Central Asia Itinerary

8 September – 7 October, 2024 | 30 Captivating Days
The Free Information Pack has more details including flights & hotels.

September 2024
Sun 8     Auckland – Dubai

This evening we depart Auckland on our Emirates flight to Dubai.

Mon 9    Dubai – Bishkek    (B)

We arrive in Dubai early this morning and have the use of hotel day rooms until our flight to Bishkek this evening.

Mon 10    Bishkek    (B,D)

We arrive in Bishkek at about 4.40am this morning and transfer to the hotel for an immediate check in.  The morning is at leisure.
Gather in the early afternoon for a visit to the Osh Bazaar.  The sights, smells and sounds of bazaars are part of the sensory experience of Bishkek.
Have an early dinner this evening at the hotel.

Wed 11    Bishkek    (B,L,D)

This morning we travel out of Bishkek and visit Ala-Archa National Park.  We have a short walk in the park and enjoy nature.
Return to central Bishkek for lunch and this afternoon tour the central sites of Bishkek.  Begin at Bishkek’s central square, Ala-Too, laid out in 1984 and adorned with a giant statue of Lenin. In 2003, Lenin was replaced by a new statue, called Freedom. This is where the public gathers to celebrate – or to demonstrate.
The Manas monument on Ala-Too Square dedicated to the hero of the national epic Manas was erected on August 31, 2011 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyz independence. The statue replaced a female figure representing Freedom, which in turn had replaced a statue of Lenin. The 55-foot monument shows a bronze Manas astride a horse with his hand raised in greeting. His pedestal is a massive rectangular cuboid of warm-coloured stone blocks.
Victory Square takes up a city block near the centre of town. Constructed in time for the 40th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in 1985, the park has an eternal flame, a sculpture of a woman waiting for her husband to return from war, and stylized granite yurt ribs held together at the top by the symbol of Kyrgyzstan, the tunduk. A tunduk is the round fragment of sky seen through the hole in the roof of a yurt. It is featured on the flag of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Oak Park is Bishkek’s most important central park. Named for the oaks planted here soon after the city’s founding, the six-acre park is a favourite for strolling and relaxing. One section of the park features artwork, sculptures and monuments, while the other is green and blooming. In 2010, the park was officially renamed for Kyrgyz literary figure Chingiz Aitmatov, but most people still call it Oak Park.
Take a short drive outside of Bishkek for a festive welcome dinner at the Supara Ethno-Complex. Wander around and you will observe a serene yurt village and the surrounding mountain scenery.
Dinner includes a folklore and Manas performance.

Thu 12    Bishkek – Lake Issyk-kul    (B,L,D)

After breakfast, set out overland to Lake Issyk Kul.  En route, stop in Tokmok town to visit the Burana Historical Complex.  The 11th century Burana Tower is one of the only existing watchtowers on the old Silk Road. Make the optional climb up to the platform from inside the tower – while the ancient steps are steep, the view from the top is magnificent. The settlement was an important seat of power, and was so celebrated that Genghis Khan’s Mongol horde spared the city from destruction when it began to conquer the region in the early 13th century. The Mongols renamed the city Gobalik, meaning “good city.” Visit the small museum and the collection of ancient bal-bals, carved stone figures used as monuments.
Near Burana Tower, enjoy a display of traditional Kyrgyz horse games, such as Ulak Tartysh, a sort of polo played with a goat carcass, and Oodarysh, a kind of wrestling match on horseback.
We have lunch with a local family in the nearby Don-Aryk village and enjoy a felt making demonstration.
Continue on to Issyk Kul, arriving in time for dinner at the hotel.

Fri 13    Lake Issyk-kul    (B,L,D)

Spend the day exploring the beautiful scenery around Issyk Kul.
Known as Grigorievka, for the village at the foot of the gorge, Chon-Ak-Suu is 32km of wooded slopes, waterfalls, glacial lakes and fantastic views.  Take a walk through the Grigoriev Gorge.  Near the Gorge participate in a yurt set up demonstration.
Lunch will be a picnic in the gorge.
View an eagle hunting demonstration.  Steppe nomads have used birds of prey for hunting for thousands of years. The birds’ keen eyesight and ability to survey the grasslands from far above give them an advantage that humans were able to harness to their own ends. Observe a demonstration of the eagles that Bokonbaevo’s berkutchi have trained to hunt for them.
Return to the hotel for dinner and a free evening.

