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Traditionally, embarking on a Silk Road tour has always attracted adventurous explorers from all over the world. Central Asia may be most famous as the heart of the Silk Road. This region is ethnically, culturally and geographically one of the most diverse parts of the world. A cultural crossroad between Asia, Europe and the Middle East, it was across these remote lands that nomadic empires, conquerors and Silk Road traders traversed, leaving behind a rich cultural and archaeological legacy. Our Silk Road trip takes you to the countries of Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and Iran. Below we give you a quick introduction to this trip .
Central Asia has long tugged at the heartstrings of the adventurous. With its sunny blue skies and striking landscapes, spectacular ancient cities and Islamic architecture, complex histories and fascinating cultures; it’s easy to see why this is such a captivating region.
Strategically positioned along the Silk Route, the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara were famous trading hubs for the merchants that passed along this way in ancient times. Our journey follows their footsteps, discovering magnificent architecture and bustling local markets that have changed little since the rule of Tamerlane. Iran was also regarded as one of the important parts on the legendary Silk Road between China and the West.
Our Silk Road trip takes you to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. Below we give you a quick introduction to each of them.
Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s busy capital and your arrival point of your Silk Road tour. Like Iran, It is also a welcoming land of contrasting desert and mountain landscapes. In Bukhara, you can explore an ancient maze of old houses, mosques and amazing labyrinthic bazaars. A little further east, admire the grace of the blue-tiled Registan in Samarkand. Travel more north and you can discover the traditional way of life of the local people in the Nurata Mountains, where there are hidden petroglyphs from the Stone and Bronze Age.
Turkmenistan is Central Asia’s least visited and most mysterious country. It was mostly closed to the outside world until as recent as the early 2000s. Ancient conquerors, nomadic empires and Silk Road traders used to traverse across these remote lands. They left behind a rich cultural and archaeological legacy that includes the former oasis city of Merv (highly important in the heydays of the Silk Road), Karakum Desert, ancient ruins of Nisa and beautiful mosques, museums and monuments.
Fans of ancient history, intricate designs in art and architecture, romantic poets and spirituality will find the country of Iran a true treasure to visit. At the same time, nature lovers will be pleased to find accessible snow-clad mountains and mixed deserts to explore. Interesting places like Alexander the Great’s Persepolis, the impressive square and bridges of Isfahan, and tremendously decorated mosques and caravanserais will give you plenty to explore. An expedition to the summit of Mount Damavand allows you stunning views over the former Silk Road routes in the Alborz Mountain range, Caspian plain and deserts of Iran.
On our overland journey from Uzbekistan to Iran we trace the western section of the Silk Road, a bustling corridor through which caravans laden with goods would pass en-route to the ancient city of Constantinople. Travelling to the renowned Central Asian cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Merv we gain a rich sense of the intricate history, before crossing the awesome expanses of both the Karakum desert and the high mountain that link Central Asia and Persia. Our trip features a dramatic mountainous drive across the Kopet Dag Mountains to Iran, a land of dramatic contrasts. Ranging from snow clad mountains, deserts, oasis towns and ancient cities that reveal a deep and rich history. We diverge from the traditional Silk Road itinerary with exciting excursions to Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis, the summer capital of the vast Persian Empire, before concluding this epic journey in the vibrant city of Tehran.
Retrace history as you explore the stunning oasis cities of the west part of the Silk Road. You will admire the vaulted domes, towering minarets and intricate tile work of medieval Islamic architecture. Visit imperial palaces, mosques, mausoleums. Wander the cobbled streets of historic walled towns and shop colorful wares and handcrafts in ancient bazaars!
Arrival in Tashkent in the morning, meet and Transfer to the hotel, free time to relax after the flight. In the afternoon we start a tour of Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital city and home to three million people. This old Soviet city is a perfect place to encounter the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Central Asia. It is divided into two parts: the ancient city with its narrow streets, one-storied buildings and ancient monuments, and the modern well developed city with contemporary architecture which includes universities, theaters and metro. Along with the main sightseeing points, this afternoon we will visit Tashkent's main sights including the central square Amir Timur or Tamerlane's Square, the Alisher Navoi Opera Theatre, the Chorsu Bazaar and the old town's mosques and madrassahs. The old part of the city is the center of traditional local cuisine. Between Kukeldash Madrassah and the Chorsu Bazaar you will find a great number of Chaikhanas cafes and eating houses where you can snack on a Kebab, Shawrma or an Uzbek Somsa.
