Unspool history on the Silk Road, from mountain yurts to minarets

Be entranced by the beauty of Kyrgyzstan and historical wonders of Uzbekistan on this 17-day tour. Traverse landscapes of alpine lakes and mountains interrupted only by dots of yurts, feel the divine artistic power of the detailed mosaics and towering minarets of ancient cities, and be welcomed into homes and family-run businesses by locals. A mix of ancient nomadic cultures, various iterations of both conservative and progressive Islam, Soviet influence and post-independence nationalism mean Central Asia is home to unique traditions. Travels here will leave you raving about the region for years to come and planning your next trip back as soon as you get home.


Start
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Finish
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Destinations
Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
KFSR
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Wander through the grand square Registan in Samarkand, admiring the imposing architecture from afar and the detailed craftmanship on the tiling up close.

  • Walk under pointed arches and between dome-topped mausoleums the size of apartments in the Shak-i-Zinda necropolis, which has pieces from the 14th–19th century.

  • Travel along the Chychkan River beneath the towering peaks of Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan range, mountains even more spectacular for emptiness of the valleys below them.

  • Stay in a classic felt-lined yurt on the shore of alpine Song-Kol Lake, where you can watch the sunset behind craggy mountains before warming yourself by the stove.

  • Visit a Kyrgyz village and watch locals play a traditional horseback sport like odarysh (wrestling on horseback) or kok-baru (goat polo).

Is this trip right for you?

  • Central Asia is a remote destination, perfect for Intrepid travellers! You will venture well away from cities, right off the beaten track and be able to immerse yourself in local food, life and culture. Accommodation may on occasion be more basic than what you are used to, especially in local homes, guesthouses and at the yurt. Shower and toilet facilities will be limited in some places and non-existent in others. While the comfort level won't always be high, the rewards of living in true local style in this far-out part of the world are immeasurable.

  • This is an overland journey, so there will be some very long days of travelling and driving, often over rough terrain. This can be tiring and require patience. The vehicle we use is small enough to access places where the general road condition doesn't allow for buses, but this means it can be a cosy journey when the group is almost full. We find this is a great way for the group to bond and share an amazing journey together and there will be stops along the way to take photos and stretch your legs.

  • What Kyrgyzstan lacks in historical sights (compared to the Silk Road monuments and Old Towns of Uzbekistan) it makes up for in incredible natural landscapes and plenty of opportunities for interaction with local families in small villages.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 Jan 2020 to 31 Dec 2020.
View the 2019 itinerary
Welcome to Bishkek! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight. Tomorrow you’ll take a tour of the city, so don’t stress too much if you don’t have time to see much today. Bishkek is tree-lined town of parks and gardens, handsome houses and wide streets perfect for strolling. If you arrive with time to spare, maybe head out in search of some samsa (pastry pockets filled with meat and vegetables).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.

Keep in mind that many flights into Bishkek arrive very early in the morning. If you would like to be able to check in on arrival, please book an additional night of accommodation beforehand so a room is available for you. Regular check in time is 1 pm.
Embark on city tour that showcases the various stages of Bishkek’s history. Visit the severe Ala-Too Square, once known as Lenin Square, and learn about the towering statue depicting folkloric hero Manas. Continue to Dubovy Park, and wander among the open-air cafes before strolling between the century-old oaks along Freedom Avenue. In the afternoon, you'll have some free time to further explore Bishkek. Quite the contrast to the relaxed quiet streets, square and parks in the city centre, Osh Market is noisy, crowded, and a perfect peek into local life. You'll find all kinds of things on sale here, from spices and fruits to clothes and carpets.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Bishkek - City Tour
Optional Activities
  • Bishkek - State Historical Museum - KGS150
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Drive 60 kilometres to the 11th-century Burana Tower, a minaret that is the most visible remnant of the ancient city Balasagun. Continue to the nearby village of Don Aryk and visit a local home. Learn a little about the important role horses have played in the traditional Kyrgyz nomadic lifestyle and watch some displays of horsemanship, before eating a tasty lunch with your hosts. Continue to Issyk-Kul Lake, the second-largest alpine lake in the world. At 170-kilometres-long and 70-kilometres-wide, his beauty is a real sight to behold. Next up is the village of Kochkor. Explore a small local market in the centre of town and, depending on our arrival time, a local co-op that provides training for women in crafting traditional handicrafts to make an income.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Shamsy Valley - Burana tower
  • Don Aryk - Local home visit & horsemanship demonstration
  • Kochkor - Market
  • Kochkor - Women's Felt Co-op
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
During the village visit during the day, you may be invited to watch a game of kok-baru, sometimes called ‘goat polo’. This involves men on horseback attempting to gain possession of a dead goat, which has sometimes been decapitated. If your hosts decide to play this particular sport, you’ll have a chance to witness a longstanding, culturally significant practise. If you’d rather not watch, speak to your leader before you arrive.
Drive 130 kilometres to Song-Kol Lake, another alpine stunner that is considered a sacred place to many Kyrgyz people, as well as one of the best summer pastures for nomadic herders. The landscape will change depending on the season but is sure to be beautiful no matter when you travel. In the summer you might see nomadic herdsmen and their families watching over goats, sheep, and horses. Enjoy exploring your surroundings for the rest of the day, maybe hiking one of the many trails. Tonight, fall asleep in yurts set up along the shore. Made of felt and tarpaulins on a round frame, yurts are the traditional dwellings of the Kyrgyz people. Tomorrow, those daring enough for an invigorating morning splash can use the lake to wash off the sleep.
Accommodation
  • Yurt Camp (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
Sleeping arrangements tonight are on a multishare, mixed-gender basis with mattresses on the floor. It can get very chilly in the evenings, so there's a stove for heating and plenty of blankets. There are no bathroom facilities inside the yurts, so outdoor toilets are to be expected. All meals are included during our stay here.

