Kyrgyzstan 26.01.2024 Transindus
You may think travels along the Ancient Silk Road don't feature on your bucket list, but chances are you've already enjoyed parts of it, perhaps on your travels through India, China, the Middle East, the Caucasus or even the Mediterranean and cities like Istanbul and Venice.
Spanning over 7000 km, the ancient trade route passes through some of the world's most stunning mountainous regions, the largest deserts, stunning grasslands, and the Steppe. It offers visitors many compelling experiences, from the magnificent architecture of its age-old monuments to the fascinating histories of its celebrated cities and traditional arts, crafts, weaving, and baking techniques that have survived through the centuries.
Check out a few of the captivating experiences and tours here.
Nomadic Felt Makers of Kyrgyzstan
The collectivisation policies of the Soviet era had a devastating impact on the Kyrgyz way of life. However, some aspects of the old culture are enjoying a renaissance thanks to tourism – among them, the Art of felt-making has revived since the country opened its doors to visitors in the 1990s.
Ultra-warm wool from locally reared sheep is picked clean, washed, soaked, dyed, fixed, dried and rolled – by hand by women, mostly at home or in small cottage workshops. For thousands of years, the fabric made in this way has provided the cosy covering for nomads’ yurts, but the most widespread use of the material these days are the exquisite Shyrdak carpets in the markets and emporia of Bishkek and elsewhere. Closely woven and boldly patterned using traditional motifs in wonderfully vibrant hues, the rugs are the ultimate souvenir of a visit to the country.
Experience the sustainable life of a Nomadic herder on our Kyrgyzstan ‘Art of the Nomads’ Tour
Tash Rabat Caravanserai & the Torugart Pass
Adventurers among you will want to immerse themselves in the rich cultural tapestry of the Torugart Pass, a high mountain pass that runs from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, through Naryn to Kashgar, China through breathtaking vistas of the snow-capped Pamir and Tien Shan mountains, stunning lakes of deep blue-green glacial waters and wide-open grasslands dotted with traditional yurt encampments where nomadic herders rear herds of horses, sheep, goats, and yaks.
Whether you Walk, hike, ride or drive through the pass, you can sleep under the stars and stay with nomadic families to experience their exceptional and sustainable way of life. Make sure you visit the Tash Rabat Caravanserai, a historic stone structure dating back to the 15th century, alongside the pass and beckons, with its architectural marvel. Situated at a picturesque crossroad, Tash Rabat served as a resting place for merchants and traders and now allows visitors to peek into their lives, adding depth and richness to the journey through this historic crossroads of civilisations.
Become an intrepid explorer for a while on our Ultimate Silk Road Tour
Photo courtesy of Chinaculture.org
The outstanding Art of the Magao Caves
Nothing prepares you for the treasures and history of Magao caves. No books, photographs, or descriptions can capture the detail and lifelike presence of the frescoes, paintings, and art. So much so that travellers over the centuries have reported being transported to other worlds while admiring them.
Standing proud at one of the most easterly and strategic points, where two branches of the Silk Road converge, the Magao Caves, also known as the Thousand-Buddha Caves, were once a collection of 1000 caves, each embellished with incredible art and sculpture. They were a major centre of Buddhist learning and trade along the Silk Road for over a thousand years. Around the 1300s, during the Mongol invasion, some caves were lost, and others were sealed and covered in murals to conceal and protect them from the invaders. 492 survived and flourished, with a collection of over 4,500 square metres of exquisite murals, 2000 pieces of sculpture and art, including silk paintings and embroidery religious manuscripts and texts unmatched in quality or historical value, encapsulating the spiritual and artistic evolution of the ancient world spanning the centuries and recording life through the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties of China and civilisations as diverse as Gandhara, India, and Uyghur, linking the East and West of the ancient world.
Relatively recently, in 1900, a resident Buddhist priest discovered a hidden chamber, now famously known as the 'Library Cave', and revealed a treasure trove of 50,000 documents, drawings and texts, including the Diamond Sutra, the world's oldest books. Soon after, in 1907, a British archaeologist, Sir Aurel Stein, en route to India, diverted his journey to Dunhuang on hearing of the discovery and gave the priest four silver pieces and hauled away thousands of manuscripts, silk scrolls and wood slips, including the Diamond Sutra. He sold them to the highest bidder, scattering them across the world to various museums and private collections. Despite his poor judgement and that of subsequent French, Dutch and Japanese looters, the Magao collection remains the world's largest and historically most crucial repository of ancient oriental art.
Combine your visit with the nearby and unlikely oasis of the Crescent Lake and Jade Gate, just 80 Km away, at Khotan, once the most prominent and prosperous city of the Xinjiang province, by jealously guarding the trade of its highly prized jade that came rare shades of lavender, green and white.
Experience the Magao Cave and nearby sites on our Legends of the Silk Road Tour
The Timeless Bazaars of Turpan
Sitting on the edge of the Flaming Mountains, the atmospheric Uyghur oasis of Turpan on the northern Silk Road owes its existence to a 3000-mile network of irrigation tunnels and wells, known as Karez, which collect and channel meltwater from nearby mountains. Turpan’s elevation, at 30m below sea level, ensures freezing winters and scorching summers that can reach ground temperatures of up to 70 degrees C.
Thanks to the incredible land made possible by Karez channels, Turpan is famous for its lush vineyards and silk weaving as it is for its distinctive Uyghur culture and history. A succession of large, walled cities sprang up here over the centuries, the wonderfully preserved ruins of which can be visited, like the 18th-century architectural marvel of Gaochang and Emin Minaret. Artefacts from the region, including an impressive collection of mummies, are displayed at the town’s excellent museum (the best on the Silk Road), along with a superb array of dinosaur fossils.