Early in the morning we take the fast train to Samarkand, the second largest city in Uzbekistan and probably the most magnificent.
This ancient city was conquered by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Timur who made it the capital of his Empire. After lunch in a local restaurant, we visit Gur-Emir mausoleum, tremendous family shrine of Timurids. The legend says that Timur built this mausoleum after unexpected death of his favorite grandson Muhammad Sultan whom he wanted to become the governor. Timur was buried in Gur-Emir too. Continue to the Registan square, one of the Great unknown wonders of the world. Made up of three madrasas (places of learning) and a mosque. Your guided tour of Samarkand and the surrounding area includes The Registan, Ulugbek Medressa, Bibi-Khanum Mosque and Shah-I-Zinda.
We start the tour visiting Ulugbek's observatory. In Ulugbek times Samarkand became a scientific centre. Ulugbek was a very talented scientist, whose works on Astronomy became famous all over the continent. He carried out his researches in unique Observatory he had built in Samarkand. Continue visiting Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum complex of 14-15 century, a sacred place for Muslim people. Shah-i-Zinda means 'Living king', the name given to the grave of Kusama ibn Abbasa, the cousin of Muhammad. We will also see tremendous Bibi Khanum mosque which bears the name of the beloved wife of Timur. Finish sightseeing at the colorful vivid bazaar of Samarkand. Free time.
Our Silk Road journey continues from Samarkand to Bukhara, passing through the desert along the ancient trade route and through Zerafshan Mountains which provide us with magnificent views as we travel to Shakrisabz, birthplace of Tamerlane, where the ruined entrance towers of his Ak-Serai Palace still stand. The road trip takes about four hours.
Bukhara is an ancient and very beautiful city with many mosques and burial places of saints. The city is over 2000 years old and it has always played a big role in the history of the region. It was an important center on the Ancient Silk Road, later it became the capital of the great Samanids Empire and in 16-17th centuries Bukhara was the center of Sheibanid's and Ashtarhanid's empires. First we visit the summer residence of Emir of Bukhara. The palace Sitorai Mohi Hosa has a very poetic name meaning “between stars and moon”. Although this is not an ancient place, only about 100 years old, it gives good idea about everyday life of Emirs, their relations within the family.
Full day sightseeing in Bukhara. In the morning we start our walking tour in the old town of Bukhara with an opportunity to see many old madrasas, mosques, minarets and domes, including the famous 12th century Kalyan minaret, Chor Minor Madrasah with 4 small minarets in each corner, wonderfully decorated Ulugbek Madrasahs – the oldest Madrasah built by Ulugbek, the grandson of Timur in 1417. We will make a stop in Lyabi Hovuz, a nice calm shady place were local people and travelers like have a rest in a shade of trees surrounding the pond.
After lunch in a local restaurant, we go to the ancient citadel, the Ark Fortress, which is called the ancient symbol of state power. There is no definite information about its age but 1500 years ago it was already the residence of the ruler. For centuries the Ark fortress was the residence of Emir of Bukhara.
Drive about 1.5 hours to Uzbek-Turkmen border in Alat-Farap. . Entire crossing procedure may take about 1.5-2.5 hours depending on the situation. Our Turkmen guide meets the group at Turkmen side of the border. Upon completing border formalities we drive about 1 hour to the town of Turkmenabat (former Chardjou) crossing Amudarya River on the way.
Nowadays it is a local administrative center.
After having lunch in Turkmenabat, we continue driving for about 3-4 hours to Mary.
Mary new town, founded in 1884 by Russian General Mikhail Skobelev is not far from the ancient Merv settlement.