The pass to Song-Kol Lake is not open all year. When the road is impassable an alternative destination will be arranged for this day of the trip. In September and October – depending on the temperature – we may only make a daytrip to Song-Kol Lake and return to Kochkor for the night.
Travel along gravel roads to the tiny village of Kyzyl-Oi, which is squeezed between mountains. On the way, pass large coal deposits and travel along the Kokomeren River, which feeds into the Syr Darya. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the river in the shade of the trees and use your free time to explore the village on arrival.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Homestay (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
After heavy rains the road near Kara Keche may be washed out and impassable. When this occurs, you will return to Kochkor from Song-Kul Lake and then drive from there to Kyzyl-Oi. The driving time today will increase for a couple of hours if not taking the original planned route.
Get ready for a full-day of driving though big, beautiful landscapes. As the roads in Kyrgyzstan see little regular maintenance, even short distances on a map can take hours. The road crosses the Suusamyr Valley – a high steppe plateau situated at around 2200 metres above sea level. The mountainous surroundings are often dotted with yurts. Continue along the Chychkan River that cuts through the Tien Shan mountain range. Stop here for a while and soak up the amazing scenery. Arrive at tonight's accommodation in Kok-Bel sometime in the early evening.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Homestay (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
After breakfast, get ready for another all-day journey to Osh, the second-largest city in Kyrgystan. Stop en route at Uzgen, an ancient trading town and handicrafts centre along the Silk Road. Although much of the ancient city has been destroyed, a minaret and three mosques that have survived remain important examples of medieval Central Asian architecture. Continue to Osh. Located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country, Osh is often referred to as the 'Capital of the South' and is the oldest city in the country.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Uzgen - Uzgen Minaret & Complex
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Rise and shine for a visit to the only World Heritage site in Kyrgystan, the Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain, also known as Solomon's Throne. For centuries Silk Road travellers have sought out the mountain's caves and their petroglyphs in the belief that they would be blessed with longevity or healthy children. Visit the National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex. In the afternoon, enjoy some free time in Osh. Perhaps visit the Jayma Bazaar, where you might pick up an interesting souvenir or two. Or maybe take a self-guided tour of the remnants of Osh's soviet past with a walk to the giant Lenin statue in the city square.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Osh - Sulaiman-Too Mountain
  • Osh - National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex
Optional Activities
  • Osh - Bazaar - Free
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
This morning, drive to Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, which is just outside of the city. After passing through the border control (approximately 1–2 hours), farewell and thank your Kyrgyz guide and meet your new Uzbek guide. Transfer to Andijan and board a local train to Tashkent (approximately 5.5 hours). The train is a great place to meet locals, so don’t be surprised if people want to chat to the chet ellik (foreigner). Arrive in the evening and check into the hotel.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Begin your introduction to Uzbekistan by exploring the capital on a sightseeing tour. Visit the State History Museum, which shows exhibits and collections spanning the countries 5000-year history. Continue to the Abdul Khasim Medrassah, where craftspeople operate in many small ‘cells’, making jewellery and other things. Finally, stop by the Khast Imom complex, a restored series of religious buildings (including a mosque) and a library containing an ancient Qur’an, parts of which have been dated to the ninth century. After lunch, lose yourself in the exciting Chorsu Bazaar, browsing traditional wooden cradles, handmade musical instruments, and the extensive vegetable and spice markets.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tashkent - Chorsu Bazaar
  • Tashkent - Khast Imom Complex & Moyie Mubarek Library Museum
  • Tashkent - History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Transfer to the station for the high-speed train to fabled Samarkand (approximately 2 hours). This city is located at the very centre of the ancient Silk Road. Enjoy some free time in the city on arrival, saving some of the key sights for the tour tomorrow. Maybe inspect the remains of the remarkable medieval observatory developed by Ulug Beg, an astronomer and grandson of nomadic conqueror and Timurid emperor Tamerlane (Amir Timur). Today, only half of the below-ground semicircle track can be seen, but there is a small museum close by that gives some context. Or perhaps visit the Afrosiab Museum of Samarkand, the main attraction of which is a tenth-century mural.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Samarkand - Ulugbek's Observatory - UZS22000
  • Samarkand - Afrosiab Museum - UZS22000
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Enjoy a tour of Samarkand. First up is the central square called the Registan, which features mosques and mausoleums that are true pinnacles of Islamic architecture. Continue to Guri-Amir, where Tamerlane is buried, and then the enormous Bibi-Khanum Mosque. Following the tour, drive to Konigil, a village on the edge of the city. Here, visit a local family for lunch, then join them in their traditional paper mill to learn how they make the material from mulberry. Return to Samarkand and visit Shak-i-Zinda, a necropolis that features a series of gleaming blue-tiled mausoleums. This sacred site has monuments from the 14th–19th century, reflecting the development of the monumental art and architecture of the Timurid dynasty onwards. It is photo worthy at every turn, just remember to be respectful as pilgrims visit the complex.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Samarkand - Bibi-Khanym Mosque
  • Samarkand - Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum
  • Samarkand - Shakh-I-Zinda
  • Samarkand - Registan
  • Samarkand - Paper making workshop & home cooked lunch
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Continue tracing the Silk Road towards Bukhara. One of the most important portions of this ancient route connects Samarkand and Bukhara, passing through the town of Shahrisabz. Home of revered national hero Tamerlane, Shakhrisabz has sadly lost much of its authentic style and architecture due to overzealous restoration works. Regardless, there are still some incredible ruins to see, such as the gates of legendery Ak Saray Palace, the Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex and the Dorus Saodat Complex. Continue to Bukhara.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Shakhrisabz - Ak Saray Palace
  • Shakhrisabz - Kok-Gumbaz Mosque
  • Shakhrisabz - Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex
  • Shakhrisabz - Dorus Saodat Complex
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Enjoy a full day of sightseeing in beautiful Bukhara. First visit the Sitorai Mohi Khosa, once the summer residence of the last Emir. Designed by Russian architects, it has interiors decorated with traditional filigree plaster, mirrored surfaces and delicate floral wall paintings by local artisans. Continue to the 16th-century Chor-Bakr necropolis, where not many tourists venture. Walk through the madrasa and mosque complex. In the afternoon, visit the Ark Fortress and Kalon Mosque, the symbol of Bukhara. Continue to one of Central Asia's oldest and most exquisite structures, the tenth-century Ismail Samani Mausoleum, the superb decorative brickwork of which has survived 1000 years of rugged history. Head to the Lyabi-Haus area, a busy 17th-century plaza with hundreds-years-old trees, for dinner. Later, there is time to wander the small craft studios tucked into the nearby madrasas and trading domes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Bukhara - Ismail Samani Mausoleum
  • Bukhara - Sitorai Mohi Hosa Palace
  • Bukhara - Chor-Bakr Necropolis
  • Bukhara - Ark Fortress
  • Bukhara - Kalon Mosque
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Travel to Gijduvan, historically a caravan stop on the way to Bukhara. Ulugbek, the famous astronomer and grandson of Tamerlane, built a madrasa here next to the grave of a Sufi saint. The town gained further fame as a centre of glazed pottery production. Visit the private studio of a local ceramic artist, meet the family and watch them at work. Later you have some free time to explore this small town. For lunch we recommend the juicy local kebabs that are famous throughout Uzbekistan. On your way back to Bukhara, stop to see a minaret from the late 12th century in Vobkent.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Vobkent - Minaret
  • Gijduvan - Ceramics workshop
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Enjoy some free time for your own optional sightseeing in Bukhara. In the afternoon, take a fast train back to Tashkent followed by an optional dinner with your fellow travellers.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
There are no activities planned today and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time after check out.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