Sat 14     Lake Issyk-kul – Almaty    (B,L,D)

Today, set out overland towards Almaty with lunch at a local restaurant en route.
On arrival in Almaty check in to our hotel and enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Sun 15     Almaty    (B,L)

We visit the Central State Museum, a history museum with exhibits that detail the development of Kazakhstan and its people from the Bronze Age through the Russian Empire, the Communist Period and the present day. One of the exhibits is a miniature replica of the country’s chief archeological treasure, the Golden Man, a warrior’s armour made from 4,000 gold pieces. There are also displays of Kazakh handicrafts and souvenir shops selling rugs and jewellery.
Visit Panfilov Park, a green oasis in Almaty’s central area renamed by the Soviets in honour of the 28 Kazakh soldiers led by General Panfilov who died on the outskirts of Moscow during WWII.  A monument in the park honours the soldiers, and an Eternal Flame memorializes all the people who died during the war. Also in the park is Zenkov Cathedral, a wooden Orthodox church built at the turn of the century.
A widespread myth says that the cathedral was built without the use of nails, due to the precision of its building.
We drive to Kok-Tobe, a 3,800-foot hill on the outskirts of Almaty with an aerial tramway leading to a recreation area at the top.
The evening will be at leisure with an independent dinner.

Mon 16    Almaty    (B,L)

Drive to spectacular Charyn Canyon, known locally as Dolina Zamkov, or “Valley of Castles.” The Charyn River, flowing rapidly down from the Tien Shan Mountains, has carved a deep and beautiful canyon into Kazakhstan’s “hungry steppe.”  The 50-mile canyon is a place of strange rock formations, colourful strata and the swift Charyn River, a favourite with expert rafters.
Enjoy a walking excursion and have lunch at a restaurant in the Canyon before returning to Almaty.

Tue 17    Almaty – Tashkent     (B,D)

After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport for our flight to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
On arrival we transfer to the Rakhimov Family Ceramics Studio.  The acclaimed private studio displays stunning examples of ancient traditional Uzbek ceramics – many of them previously displayed in Europe and Japan. Alisher Rakhimov is a sixth-generation Uzbek ceramicist whose family has been making pottery since the 1790s.  He and his father, Akbar, have made an extensive study of the history and methods of Uzbek ceramics, with a scholarly emphasis on the period from the 2nd century BC to the 15th century AD. The massive work of their father/grandfather (Mukhitdin Rakhimov), “Artistic Ceramics of Uzbekistan,” is considered a fundamental must-read for anyone desiring to learn about these ancient Uzbek styles and techniques; for his life’s work Mukhitdin was awarded the prestigious Soviet-era title of People’s Artist of the USSR.
Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, Alisher and Akbar are adept in ancient glazing and dyeing techniques, reproducing the golden ceramics of the Surkhandarya style and the stamped decorations of the Kashgari region. The father-son artistic duo has revived the lost art of natural dye use, teaching contemporary Uzbek ceramicists their rediscovered techniques.  In true Uzbek hospitality, enjoy fragrant tea and sweets while conversing with Alisher and Akbar about their art and passion for preserving and passing on their family’s prized ceramics legacy.
Dinner will be at our hotel restaurant.

Wed 18     Tashkent    (B,L)

