 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, most dating from the 18th or the 19th centuries. Two especially notable structures are the Djuma Mosque with its 212 carved wooden pillars; and the Tash Khovli Palace, summer residence of the Khivan Khan, complete with 18th-century harem. After lunch the remainder of our day is free for relaxation, further sightseeing or shopping.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

A new day of wide horizons lies ahead this morning as we drive north-west into the exhilarating Kizilkum Desert surroundings of Ayaz-Kala – dominated by the awesome mud-brick ruins of three great fortresses built between the 4th century BCE and 7th century CE for protection from raiding nomads. On our return to Khiva later in the day we take an evening flight to Bukhara, where we stay for the following four nights.

All meals included

Bukhara. It’s an evocative name suffused with elusive echoes of enigma and antiquity. With a history reaching back 2,000 years, Central Asia’s holiest city more than fulfils its intriguing promise, thanks to a UNESCO-listed medieval core - still largely intact and memorably atmospheric - that’s home to a splendid heritage of more than 140 protected monuments and buildings. On our first morning here we embark on a tour of this historic center. Highlights to be visited include the huge Ark Citadel, a former royal fortress; the dazzling Samanid and Chashma-Ayub Mausoleums, the latter with a sacred spring; the great architectural ensemble of the Kalyan Mosque with its symbolic minaret; the veranda-fronted Bala-Hauz Mosque; and the Lab-i Hauz square and pool, surrounded by traditional madrassas. We end the day on a leisurely note, browsing amid Bukhara’s famous dome-covered bazaars.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Our morning is spent at the archaeological site of Paykent, in its heyday a thriving Silk Road trading-post rival to Bukhara - and home to a citadel with a Zoroastrian fire temple, craft shops and residential quarters. Our afternoon back in Bukhara then features visits to two important holy sites: the serenely beautiful 16th century necropolis at Chor-Bakr; and the mausoleum of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband (14th century founder of the Sufi Muslim order), a revered place of pilgrimage with two handsomely-restored mosques.

 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Our focus today is on the remains of Varaksha, 25 miles west of Bukhara, a major fortified military outpost of the briefly dominant Hephthalite (“White Hun”) civilization before their ultimate defeat by the Persians in 557 CE. Our afternoon is then free for relaxation or independent exploration of Bukhara’s historic center and bazaars. Before dinner this evening we have an opportunity to enjoy a display of costumes at the 17th century Nodir Devon Begi Madrassa.

All meals included

As we drive west today a long but scenic drive on our “Road to Samarkand” brings us to Shahrisabz. Here we break our journey at a Silk Road city of national importance through its associations with Tamerlane the Great, who was born nearby and later, in celebration of his victory over Khorezm, chose it as the site for his famous Ak-Sarai (“White Palace”). After viewing the heritage-listed palace remains we continue to Samarkand for a 3-night stay.

 

All meals included

A Silk Road name that is the stuff of poetic legend, resonant of myths, mayhem and mysteries, historic UNESCO-listed Samarkand has been a crossroads of world cultures, religions and trade for over two and a half millennia. Its fortunes have been shaped over time by, among others, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamurlane - before it later became a renowned center of Islamic scholarly study. Today Samarkand’s colourful maze-like old quarter contains some of the most beautiful monuments of Central Asia. Our morning begins at the impressive Afrasiab Museum, offering an insightful introduction to the city’s history and culture, followed by a visit to the excavated 15th century Ulugh-Beg Observatory - one of the Islamic world’s finest of its time. Later we explore the eclectic collection of the Regional Museum of Samarkand - and end at the celebrated Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, sumptuous setting of the tomb of Tamerlane the Great.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

First on our calling list this morning is one of Samarkand’s premier monuments – the great Bibi-Khanum Mosque with its turquoise cupola, dedicated by Tamurlane to the memory of his favorite wife. We continue to Sha-i-Zhinda, an almost surreal avenue of mosques and mausoleums adorned with Islamic tilework of exquisite beauty, some medieval in origin. For the remainder of the day Samarkand is ours to wander at leisure before an impressive evening Sound & Light show in Registan Square.

All meals included

Our last morning in Samarkand allows us to see more of the city’s grandest prospect – the ornate and iconic architectural ensemble of massive Registan Square, surrounded by the three ancient madrassas of Ulugbek, Sher-Dor and Tilla-Kori. In the afternoon we leave by train for Tashkent.

All meals included

A full day at your leisure to relax in the Uzbekistan capital before tomorrow’s exploration of the city. A final presentation before lunch will help us to recall and relive the many memorable discoveries and experiences of our journey!

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

We spend the whole day in Tashkent, the nation’s sprawling capital and a sometimes incongruous fusion of Uzbekistan old and new, from the medieval to the ultra-modern. Our day focuses on the city’s heritage with a morning walking tour of the Old Town - including Barak Khana Madrassa, Kukeldash Madrassa, and Chorsu bazaar - and an afternoon visit to see the important collection of archaeological material at the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan. At the end of our last day we meet up to enjoy a farewell dinner.

 

All meals included

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

April 17 2019: Additional Info

April 17 2019: Accommodation

April 17 2019: Enquiries

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