Arrived to weather alternating between Spring and Winter. It was early morning and the cold air was brisk and refreshing, just what we needed after the 17 hour flight to Dubai, day room and 3 hour hop to Bishkek. Straight to the hotel and an opportunity to adjust to the local time (6 hours before NZ).
Day 1: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – Tue 18 April, 2023
I took myself off for a walk in the nearby Oak Park.
And guess who I found?
Midday the group gathered together and we were off to Osh Bazaar, the wholesale market for the city. Full of food, products, musical instruments, clothes, people and even repairmen.
The best smell was from the bread section. All those fresh loaves with crusty top and soft white centre. The price was about 30 cents NZ each. All that you can see would be sold by the end of the day. I love the decorations in the middle which indicates which baker made the bread.
Day 2: Bishkek – Wed 19 April, 2023
The day started with Winter as we drove out of the city towards the Tian Shan Mountains and Ala Archa National Park. As the road rose the air got colder, mist appeared and there was snow on the ground.
Back to Bishkek and the spring flowers. A walk around Ala-Too Square and local park.
Manas, the local hero.
The day ended with dinner in a yurt and being entertained by local musicians.
Day 3: Bishkek to Lake Issyk-Kul – Thu 20 April, 2023
A travelling day today we left Bishkek to visit Burna Tower, a 11th century watchtower on the old Silk Road. The tower stands alone but was once part of a vibrant seat of power. The tower is only half the height it once was.
In a nearby field were dozens of bal-bals, headstones from long ago.
From here we moved on towards the Lake stopping for lunch with a local family. They were so welcoming and generous with lunch.
We were also treated to a felt making demonstration by the local ladies.
After lunch it was off to the horse games and the ladies in our group backing red to win and the men supporting green. The final score 4 green – 2 red.
First game, picking up small bags from the ground whilst galloping past on a horse.
Game Two: wrestling while on horse-back. The winner manages to unseat his opponent.
Game Three: Pick up the goat (ball), race to your well (goal) and get the goat in the well before your other team steals it from you.
Last stop of the day was the Cholpan-Ata petroglyphs. Their placements helped the no-mads find their way to the lake and back to the mountains.
We got distracted by the flock of sheep amongst the rocks.
Day 4: Lake Issyk-Kul – Fri 21 April, 2023
This wonderful day started with driving up the gravel road into the Grigoriev Gorge. Here we were privileged to see the Golden Eagle fly and hunt. This bird allowed us to hold and stroke it – magical experience.
On to yurt building with a local family.
Step 1: Support the top frame by ridges tied to the lattice walls.
Step 2: Hand the huge pom pom from the top. These go to help refract light within the yurt.
Step 3: Get the westerns sitting on your felt walls to stop playing – hear no evil, say no evil, see no evil.
Step 4: Wrap the felt around the walls and wrap the roof with sections of fabric and felt.
Step 5: Brew some tea for later.
Step 6: Decorate the finished yurt and have lunch.
After lunch we walked up the nearby hill to get a view of the valley and the snow capped mountains.
Day 5: Lake Issyk-Kul to Almaty – Sat 22 April, 2023
A travelling day as journeyed to the land border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It was a long time but an excellent crossing as we moved quickly from one passport control to another across the No Man’s Land, a bridge across a river. We left our lovely Kyrgyz guide Farkhod Alimbaev at the border and met our Kazakh guide, Ms Cholpon Omuralieva.
On the way we had lunch at the oddly named Hawaii restaurant whose grounds is decorated with unusual statues mostly made of recycled materials.
Day 6: Almaty – Sun 23 April, 2023
A city tour today starting with the State Museum and ending with Paniflov Park. In between we visited the Falcon Park with a display of birds covering owls, falcons, eagles and vultures.
A warrior found partly burnt but body intact with multiple gold pieces decorating their clothes, helmet, boots and sword. Its not known if it was male or female.
The museum also contained pre-historic animals such as this impressive mastodon.
The ethnographic section had exceptional textiles and clothing.
Lastly I found a copy of an ancient map. This map can be read from any side and shows what was known about the area in 14th century: the Catalan Atlas.