We commence the day with a short distance drive out of Mary to Merv, an ancient Silk Road staging post. Its origins date back to more than 2000 years; the city was at its height during the 11th and 12th centuries when it was considered to be the second most important city in the Islamic world (after Baghdad), being the capital of the Seljuk Turks. Under their domination of the region stretching from Afghanistan to Egypt, the Seljuk’s created a city full of treasures and palaces, irrigation channels and fertile gardens. The Mongols destroyed the city under the rule of Genghis Khan in the 13th century and it lay dormant for a century. The remains of this complex contains five walled cities from different periods. We spend a few hours exploring the remains of these cities, before returning to Mary for our evening flight to Ashgabat; Turkmenistan’s capital.
Today we visit the main sights of Ashgabat including the Palace of Turkmenbashi, the
National Museum which houses a rich collection of ancient artifacts from Turkmenistan, and the Archaeological site of Nissa including the remains of Old and New Nissa. The city was an important center of the Parthian State, which existed from the 3rd century BC up to the 3rd century AD. As the archaeological research shows, the township of New Nissa was the centre of the Parthian City. It was inhabited up to the 16th - 17th centuries. Old Nissa was a royal residence of the Parthian kings with the palace and temple, the depositories and the treasury. We also take in the sights of the Presidential Palace, Lenin Square, Ertogrul Ghazy, and Turkmenbashynyn Ruhy Metjidi which is largest mosque in Central Asia.
Winding our way through the Kopet Dag Mountains to the border, the scenery en route is dramatic and changes frequently providing scenic splendours for the entire journey. Following potentially lengthy border formalities (border crossing is the Bajgiran check point) we will meet with our Iranian guide and change buses. All females in our group will now be required to wear a headscarf and loose clothing that covers all parts of the body in public places for the rest of the trip. The city of Mashad, whose name translates to ‘place of martyrdom’, is extremely sacred to Shiite Muslims as it was here that the descendent of prophet Mohamed, Emam Reza, died nearly 1200 years ago.
In the morning we visit Nadir Shah Museum. During the times for Nadir Shah Mashhad became the capital of his Empire and the starting point for his Indian journeys. Drive to the ancient town of Tus to see the tomb of the great Iranian poet Ferdowsi (10-11 centuries), the reviver of the Persian language.
Evening flight from Mashhad to Shiraz
Shiraz used to be one of the most significant centers of the Middle Age and during the Zand dynasty it was the capital of Iran. Many poets, scientists and artists lived and worked here and thus Shiraz was known as the city of science, art, and love
Full-day sightseeing in Shiraz. We start the day with a visit to Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, a rather small mosque built in late 19th century. This stunningly beautiful mosque is completely decorated with tiles with tiny vivid details and ornaments. Nice colorful stained-glass windows add to the beauty of the place. The other strange thing about the mosque is the use of red and pink colors on its ever glazing tiles. Later on we visit Narenjestan (the “Orange Garden”) Museum, built in the 1870-s by Mirza Ebrahim Khan. Narenjestan preserves a sense of the privilege and refinement enjoyed by upper-class Iranian families in the 19th century.
A short walk to the main Bazaar will take us to the “Arg” citadel, the fortress of Karim Khan built in late 18 century. Although it is called Arg (means the fortress), it has never been a fortress. First used as a governor's residence it was later turned into a prison, and for the last 30 years converted into a museum. Our sightseeing will end at Hafiz’ mausoleum.
We visit Persepolis in the morning when the site is relatively not crowded. A comprehensive tour is provided bringing to life the history of this magnificent ruin. Ruler of the largest empire the world had ever seen, Darius I started constructing the great metropolis to serve as a summer capital in around 512BC. Subsequent Achaemenian kings, including Xerxes, added their own palaces over the next 150 years. A good three hours is needed to explore Persepolis. A short drive away is the four impressive burial tombs of Darius and his successors, Naghsh-e Rostam, which have been hewn from the rock.
We embark on the 425km drive from Shiraz to Yazd, where we cross over the mountains and descend into the vast desert expanse. En route Pasargadae reveals the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid dynasty in 550 BC. We continue on to Abarku to witness traditional cisterns, ice-house and a 4500 year old cypress tree.
