Best of the Silk Road - Full Itinerary
THE SILK ROAD
The Silk Road was an extensive interconnected network of trade routes across the Asian continent connecting East, South and Western Asia with the Mediterranean world, Africa and Europe. It gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade which began during the Han Dynasty over 2000 years ago.
The trade routes played an important role in the exchange of goods and cultural practices. Art, religion, philosophy, technology, language, science, architecture and every other element of civilization was exchanged along the Silk Road.
The ancient road originated in the historical capital of Chang'an (Xi'an) and ran through China and Central Asia including the Tian Shan Mountains, the Pamirs, the Fergana Basin, the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in Central Asia then on to Iran and the Mediterranean.
TrailFinders Canada is pleased and excited to present this wonderful journey along part of this incredible historic route.
WEDNESDAY 12 SEPT, 2018
ARRIVE BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN (B)
Today is the start day of the journey. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan! The Kyrgyz Republic is a country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. Landlocked and mountainous, it borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Annexed by Russia in 1876, it achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Bishkek is the capital city of about 800,000 inhabitants. It is set in the foothills of the Ala-Too mountains. It is a relatively new city and has limited historical sites, but it's an interesting example of a czarist-planned city which was laid out on a grid with wide boulevards flanked by irrigation canals and large trees, buildings with marble façades and Soviet apartment complexes. The people are friendly and very hospitable. After clearing immigration at the airport, you will be met by our representative and transferred to the hotel. Since most flights into Bishkek arrive around 5:00 am, we have ensured that your room and your breakfast will both be available upon your arrival at the hotel. No formal activities are planned today. You may simply choose to relax at the hotel or join the tour leader during exploration of the neighbourhood around the hotel. Free for lunch and dinner at your leisure. Overnight at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
THURSDAY 13 SEPT
BISHKEK (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. Fresh air morning! After breakfast, we head out of town to Ala Archa Alpine National Park in the Tian Shan mountains about 40 km south of Bishkek. The park includes the gorge of the Ala Archa River and its surrounding mountains. It's a popular destination for travellers, picnickers, hikers, skiers and mountaineers. The scenery is stunning and a visit to the park is on the "must-do" list for Bishkek visitors. Depending on your interest, you may choose various short hikes in the area to enjoy and photograph the mountains and wild flowers or you may simply enjoy sitting and admiring the scenery. We then return to the city for lunch at a wonderful local restaurant. We'll begin the afternoon with a panorama drive around the city and will include a few stops at some of Bishkek’s best sites. Our itinerary may include Alatoo Square, the White House (Presidential Palace), Erkindik monument (the Kyrgyz Statue of Liberty), Fine Arts museum or other museums. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
FRIDAY 14 SEPT
BISHKEK TO CHOLPAN ATA (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning we depart for Cholpan Ata on the northern part of Lake Issyk Kul. Along the way we will make two stops. One stop will be at Burana, the remains of an old caravan town which was originally part of a Silk Road city called Balashagun. Today we see remains of a madrasah along with grave markers, some earthworks, the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums and a beautiful 11th century brick minaret known as Burana Tower. The tower is currently 79 feet in height but was originally more than 138 feet. Several earthquakes through the centuries caused much damage and the current tower reflects major renovation work carried out in the 1970s. An external staircase and a steep winding stairway inside the tower enables visitors to climb to the top. We'll visit the tower, the archaeological museum and the Turkic tombstones. Our second stop will be for lunch. After lunch we make a visit to the Museum of Petroglyphs and then arrive at our hotel on the north shore of the lake. Dinner at the hotel. Overnight at Karven Four Seasons Resort.
