Discover the unique Silk Road culture that spans Central Asia and beyond.
A journey through time down this ancient trade route is a true adventure for travellers intrigued by less-frequented parts of the globe. You’ll follow in the footsteps of generations of nomads, visiting some of the most important world heritage sites connected the East and West. Cross sprawling desert landscapes, visit glittering Islamic monuments and stop at small villages where you’ll meet the locals and learn about traditional ways of life. Buckle up for the ride, this is no ordinary road trip.
Registan Square is perhaps the most iconic site in Uzbekistan, a legacy of the legendary Timur’s dynasty, the famous king who made Samarkand his capital city. Registan means Sandy Place in Tajik and was the city’s trade centre, made up of many vibrant bazaars.
The rainbow-coloured sandstone mountains of Zhangye are a UNESCO protected landscape that formed over thousands of years. The churning red, brown, white and yellow colours of the rocks create are otherworldly, a fitting backdrop for the Silk Road and a photographer’s dream.
If you want to avoid the crowds, Xi’an’s Hanyangling Mausoleum is a lesser-known place to see tens of thousands of famous terracotta warriors. They reflect the life and times of Emperor Jing who ruled in the Western Han dynasty, which ran from 206BC to 24AD.
Merv was a Silk Road centre of culture and royalty from the 11th and 12th centuries when it was the capital city of the region. Nowadays, you can marvel at the remains of some of Turkmenistan’s greatest architectural feats, like Buddhist monasteries and the Erk Kala fortress.
What to see in 7-10 days on the Silk Road
If you only have a week or so in Central Asia, it might be best to pick one or two countries and really see them properly. Uzbekistan is a crowd favourite, with plenty of iconic Silk Road sites, bustling cities, small villages and desert landscapes to explore, even if you’re tight on time. Visit the UNESCO world heritage town of Bukhara, where highlights include the medieval Ark Fortress that dates back to the 5th century, the Ulugbek Madrasah (named after the famous ruler and astronomer), and the glittering Kalon Mosque and Minaret. An overnight stay in a yurt is also a must – you’ll never experience a sunset like the one you’ll see from the top of the dunes in the Kyzlykum Desert. From here, head to Samarkand. The dazzling Registan Square, Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda are all some of the most incredible mosaiced monuments you’ll likely ever see.
With a few weeks up your sleeve you can pick a number of Central Asian countries to explore. Perhaps a trip through Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan would be appropriate? A visit to the iconic minaret called Burana Tower in Kyrgyzstan is a must-do, as is travelling the winding roads among mountains, appreciating the heights that the tradesman has to conquer when building the Silk Road. A stop in Uzbekistan’s Khiva is almost the ultimate Silk Road experience – here you’ll find the blue-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret, Kuhna Ark and many other important sites at this pilgrimage stop. In Turkmenistan, head to Merv for Silk Road culture and history – back in the 11th and 12th centuries it was the capital city of the region. While much of the city is now in ruins, nowadays you can marvel at the remains of some of Turkmenistan’s greatest historical relics from empires past and architectural feats like the Erk Kala fortress.
If you’re looking for a longer stint in Central Asia you should be able to tick off multiple ‘Stans, and even some parts of China or Iran too. Begin in the East with a visit to the rainbow-coloured sandstone mountains of Zhangye. This UNESCO protected landscape is a sea of red, brown, white and yellow mountains – a true photographers dream. Before you leave China, you have to visit the Kashgar Sunday Bazaar in western Xinjiang. Since ancient times it’s been a meeting place for locals, merchants and travellers looking to pick up local foods and goods along the Silk Road. A trip through the region wouldn’t be complete without some pretty unique scenery and when you get to Kyrgzstan you’ll have a chance to stay with the locals in a traditional yurt camp by Son-Köl, one of the largest lakes in the country. In Turkmenistan, make sure you visit the world heritage-listed city of Konye-Urgench, which was once a centre of the Islamic world.