Yazd is unique for its intriguing architecture, which has been perfectly adapted to the harsh weather conditions of the surrounding desert. Wind towers, or badgirs, are the main feature of most of the buildings in the old city, used for the natural ventilation to cool down the air inside the building.
The town of Yazd is very nice and quiet, it's a pleasure to walk through the old town with twisting narrow streets. We visit Ateshkadeh Fire Temple (Zoroastrian), the 800 year old Masjed-i Jame' Mosque (Friday mosque) with the tallest minarets in Iran. And see Amir Chakhmaq Complex of the 14th century, famous for its wonderful portal ornament.
Drive to Isfahan. The first stop would be at Meybod, an ancient city dating back to pre-Islamic periods. Visits start with Narin Qal'eh (Castle), the mud-brick citadel which is over 2000 years old and dates back to Sasanids period. There is a caravanserai where the ancient water system “Qanat” is still preserved and it is possible to see how fresh water is delivered from the mountains to distantly located desert settlements. Another 100 km drive to Nain gives us the opportunity to see one of the oldest mosques in Iran dating back to the 8th century.
Isfahan is considered one of the finest cities in the Islamic world. Isfahan was founded in Parthian Era (3rd century BC) functioning as headquarter for the armies. It flourished during Safavid era (16th century AD), becoming a famous trade center of that time. It has been noted for its gorgeous gardens and palaces that the people have called it "half the world".
Our sightseeing will include a visit to Naqsh-e- Jahan Square. It is surrounded by two mosques, a palace and the entrance to the Bazaar. The Masjed-e Imam (or Imam Khomeini Mosque) is the most exquisite example of Mosaic tile work and the most stunning building in Iran. Other sights we plan to visit today include Chehel Sotun Museum & Park – this was built in the 17th Century as a reception hall, and has lovely columns made of plane tree with a 110m pool in the front.
The Friday Mosque is the most ancient and in some ways the most interesting building in the city. It was built in the 11th and early 12th century as a focus for the town. It is a landmark in the evolution of Iranian sacred architecture as every century left its impact. A short drive from the center to the southern bank of Zayandeh River, takes us to Julfa – Armenian quarter of Isfahan. The Armenian Vank Cathedral, built in the 17th century, has an interesting museum attached, and shows the history of the Armenians in the area.
Afternoon visits include looking at the old bridges of Sio Se Pol and Khajou. Each bridge coincides with a straight avenue running through the city from north to south. In 1650 shah Abbas the 2nd ordered to build a new bridge Khajou which is unique in the world.
A scenic drive through the mountains and deserts brings us to the ancient village of Abyaneh. Walk through the village, known for having retained its ancient charm, would be so interesting. After lunch, we depart for Kashan, a beautiful oasis city with a very long history dating back to the 4th millennium BC. Visits in Kashan include Fin Garden and Brujerdi mansion, a 19th century house funded by a wealthy merchant featuring lovely courtyards and fine intricate carvings on stone and stucco work.
Drive to Tehran with a short stop at Qom, one of the holiest cities in Iran and in the Middle East due to the Fatima’s Shrine – Imam Reza’s sister. Qom is the main city for religious studies in Iran and the largest Theology school in Iran is located here. Most senior ranking Iranian clerics of Shia Islam live in Qom.
Tehran, the capital of Iran, is the largest and the most populated city in the country, also the main financial and industrial center of Iran. After Mongols burned down Ray, the capital of Persia at the time, people started to move to the small village of Tehran located nearby. The town flourished during Qajar dynasty and in 1795 has been chosen as the capital.
In the morning, we plan to visit some of the great museums in Tehran. The National Museum of Iran which will shock you with its ostentatious display of antique objects some dating from 7000 years ago. Then we visit Gulistan complex which consists of a group of buildings served once as the palace and living quarter of Qajar kings in 19th century. After lunch we also plan to visit Jewels museum which is considered the best collection of crown jewels in the world.