Tashkent is built in a seismically active area, and has suffered from earthquakes throughout its history.  In April 1966, a 7.5 quake destroyed the homes of 300,000 people, hitting the older sections of the city hardest.
The Courage Monument was built near the dividing line between the old town and Tashkent’s newer section to honour the workers from all over the Soviet Union who came to Tashkent to help rebuild the city.
Enter spacious Independence Square through a silver arch embellished with white storks. The golden globe of the Monument of Independence, constructed in 1991, sits above the 20-foot Happy Mother statue, who gazes lovingly at her child, the future of Uzbekistan. Among the fountains and flower beds other, sadder, mother figures wait for their sons around an eternal flame that honours the many Uzbeks who perished during WWII.  On the outskirts of the square are Tashkent’s administrative and government buildings.
Following lunch explore Old Tashkent, beginning with a visit to Khast-Imam Plaza, with its 16th century Kaffal-Shoshi Mausoleum and al-Bukhari Madrassah; the recently renovated Juma Mosque on the square where executions used to be held; and Sayilgoh (or Broadway), a pedestrian street where one can shop for art and souvenirs. Dip down underground to admire the beautifully decorated Tashkent subway stations.
The Uthman Koran, considered by Sunni Muslims to be the oldest Koran in the world, is safeguarded in the library of the Tillya Sheikh Mosque in the Muy Muborok Madrassah, where several of Mohammed’s hairs are said to have been enshrined.  Written on calfskin some time after the death of Mohammed, the manuscript was compiled in Medina by Uthman, the third caliph of Islam.  Only a third of the manuscript remains, about 250 large pages bound into a huge book.  It has been inscribed onto the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Thu 19     Tashkent – Khujand    (B,L,D)

Opened in 1989 in honour of the centennial of the Samarkand-Tashkent leg of the Trans-Caspian Railway from Russia, Tashkent’s big Railway Museum features 13 historic steam locomotives and 20 or more diesel and electric locomotives. The oldest steam engine is of the OB series, fondly nicknamed “the Lamb,” produced at Russia’s Kolomenski factory from 1901 and in Uzbekistan from 1914. There is also an example of the last and most powerful of the Soviet steam locomotives, the P-36, produced from 1949 to 1956. An antique sleeper car called the ”Czar’s carriage” contains artifacts and photos of the development of Uzbek rail.
Browse the Applied Arts Museum.  A wealthy czarist diplomat to Turkestan admiring Uzbek architecture, Alexander Polovtsev built a traditional mansion in 1898 and invited artisans from Samarkand, Bukhara and Fergana to decorate the interior.  Featuring the painted carved plaster called ganche, carved wood, and tile work, the house itself is a main attraction.  Exhibits include the Uzbek embroidered wall coverings called suzani, ceramics, jewellery, rugs, and musical instruments.
After lunch transfer to the Uzbek-Tajik border.  Meet your Tajik vehicle and driver and continue to Khujand for dinner.

Fri 20     Khujand    (B,D)

Enter the new Historical Museum of Sogdiana through a reconstructed medieval city gate.  Displays include ancient Sogdian artifacts and exhibits from more recent Tajik history.
12th-century leader and poet Muslihiddin Khujandi is buried in the Muslihiddin Memorial Complex, which has been rebuilt many times since that time.  Today the complex includes a 16th-century mosque and 19th-century minaret as well as the poet’s mausoleum.
Khujand’s pink-painted covered Panjshanbe Bazaar is filled with goods to buy – both local and imported clothing, shoes and sundries. Outside the huge columned structure, rows of tables are covered with bags of brilliant spices and nuts, straw-bedded melons with macramé handles, and piles of vegetables.
In the afternoon, stop by the Friday Mosque to observe the local men at prayer.
Dinner this evening is at a local restaurant.

Sat 21     Khujand – Iskanderkul    (B,L,D)

Set out overland towards Iskanderkul this morning.  En route stop in Istaravshan.  Founded in the 6th century BC by Cyrus the Great, Istaravshan celebrated its 2,500th anniversary in 2002. Known from the 14th century Timurids as Ura-Tube, the old part of the city retains its traditional layout from this time. The artisans of Ura-Tube were highly regarded in Central Asia, and their products, including fabrics, knives and embroidery, were sought after.
Also stop at Mugh Teppa fortress. Only the gate and two columns survive of the citadel on top of Mugh Hill, said to be from the time of Cyrus the Great.
On arrival at Iskanderkul, settle into the accommodations.

Sun 22    Iskanderkul – Dushanbe    (B,L)

This morning, join an optional walk to the nearby waterfall before setting off mid-morning to Dushanbe.
Named for the Persian word for Monday, Dushanbe was at one point a small market village where traders would gather each Monday to sell their goods. During the Soviet era, the city grew to be the most important industrial centre in Tajikistan.
We have lunch at a local restaurant in Dushanbe and the rest of the afternoon is at leisure.