Next stop, Paul the Birdman. On the outskirts of Almaty, next to a National Park, Paul has his place for birds: owls, falcons, eagles and vultures.
Back to city centre for an Italian lunchat Del Papa, totally delicious and a short walk in the surrounding area. Almaty has a very cosmopolitan feel with cafes, ethnic restaurants of different and people dress in western style.
It was such a beautiful sunny day that our next stop, up the hill by cable car provided views across the city without smog. Of course we made a pilgrimage to the Beatles statue.
Time for a walk in Panfilov Park, a place which recommends heroes from the Great Patriotic War (our WII). This large park is full of trees, monuments and some interesting buildings, including the Zenkov Cathedral.
Monument to the soldiers, The inscription says something like “There is nowhere to retreat—Moscow is behind us!”
The eternal flame defended by school boys leading up to the Memorial Day 9th May. As someone in our group remarked, the boys was the age of many of died in the war.
Day 7: Almaty – Mon 24 April, 2023
The weather was perfect for our visit to the spectacular Charyn Canyon: blue sky, soft breeze and warm sun. On our way we listened to the audible book and considered who the murder might be, learnt more about Kazakhstan and enjoyed the vista across the steppes.
The river at the end of our walk down into the canyon.
Over there beyond the snow clad mountains is China.
Day 8: Tashkent – Tue 25 April, 2023
Goodbye Kazakhstan and our fabulous local guide, Cholpon Omuralieva and hello Uzbekistan as we flew from Almaty to Tashkent.
Before checking into the hotel we went to visit the Rakhimov Family Ceramics Studio. It was such a treat being shown around by Alisher, a 6th generation Uzbek ceramicist and master in his own right.
Samples of different experiments which may be used later in designs.
Alisher explaining the book written by his grandfather about Uzbek pottery designs and glazes which he still uses today.
Alisher’s wife working on etching out a design on a pot.
After an early dinner we had our own ANZAC service with poppies, ANZAC biscuits, an appropriate poem, the Ode and some drinks.
Day 9: Tashkent – Wed 26 April, 2023
A city tour today to understand the old and new parts of Tashkent. Starting with the Courage Moument which remembers the 26 April, 1966 earthquake. Odd that we were there on the 26 April.
Next stop was Khast-Iman Plaza to visit the oldest Koran in the world.
Right next door was a brand new convention centre being constructed. I don’t think they had cranes and welding back in the day.
Also nearby is the Tillya Sheikh Mosque, also new. Yulia, our Tour Leader and Uzbek guide stanidn by the clocks showing times for prayer.
Time to take in a bazaar so we went off to Chorsu Bazaar where there was bread, sweets, vegetables and meat plus clothes.
We had some fresh bread straight from the Tandoor oven – so delicious!
There was an entire section for street/fast food Uzbek style. Hot horse sausages, kebabs, fish and plov.
Plov, that’s oil, rice, peppers, quail eggs, lumps of fat, meat and more meat.
Surprise we went for a ride on the underground. Built by the Soviets, some of the stations were works of art.
A break for lunch at Caravan before a long walk from Independence Square to Tamar’s statue. The first stop, the grieving mother by the eternal flame and records of the fallen soldiers on brass plates.
Day 10: Khujand – Thu 27 April, 2023
Another beautiful day in Central Asia. We started a little later, 9.30am with our first stop the Applies Art Museum. This wonderful place is full of textiles, decorated rooms and fine pieces of jewelry, porcelain, metal work and miniature paintings.
Now it was time for some masculine sightseeing as we heading off to the Railway Musuem and lots and lots of huge Soviet engines.
Lunch and a drive to the Oybek border crossing on the way we finished our audible book and found out who the murder was. The border crossing went well with the help of several lots of porters and a ride in a golf cart across No Man’s Land (approx 1 kilometre). Hello Tajikistan, a country of mountains. Our Tajik guide Rahmatullo Zuhurzod was there to welcome us.
Day 11: Khujand – Fri 28 April, 2023
Our fourth change of currency. It certainly varies a lot between 87 Som (Kyrgyzstan) to 451 Tenge (Kazakhstan), to 11,390 Som (Uzbekistan) to 11 Somoni (Tajikistan).