Mingle with the locals along China’s Ancient Silk Road
The Desert Forts of Khorezm
Just a half-day excursion out of Khiva, on the outskirts of Urgench, sit the fascinating 2000-year-old Citadels of a long-extinct dynasty, marking its celebrated engineering and architectural prowess where life was supported by an ingenious system of irrigation that redirected meltwaters of the Pamir mountains that transformed this arid delta of the Amu Darya (Oxus) into a lush and fertile oasis adorned with lakes, reed beds.
Crafted over two millennia ago, these Mud-Walled citadels fortified the region and protected its prosperity, and although just a few survive today, like the Toprak Kala and Ayaz Kala, in various stages of ruin, they stand as poignant reminders of Khorezm's rise and fall. However, tragedy struck with the 13th-century Mongol invasion led by Genghis Khan. The Khorezmshah dynasty fell, Urgench crumbled, and the forts lost significance.
Be awed by the Khorezmshah dynasty Silk Road Explorer: Turkmen & Uzbek
Deep dive: Karakalpak Museum of Arts in Nukus
This little-visited Karakalpak Museum of Arts is a must for anyone interested in cultural history and Art of the region and should not missed. It offers a unique and artistic expression of the Karakalpak people, captivating the region's rich cultural history.
Specially curated by the Academy of Arts, it unveils a vibrant heritage of the Karakalpak people, including crafts, textiles, jewellery, and ceramics. The Savitsky Collection is an integral part of the museum and holds an outstanding collection of Russian avant-garde Art, rivalling even the best of collections in Russia.
Getting there is easy with just a 2hr 30 drive from Khiva or a flight/train connection from other cities.
Experience fine art in the most unlikely of places The Stravinsky Museum
Learn the craft of a Ceramicist in Uzbekistan
From the time you touch down, the stunning ceramics are everywhere, embellishing buildings, entrances to homes, restaurants, and shop windows, and your heart leaps at each one, mentally comparing the designs and wondering which to pack in your bag to take home!
Ceramics have remained a part of the Uzbek culture from antiquity and formed a large part of the Uzbekistan trade along the Silk Road. Inspired by influences from other parts of the known world, including the blue, white porcelain of China, Uzbek potter evolved over the ages from its original green glaze of the 8th century and earlier to the magnificent multicoloured version you see today and gave birth to dynasties of ceramicists passing down their craft from father to son and Grandfather to grandson. Their traditional designs are now considered an expression of national culture and identity.
Pottery from each region has its own identity. It is kept alive by master Ceramists like Alisher Rakhimov from Tashkent, who has been part of various UNESCO projects to revive ceramic technologies of the past; Abdulla Narzullaev is credited with keeping alive the traditional Gijduvan pottery with its colourful glazed ceramics, and perhaps the most widely recognised Alisher Nazirov, from Rishtan who has revived the lost Art of extracting the Ishkor glaze from a desert plant.
You can experience master artisans at work, still using traditional methods of throwing the pottery to ornamentation with minerals paints and glazes found in nature to firing.
Join ancient craftsmen in their quest for perfection Uzbekistan Discovery
Khiva: A Timeless Oasis
Considered a living museum, the beautifully restored city harks back to its glorious best, reminiscent of its early Silk Road days, when it was an essential stop-off for traders that led their caravans of loaded camels and carts bound for Iran, trading with gems, crafts, incense coffee and silkworm cocoons. Today, you can wander through the paved city exploring palatial mausoleums and ornate mosques decorated with turquoise tilework that glisten in the midday sun.
The defining landmark here is the Kalta Minar, a squat, elaborately tiled minaret which was never completed because the Khan who commissioned it died before work on the top section could be finished. Like most of the town’s major sights, it dates from the 19th century, although vestiges of much older civilisations punctuate the winding streets of Itchan Kala, the inner walled city. An example is the Djuma Mosque, whose brick domes are supported by pillars initially carved from black elm and apricot wood more than a thousand years ago when Zoroastrianism still held sway in the region.
Make sure you leave time to visit the Khiva Silk Carpet Workshop, a UNESCO-backed venture to revive the lost craft of weaving silk carpets that waned during the Soviet period. Set appropriately in a 19th-century restored madrassa amid Khiva’s living museum of minarets and mausoleums, the charitable mission work appears to bear fruit and see, touch, and feel some of their brilliant work.
Cycle through the walled city of Kiva on our Great Cities of the Silk Road Tour
Mongolia and the Silk Road
While most people know the vast Mongol Empire created by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, few know of its much older links to the Ancient Silk Road. Despite its seeming remoteness and cultural differences, Mongolia has links with the ancient trade back to the first millennium BC.
Pristine wilderness and landscapes, a vibrant culture, and nomadic encampments are the preeminent attractions of Mongolia, a country four times the size of France. Mongolia stretches far and wide across the Steppes, the Gobi desert, and the Taiga, where life has remained unchanged from their ancestors' times.
Culture vultures need not worry; some incredible remnants of Mongolia’s past reflecting its long and illustrious history still survive and can be visited, including the Deer Stones, ancient megaliths dating back to the Bronze Age with intricately carved motifs believed to have had ritualistic significance. The 6th century UNESCO World Heritage Burial mounds and stone monuments of the Orkhon Valley, the stunning Erdene Zuu Monastery, Mongolia's oldest Buddhist monastery, standing on the ruins of Karakorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire and the Takhiin Tal, an archaeological site in northern Mongolia contains rock carvings and petroglyphs dating back to the Bronze Age, depicting scenes of hunting, wildlife, and daily life.
Be enchanted by the wilderness and great traditions of Mongolia on our Northern Exposure Tour