Mon 23    Dushanbe    (B,L,D)

Just 18 miles from Tajikistan’s capital in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the 18th century Hissar Fortress dominates the city of Hissar. The area has been inhabited since antiquity and features an 8th-century mosque, but it was the emirs who inhabited the fortress and the Silk Route traders that crossed the valley who made Hissar a centre of commerce and learning. Several madrassahs, Islamic religious schools that date from the emir period are still standing today.
The Fortress houses the remains of the palace of the Bukhara Emirate Beks. Its thick baked brick walls once guarded a pool, garden, and palace, and sat opposite a noisy market and caravanserai. The strategically important fortress guarded the town, which was a staging post on the old Silk Road, and it is said that it was overcome and destroyed by the likes of Cyrus the Great and Alexander the Great. What remains today is a portion of the wall and two monumental gate towers from the 18th century.
Back in Dushanbe it is hard to miss the golden arch and bubbling fountains of the Ismail Samani monument in the centre of the town. Commemorating the 1,100th anniversary of the Samanid State, the handsome monument honours the Persian Samanis, whose time in power was one of peace and plenty, with a great flourishing of science and the arts. Also located in the centre of town, Rudaki Park is dedicated to the 9th-century Persian poet Rudaki. Paths wind through the flowers and grass, and a mosaic- covered statue of Rudaki and a fountain lie in its centre. Families from all over Dushanbe flock here on warm evenings and holidays.
The small but fascinating Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments was founded by Badakhshani actor Gurminj Zavkybekov. Displaying a fine collection of beautifully crafted antique and modern instruments from Afghanistan, the Pamirs, Turkey and China, the museum is often the scene of exuberant performances and demonstrations.

Tue 24     Dushanbe – Penjikent    (B,D)

Head out overland to Penjikent this morning, arriving in the early afternoon.
On a ledge above the new town are the ruins of what was an important Sogdian trade centre. Called Bunjikath, meaning “five villages,” the town was built in the 5th century AD, and survived for three hundred years until the Arabs burned it during their 8th century invasion.
Re-discovered in 1933, the early medieval site includes the remains of the shahriston, or town centre, and the frescoed foundations of the houses of wealthy merchants. Two Zoroastrian temples demonstrate the importance of the old city. An onsite museum explains the history and significance of the ruins.
Dinner is at a local restaurant.

Wed 25    Penjikent – Samarkand    (B,L,D)

This morning, continue across the border back to Uzbekistan and on to Samarkand.
On arrival in Samarkand we have lunch at a local restaurant and an afternoon tour.
Registan Square is the centerpiece of Samarkand, and the most recognizable landmark for visitors.  The three emblematic madrassahs frame the square, and loom over the empty space in the centre.  It was this central space that originally gave the place its name, for “registan” simply means “place of sand.”  This sandy place was at the centre of ancient Samarkand and was a public square and marketplace before the Ulug Bek, Tillya-Kori, and Shir Dor madrassahs were built.  In its reconstruction, the square maintains the majesty that it has radiated through the ages.
Gur-Emir Mausoleum is the final resting place of Tamerlane, but was originally built for his grandson after the latter’s death, at the turn of the 15th century. The interior of the mausoleum has been restored and is brilliant in gold leaf and fresh tile. The heavily gilded central dome opens over the set of tomb-markers resembling sarcophagi (the bodies are located well below, but are on site). All are marble, with the exception of Tamerlane’s, which is a slab of solid jade reportedly from Mongolia.
Visit internationally recognized fashion designer Valentina Romanenko’s studio.  Moscow-trained Romanenko has transformed her traditional Uzbek home into a workshop and display area.  In this intimate setting, decorated with brilliant Uzbek carpets and wall hangings, she creates and shows her elegant modern fashions made with traditional fabrics and techniques.  Enjoy a short presentation with graceful Uzbek women modeling Romanenko’s sophisticated creations as exotic music plays.
Dinner this evening is at Dilfuza’s home restaurant.