The day began with an individually cooked breakfast served in the outdoor courtyard. THen a mere hundred metres down the road we were at the Sogdiana Regional Museum. This small but perfectly formed museum has an incredibly beautiful lower room dedicated to Alexander the Great. Three walls of the room is covered in mosaic designs recording his life from birth to death. The picture below shows Alexander leading his troops into battle, Alexander is riding his favourite horse, Bucephalus.
The museum had items from prehistoric times, Alexander and the great Sogidian empire.
After the museum we strolled through the nearby park to the River Syr. Sadly we passed by the ruined fortress, destroyed by the Soviet when they occupied the city. As a surprise we went to viist the People’s Palace and happened upon a group of students in their 3rd year of medical training. We also met some younger children who were persuaded to sing to us – a very passionate song encouraging men to join the army. In response we sang an unrehearsed Pokarekare Ana.
Time to visit the Panjshanbe Bazaar and observe the men gathering for Friday Mosque.
Day 12: Khujand to Iskanderkul – Sat 29 April, 2023
Just as we were about to leave, we noticed a Artisian/Farmers Market was happening in the square near the hotel, so we all went over to have a look. As we rocked up so did the dignities, the tv crew and lots of men in black suits. The TV crew interviewed Lance, Jackie and Yulia – stars amongst us! Out stars appeared in the newspaper.
After we all managed to get away it was off to Iskanderkal, a drive of approximately 5 hours.
On the way to we stop at Istaravshan to see the Mugh Teppa Fortress and local blacksmiths. The fortress had been rebuilt for the president, however there has been something here for 2,500 years: Zoroastrian temple, Alexander’s fortress, stop on the Silk Road, Roman fort, etc etc
Detail of the man leading camels on the Old Silk Road.
Our Tajik guide, Ramo explaining some of the history, in the background the modern city of Istaravshan and in the distant the mountain range with snow capped peaks.
Brief stop for lunch and then up to the mountain pass where there was still snow on the ground. Along the way we passed a statue to Romulus and Remus a local legend – how old does that make the stories from the Silk Road?
Local people, I guess they were farmers – not sure why they were waiting here, maybe for a bus?
Its hard to get the scale of the mountains and the raw barrenness. Imagine towering walls of scree and stone in mixed hues of red and grey with a road twisting itself along its edge.
First sight of the turquise Lake Iskanderkul, where Alexander once visited.
When we arrived we wandered off for a walk to stretch the legs after the bumpy journey.
Day 13: Iskanderkul to Dushanbe – Sun 30 April, 2023
Many of us took the opportunity in the morning to walk along the lake’s edge. Although it was cold the weather remained clear. The picture below is the view from my bedroom.
Stopped to take in the view of the valley we met some goat herders. The sure-footed women were taking the animals to find food. We could have brought a goat for $20 however that wasn’t was on the schedule so we continued on our way to Dunshabe. See the kid being carried by the first lady, it was born last night.
Lunch was Plov, the traditional dish of Central Asia consisting of meat, carrots (yellow and orange), rice, oil, cummin, onions, raisins and anything else the cook wants to throw in.
A brief stop at the giant flagpole and National Musuem and then it was to the hotel and some free time. The president’s image is everywhere; sometimes he is portraited with an important building behind him, sometimes in the fields but always in a suit looking strong.
Day 14: Dushanbe – Mon 1 May, 2023
“”Monday, Monday” was the song for today (Dushanbe means Monday and today was Monday) – so to the sound of the Mamas and the Poppas we head off to Hissor Fortress outside the city. With a history of over 2,000 years this area had many interesting buildings. Out first stop was the 1,800 year old caravanserai ruins.
Inside the portal of the fortress with the watch towers on either side, once the place for people, camels and soldiers there are only ghosts (and souvenir shops).
Poppies grew in random places amongst the ruined walls and buildings.
An art class for students was in session. The students were most interested in us.
Time to head back to the city, the Ismail Samani Monument, hero of the nation. As we arrived the fountains were in full play however by the time we had walked their length they were turned off. Being by the sparkling water was very cooling.