SATURDAY 15 SEPT
CHOLPAN ATA TO KARAKOL (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. Depart for Karakol area. On the way, we’ll visit the Preshevalsky Museum and the grave of Nikolai Preshevalsky (Przhevalsky/Przewalski), whose work on flora and fauna has greatly been admired and documented. Preshevalsky was a Russian geographer and a renowned explorer of Central and East Asia. Although he never reached his ultimate goal, the holy city of Lhasa in Tibet, he traveled through regions then unknown to the West, such as northern Tibet (the modern Tibet Autonomous Region), Amdo (now Qinghai) and Dzungaria (now northern Xinjiang). He contributed significantly to European knowledge of Central Asia and was the first known European to describe the only extant species of wild horse, which is named after him; Przewalski's horse. We then proceed onward to Karakol. Karakol is the fourth largest city in Kyrgyzstan and is a true "gem in the rough", set in a picture-perfect setting of traditional Russian homes nestled between the Tian Shan mountains and Lake Issyk Kul. It was originally a Russian settlement and it's still one of the few remaining large Slavic communities in Central Asia. Formerly called Przhevalsk during the Tsarist and Soviet era, the city was originally founded by Russian Tsarist troops as a military outpost. Upon arrival, we transfer to our guest house and enjoy lunch. After lunch we proceed on a short city tour. We will visit a Russian Orthodox church and see some rare icons inside which survived the Stalin era purges. We will also visit an unusual Dungan mosque - essentially a Xian Chinese temple with a free-standing wooden minaret. The Dungan people were Muslims who originally arrived here from China during the Dungan revolt in the mid-19th century. Members of this ethnic group call themselves Hui. Kazakhstan has about 38,000 and Kyrgyzstan about 60,000. Dinner and overnight at the Green Yard Guest House.
SUNDAY 16 SEPT
KARAKOL (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the guesthouse. This morning we head to the amazing Karakol animal market. If you are a photographer you will love this. Afterwards, we take an excursion to Djeti Oghuz (Jeti-Oguz) about 25 km west of Karakol. This picturesque protected area, known for its natural beauty was established in 1975 with the purpose of conserving the unique geological formation of a 35 km-long wall of seven huge red-brown cliffs standing together. In front of the cliffs there are scenic flat mountain slopes, thickly overgrown with grass and pine trees. Nearby, near the entrance to the gorge is another interesting formation called the 'broken heart'. These well-known landmarks are seen as national and regional symbols which are used in many paintings, songs and even music videos. We will proceed a bit further along the road and enjoy some time walking in the mountains. Lunch at a local Yurt camp. We then return to Karakol and the remainder of the afternoon is free for exploring the neighbourhood around the guest house as you wish or simply relaxing. Dinner and overnight at the Green Yard Guest House.
MONDAY 17 SEPT
KARAKOL – ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN (B, L)
Very early breakfast since we have a long drive to Almaty today. We first drive to the border where we may take up to an hour being processed into Kazakhstan. We then drive onward to Charyn Canyon where we stop and enjoy a box lunch overlooking the canyon. Our last leg takes us onward to the city of Almaty. We expect to arrive at the hotel in Almaty by about 6:30 pm. Welcome to Kazakhstan! Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth-largest country - more than twice the size of the other Central Asian states combined. It is also the world's largest landlocked country. It was under Russian control as part of the former Soviet Union until 1993 when it became an independent state. Kazakhstan is the richest country in Central Asia, due to its large oil and natural gas reserves. The largest city and former capital, Almaty, has a population of about 1.8 million. The city was the center for the Asian Winter games in January 2011 and is located in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau, part of the Northern Tian Shan mountain system. The backdrop of mountains against the taller buildings in the city makes a dramatic and impressive sight. On a clear day you can see the beautifully rugged snow-capped mountains right at the city's doorstep to the south. Almaty was the country's capital until 1997 when the seat of government was moved to Astana, a major city in the north of the country. Almaty is still the centre of commerce and is the home of the stock exchange and the country's largest banks. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Intercontinental Hotel.
TUESDAY 18 SEPT
ALMATY (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast we depart on a full-day tour of Almaty. We'll visit Panfilov Park to see Zhenkov’s Holy Ascension Cathedral, one of the oldest in the region. It was constructed in 1907 and is a superb example of Russian orthodoxy. The impressive wooden building was constructed without the use of nails. We will also visit the Kazakh Musical Instruments Museum nearby and the local market, known by its Russian name as ‘Zeelony bazaar’ (green bazaar). A walk into the market is great experience and offers a chance to meet the local people and see the types of products being sold. The History Museum will give us an insight into Kazakh culture and traditions. We also will visit the Central Mosque and Alany Square. Quick early lunch at a local pub or a simple restaurant. Later this afternoon we'll drive up to Kok Tyube for a great view of the surrounding Tian Shan mountain range. Dinner at a local restaurant up here. Overnight at the Intercontinental Almaty.