Thu 26     Samarkand    (B,L,D)

Just outside of modern-day Samarkand lie the dusty hills of the ancient city of Afrosiab, once a potent capital, now an archaeological site guarding treasures of antiquity. Scientific digs here began in the 1800s under Russian rule, and continue to this day. On site is the Afrosiab History Museum, which houses artifacts from the area, including pottery and tile found among the excavated walls of the town.
Visit the Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane to be the largest mosque in the Islamic world, and dedicated to the memory of his favourite wife. Architects from India and Persia were brought in to build the mosque, and it is said that 95 elephants were used to transport the marble and other building materials from India to Samarkand.
The row of tombs and mausoleums collectively called Shah-i-Zinda, or “place of a living king,” stretches between the present and the past. At its front is living Samarkand, and at its back the dusty slopes at the edge of ancient Afrosiab. Even on hot summer days the mausoleums remain shady and cool, and seem to lure the traveller to approach the oldest tomb at the far end. Behind the complex and set into the hill lies an active cemetery with grave sites dating back as far as the 9th century, and as recently as the present day.
We have lunch and then visit the Ulug Bek Observatory.  Though concerned with conquest, politics and other matters of terrestrial importance, Tamerlane’s grandson, Ulug Bek, found his true interest in the heavens. The astronomer-king was fascinated by the stars and the cosmos and built one of the most advanced observatories of the ancient world. The observations, which he undertook with the naked eye only, predated the telescope by over 150 years. They were aided by the building itself, which housed a large vertical half-circle, only a quarter of which remains today. By using careful methods, rigorous observation and meticulous recording, Ulug Bek calculated the length of the year to within a minute of the modern accepted value. He also created the most comprehensive (to that date) catalogue of the heavens, earning his place in history.
Tour the Afghan-Uzbek Silk Carpet Factory.  This joint venture carpet factory uses natural vegetable dyes to colour the thread used in its carpets.  Tour the gardens outside the factory where the weavers grow indigo, coleus and dahlias to use for dye.  Observe the entire process of dying the thread and weaving the carpets, with an opportunity to shop afterward.
We have dinner at a local restaurant.

Fri 27    Samarkand – Bukhara    (B,L)

Set out this morning overland towards Bukhara with a stop in Gijduvan en route. Pay a visit to the ceramics workshop of the Narzulaev family, some of the most renowned ceramicists in Uzbekistan. Their Gijduvan-school ceramics are characterized by the use of flower ornamentation and natural colours, with an emphasis on greens and browns.  Tour the kilns and the studio, and enjoy a meal in the showroom, where glowing handmade ceramic plates and bowls are on display.

Sat 28     Bukhara    (B,L)

An oasis in the desert, UNESCO-listed Bukhara offers cool shade and rest to the modern traveller as it did to the camel caravans that plied the Silk Road hundreds of years ago. Bukhara is as old as Samarkand, and has preserved its ancient architecture and design to an arguably larger extent than that city.  The Old Town in Bukhara has a unified feel, drawn together by a central reflecting pool and plaza, by commonality in the structure of the domed bazaars and by the major monuments ringing the Old Town: the Kalon Assembly, the Zindan Prison, and the Ark Citadel.
With the feel of a true oasis in an oasis town, the Lyabi-Hauz plaza is at the centre of Bukhara’s old town and is – as it has been throughout history – a place to meet friends, to eat, to drink, and to relax in the shade. The atmosphere is cooled by the long rectangular reflecting pool that makes up the centre of the plaza, and by the shade of the trees that ring the plaza. The mulberry trees here are hundreds of years old and frame the 16th and 17th century madrassahs that make up three of the four edges of the ensemble.
The Kukeldash Madrassah on the north side of the Lyabi Hauz reflecting pool is the largest Koranic school in Central Asia.  Named for the statesman and general Kulbaba Kukeldash, the madrassah was built in 1568.
Wander the covered bazaar, admiring deep stacks of vivid handwoven carpets, felt hats, exotic jewelry and gorgeous embroidered suzani. Constructed in the 16th century to sell the wares that arrived with the caravans, the arched trade domes organized the merchandise and crafts by types, as well as kept the traders cool. Four of the stately domed markets remain, originally occupied by currency exchanges, metalware, carpets, books, jewelry and fabrics.
The Chashma Ayub Mausoleum is not a true mausoleum, but a qadamdjoy, or site visited by a holy person.  The Koranic prophet, Ayub – the Biblical prophet, Job – reportedly struck the ground with his staff here, and water immediately bubbled up from a spring.  The oldest part of this multi-domed building was probably built in the 12th century.  Under its many roofs are the sacred spring and the Water Supply History Museum of Bukhara.
Visit Poi Kalon, also called the Bukhara Forum. The 12th century Kalon assembly, including the Kalon Mosque and Minaret, and the Mir-i-Arab Madrassah, surrounds an open plaza teeming with merchants and local vendors. The minaret towers over the dusty square, looking down from a height of more than 150 feet, and casting its shadow between the mosque and the madrassah. Fourteen distinct and unique bands of brickwork circle the tower at intervals, and at the top of the minaret resolve into a traditional stalactite formation.
The Ark Citadel is the original fortress of Bukhara and likely dates back two thousand years or more. The current structure has been built and rebuilt on the same site throughout its history, and has preserved something of the form, purpose and function of the first Ark. Like the medieval castle complexes of Europe, the Bukhara Ark served the Emirs of Bukhara as a residence, audience hall, as protection from neighboring enemies and for more mundane purposes, such as a trade centre and a police station.
In a clearing in a tree-filled park a small plaza is marked with a single building, the Ismael Samani Mausoleum. It is the 10th century resting place of Ismael Samani, founder of the Persian Samanid Dynasty, and was buried under centuries of sand and not discovered until the 20th century. Though small, it is detailed in a fashion not seen in many other Bukharan monuments. More than sixteen styles of brickwork adorn the face of this cubic memorial, and their elaborate pleats and layering are still fresh today. From inside, the transition from square walls to circular roof, created using bricks of identical size and shape, testifies to the engineering know-how of the designers.