Everywhere are female gardeners who tended the planted gardens and the beautiful roses.
Walking on we arrived at Rudaki, a renown poet.
After lunch we had our last official stop for the day Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments. This small museum run by a family of Sufi musicians who had generations of masters and instruments. Our master musican played many different instruments and even sang to us.
Back to the hotel for a break and some of us treating ourselves to French Coffee and pastry.
Day 15: Dushanbe to Penjikent – Tue 2 May, 2023
Driving back through the mountains on the Soviet built M34 road, updated by the Chinese with some impressive bridges across the river. Some stops on the way to admire the view and stretch the legs. Here is our wonderful driver Abdullah (left) with Roma.
Midafternoon we arrived in Pentijent and visited the Sodigian Archaeological Site. Once a great city known as trading centre for the caravans on the Silk Road it was destroyed by Arabs in the 7th century. Russian archaeologists made many fantastic finds during the 50s and these treasures now reside in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. Sodigians being rich and powerful decorated their homes with beautiful wall paintings.
Sodigians were very inclusive and had temples and places for Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Hindus. Below is a reconstruction of the Zoroastian altars with two niches facing East for the continual fire.
Everywhere were lumps on either side of the path, indicating houses untouched by archaeologists or digs that had been reburied. A place of ghosts.
Day 16: Penjikent to Samarkand – Wed 3 May, 2023
A very smooth border crossing this morning, only 1 hour to have our passports checked five times and gain two stamps. Back in Uzbekistan we drove about 90 minutes to get to Samarkand. As we had a bit of time we stopped at the Afrosiab History Museum to admire the Sogidian wall murals loving restored by experts from St Petersburg.
This glorious white elephants carries a noble lady. The cartoon sketch of the possible picture appears as…
Afrosiab was the ancient city of Samarkand until Tamerlane built his majestic, huge, golden capital.
After lunch we had a break to avoid the heat of the day and then it was off to Valentina Romanenko’s Studio for a fashion show. There were some mumblings from the male side of the team about ‘Women’s Shopping’ but I did note the first person to buy something was one of our men.
Valentino in her courtyard.
Now for the main event, a visit to Gur-Emir Mausoleum or Tamerlane’s Mausoleum. This impressive place was built for his son but used for him – talk about gold on gold. Entrance below.
Then we skipped over to see Tamerlane’s Grandson’s Observatory – Ulug Bek Observatory. Another impressive place when you consider the Ulug’s studies the stars for 30 years (the length of Saturn’s trip around the sun and were able to calculate hundreds of stars and their coordinates. They knew the earth was round and had measured the planet’s meridian.
The portion of the observatory which was always below ground level discovered by archaeologists.
A model of how it was constructed.
A special treat tonight with dinner at a local family home restaurant.
Final stop of the day was Registan by night.
Day 17: Samarkand – Thu 4 May, 2023
First stop this morning was Registan Square, the unique ensemble of buildings which is the centre of Samarkand. Actually built across centuries and once was the main bazaar, its has been restored to its current beauty.
Detail on one of the Madrassah’s.
Inside each of the three Madrassahs are shops and some glimpses of how richly they were decorated.
Shopping. I must say nearly everyone brought something.
Exiting Registan we strolled down the avenue of shops and cafes to Bibi Khanum Mosque. This enormous complex was built by Tamerlane and is the largest in the Islamic world. Look at the size of that baby, humans are small. As a interesting exercise we tried to calculate how many bricks would have made a facade – something like 500,000,000!
Lunch with its wonderful salads, soup, main and dessert.
Having reinvigorated ourselves it was back on track of serious sightseeing. Next stop Shah-i-Zinda or the collection of tombs and mausoleums rising up the dusty slopes near ancient Afrosiab. Up until Samarkand we have been spoilt with hardily seeing any large groups of tourists – that has all changed.
The inside of those beautifully decorated mausoleum – it was a chance moment between dense crowds of European tourists.
Last thing on the schedule today was the Afghan-Uzbek Silk Carpet Factory, a family run business who use natural dyes and care for their workers.
