Day 1: Tashkent
Arrive in Tashkent in the morning. Transfer to the hotel, free time to relax after the flight. Free for lunch. In the afternoon we start a tour of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The present Tashkent in fact is divided into two parts: the ancient city with its narrow streets, one-storied buildings and ancient monuments, and the modern well developed city with modern architecture which includes universities, theaters and metro. Along with the main sightseeing points we visit Hast-Imam square, the religious centre of Tashkent. It is located in the old part of the city that has survived the earthquake of 1966. There are 16th century Barak-Khan Madrasah, Tilla-sheikh Mosque, Abu-Bakra Kaffali Shashi Mausoleum and Islamic Institute of imam al-Bukhari where future imams study. There is also a library rich with eastern manuscripts. In a special room of this library there is a world known Osman (Ottoman) Koran written in the middle of the 7th century. The Koran consists of 353 huge parchment sheets with original Koran texts that had been kept in Caliph's treasuries in Medina, Damascus and Baghdad and only in the times of Timur it came to Uzbekistan. We also walk along Mahalla, the old quarter of Tashkent located near Hast-Imam. There are typical one-storied private houses, narrow streets, old channels (aryks). During the tour of Tashkent we offer to take one stop by Tashkent metro. Welcome dinner at the local restaurant. Night in a hotel in Tashkent.
Day 2: Nukus
Morning flight to Nukus. Tour of Nukus including visit to Savitskiy museum to see unique collection of Russian avant-guard art. There are about 2 thousands of impressive paintings. Igor Savitsky, a private collector, brought this collection to Nukus in Soviet times to hide it from the authorities. Continue visiting Ethnography museum (located in the same building). Lunch in Nukus. Free for dinner. There are several local restaurants in the town. Overnight in a hotel in Nukus.
Day 3: Aral Sea
Early morning departure by 4WD vehicles to the Aral Sea. The total trip takes about 8 hours (500 km). First we drive along Ustiurt plateau, making a stop at Sudachie lakes. They used to be part of the Aral Sea, but as the sea went away only shallow lakes were left. They would have disappeared completely if not an artificial channel dug from Amydarya to Sudachie lakes. So the water in the lakes is fresh. We stop by the lakes to look around and have a short talk with local fishermen. They stay in abandoned old fish collective farm (kolkhoz). Then drive back to Ustiurt plateau. Picnic lunch in one of the picturesque spots. Continue driving along the plateau to the shores of the Aral sea. Tent camp near the sea. It is possible to walk around and bathe in the Aral. Dinner in the camp (prepared on a fire). Overnight in tents.
Day 4: Aral Sea — Muynak — Nukus
After breakfast in the camp we drive through the desert which used to be the seabed. Gas fields have been found in the area and gas is now being developed very actively. So you will see gas derricks all over. First we arrive in the town of Muynak, a former Aral Sea port and fishing centre. Nowadays it is located 180 km away from the sea shore. As the water went away life in the town changed dramatically, one an important fishing centre is now a declining town. First people tried to preserve their regular way of life by building a channel to the running away water of the sea. Smaller ships delivered fish along the channel to Muynak. But the water of the sea finally moved away faster that the channel. And now there is so-called “cemetery of ships” which were left grounded. During the tour of Muynak we also visit local museum devoted to the story of Aral sea and Muynak. Lunch in Karakalpak family. Continue driving to Nukus. Dinner free. Overnight in a hotel in Nukus. Total driving distance is about 450 km.
