Uzbekistan: Heart Of Central Asia11 days & 10 nights, Escorted Discovery Group
Escorted Discovery Group
Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara & Samarkand
Set on the Silk Road, Uzbekistan has played host to waves of conquerors and nomads. On this tour, see the legacy they left behind in the towering fortresses of Khiva and Bukhara and the Islamic architecture of Samarkand, once some of the most powerful cities in the world. The remnants of more recent Soviet history are evident in the capital city Tashkent.
Day 1Arrive Tashkent
Upon arrival, you will be met and taken to your hotel.Grand Mir Hotel (D)
This afternoon, enjoy a city tour of Tashkent. Some of the Old City was left intact, and your afternoon tour of the city includes a visit to the remaining mosques and madrasas, some dating back to the 15th century; your visit will include the Kukeldash Mosque. You will also visit the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art, and the Amir Temur Maydoni - the vast square at the heart of Soviet Tashkent, once dominated by a statue of Marx, now replaced by a statue of Timur, the nomadic leader who conquered swathes of territory extending to Turkey and India. Timur was also known as Tamerlane (Timur the Lame) and is one of the central characters in the history of the region; in the post Soviet era he has become something of a national hero.
Day 2To Khiva
You will be met at your hotel and taken to the airport, where you will board your flight to Urgench.Malika Kheivak Hotel - 2 Nights (B, L, D)
Drive from Urgench to Khiva via the fortresses of Ayaz Kala, Toprak Kala and a traditional Khorezmian house Ulli Khovli.
On arrival in Urgench you will visit the Ayaz-Kala and the Topraq-Kala ruins. Built in the 6th to 7th centuries, Ayaz-Kala has an impressive mud-walled hilltop fortress.
Continue to Topraq-Kala, a distance of 28 miles and approximately 30 minutes. This 2,000 year old ruined city fortress is set in the dramatic Sultan Vais Mountains, and flourished during the Kushan Empire. The later collapse of Kushan and White Hephtalite rule left the region open to devastating Turkic raids which destroyed irrigation canals and led to the depopulation of the town in the 6th century.
Continue to Khiva, a distance of approximately 62 miles and a journey time of approximately 2 hours, via Goybu village to visit a traditional Khorezmian house called Ulli Khovli.
Enjoy a full day tour of Khiva. Under the Soviets Khiva was declared a conservation site and much of the heart of the old city was emptied of people and restored. The result is that medieval Khiva looks much the same as it did hundreds of years ago, except the streets are largely deserted, providing an odd atmosphere. However it is an excellent opportunity to get a sense of how the legendary oasis cities of the Silk Road looked.Malika Kheivak Hotel (B, D)
Highlights within the old walled city include the Madrasa Mohammed Amin Khan, with the attendant Kalta Minor Minaret, the fat, turquoise-tiled symbol of Khiva: the story goes that the minaret was originally intended to be much taller - specifically taller than the Kalan Minaret in rival Bukhara, hence the squat shape. You will also visit the Kunya Ark (fortress), former residence of the khans, and the Islam Khodzha Madrassa and Minaret. The complex is quite modern, dating to the early 20th century, and was built in honour of a forward-looking grand vizier.
Day 4To Bukhara
Drive to Urgench, a distance of 22 miles and journey time of approximately 45 minutes. Board your flight to Bukhara.Asia Bukhara Hotel - 3 Nights (B, D)
Upon arrival, you will be met and taken to your hotel.
Later, enjoy a tour of Bukhara.
Visit the imposing fortress known as 'The Ark', which although mostly dating from the last 300 years, is built on the site of a 2,000 year old fortress, and was continuously occupied from the 5th century until the 1920s. Although not in the best state of repair, key areas are still recognizable, including the Friday Mosque and the Reception and Coronation Court. Behind the Ark is the prison which housed the unfortunate Stoddart and Conelly, and the Chasma Ayub "mausoleum", built over a spring in the 12th century. Visit the 17th century Bolo Hauz mosque in Registan Square, a place of prayer for the Emirs and their entourage.