A break at the hotel before dinner and packing for tomorrow’s drive.
Day 18: Samarkand to Bukhara – Fri 5 May, 2023
On our road trip to Bukhara we passed miles of new buildings, empty fields (between seasons) and felt many a pothole. En route we stopped at the site of an ancient caravanserai and water cistern. The reconstructed portal and walls hid the ruins within.
The water cistern was covered with a dome to protect it from the sand and wind.
Gijduven to visit the workshop of the Narzuleav family, potters for over multiple generations using traditional clay, glazes and patterns. Below is a picture of the master explaining his craft. He actually sits in a hole with the wheel controlled by foot pedals. In the background another family member is painting the inside of a bowl before it is covered in glaze and then fired upside down.
Their ancient studio had many interesting features including these old doors and original decorations.
And then we were in Bukhara, thankfully we are staying in the old area with its atmospheric trading domes, caravanserai, Madrassahs and active shopping scene.
Day 29: Bukhara – Sat 6 May, 2023
For an oasis in the desert Bukhara was cold this morning, a swift wind and cloudy sky was unexpected. We started out at Ark Citadel, the fortress which dates back 2,500 years.
The extraordinarily wealth of the Emir is no longer in evidence – it takes some imagination to full the bare and empty spaces with fabulous carpets, fabrics, gold, people, horses and important events.
A quick trip back to the hotel for warmer clothes and then a walk through Old Bukhara taking in the trading domes, the shops and crowds.
A highlight on the way was the Tea Shop with its herbs, spices and saffron. Look at that golden smile.
A cut above the others – the blacksmith and his collection of knives and scissors.
We were stars with the locals who asked multiple times to have their photo taken with us. Here one of them with their lovely smiles.
Passing through a Trading Dome with the shops, the shoppers and the tourists.
Lunch was a delicious spaghetti Central Asia style. First stop was the High Mosque, just across from the Ark you can see the age in the faded facade. Sadly tourists are no longer allowed inside – thanks to some disrespectful bloggers.
We walked from here through a suburban street to a huge park which was once a cemetery. Here we found monuments, water and Ismael Sumani Mausolem.
This mausoleum uncovered by Russian archaeologists is a masterpiece of 9-10th century architecture. Note, no huge entry portal, each side is the same and the bricks rather plaster or tiles create the decorations: inside it was cool and quiet.
After the official part of the day the ladies and I took ourselves off to complete some quality control on the shops and enjoy afternoon tea in the Silk Road Tea Shop – delicious.
Day 20: Bukhara – Sun 7 May, 2023
Today began with a bit of hiccup when the Travel Manager, Julia tested positive for Covid. An hour’s delay to starting the day but in that hour we had a replacement guide for the day and another Travel Manager. Thank goodness for the Whisper system as Julia could finish Old Bukhara wearing a mask and maintaining her distance. Some of the highlights of Old Bukhara are found in Poi Kaon and ensemble of Mosque, Minaret and working Madrassah.
A brief stop for a cup of tea at the carpet shop. The owner is famous for her presentations on carpets and CNN. There were wool, silk, cotton and camel hair carpets with all combinations that is possible; plus the incredible two-sided/difference image carpets. That Bukhara red gets is a thrill for the eyes.
It was back on the disinfected bus to meet our new temporary local guide. Next stop the Summer Palace or Palace of Moon and Stars of the last Emir of Bukhara. Styled on St Petersburg the main building was a hybrid of west and east. While the Emir was distracted with his priceless porcelain, wild animals and women the Russian could run Bukhara as they wished.
Final visit of the day was to Bakhaudin Naqshband Mausoleum, a 14th century Sofi mystic. His simple tomb has been added to over the centuries and is now a place of pilgrimage. Not a known figure in our culture much of his life and teachings remain a mystery but we could apprecaite to thousands this was a significant place. See the pilgrim group below.
A saying of Bakhaudin’s
Everything was clean and well maintained which was an indication of well-respected the complex was. The ceilings were particularly beautiful.
Day over its was back to Old Bukhara and an evening to do as we wished. Most of the ladies came with me to the local hammam to be scrubbed, washed, oiled and heated up. There were lots of laughs, some dancing and lots of glowing skin – no photos are obvious reasons.