Day 5: Nukus — desert citadels – Khiva
Drive by bus from Nukus to Khiva.Stop to see the remains of the ancient Khorezmian citadel Toprak-Kala. This is a huge archeological site with remnants of once massive walls and towers. The citadel dates back to the 1st century AD and it was the capital of ancient Khorezm. The area of the citadel was over 17 hectares. In the north-western part inside the citadel there was huge impressive Palace of Khorezmian Shahs. Built in the 2nd century this palace was the dominant building of the town. Archaeologist claim that the palace had over 100 rooms and halls and inner courtyards. The interiors were richly decorated and some pieces of decoration are still preserved. Parade halls were full of different statues and high reliefs of kings and queens, gods, servants and warriors who were supposed to guard the of ruler Khorezm. Toprak-Kala citadel and Palace are preserved by UNESCO. Drive 20 km more to see another ancient citadel Ayaz-Kala (“citadel in the wind”). The citadel appeared around the 4th century. Ayaz-Kala is situated on a natural 60-meters high hill. The entrance was from the southern side made so to allow prevailing southern winds blew rubbish and dust out of the city. One can still see parts of the 10 meters high and 2,5 meters wide wall which surrounded the town. Near the citadel there is a yurt camp where we will have picnic lunch.Arrive in Khiva in late afternoon. Accommodation in a hotel in the old town. Free time in Khiva. Dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 6: Khiva
Full day sightseeing in Khiva. Khiva is often called the pearl of Khoresm oasis and is one of the most impressive and colorful ancient towns of Central Asia. Famous Ichan-Kala complex the so-called inner-city is preserved by UNESCO and it is all made up of ancient mosques and minarets with wonderful impressive ornaments. A maze of narrow streets leads to courtyards whose cloisters and verandas are supported by elegant wooden columns on carved marble bases. It gives a good idea of a typical Central Asian feudal city. During the tour we will see Islam-Hodja Minaret, Mahmud mausoleum, magnificent Djuma mosque with 212 carved columns each with unique drawing and story. One of the most remarkable monuments is Kalta-Minor which was supposed to be the greatest in all Central Asia. The Minaret was never finished and one can only imagine how high should it have been. There are some reasons why the construction was stopped. But the legend says that the architect promised to to make a greater minaret in Bukhara after he had finished Kalta-Minor. So he was thrown down from the unfinished Minaret. This is the only Minaret in Central Asia fully decorated with tiles. After the sunset Ichan-Kala is also very beautiful, wandering along its streets you almost get into an old fairytale. Lunch in one of the local restaurants. Free for dinner.
Day 7: Khiva — Bukhara
In the morning we start full-day journey to Bukhara. We will drive through the Kyzyl-Kum desert, a sandy desert located between Amudaria and Syrdaria rivers. It is the 11th largest desert in the world it's name Kyzyl Kym stands for “Red Sands”. We make a short stop in one of the places with a very nice view of Amudarya river. Lunch in a local tea house on the way. Early evening arrival in Bukhara, ancient and very beautiful city with many mosques and burial places of saints. The city is over 2000 years old and it has always played a big role in the history of the region. It was an important centre on the Ancient Silk Road, later it became the capital of the great Samanids Empire and in 16-17th centuries Bukhara was the centre of Sheibanid's and Ashtarhanid's empires. Dinner in Bukhara. Accommodation in a hotel in the old town.
Day 8: Bukhara
Full day sightseeing in Bukhara. In the morning we go to the ancient citadel, the Ark Fortress, which is called the ancient symbol of state power. There is no definite information about it's age but 1500 years ago it was already the residence of the ruler. For centuries the Ark fortress was the residence of Emir of Bukhara. Then we continue to see Samanid mausoleum, the family shrine of Samanid rulers, one of the best pieces of Central Asian architecture. Lunch in a local restaurant. Walking tour in the old town of Bukhara with an opportunity to see many old madrasah, mosques, minarets and trading domes, including the famous 12th century Kalyan minaret, Chor Minor Madrasah with 4 small minarets in each corner, wonderfully decorated Ulugbek Madrassahs – the oldest Madrassah built by Ulugbek, the grandson of Timur in 1417. We will make a stop in Lyabi Hovuz, an nice calm shadowy place were local people and travelers like have a rest in a shade of trees surrounding the pond. Dinner in a national house.
Day 9: Bukhara
Free day in Bukhara.
