Duration: 13 days / 13 nights
Ashgabat – Mary / Merv / Gonur – Ashgabat – Darvaza – Konye-Urgench – Dashoguz – Khiva - Bukhara – Shakhrisabz – Samarkand – Tashkent
Day 1: Ashgabat arrival
In the morning arrive to Turkmenistan/Iran border "Howdan/Bajigiran" (opens at 09:00 am TM time). Complete Customs formalities; meet your guide/driver transfer to Ashgabat (40 km). Check-in to hotel on arrival. Time at leisure. Overnight in hotel 4*/3*.
Day 2: Ashgabat
In the morning start Ashgabat tour, we visit the fortress of Old Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. Returning to Ashgabat, we visit Kipchak village to see a complex of the biggest mosque in Turkmenistan and the family mausoleum of the first President. In Ashgabat we visit independence-period parks and monuments, and the National Museum of history and ethnography (closed on TUE), whose halls are dedicated to various themes and historical periods. Demonstrating a rich collection of artifacts from all over Turkmenistan, including ivory rhytons from Old Nisa, the museum will also offer us reconstruction models of the sites that we are going to visit. Later visit the Carpet Museum (closed on SUN; SAT open until 1pm). Overnight at hotel 4*/3*.
Day 3: Ashgabat – Mary (360 km; 6-8 hrs) (B)
In the morning, we head east along one of the major directions of the former Silk Road in Turkmenistan. 12 kilometers from Ashgabat we will make a stop near modern Anau, at a former medieval city of Bagabad, featuring the citadel of an important Timurid-period centre and the ruins of the Seyit Jemaleddin mosque, which is referred to in many historical sources as “house of beauty”. Many centuries ago (around the 5th mill. BC) this area accommodated the population of early Central Asian farmers who developed the world-famous Anau culture, evidences of which were discovered and extracted during archaeological researches throughout the XX century. 120 km from Ashgabat, we make a short stop to stretch our legs roaming through the ruins of Abiverd, once an important trading town of northern Khorasan and a key link on the Silk Route among Nisa, Merv and Nishapur. Then we continue to Mary, observing succession of desert, settlements and fields and encountering numerous “depe”, mounds marking and hiding remnants of former fortified strongholds, caravanserais, watch-towers or country-side estates of wealthy landlords. In the afternoon, we arrive in Mary, the capital of the present-day Mary region and the centre of the Murghab oasis. Rest of the time is free at leisure. Overnight at hotel 4*/3*.
Day 4: Mary – Gonur depe (c. 100 km / 2.5-3 hrs one way) – Mary
After early breakfast in hotel we set off north-east, towards Gonur Depe, which used to be the capital of the legendary Margush country. After two hours’ drive through fields and villages and another hour through the desert, we arrive at an important archaeological site, the centre of a remarkable Bronze Age civilization, discovered in 1972 and explored continuously by Prof. Victor Sarianidi. Gonur Depe, as the professor described it, is a palace complex of 10 ha, represented by partly excavated earthen walls of former administrative buildings and religious structures of the Zoroastrian type. After about 1-1.5 hours of sightseeing, we will have a picnic lunch, lunch boxes that we brought with us from the city and then head back to Mary. Transfer to hotel on arrival. Time at leisure. Overnight in hotel in Mary 4*/3*.
Day 5: Mary - Merv (25 km) – Mary – Ashgabat (by air)
After breakfast in hotel we drive to one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ancient Merv (25 km). Consisting of a series of cities, succeeding one another as capitals of the famous oasis, Ancient Merv is the only site of its kind in Central Asia. The 7 c. BC Erk-Kala (Alexandria of Margiana in the 4 c. BC), the 3 c. BC Gyaur-Kala (Antioch of Margiana), medieval Sultan-Kala (Seljuk “Queen of Cities”), as well as post-medieval Abdullakhan-Kala and Bayramalikhan-Kala (early and late 15 c. Merv of the Timurids) are not the only places to admire here. Being an architectural site as well as archaeological, Merv may offer numerous standing monuments, such as the oldest of still standing corrugated mud-brick “keshks” – Great and Little Kiz Kalas, magnificent Seljuk mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammad ibn Zaid, the palace and keshk in the royal Seljuk citadel of Shahriar Ark, Timurid eyvans and Arab tombs of the Profet’s companions, Askhabs, and many more. After Merv sightseeing (about 2-2.5 hrs sightseeing) drive to Mary, to visit a local History Museum where we can findings from the sites we’ve seen in Gonur and Merv. Today we will also visit Mary local bazaar and Russian Orthodox church (one of the oldest in Turkmenistan). Later transfer to Mary airport to take an evening flight to Ashgabat (40 mins with Boing 737/717). Transfer to hotel on arrival. Free time at leisure. Overnight in hotel 4*/3*.