Sun 29     Bukhara    (B,L)

This morning visit the Palace of Moon and Stars, or the Summer Palace of the last Emir of Bukhara. The palace was built for the Emir at the turn of the century, after the Russians took control of Bukhara. The grounds here are heavily planted, and arbored walkways connect the various pavilions and buildings. Wild peacocks and peahens stroll through the park-like setting, strutting with their long showpiece plumage. The palace itself is something of a showpiece, as it was designed to keep the emir in luxury, but removed from the city, isolated and politically impotent.
The palace grounds also hold a smaller residence, often referred to as the harem, though that is probably an inaccurate description of its use. It overlooks a large reflecting pool, and is in turn overlooked by a platform on which the emir could recline and relax.
After lunch, enjoy the afternoon and evening at leisure in Bukhara.

Mon 30    Bukhara – Khiva    (B,L,D)

Today depart Bukhara for Khiva. Travel by private coach across long stretches of the Kyzyl Kum, or Red Sands, Desert. This is the same route ridden by loaded Silk Road camel caravans and once plagued by brigands on hand to plunder their riches.
The landscape is made up of dunes, saxaul bushes and the distant mountains. Along the way you may catch glimpses of the Amu Darya River, which used to be called the Oxus, and loosely parallels the Uzbek-Turkmen border.
Enjoy a picnic lunch at a local café along the way and arrive in Khiva in time for a short guided walk around the Old Town at dusk before dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.


October 2024

Tue 1     Khiva    (B,D)

Legend says that the ancient Silk Road oasis of Khiva was founded at the place where Shem, son of Noah, discovered water in the desert, and that the city got its name from Shem’s joyful shout, “Hey va!” at the  discovery.  Today the living city is part museum town, part re-creation of life hundreds of years ago.
We have a half day walking tour around Old Town Khiva.  Archaeologists have found traces of human habitation around Khiva dating from the 5th century BC. It was for hundreds of years a stop on the old Silk Road and a fortress town, but it was not until the 16th century that Khiva became the capital of the Khorezm Khanate.  The khanate ruled the surrounding area for over 300 years.
The mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud was built in 1810 to honor the patron of Khiva, Pakhlavan Makhmud; a poet and wrestler who died in the 14th century and is buried here. Its full turquoise dome has become a symbol of Khiva, along with the nearby Islam Khodja Minaret, banded in dark and light blue.
Enjoy an afternoon at leisure.
Dinner with a colourful performance of Khorezmian music and dance this evening.

