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Great Cities of the Silk Road: Uzbekistan


12 days from £2695 per person

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  Places Visited: Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand

No monuments epitomize the exotic grandeur of the Silk Road as vividly as those of Uzbekistan. To travellers crossing the great deserts of Central Asia, the splendid turquoise domes and mosaic-tiled facades of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva must have seemed like visions of heaven. They’re no less impressive today, having been painstakingly restored by the Uzbek government.

Marvel at the emerald, lapis blue and wax-yellow patterns adorning Samarkand’s Registan Square – one of the great wonders of the Islamic world. Shop for hand-woven kilims in the bazaars of Bukhara. And savour the exotic desert light as you cross the Oxus Delta. Along the way, you’ll have opportunities to meet local people, experience traditional music and dance, watch ceramicists, carpet weavers and embroiderers at work, and shop for fabulous, locally made silk.

Suggested itinerary

Day 1

Fly overnight from the UK to Tashkent.

Day 2

On arrival in the Uzbek capital, you’ll be met at the airport by your local TransIndus representative and driven to your hotel for a two-night stay. Spend the rest of the morning recovering from the journey. Later, enjoy an afternoon of guided sightseeing.

After a late lunch at a traditional Uzbek restaurant, a gentle afternoon’s tour begins at the Hast Imam complex in old Tashkent, whose handsome 14th century mosques, tomb and madrasa today host workshops for traditional crafts. Highlight of the visit is a glimpse of one of the world’s oldest Qurans. We’ll wind up the tour with a stroll around the centrepiece of the modern city, Amir Timur Square, home to a huge equestrian statue of Uzbekistan’s eponymous national hero, better known in the West as ‘Tamerlane’. On the western side, the gleaming white-marble Congress Hall is crowned by a pair of silver storks, symbols of ‘Peace and Happiness’.

Day 3

After breakfast, visit the capital’s Museum of Fine Arts, whose collection spans 1500 years of Central Asian history and culture. A trip to Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent’s largest market, takes up most of the afternoon.

Among the many on display at the national museum are some of the Asia’s most sumptuous antique carpets, a collection of ancient suzani embroidered silk wall hangings and Buddhist figurines from the pre-Islamic Silk Road era. Lunch today will be at the famous Plov Centre, high altar of the national dish of Uzbekistan, plova regional take on pulao made with sizzling lamb, rice, vegetables and apricots. Afterwards, we’ll head uptown to explore Tashkent’s bustling market – Chorsu Bazaar – where you can buy everything from embroidered Uzbek hats to wedding gowns and bowls of juicy mulberries. Photographers will be in their element.

Day 4

An early start is required today to reach the domestic airport in time to catch the morning flight to Urgench, in the far west of Uzbekistan, from where you’ll be driven to nearby Khiva.

Green-glazed domes and tapering minarets soar above the flat rooftops and medieval mud walls of the beautifully restored Itchan Kala, Khiva’s historic core. There will be time before lunch for a short walking tour of the principal monuments, beginning with the squat, elaborately tiled Kalta Minar and nearby Jama Masjid (‘Friday Mosque’), which retains carved elm pillars dating from the time of Alfred the Great! Next, you’ll visit Khiva’s last family of wood carvers, who still sculpt pillars from wood identical to those in the mosque. More portable souvenirs are on sale at a nearby suzani workshop, where local women embroider gorgeous panels with gold thread, in a distinctly Persian style.

Day 5

A full day’s sightseeing in Khiva begins with an ascent of the Islam Khoja minaret and ends at the tower surmounting the Kunya Ark Palace for the town’s ultimate sunset view.

The city’s tallest and most prominent building, The Islam Khoja Minaret is embellished with handsome bands of turquoise tiles. A narrow, steep flight of steps corkscrews to the viewing platform at the top where a fabulous 360-degrees view over the city is revealed.  Sumptuous tilework, painted ceilings, finely carved wood pillars and exquisite calligraphy adorn the remarkable ensemble of palaces and madrasas surviving in the Itchan Kala. Your guide will lead you through the highlights in the morning, leaving you free to wander, shop or lounge on your hotel balcony in the afternoon. It’s also well worth squeezing in a second visit to the Kunya Ark Palace in the evening for the sunset views over Khiva’s exotic skyline.