Day 21: Bukhara to Khiva – Mon 8 May, 2023
It was heart-felt farewell to Julia as we left her this morning to start of journey to Khiva with our replacement guide, Timur Madaminov. Here he is sporting a modern interpretation of an ancient hat.
After leaving Bukhara we had to cross the Lyzyl Kum or red sands desert, this took us 8 hours. The new concrete road was very straight and even where it was not completed or finished it was a very bumpy ride.
The reward at the end of the journey (made shorter by audio book, quiz, stories from the Silk Road and our questions being answered) was Khiva – an oasis in the desert surrounded by its ancient walls.
Look at that gaze of distrain from the camel.
Local woman making bread in a Tandoori oven for their family, The ovens are shared amongst the community.
Original 400 year old doors.
The day ended with a delicious dinner on the roof top with a view across the old town.
Day 22: Khiva – Tue 9 May, 2023
Ancient Khiva and a morning to explore and discover its beautiful buildings.
The remaining minarets (more than 60% were destroyed by the Russians) landmark the old town. We navigated our way from the West gate to the East gate and back to the South Gate, stopping at highlight locations. The West Gate was adorned by a caravan with its typical elements: the guide, the water and provisions, the merchant and lastly the trading goods.
Tiled map of Khiva showing the gates and important buildings and wells. East is at the top as all old maps were only orientated.
On to the first amazing Madrassah now used as a hotel. On the left is a minaret which was going to be the tallest in the world – “the eye of the world” by the Emir died before it was finished so it now the short minaret. Its recognisable by its multiple colourful bands.
The Emir’s palace was our next stop and its remarkable summer mosque open to the cool north wind. Each tile on its stunning walls individually painted and affixed to the wall by nail – the endless pattern flowing across three sides.
Detail of the tile work; the deliberate offset was to help the wall survive earthquakes.
Time for a well earned Morning Tea overlooking the tourists below.
Across the town to the Juma mosque over 1,500 years old and its unusual collection of wooden pillars highlighting the religious tolerance in Khiva between merchants. Our enthusiastic guide managed to negotiate the crowds trying to get their photo taken with us and the other tourists to show us; Ancient, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Egyptian, Indian and Zoroastrian pillars, all under the one roof. The mosque was much cooler than the street outside.
Time for a look inside the harem and the private life of the Emir.
Above is the Emir’s private bedroom and below a combine’s bedroom shared between 2 women.
Emir of Khiva
Old photo of the tallest minaret.
Same minaret today.
The temperature was beginning to rise and energy falling so it was a relief to visit Pakhlavan memorial with it restful blue tiles and cooler temperatures. We sat a moment in silence just to absorb where we were amongst all the busyness of travelling.
Sightseeing done, time for shopping!
The rest of the day was for whatever we wanted to do however at 6 o’clock we met on the roof to enjoy the sunset and a drink – very civilised.
Day 23: Khiva – Wed 10 May, 2023
A drive out of Khiva took us into the desert and the desert fortress of Toprak-Kala. Rediscovered by Russian archeologists this abandoned fort was once covered in sand. Wedrove to the literal end of the road and then it was nothing but desert and camels.
From here we drove to another archeological place which was even older, 2,500 years old when giants ruled the land and constructed complex, highly decorated palaces – Ayaz-Kala Fortress.
The view from the hilltop were extensive, they would certainly been able to see people approaching and how long it would take them to reach the fort. The place was abandoned because the river changed it course.
For an idea of how large the people were, this is my hand on top of the imprint of finger marks left in a brick.
History explored it was time for out picnice lunch and we stopped by the lake and tried out best to sit on the floor inside a yurt.
Back to Khiva and a wonderful dinner with some local musicians to entertain us.
We walked back through night-time Khiva and the floodlit buildings.
Its was then time to go to the airport for our late flight to Tashkent and our last day in Central Asia.
Day 24: Tashkent – 11 May, 2023
A restful day today with folk decided to do whatever they wanted. A few of us checked out the local department store and then enjoyed afternoon tea at nearby cafe.