Wed 2     Khiva – Nukus    (B,L,D)

Depart today for the small city of Nukus in western Uzbekistan. Nukus is the capital of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, home to the Karakalpaks, a Turkic people more closely related to Kazakhs than to Uzbeks. A modern city, Nukus is at the centre of an area crisscrossed by old caravan routes and dotted with ancient ruins. The surrounding cotton fields testify to the monoculture that stole the water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the rivers that fed the Aral Sea.
About 125 miles northwest is Muynak, once a thriving fishing port but today 100 miles from the Aral Sea shoreline. Learn about the environmental impact of the shrinking Aral Sea from a local expert.
Visit the incredible Savitsky Art Museum, whose founder, Igor Savitsky, was able to amass a wonderful collection of banned avant-garde Russian art pieces without interference from the Soviets. The story of this endeavour has been told in the award-winning documentary, Desert of Forbidden Art.
The collection is the second-largest collection of Russian avant-garde art after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.
Dine this evening at a private home and say farewell to Uzbekistan.

Thu 3    Nukus – Dashoguz – Ashgabat    (B,L,D) 

Depart by coach from Nukus to the Turkmen border. Customs formalities can be time consuming, so patience is a virtue this morning. After the crossing, visit Kunya-Urgench, an agricultural centre of about 30,000 near the Uzbek border. It is the site of the ancient capital of Khorezm, which was razed by both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. About half a mile south of the town lie the remains of the UNESCO-listed old city, including the 11th-century Kutlug-Timur Minaret, ringed with 18 bands of decorative mud brick and blue majolica tiles. Also admire the domed hall of the Turabek Khanum Mausoleum. Notable for the interlocking design of its remarkably-preserved ceiling, the mausoleum was built for the daughter of one of the leaders of the Golden Horde.
Drive to the city of Dashoguz and visit a local market before the transfer to the airport for a flight to Ashgabat. Following an hour-long flight over the Kara Kum, or Black Sand desert, arrive in Ashgabat and transfer to the hotel for overnight.

Fri 4    Ashgabat    (B,L,D)

The beautiful Kopet-Dag Mountains rise up around Nisa, a site 15 miles outside of Ashgabat that was once a major centre of the ancient Parthian Kingdom. More than two thousand years ago the Parthian Empire spread out from Nisa and took its place among such kingdoms as the Achaemenid under Cyrus the Great and the Macedonian under Alexander the Great. Though Nisa was ruled by a succession of dynasties, it remained an important centre in the ancient world until the 13th century, when the Mongols sacked it. Today archaeological work continues at Nisa, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
The huge $100-million-dollar Kipchak Mosque in former Turkmen President Niyazov’s hometown of Kipchak was inaugurated in 2004. The mosque is big enough to hold 10,000 people, and its 164-foot golden dome had to be lowered in place by helicopter. Verses from Niyazov’s own spiritual book, the Ruhnama, are etched on the walls alongside Koranic verses. Niyazov was buried here in the family mausoleum that he built, along with the mosque, with government funds.
Venture outside the city to visit a horse-breeding farm devoted to the renowned Akhal-Teke horse, arguably the oldest cultured breed of horse in the world. The owner accompanies you on the tour to talk about the workings of the farm and about the breed. These elegant horses have long, slender necks, small heads, long legs and narrow chests. They are said to have lent their genes to both the Arabian horse and the American Quarter Horse.

Sat 5    Ashgabat    (B,L)

Admire the stately Ertugrul Ghazi Mosque, inaugurated in 1998. Designed to be reminiscent of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, the white marble building with its four minarets has an interior decorated with stained glass.
The Russian Bazaar in the centre of Ashgabat is a large covered market selling all kind of foodstuffs, including prepared foods, fruits, nuts, vodka, high quality caviar and traditional breads. Before independence, this was where most ethnic Russians would shop, but today anyone is welcome.
We visit the National Museum of Turkmenistan to see a fantastic selection of Turkmen carpets located on the ground floor.
End the tour with a festive farewell lunch with a performance of traditional Turkmen music before an afternoon at leisure to finish souvenir shopping and packing for the early morning departure tomorrow.

Sun 6    Ashgabat 

We have a very early flight to Dubai this morning, where we transit through to our flight to

Mon 7    ….Home

Home to New Zealand with special memories of our time in Central Asia.