Day 10: Samarkand
In the morning (8:00) we take a train to Samarkand, the second largest city in Uzbekistan and probably the most magnificent. This ancient city was conquered by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Timur who made it the capital of his Empire. Arrive in Samarkand at 11:00. We start the tour visiting Ulugbek's observatory. In Ulugbek times Samarkand became a scientific centre. Ulugbek was a very talented scientist, his works on Astronomy became famous all over the continent. He carried out his researches in unique Observatory he had built in Samarkand. Lunch in one of the local restaurants. Visit to Gur-Emir mausoleum, magnificent family shrine of Timurids. The legend says that Timur built this mausoleum after unexpected death of his favorite grandson Muhammad Sultan whom he wanted to become the governor. While Timur had prepared a rather modest burial place for himself in his hometown Shakhrisabz. But Timur was buried in Gur-Emir too. Continue to the Registan square, one of the Great unknown wonders of the world. This wonderful architectural ensemble of 3 ancient and very beautiful madrasahs is one of the best in Islamic world. We will also see tremendous Bibi Khanum mosque which bears the name of the beloved wife of Timur. Finish the day visiting Shakh-i-Zinda mausoleum complex of 14-15 century, a sacred place for Muslim people. Shakh-i-Zinda means 'Living king', the name given to the grave of Kusama ibn Abbasa, the cousin of Muhammad. Dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 11: Sufiyen — Urgut — Oman-Kutan — Samarkand
Today we have to take cars (3 travelers per car) as we drive in the mountains where buses and minibuses are not allowed. Drive to Sufiyen, a sacred place located in the suburbs of Urgut. It is already in the lower parts of the mountains. Local people come to Sufiyen to pray and to celebrate religious holidays as well as just to enjoy unique nature of the place. The place is known for for many springs which are considered saint and of course for its platan (sycamore) wood. Some of the trees are 700-800 years old and the largest are up to 16 meters in diameter. Syfiyen is also associated with the mystical Islamic order Kadiriya and sheikh Govsuli Azam Abdul Kodirom. The hollow of one of the largest platans was used as a as a secret meeting place where about 40 people could have met at once. For some time the hollow was a madrassah. There is a small door, when you open it you go down 2 steps into the tree. Not far from this old Platan tree there are excavations of an ancient Nestorian temple – ruins of the Middle Age Christian monastery. It was the most important Nestorian Christian church for the whole Sogdiana Empire. The archaeologists also found there Buddhist temple and Zoroastrian sanctuary. Then continue to Urgut, a district centre, one of the ancient towns of Uzbekistan. There we visit unique authentic Asian bazaar (marketplace) with is continuous motion, vivid colors and loud emotional trading. It is not as fascinating as famous bazaar in Samarkand and Tashkent. Local people come there to buy goods they need. Drive further in the mountains to the Tahta-Karacha pass (approx. 1600m) for a fascinating view of Kashakdaria valley. Then continue to Oman-Kutan kishlak (small village). We visit local family and have lunch with them. While having some shurpa (local soup), salads and tea we watch how local bread is being made. And we also watch the cooking process and try a very special lamb – tandir-kabob. First tandir (a huge oven, tandoor) is prepared, a fire is kept on the bottom of tandir for a certain time. Then all the fire is taken out, large pieces of lamb are hanged inside on special hooks, tandir is closed and sealed with clay. The lamb stays in hot tandir for about 50 minutes. After relaxing lunch and walk around kishlak drive back to Samarkand. Late afternoon arrival in Samarkand Free for dinner.
Day 12: Samarkand — Tashkent
Free time in Samarkand. Train departure to Tashkent at 17-00. Arrive in Tashkent at 20-00, transfer to the hotel. Free for dinner.
Day 13: Kokand — Rishtan — Margilan — Fergana
Morning departure by cars via Kamchik pass to Fergana Valley (the pass is closed for buses and minibuses). Fergana is a highly populated fertile agricultural and industrial region almost completely surrounded by mountains. It is also the craft centre in Uzbekistan. After about 4 hours drive we get to the town of Kokand, the former capital of Kokand Khanate. A short stop to see Hudoyar Khan's palace, the last Khan of Kokand who finally the Khanate to become a part of Russian Empire in 1868. Continue driving to the small town of Rishtan not far from Kokand, a well-known ceramics centre in Uzbekistan. Visit to the ceramic workshop where we also have lunch. After lunch we walk along the workshop and see the process how ceramic is made. Drive to Margilan town and visit unique Yedgorlik Silk fabric, the largest silk fabric in Central Asia where silk is being produced in its original handmade way. Margilan is notable as very religious traditional Islamic town. Although located only 9km from Margilan, Fergana town is very different from other places in Uzbekistan, and especially from Margilan. This is a true Russian town with typical imperial architecture of the second part of the19th century. Dinner in Fergana. Overnight in a hotel in Fergana.
Day 14: Ashsykent — Choust — Tashkent
In the morning we visit ancient citadel of Akhsykent which had been the capital of Fergana till 13th century when it was ruined by Mongols. After that the town recovered, but unfortunately was completely ruined by the earthquake in the 15th century. The excavations are still being held and the cultural level of the Mongol Invasion is very well seen. Then drive to Choust town the centre of skullcaps (“tyubeteika”) production and knives production. We will visit a workshop where handmade skullcaps are produced. Drive back to Tashkent (ca. 4 hours). Farewell dinner. Overnight in a hotel.
Day 15: departure
Transfer to the airport. Departure.