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Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan: Cities of the Silk Road

Experience the culture and history of Central Asia across multiple cities on this two-week tour!

This wonderful itinerary is brought to you by Wild Frontiers.

OVERVIEW

This perfectly curated trip takes in four of the most important cities of the old Silk Road and is perfect if culture and history are your reasons for travel.

Starting our trip in Uzbekistan, we will first visit the splendour of Samarkand and Bukhara before crossing the famous River Oxus and entering Turkmenistan. We then travel on to Merv, one of the great emporiums of the Silk Road (until a certain Genghis Khan flattened most of it) and Margush, where the bronze age archaeological site of Gonur Depe lies, believed by some to represent the capital of the fifth great civilisation of the ancient world. After this we will travel to the curiously named and totally weird modern capital of Ashgabat (the City of Love) before driving north through the Karakum Desert to see the amazing Darvaza gas crater. Continuing north to visit Konya Urgench, we then cross back into Uzbekistan and on to Khiva.

The tour ends where it started amongst the leafy streets of Tashkent. This is an interesting and entirely original itinerary you will find nowhere else.

Highlights

  • Discover Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and try haggling at the bazaars
  • Wild camp at the sand dunes overlooking Darvaza gas crater, Turkmenistan
  • Explore the magnificent Uzbek UNESCO treasures of Samarkand and Bukhara
  • Admire the world’s finest collection of Soviet art in the heart of the Uzbek desert
  • Discover the ancient sites of Gonur Depe and Merv, hidden in the Turkmen desert
  • See the largest mosque in Central Asia in the bizarre city of Ashgabat

DAY 1: IN TASHKENT (UZBEKISTAN)
The tour begins at our hotel this morning. We will head into town for meal options, followed by a relaxed look around some of the main sights of this capital city including the Museum of Applied Arts to give an insight into the regional decorative styles and cultures. We’ll also visit a few of the Tashkent Metro Stations; these previous stunning house bunkers and military installations are similar to those found in Moscow and St Petersburg.

DAY 2: TASHKENT - SAMARKAND
Early morning we catch the high-speed train which travels through four provinces to Samarkand. Once we have checked in to our hotel in Samarkand, we take our first look at this amazing city with a short visit to the Registan at sunset. There may also be time to enjoy a quick drink before dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

DAY 3: IN SAMARKAND
Enjoy a full day wandering through this incredible city, taking in such sights as the Bibi Khanym mosque, Tamerlane’s tomb and, of course, a full guided visit to the magnificent Registan.

DAY 4: SAMARKAND - BUKHARA
Drive along the “Royal Road” to Bukhara.

DAY 5: IN BUKHARA
This morning visit the famous Arc – or town citadel – 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 – or Tower of Death, from which Amir Nasirulla Khan threw his enemies – as well as the rest of the beautiful old town. The rest of the day is free to explore Bukhara at your leisure, with opportunities to wander through the bazaar and maybe do a little souvenir shopping, before enjoying dinner at your own expense.

DAY 6: BUKHARA - MARY (TURKMENISTAN)
An early start today to drive to the Uzbek border and enter Turkmenistan. After customs formalities followed by the thrill of crossing the great Oxus – Amudarya River – we will continue on to Mary, our base for the next two nights. Arriving in Mary late afternoon will give us time to relax and prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s adventure, and our first familiarisation with the life and culture of the Land of Turkmen.

DAY 7: MARY - MARGUSH - MARY
Drive northeast from Mary to ancient Margush and the archaeological site of Gonur Depe (40km off road). Fertile silt brought by waters of the Murgab River delta and a moderate climate created favourable conditions for Bronze Age settlements known as the Margiana Oasis deep in the desert. This is an amazing site said to be the fifth great civilisation of ancient times where, it is believed, the Zoroastrian culture was born.

DAY 8: MARY - ASHGABAT
We’ll drive to Ancient Merv to see remaining traces of the glorious “Maru Shahu Jahan” – “Queen of Cities”. Due to its size and historical importance, Merv is one of the most significant sites in Turkmenistan, indeed in all of Central Asia. It consists of a series of towns each succeeded by another throughout the course of history. We’ll see the remains of Erk Kala (6th C BC) with its citadel, Gayur Kala (3rd C BC), Sultan Kala (8-11th C AD), Abdullakhan Kala and Bairamalikhan Kala (15th C AD), Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar – the last ruler of a great Seljuk Empire (12th C AD), Great Kala and Little Kyz Kala (6-7th C AD), and the Mausoleum of Muhammed Ibn Zeid (12th C AD). We’ll return to Mary this afternoon to visit the local History Museum, presenting a wide array of archaeological finds (dating back to the 3rd millennium BC through to the late 19th century) from both Ancient Merv and the Bronze Age sites of Margush. Late this afternoon we’ll take a short flight to Ashgabat, checking in to our hotel for the next two nights.