The oldest monument in Bukhara is the Ismail Samani mausoleum, built in the early 10th century for the founder of the Samanid dynasty. The delicate brickwork on the facade of the building, incorporating Zoroastrian symbols (although the building was Islamic in origin) belies the hugely thick walls that have been part of the reason for the continued survival of the mausoleum - survival also aided by the fact the building was partially buried during Genghis Khan's visit, and so escaped his attentions.
Lunch will be at a local restaurant before continuing the tour of Bukhara.
Visit the Muslim shrine of Khoja Bakhautdin Naqshbandi, the spiritual teacher of Amir Timur and founder of the Sufi order Naqshbandi. The shrine is an important pilgrimage site and is visited by people from many different countries.
Continue to the former Summer Palace of the last emir of Bukhara, Sitorai Mohi Hosa The construction of the palace lasted from 1912 to 1918 and employed the best master craftsmen of Bukhara as well as the Russian engineers Margulis and Sakovich. The palace was built on a European model and its decoration includes large mirrors, a Dutch tiled stove, crystal chandeliers and Russian furniture.
Return to the old city and visit the Magoki Attori Mosque, the most ancient preserved mosque in Bukhara's old city center. Its name has changed several times; today it is translated to 'mosque in the pit' or 'deep mosque', named due to its hidden layers underground where the congregation would enter down in the basement.
After breakfast, continue your tour of Bukhara and visit Chor Minor Mosque, which was built in 1807 by Khalif Niazkul. He built the madrassah with a courtyard and a pond, a summer mosque, and a 4-turret building opening into the architectural complex. The four turrets with their sky blue cupolas are unusual in that they have nothing in common with ordinary minarets.Asia Bukhara Hotel (B, D)
Continue to the famous Kalyan Minaret. It is 154 feet tall and was probably the tallest structure in Central Asia when built by Arslan Khan in 1127. As well as serving in a traditional capacity to announce the call to prayer, the minaret has also been used during its history as a beacon and a watchtower, while the final dynasty of emirs persisted in throwing criminals from the top of it until ordered to cease by the Russians.
View the exquisite decor and architecture of the Miri-Arab madrasah with its two big blue domes that tower above the surrounding buildings in Bukhara center and along with the Kalyan mosque and minaret, forms the whole Poi-Kalyan complex. Construction of the Miri-Arab madrasah dates back to the 16th century, related to the sheikh Abdallah Yamani and said to have been built to celebrate the victory of the sheybanid army over the troops of the Sefevid shah Ismail I in the battle of Gijduvan in 1512. The madrasah is still used today for educating future religious mentors.
Other sites visited today will include the Ulugbek madrasah, founded in 1417 and the Abdullazizkhan madrasah, built in 1651 located opposite. The surviving trade domes, Lyab-i-Hauz Complex and the ancient Silk Market.
Day at leisure.Asia Bukhara Hotel (B)
Optional excursion: Optional visit to Gijduvan
This morning visit the market town of Gijduvan, an hour's drive from Bukhara. The town is well known in Uzbekistan for its beautiful glazed ceramics. The Narzullaev family is one of the last remaining of Gijduvan's ceramic producers. Ibodullo Narzullaev learned from the famous master Usto Usman Umarov, who actively worked from 1960-1970. Today Ibodullo Narzullaev's sons Alisher and Addullo represent the sixth generation of master-ceramists in Gijduvan.
The colors of Gijduvan's ceramics are quite different from others in Uzbekistan. They use a rich palette of golden-green, dark green, brown-red and dark blue on a dark or bright brown background. The most popular design of Gijduvan's ceramists is a circle, representing an astronomic symbol or wheel. Often several circles are drawn, forming a flower or rosette.