WEDNESDAY 19 SEPT
ALMATY – DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning we head to the airport and board our flight to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Welcome to a beautiful country! Tajikistan is surrounded by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It’s known for rugged mountains, and the ones we plan to visit tomorrow have snow-capped peaks that rise over 5,000 meters. The capital city has modern skyscrapers, Soviet-era buildings and grand boulevards. On arrival we pass through immigration and meet our Tajik guide. We then proceed for lunch. This afternoon we enjoy a tour of the capital city. Our itinerary will include a visit to the Museum of Antiquities. Though the interior may be a bit dowdy and poorly illuminated, the archaeological collection is excellent and includes the authentic 13 metre-long sleeping Buddha which was removed from Ajina-Teppe in 1966. It dates from the Kushan era (around 500AD) and is now the largest known Buddha figure in Central Asia after the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan sculptures in Afghanistan. The museum also includes artifacts from Alexander the Great, a partial reproduction of the Temple of Ox, the skeleton of the Princess of Panjikent and painted friezes from Panjikent. Other items of interest include unique material found during the course of excavations in Khujand, Istravshan, Kulob and Hulbuk. Afterwards we head to the hotel and will stop along the way at the main square with the Ismoili Somoni monument, parliament and perhaps also the park. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Hotel Serena Dushanbe.
THURSDAY 20 SEPT
DUSHANBE (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning we visit the magnificent Hissar historical reserve. It includes the Hissar fort built in the 16th century, the old madrassah, new madrassah and a caravanserai built in 1808 as well as a mosque and mausoleum. Due to its important strategic location and commanding views along the valley, the buildings at the site have been destroyed no fewer than 21 times. Everyone from Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan, Tamerlane (Timur) and finally the Red Army razed the town to the ground. Each time it had to be rebuilt almost entirely from scratch, so only certain fragments of architecture remain, but they include Darvaza-i-Ark, an imposing stone gateway strongly reminiscent of the one marking the start of the Khyber Pass at Peshawar. The gate is depicted on the 20 Somoni note. Lunch at a local restaurant. This afternoon we visit the Gurminj Musical Instruments Museum and see the local artists playing. The museum was founded in 1990 and is based on the private collection of the Tajik artist Gurminj Zavqibekov who started his collection in his early youth. The museum currently has more than 200 items from all over Asia including a wide range of stringed and percussion instruments including setars, dutars, rubabs, tanburs and banjos. The collection’s most impressive pieces are the Afghan Badakhshan and Shah setars which are more than 100 years old. Afterwards, we return to the hotel. Remainder of afternoon at leisure. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Hotel Serena Dushanbe.
FRIDAY 21 SEPT
Breakfast at the hotel. Entirely free day for rest and personal exploration. Overnight at the Hotel Serena Dushanbe.
SATURDAY 22 SEPT
DUSHANBE - ISTARAVSHAN - KHUJAND (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. We have an interesting drive today to the northern Tajikistan city of Khujand. Our drive takes us through the Shahrestan mountain pass in the beautiful Zerafshan mountain range on the way to Istaravshan, a former staging point on the silk road and one of the oldest cities in Tajikistan which has existed for more than 2500 years. Today, Istaravshan has a number of interesting historical and architectural monuments (kok gumbaz mosque and chor gumbaz shrine) which bear the evidence of its bright historical past and during our brief stop here we will visit one or more of these. Lunch at a local restaurant along the way. Afterwards, we continue on to Khujand. Here we will visit a local market and possible other sites as well as the shrine of Sheikh Moslehuddin. This large memorial complex located in the historical part of the city was erected on the tomb of Moslehuddin Khudjandi, the ruler of Khujand and a poet who lived in the 12th century. Today the mausoleum consists of a cathedral mosque, a 19th-century minaret and several other ancient burials. Dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at the Hotel Grand Khujand.