Ashgabat white marble buildings city view
Ashgabat white marble buildings city view

DAY 9: IN ASHGABAT
We start the day exploring Ashgabat, a wonderfully bizarre city of fountains and lavish white marble buildings, 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. There is an opportunity to swim in a vast underground lake, Kow-Ata, with water at a constant temperature of 36C. We’ll also visit a nearby stud farm to see some of the beautiful pure-bred Akhel Teke, or ‘heavenly’ horses. Finally ending a busy day with a visit to the largest mosque in Central Asia and the mausoleum of their first President “Turkmenbashy”. Dinner will be at a stunning rooftop restaurant back in the city.

Akhal Take horse breed Ashgabat
Akhal Take horse breed Ashgabat

DAY 10: ASHGABAT - DARVAZA
This morning we’ll visit the Carpet Museum, which exhibits the world’s biggest carpet, before making the journey to Darvaza. A 4-hour drive from Ashgabat by four wheel drives, it is one of the more bizarre "100 places to visit before you die". Set in an unforgiving and magically bleak desert environment, the Darvaza gas crater is like looking down into the bowels of hell. We camp in the shelter of the sand dunes by the edge of the crater and enjoy the experience not only at sunset and sunrise, but at night when the passing birdlife is attracted to its warmth and light and circles the crater. On the way, we also visit two smaller craters filled with boiling black water and mud geysers: all in all a pretty surreal experience.

DAY 11: DARVAZA - KONYA URGENCH - NUKUS (UZBEKISTAN)
After breaking camp, we’ll continue our journey north through the desert to Konya Urgench to explore the site of Khorezm. For thousands of years Khorezm was an important oasis of civilisation in the Central Asian deserts, said to be the true centre of the Islamic world. The fortunes of this city rose and fell; invaded by the Mongols in one of history’s bloodiest massacres, it later became one of the Silk Road’s most important trading cities, finally finished off by Timur in 1388. We will then continue to the border, saying goodbye to our Turkmen team, and cross back into Uzbekistan, where we drive on to Nukus to spend the night.

Konya Urgench tower
Konya Urgench tower

DAY 12: NUKUS - KHIVA
This morning we will have the chance to visit the Savietsky Museum with artefacts displaying the area’s Karakalpakstan culture, but mostly famous for its extraordinary collection of early 20th century avant-garde Russian artwork, rescued and brought here by the former Director of the museum. We will drive on to infamous Silk Road city of Khiva. Once redolent of slave caravans and barbaric cruelty, Khiva’s ancient romance and historic heart lives on, contained within its magnificent city walls.

DAY 13: KHIVA - TASHKENT
We’ll spend the day exploring Khiva, with its bewildering choice of mosques and palaces at every turn. We have an expert local guide to take us to many of the city’s famous sights, but those that wish to go it alone will be free to do so. We plan to visit the Kukhna Arc, the Mohammed Khan Madrassa, the Jama Majid mosque with its amazing wooden pillars, and the Alloquli Khan Madrassa, bazaar and caravanserai. We also have a chance to climb the Kalta Minor Minaret. We plan to take a late flight from nearby Urgench back to the capital.

Khiva city dome
Khiva city dome

DAY 14: TOUR ENDS IN TASHKENT
Those on the suggested group flight will have an early morning transfer to the airport. For anyone not on the group flights, the tour will end that morning.

This exceptional itinerary is brought to you by Wild Frontiers. CHALLENGING PERCEPTIONS, INSPIRING CONNECTIONS

Wild Frontiers is an award-winning adventure travel company, founded in 1998 by travel writer Jonny Bealby. We specialise in stylish and original small group tours and tailor-made holidays worldwide.

They are firm believers that travelling is all about the experience and it’s in the details – the places you stay, the transport and route that gets you there, and the people you meet along the way – that make the trip; we therefore specialise in drawing on our own extensive local knowledge and array of contacts to give our clients the very best experience possible.