Day 6

A long drive across the Kyzl Kum desert to Bukhara takes up most of today. En route, you’ll traverse the Amu Darya River, known in the time of Alexander the Great (who crossed it twice) as the ‘Oxus’.

Nearly a mile wide, the Amru Darya is still an impressive sight, despite the fact much of its water is nowadays diverted into vast fields of cotton. Your lunch stop today will be at a traditional Uzbek restaurant just off the highway, which serves particularly succulent kebabs, salads and freshly baked bread. All being well, you should arrive in Bukhara in time for a short wander around the historic centre, near your hotel, before supper. Start at the shimmering Lyab-i Hauz pond at its ensemble of 16th century architectural masterpieces.

Day 7

Enjoy a full day’s tour of Bukhara’s splendid medieval monuments today. In the evening you'll attend a performance of traditional Uzbek music and dance at the Nadir Divan Begi Madrasa.

Most of Bukhara’s standout buildings were erected by the Timurid Dynasty and the Shaybanids in the 16th century, after the city had been destroyed by Genghis Kahn. One of the only structures spared by the Mongol warlord was the Minara-i Kalan, a magnificent brick minaret. Below it, facing each other from opposite sides of a large piazza, are the mosaic-tiled facades and turquoise domes of the Kalan Mosque and Mir-i Arab Madrasa. In the northwest of the old walled city, the Ark citadel is a rather more implacable and functional edifice, its sloping walls enclosing the labyrinthine palace where the British emissaries, Stoddart and Conolly, met with untimely deaths in 1842.  

Day 8

Today you’ll drive east through the green belt lining the Zeravshan River to Samarkand, pausing for lunch at a traditional pottery. On arrival in Samarkand, visit Timur’s azure-domed tomb, the Gur-i Amir.

At their workshop in the town of Gijduvan, the Narzullayev family have been making ceramics for five generations, according to methods used in the area for literally thousands of years. You’ll see how pots are thrown and fired in an old-style kiln, with glazes made from desert plants and local minerals (ground in situ on a wheel driven by a donkey!). On arrival in Samarkand, you’ll have time to freshen up at your hotel before visiting the Gur-i Amir, where the final resting place of the great king is marked by a beautiful slab of polished Chinese jade – thought to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Day 9

A memorable excursion awaits today as you visit the oasis town of Shakhrisabz, on the far side of the Gysar Mountains. Later, marvel at the Sogdian murals in Afrosiab (the site of the ancient city) and exquisite tilework of the Shah-i-Zina complex.

Located 50 miles (80km) south of Samarkand, Shakrisabz was the birthplace of Timur – a fact celebrated by a crop of wonderful 14th and 15th century monuments, foremost among them the majestic Kok Gumbaz mosque, with its three vibrant turquoise domes. The remnants of Timur’s own Summer Palace, the Ak-Saray, come a close second: sublime blue, white and gold mosaics embellish the surviving gateway of the building. After lunch, you’ll visit Afrosiab, a hilltop close the Registan occupied between 500BC and 1220AD. We’ll then call at a nearby silk carpet weaving workshop before heading to the Shah-i Zinda to see the tombs of the Timurid queens.

Day 10

Your second full day in the city takes in its most impressive monuments, winding up with a visit to one of our favourite markets in Uzbekistan.

After breakfast, you’ll be driven to the most spectacular ensemble of buildings in all of Central Asia – Samarkand’s ‘Registan’. The complex is made up three separate madrasas, or theological colleges, lining three sides of a huge plaza. Behind the richly decorated facades are hidden cloistered courtyards where the former priests’ and students cells today hold small crafts and souvenir shops. After the Registan, you’ll visit the giant Bibi Khanym mosque, the largest and most impressive in the Islamic world in its day, before a wander around nearby Urgut market – a great place for picking up local dried fruit, nuts and textiles. Around late afternoon, begin the journey back to Tashkent.

Day 11

Morning at leisure to pack ahead of your afternoon flight back to the UK.

Day 12

Arrive back in the UK.

12 days from £2695 per person

What's included

✓   International flights from London
✓   10 nights accommodation
✓   All internal transportation and transfers
✓   English-speaking guides
✓   Breakfast daily
✓   Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary

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