16 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 6 dinners

Transport

Private Bus, Metro, High Speed Train

Accommodation

Guesthouse/Homestay (4 night), Hotel (11 nights), Yurt (1 night)

Included activities

  • Bishkek - City Tour
  • Shamsy Valley - Burana tower
  • Don Aryk - Local home visit & horsemanship demonstration
  • Kochkor - Market
  • Kochkor - Women's Felt Co-op
  • Uzgen - Uzgen Minaret & Complex
  • Osh - Sulaiman-Too Mountain
  • Osh - National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex
  • Tashkent - Chorsu Bazaar
  • Tashkent - Khast Imom Complex & Moyie Mubarek Library Museum
  • Tashkent - History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan
  • Samarkand - Bibi-Khanym Mosque
  • Samarkand - Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum
  • Samarkand - Shakh-I-Zinda
  • Samarkand - Registan
  • Samarkand - Paper making workshop & home cooked lunch
  • Shakhrisabz - Ak Saray Palace
  • Shakhrisabz - Kok-Gumbaz Mosque
  • Shakhrisabz - Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex
  • Shakhrisabz - Dorus Saodat Complex
  • Bukhara - Ismail Samani Mausoleum
  • Bukhara - Sitorai Mohi Hosa Palace
  • Bukhara - Chor-Bakr Necropolis
  • Bukhara - Ark Fortress
  • Bukhara - Kalon Mosque
  • Vobkent - Minaret
  • Gijduvan - Ceramics workshop

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Important notes

1. A Single Supplement to have your own room is available on this trip, excluding nights in yurts, homestays and guesthouses.
2. Your leader may change at the KGZ/UZB border.

Essential trip information

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