Day 7To Samarkand
Drive from Bukhara to Shahrisabz, a distance of 180 miles and journey time of approximately 4 hours.The Emirkhan Hotel - 3 Nights (B, L)
Shahrisabz is the birthplace of Timur (or Tamerlane). After his dramatic rise to power and huge conquests, Timur turned his hometown into something of a monument to himself and his family. In its prime it would have rivalled any of the Silk Road cities, but because it was not a natural center for trade, it declined rapidly with the passing of the Timurid dynasty. Today just enough remains to indicate the former splendor of the city - the centerpiece of Timur's building was the Ak-Saray Palace, and parts of the monumental entrance remain, displaying exquisite mosaics. There is also a beautiful mosque, the Kok-Gumbaz Mosque: the name means Blue Dome, and the dome has now been restored with the traditional blue tiles which gave it its name.
Drive from Shahrisabz to Samarkand, a distance of 112 miles and journey time of 2 hours.
Today, enjoy a full day tour of Samarkand. At the heart of the city of Samarkand is the Registan, a vast square, enclosed on three sides by the towering facades of three madrassas, beautifully decorated in delicate tile work that compliments the sheer scale of these buildings. Although the madrasa complexes behind the facade are not all in the best state of repair, the square is still the most magnificent architectural site in Central Asia.The Emirkhan Hotel (B, D)
The size and ambition of the Bibi Khanum Mosque are simply breath taking. Constructed by Timur to be the most impressive building in his dominions, and built in honor of one of his wives, it was not only enormous but also spectacularly decorated. However the size of the building hugely stretched construction techniques at the time, and the building began to crumble almost before it was completed. Earthquakes compounded the problem, and by the start of the 20th century people were no longer praying there for fear of being hit by falling masonry. However an extensive programme of restoration is underway, and much of the mosque has been restored to its former glory. It is still, 600 years after it was built, one of the largest mosques in the world.
Other sites you will visit in Samarkand include the remains of an enormous observatory built by Timur's grandson, Ulug Bek, the Shah-i-Zinda complex, a street of tombs with some of the best examples of traditional tile work in the region, the Afrosiab Museum, and the bazaar.
The first stop this morning will be to the Gur Emir Mausoleum. This mausoleum marks the final resting place of several members of the Timurid dynasty, including Timur himself. Originally built to house the body of his son, Mohammed Sultan, Timur was also interred here because at the time of his death the passes to Shahrisabz, where he wanted to be buried, were closed by the winter snows. The cenotaph over his grave was a huge, single slab of jade, the largest in the world at the time. It is now two pieces cemented together - a Persian invader, Nadir Shah, tried to carry it off, but it split, so he returned it fearing bad luck. There is a story that after his death, Timur carved on the underside of the slab an epitaph to the effect that should he be disturbed in his grave, terrible things would happen. In June 1941, a Soviet anthropologist entered the crypt and exhumed his body: the next day Germany invaded the Soviet Union. However the exhumation was able to prove that Timur was indeed lame, and had also suffered a major injury to his arm. Continue to tour the Nodir Devonbegi Madrasah, the Hazrati Hizr mosque and the Hodja Doniyor mausoleum's.The Emirkhan Hotel (B, L)
After lunch, you will visit the Koni Ghil silk paper making workshop. Located 3 miles from the center of Samarkand, this visit will give you a fascinating insight to the 1,000 year old production process of silk paper. In the medieval ages, Samarkand produced some of the best paper in the world and it was this process, which the workshop tries to re-produce.
Day 10To Tashkent
Morning at leisure.Grand Mir Hotel (B, D)
For your morning at leisure, we recommend a visit to the Khodja Akrar complex.
The Khodja Akrar complex is built around the grave of Sheikh Khodja Akrar, who lived between 1404 to 1490 and was the leader of the Nakhshbandi. He was acclaimed by his people as a religious ascetic and miracle-worker. His funerary mosque was built into a large madrasa, whose exquisite mosaic tiling has been fully restored.
Samarkand to Tashkent train journey on Afrosiyob Express.
The train journey to Tashkent takes approximately 2 hours aboard the Afrosiyob Express train, passing through villages and farmland before approaching the suburbs of Tashkent. En route, you will be able to purchase light refreshments.
Upon arrival in Tashkent, you will be met and taken to your hotel.
Day 11Depart Tashkent
You will be met at your hotel and taken to the airport.(B)