SUNDAY 23 SEPT
KHUJAND – TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. From here we continue to the Uzbekistan border and after the usual formalities we meet our Uzbek guide, change our transport and continue onwards to Tashkent. Uzbekistan is a well-known former Soviet republic. It has spectacular mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road. Tashkent is the capital city and is known for its many museums and its mix of modern and Soviet-era architecture. The city has an architectural complex which includes several mosques and madrasas as well as a madrasah library which contains an ancient copy of the Quran. Underneath a distinctive blue-green dome is the Chorsu Bazaar, a massive farmer’s market and near Mustaqlik Square (Independence Square) is an impressive monument, a statue of a woman in front of an eternal flame that honors the hundreds of thousands of Uzbek soldiers killed in World War II. We arrive in Tashkent in time for lunch and then check in to our hotel. This afternoon we visit a beautiful Fine Arts Museum which includes a rich collection of applied arts, rare paintings, embroidery and archaeological finds. Afterwards we return to the hotel. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
MONDAY 24 SEPT
TASHKENT (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today, we start with the old city, visiting the Hast Imam complex with the Barak Khana madrasah which contains a rich library of oriental manuscripts including the world-famous Koran of Caliph Osman, written in the mid-7th century. The manuscript contains 353 parchment pages of original text and was kept for centuries in the cities of Medina, Damascus, Baghdad and Saint Petersburg before being brought to Central Asia. We next proceed to the colourful and busy Chorsu bazaar. From here we have an opportunity to examine some of the fine pieces of historic pottery at Akbar’s pottery house and then have lunch at a local restaurant. We also may visit Mustaqlik Square and Amir Timur Square this afternoon. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
TUESDAY 25 SEPT
TASHKENT - SAMARKAND (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning we depart early for Samarkand by fast train. The World Heritage city of Samarkand is at least 2500 years old and for most of those years it served as a major rest station on the network of trade routes connecting Europe and Asia. This made the city very prosperous and cosmopolitan but also attracted travellers and invaders. Throughout its history it has been ruled by Persians, Greeks, Turks, Mongols, Chinese and Russians. Half a dozen religions have found a home here. Alexander the Great passed through as well as the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Gengis Khan and Tamerlane. On arrival we begin sightseeing. Our first stop is at Gur-e Amir, the resting place of Tamerlane himself. We then move on to the incredible Bibi Khanum mosque, Siyob, the Silk Road bazaar and Shahi Zinda, the royal necropolis. Lunch at a local restaurant. This afternoon we visit the famous Registan Square, regarded as one of the most beautiful squares in the world with its glazed mosaics in liquid shades of blue and its three stunning madrasahs. Over the millennia, this vast open space was the city's main square and was full of markets and surrounded by caravanserai. Dinner at the hotel. Overnight at the Hotel Grand Samarkand
WEDNESDAY 26 SEPT
SAMARKAND - BUKHARA (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning we take the train onward to the incredible city of Bukhara. Bukhara is a city-museum and World Heritage site with about 140 significant architectural monuments. Humans have inhabited the region around Bukhara for at least 5000 years and the city has existed for half that time. Located on the Silk Road, the city has long served as a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. On arrival, we transfer to our hotel. Lunch at an appropriate time and place. This afternoon there will be some time for you to take a walk from the hotel to explore the narrow ancient streets of this amazing place. Dinner and overnight at Zargaron Boutique Hotel.
THURSDAY 27 SEPT
BUKHARA (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today we spend an entire day visiting major sites of Bukhara. We may visit some or all of the following and the guide will decide the order of events. We may enjoy a walking tour of the old city to visit Poi Kalon minaret and mosque, Miri Arab Madrasah, Taqi Zaragaron and the madrasahs of Aziz Khan and Ulugbek. Then we may continue to Tim Abdullah, Tilpak Frushan (hat sellers), Mogaki Attari mosque, Lyabikhauz the pond and Madrasah Nadirkhon Devanbegi. We then walk through the Jewish quarter to the house of master miniaturist Davlat to see his home and workshop. Here we can see the making of a "pilaf" by his wife and can enjoy the completed dish at lunch here, at his home. In the afternoon we continue our sightseeing by visiting Arg (Ark) Fortress, the abode of the Emirs of the powerful Khanate of Bukhara. We also visit the Zindan, the prison where two famous English men, Conolly and Stoddart were kept in the vermin pit before being beheaded in front of Arg Fortress. We may also have the opportunity to visit Bolokhauz mosque, Ismail Samanid mausoleum and Chasma Ayub (Job’s spring). Dinner and overnight at Zargaron Boutique Hotel.
