Silk Road: The Five 'Stans of Central Asia    *alt*

29 days, from £5495
Wild Frontiers
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The five 'stans of Central Asia - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan - must rank amongst some of the world's least visited and least well-known destinations, making this trip a true journey of discovery.

Offering an incredible diversity of both scenery and culture - from the architectural wonders of Uzbekistan's Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva to the epic scenery of the Tien Shan 'Mountains of Heaven' - we'll cross vast deserts and mighty rivers and experience local hospitality in homestays in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. For much of the time we'll be following ancient trade routes and discovering the remains of a bygone age but we will also experience the Central Asia of today from the bizarre white-marble city of Ashgabat to the cosmopolitan cities of Tashkent and Almaty.

This is the perfect trip for anyone who has ever looked at a map and wondered exactly what the area described by Colin Thubron as being The Lost Heart Of Asia was really like. Come and discover it for yourself.


Discovering the contrasts between these five fascinating Central Asian countries Marvelling at the glorious Silk Road architecture of Uzbekistan's royal cities Enjoying the mountainous beauty of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan Enjoying local hospitality during homestays *Crossing the Oxus River and Kyzyl-Kum desert

Tour Includes:

Full services of a Wild Frontiers Tour Leader with local guides and drivers 28 breakfasts, 27 lunches, 24 dinners (typically in local restaurants where viable) Drinking water throughout All transport (minibuses, domestic fights and trains) 28 nights' accommodation (14 in hotels, 6 in guesthouses, 8 in homestays) All entrance fees, sightseeing, excursions and activities as per the itinerary *A carbon-offsetting contribution to Carbon Clear (if booking international flights through WF office)




 Days 1-2: Tour starts in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)

 Day 1: Today, after checking-in to our hotel in Ashgabat, the rather bizarre capital of Turkmenistan (the first of our five 'stans), we'll settle ourselves in and have a gentle introduction to this 'white-marble city'. Day 2: With a full day to explore the city and its surrounds, we will travel out to Nissa, the 3rd Century BC capital of the Parthians, and visit the famous site of Geo Tepe where the Turkmens made their last stand against the Russians.

 Days 3-4: Ashgabat - Mary

 Day 3: A morning's flight will take us to Mary, our base for the next two nights. Here we'll drive out to Ancient Merv and visit the local history museum. Day 4: After an early breakfast we drive northeast from Mary to ancient Margush and the archaeological site of Gonur Depe (40km off-road). This is an amazing site said to be the fifth great civilisation of ancient times.

 Days 5-7: Mary - Bukhara (Uzbekistan)

 Day 5: Leaving Mary we'll head north and after lunch in Turkmenabat, we'll have the thrill of crossing the great Oxus (Amu-Darya) River. From here we'll enter Uzbekistan and transfer to Bukhara. Day 6: We'll visit the famous Arc in front of which the British officers Connelly and Stoddard lost their heads in what was one of the most infamous events of the Great Game. We'll also visit the Kolan Minaret as well as the rest of the beautiful old town. Day 7: With a second full-day in Bukhara, we'll spend the morning visiting the Sitorai-Mokhi Hosa, the impressive summer residence of last Emir of Bukhara. The afternoon has been left free for personal exploration.

 Days 8-9: Bukhara - Khiva

 Day 8: Today we'll take a long drive across the desert towards Khiva. En route we'll cross once more the famous Amu-Darya River before arriving in Khiva's UNESCO-protected old town. Day 9: There'll be ample time to soak up the atmosphere of Khiva today. We'll visit some of the most colourful and sumptuous sites, including the Kukhna Arc and the Mohammed Khan Madrassa.

 Day 10: Khiva - Tashkent

After a short drive to Urgench, we'll take a morning flight to Tashkent, Uzbekistan's vibrant capital which sat at the heart of the old Central Asian trading routes.