Day 6: Ashgabat – Darvaza (260 km / 3.5-4 hrs one way)
Morning is free at leisure. Late morning visit Tolkuchka market of Ashgabat (open THU, SAT, and SUN only; animal market in on SUN only). Then drive to Darvaza, via Erbent village (20-30 mins) to see everyday life of Turkmens living in the desert. Then continue to fire crater, en-route we’ll also stop at two other gas craters: one with water and other one with bubbling sulphur mud both with natural gas seeping from the underground. Dinner & overnight in tents near flaming gas crater (wild camping; basic facilities, but reasonable).
Day 7: Darvaza – Konye-Urgench – Dashoguz (c. 420 km) – Departure to Khiva (UZB)
In the morning drive towards Kunya-Urgench (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – once a glorious capital of the medieval Khorezmshah Empire, the biggest Muslim empire of the late 12 - early 13 centuries. On arrival in Kunya-Urgench we will have a chance to take a close look at outstanding monuments of the medieval Khorezm. We will visit the 14 century mausoleum of Turabek Hanum, one of the best living examples of the architecture of its period; minaret of Kutlug Timur, a former highest minaret of Central Asia that used to form a part of the main cathedral mosque of the city; mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh, a beautiful 12 century mausoleum with one of the earliest portals of the east and a unique In the morning drive to Konye-Urgench (c. 320 km). Then drive to Turkmen/Uzbek border "Shavat" via Dashoguz. Complete border crossing formalities. Say good bye to your Turkmen guide and driver. Meet your Uzbek guide and driver, drive to Khiva. Transfer to hotel on arrival. Rest of the time is free at leisure. Overnight at hotel.
Day 8: Khiva
Sightseeing of Old Khiva: Visit Mohammed Amin Khan madrassah (1852-1855) – the largest of its kind in the city with a capacity of 250 Islamic students; Kelte Minor (“Short minaret”) commissioned by the khan in 1852 to stand (at over 70 m.) as the biggest in the Islamic world, but abandoned in the wake of his death at a frustrated 26 meters. Also visit Kunya Ark (Old Fortress) – the Khiva rulers’ residence, first built in 12th century, then expanded by the khans in the 17th century. Pakhlavan Mahmud mausoleum – with its lovely courtyard and stately tilework it is one of the town’s most beautiful spots. After lunch at local restaurant (optional; not included) proceed sightseeing and visit Islam Khoja madrassah (1908) and minaret (1910) – Khiva’s newest Islamic monuments. The minaret is 45 meters tall and it is Khiva’s highest. Juma mosque (1788) (Friday Mosque) – is interesting for the 213 wooden pillars, each 3,15 m., supporting its roof – a structural concept though to be derived from ancient Arabian mosques. Visit carpet makers hand-weave silk rugs, fabrics and suzane patterned after Khiva-style majolica tiles, doors and miniature paintings. There’s lots of natural-dyed silk hanging around and you can watch women work the looms inside the local madrassah. The workshop is under UNESCO protection. Proceed to Tosh Howli (Stone House) – residence, built by Allah Kuli Khan between 1832 and 1841 as a more splendid alternative to the Kunya Ark; Allah Kuli Khan madrassah (1835), and caravanserai. Dinner at local restaurant, hotel or at Khiva Khan’s Summer Palace “Toza Bog” in outskirts, 10km from Khiva (by choice). Overnight at hotel in Khiva.
Day 9: Khiva – Buhara drive (480 km / 6-7 hours)
After breakfast at the hotel proceed to Bukhara (500km) by road across Kyzul Kum, or Red Sand Desert, the same route taken by loaded Silk Road camel caravans. Stop on the way for an open air coffee break with Oriental sweet table and dried fruits. Some wine and soft drinks will also be available. Lunch at Sunnat’s place - “Kyzylkum” chaykhana (optional; not included). The place gives a chance to take a look at the Amu Darya River, which used to be called the Oxus, and loosely parallels the Uzbek-Turkmen border. Arrive in Bukhara and accommodate in hotel. An evening walking tour in the old town of Bukhara. Dinner at local restaurant or hotel. Overnight at hotel.