FRIDAY 28 SEPT
BUKHARA - KHIVA (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning we board the train once again and depart for Khiva via the Kyzyl Kum desert. On arrival in the World Heritage city of Khiva we transfer to our hotel. There may be some free time this afternoon for you to explore the area around the hotel and to get ready for tomorrow’s look at this fabulous place. Dinner and overnight at the Hotel Malika Khiva.
SATURDAY 29 SEPT
KHIVA (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today we enjoy a wonderful day of sightseeing within the walled city of Khiva. Once called Khiva Khanate, the city was made up of two concentric walled-cities and the one which we visit today was the inner one. Depending on the group's interest level, we can visit any of several sites including Itchan Kala, Kalta minor, Kunya Arg, Madrasah Rakhimkhon, the workshop of a local handicraft artist, the Mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud with its beautiful tile work, the Islam Khodja minaret and museum, the Friday Mosque and the Harem. Lunch at an appropriate time and place. We may also visit Tashauli harem quarters. Free for dinner tonight. Overnight at the Hotel Malika Khiva.
SUNDAY 30 SEPT
KHIVA TO DASHOGUZ TO ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN (B, L, D)
BBreakfast at the hotel. This morning we depart for the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. After exit formalities we'll take the border shuttle to the Turkmen entrance point and work our way through immigration and customs. We then meet our Turkmen guide and continue to Dashoguz. Depending on the time of our flight to Ashgabat we may have some time for a panoramic tour of the city and perhaps lunch. We may also have time to walk through ancient Fort Yzmykshir. If our flight is quite late (this can always be a bit of a mystery in this country) then we’ll have dinner at an appropriate time and place and then catch our flight to the capital city of Ashgabat. If our flight is earlier, we’ll have dinner after we arrive. Overnight at the Oguzkent Hotel.
MONDAY 1 OCT
ASHGABAT (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today we embark on a full-day sightseeing tour of Ashgabat. We will enjoy a panorama look at the city initially and will visit some of the city landmarks including the tomb of Turkmenbashi and the city mosque as well as the State Museum of History which includes a wonderful collection of Parthian Rhytons, exquisitely beautiful drinking horns made of precious materials such as elephant tusks that were luxury wares most probably used at royal courts. Lunch at an appropriate place enroute. This afternoon we continue visits to other parts of the city. Evening dinner and overnight at the Oguzkent Hotel.
TUESDAY 2 OCT
ASHGABAT - MARY - ASHGABAT (B, L)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today we take an early morning flight to Mary in the east of the country and drive to the famous historical World Heritage oasis city of Merv, a major Silk Road site which dates back to the 5th century BC. The city was continuously inhabited from then until the end of the 19th century AD and is a cluster of cities constructed either one upon another or adjacent to each other. It was briefly the largest city in the world in the 12th century. We will visit a few of the major discrete walled cities located on the site. These cities correspond to the chief periods of Merv's importance and will include Sultan Kala, the Sultan Sanjar mausoleum, Gaiyur Kala, Erk Kala and Kyz Kala, each of which have significant historical significance and interesting sites. Lunch at an appropriate time. We'll then visit the Archaeological Museum of Mary which houses a rich collection of artifacts from the various parts of Merv. Later we take the flight back to Ashgabat. Free for dinner. Overnight at the Oguzkent Hotel.
WEDNESDAY 3 OCT
ASHGABAT (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today we continue visiting interesting parts of this amazing city. This morning we'll visit Nisa archaeological site, which was the winter capital of the Parthians. From here you can clearly see the country of Iran in the distance. We’ll return to the centre of the city and visit a few more local sites as well. Lunch at an appropriate place. We’ll then we’ll return to the hotel early in the afternoon so you can get organized for the trip home. Farewell dinner at the hotel tonight. Overnight at the Oguzkent Hotel.
THURSDAY 4 OCT
ASHGABAT DEPARTURE (B)
At an appropriate time today you will transfer to the airport for your departure flight home.