 Days 11-12: Tashkent - Samarkand

 Day 11: Early this morning we take a train ride to probably the most famous of all Silk Road cities, Samarkand. We have the rest of the day in this amazing town, wandering through the gargantuan sights and visiting Guri Amir (Tamerlane's tomb). Day 12: Today there will be more time to explore some of Samarkand's greatest sites including Ulug-Beg's extraordinary observatory, built in 1437 whereby he calculated the length of a year to within 1 minute of what we now know it to be.

 Day 13: Samarkand - Termez

We'll drive on to Termez, a city whose ancient heart dates back to the 4th Century BC. Built on the banks of the Amu-Darya River, the old city was located at the intersection of many Great Silk Road routes and has a long, rich history.

 Day 14: Termez - Dushanbe (Tajikistan)

This morning we'll visit some of the city's notable sites including the Sultan Saodat Complex before driving to the border and crossing into Tajikistan.

 Days 15-16: Dushanbe - Fan Mountains

 Day 15: After some time this morning to stroll along Rudaki, the city's main street we'll continue our journey north into the Fan Mountains, an area of outstanding natural beauty lying to south of the Zarafshan River. Day 16: We'll have a full day to explore the famed alpine scenery of this rarely visited part of Central Asia. Abounding in deep blue lakes and sporadically inhabited by Tajik pastoralists, the area allows for a fascinating insight into this gem of a country.

 Day 17: Fan Mountains - Khodjent

Leaving the Fan Mountains, we will take a spectacular drive over the Shakristan Pass (3378m) to arrive in Khodjent, which once played host to Alexander the Great's armies.

 Day 18: Khodjent - Kokand (Uzbekistan)

As our plan today is to stick as close as possible to the original Silk Road route along the Syr Darya River, we'll cross back into Uzbekistan and head for Kokand, once a powerful independent khanate.

 Day 19: Kokand - Osh (Kyrgyzstan)

Our drive today will take us through the Fergana Valley, the breadbasket of the Central Asian USSR. En route we'll stop at Rishton, renowned for its ceramics and later at Margilon, centre of the still thriving silk trade in the area.

 Days 20-21: Osh - Arslanbob

 Day 20: Heading into Kyrgyzstan's mountainous interior we'll make, by way of the 12th century Uzgen minaret, for Arslanbob village, considered to be one of the country's most attractive villages. Day 21: Today we will have the whole day to explore on foot the surrounds of Arslanbob and to see its famous walnut forests, as well as some of the waterfalls and streams which dot the region.

 Days 22-23: Arslanob - Sary Chelek

 Day 22: Departing Arslanbob, we aim to arrive by mid-afternoon at Sary Chelek, which was included in the list of UNESCO Protected Biosphere Reserves in 1978. This is one of Kyrgyzstan's least visited but most striking locations. Day 23: Today we plan to head out with a picnic lunch and take an easy but exhilarating walk between and around two of the lakes of Sary Chelek. The views all around are spectacular.

 Day 24: Sary Chelek - Chychken Gorge

A beautiful drive takes us east towards Chychkan Gorge. As we travel we should have the opportunity to observe nomadic herders living in their traditional yurts surrounded by huge flocks of sheep.

 Days 25-26: Chychken Gorge - Bishkek

 Day 25: As we head towards the Kyrgyz capital today we will drive over two mountain passes - the dramatic Tuu Ashuu (3586m) and the Ala Bel (3184m) which in Kyrgyz means 'colourful pass'. Day 26: We'll head to Ala-Archa, a grand, rugged but very accessible gorge situated about an hour's drive from Bishkek.

 Days 27-29: Bishkek - Almaty (Kazakhstan)

 Day 27: Today we enter our fifth and final 'stan, Kazakhstan. Depending on border formalities we should arrive in Almaty in time for a visit to the museum and the Holy Ascension Cathedral, which is made entirely of wood. Day 28: After a morning visit to Republic Square to see the Independent Monument and the State History Museum we'll drive up to Medeo gorge. Later we'll drive to Sunkar to learn about the old tradition of falconry before returning to Almaty for our final night. Day 29: The tour ends after breakfast this morning.