Day 10: Bukhara
After breakfast at the hotel start sightseeing of the old town, visit Poi Kalon Ensemble (Pedestal of the Great). The square separates the Mir-I-Arab Madrassah and the Kalon Jummi mosque. The Kalon Minaret (in Tajik means Great) is one of the defining symbols of Bukhara. It’s incredible piece of work, 47 meters tall, which in 875 years has never needed any but cosmetics repairs. Also visit 3 remaining domed bazaars – Taqi Zargaron (1570), or Jeweler’s Bazaar, Taqi Telpak Furushon or Cap Makers’ Bazaar and Taqi Sarrafon, or Moneychangers’ Bazaar, which were among dozens of specialized bazaars in the town. Visit the silk-weaving centre in this late-16th-century building Tim Abdullakhan bazaar, located near Taki-Telpak Furushon Bazaar (a Tim was a general market). You can watch silk-clothing makers in action here. Proceed to Magok-I-Atori Mosque – the remains of a Buddhist monastery, a Zoroastrian temple and the mosque of the Arab invaders, all sharing the same space and Lyabi Hauz Ensemble. Lyabi Hauz, a plaza built around a pool in 1620 (the name is Tajik for “around the pool”). To the east, the Nadir Divanbegi Madrassah, built in 1630, on the west side of the square, and built at the same time, is the Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka. North across the street, the Kukeldash Madrassah, once was the biggest Islamic school in Central Asia. After lunch at local restaurant visit the Ark fortress – royal town-within-town, as old as Bukhara
itself, home to the rulers of Bukhara for over a millennium, Bolo Hauz Mosque (“Mosque Near the Pool”) (1712) – the royal court mosque, Ismoil Samani Mausoleum – the town’s oldest building (completed around 905) and one of the most elegant structures in Central Asia, and Chashma Ayub (“Spring of Job”) – built in 12 century over a spring. Dinner with folk show at Nadir Devon Begi Madrassa (optional; not included). Overnight at hotel in Bukhara.
Day 11: Bukhara – Shakhirisabz – Samarkand
After breakfast at the hotel drive to Shakhrisabz (300km). Arrive and transfer to local restaurant “Kish Mish” for lunch (optional; not included). After lunch visit Ak Saray (White Palace) – Summer residence of Tamerlane (14 c.), Kok Gumbaz (Blue ome) – Friday mosque (15 c.), built by Ulugbek in honor of his father and Dorut Tilyavat (House of Meditation) – burial complex of Timur’s forebears. Also visit Crypt of Timur – an underground room, which was discovered in 1963. Drive to Samarkand (170 km). Check-in to hotel on arrival. Rest of the time is free at leisure. Overnight at hotel in Samarkand.
Day 12: Samarkand
After breakfast at the hotel proceed for city tour. Visit to Gur Emir (in Tajik - Tomb of the emir) – mausoleum of Timur and the Timurids (15 c.), Reghistan square (Sandy place) – ensemble of majestic madrassahs (15-17 cc.), ranks first in Central Asia and among the greatest of all the grandiose and magnificent works of the Islamic world. At Registan Ensemble inside Tillya-Kari Mosque we can watch how local women hand-weave silk carpets and silk fabrics; Bibi Khanym Mosque (15 c.) – the gigantic congregational mosque, once one of the Islamic world’s biggest mosque and Siab market – colorful main farmers’ market. National lunch at family house “Mubaro’s home place” (optional; not included). After lunch visit to Shakhi Zinda (The Living King) – necropolis of Samarkand rulers and nobles. Also visit to Ulugbek Observatory (1420) – the remains of an immense (30 m. tall) astrolabe for observing star position, part of three- storey observatory and Afrasiab ruins and museum with fragments of 7th century frescoes. Return to the hotel for overnight.
Day 13: Samarkand – Tashkent
After breakfast at the hotel visit Khodja Daniyar Mausoleum (Prophet Daniel or St. Daniel) is situated on the northern side of Afrasiab hill, by the healing spring. According to the legends, Khodja Daniyar was a companion of Kusam Ibn Abbas, who was believed to be a relative of the Prophet and one of the first Islamic preachers in Central Asia. Other legend associates Khodja Daniyar with the Koranic and Biblical prophet Daniyar (Daniel or St. Daniel) whose remains were brought here by Amir Temur. Also visit “Meros” Craft Center for getting acquainted with traditional and ancient technology of paper making. The guests will see the process of paper making and relax with the cup of tea under old “chinara” plane and poplar trees. After lunch (optional; not included) wine testing at the Museum of Winemaking named after Khovrenko, which is over 150 years old. Samarkand was growing an excellent variety of grapes, famous for a high content of sugar - 25 percent compared to the world’s average of 16 percent. The Russian winemaker and businessman D.M. Filatov, who arrived here after Russian Empire’s invasion into Central Asia, opened the first winery in Uzbekistan. For 15 years of operation he led the business to the world level, and when the cultivated wine variety “Biishty” (translated as “Edenic”) won a gold medal at an international exhibition of wines and brandies in Paris, collectors from all over the world began arriving in Samarkand for this awesome wine. Transfer to Samarkand Railway Station and take a high-speed train “Afrosiyob” (17:00-19:10). Arrive in Tashkent and accommodate in the hotel. Before farewell dinner at local restaurant an evening round tour of the capital city including Amir Temur Square, Independence Square with a stop at Alisher Navoi Opera & Ballet Theater – yellow-brick hybrid of classical and Central Asian styles, completed in 1947 by Japanese prisoners of war. Farewell dinner at local restaurant or hotel (optional; not included). Overnight at hotel in Tashkent.
Day 14: Tashkent departure