Great Silk Road: China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran

Roads, many roads attract travelers. The roads that have connected destinies, cultures, civilizations. The roads because of which there were so many wars. The roads along which sciences, religions and diplomacies have spreaded. Who was the first to pave the ways having such names as “Lazurite Way”, “Jade Way”, “Tea Way”, “Porcelain Way” and others with the same poetic names which later joined the turbulent channel of “Great Silk Road”?

The history of this legendary Silk Road is full of mysteries and secrets. Ancient civilizations have come and gone here; new nations were founded and then died as a result of the invasions; unknown artisans created their priceless culture monuments, Buddha priests inexplicably maintained an atmosphere of spirituality and religious loyalty, famous travelers made their amazing discoveries.

Great Silk Road is the system of caravan ways that were connecting many cultural centers on the huge territory between China and Mediterranean for many centuries.

Why this system of caravan ways got the name of Silk Road?

From the beginning of II century silk became the main product which was brought by Chinese merchants to distant countries. It was very light, compact and very easy to carry, it attracted the attention of buyers along the whole caravan trail despite its expensiveness. Silk fabric gave an unusual sense of softness, elegance, beauty and exoticism. People sought to possess and enjoy it. It was very popular in East Turkestan and Central Asia, India and Parthia, Rome and Alexandria. So, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra loved the luxury garments made of this material.

The love for this fabric  was raised because of its unique natural and technical features. The piece was bought with the silk, the alliances were made with the help of silk, this fabric was sent with the ambassadors to the rulers of distant lands. Silk played a great role in ancient times as well as in the middle ages.

Though the silk was the main product but it wasn’t the only one which was carried along the transcontinental way. From Central Asian countries merchants brought horses which were highly valued in China, ammunition, gold and silver, semi-precious stones and glass products, leather and fur, carpets and cotton fabric, exotic fruits – peaches and watermelons, fat-tailed sheep and hunting dogs, leopards and lions. From China caravans brought porcelain and metal dishes, lacquer and makeup, tea and rice. In merchants’ bags one could find ivory, rhinoceros horns, tortoise shells, spices and many other things.

According to many different sources Great Silk Road had some main highways. At first it started in Chang'an – ancient capital of China –and went along northern Tian-Shan to the town of Dunhuang – the town on the outskirts of the Great Wall of China. Here the road separated into two encircling the Taklamakan Desert from south and north. Northern way went through Turpan basin to the Valley of Ili River. Middle one (so called southern way) went from Chaochan through Khotan and Yarkand towns, but in Yarkand it separated once again. One went along the southern shore of Issyk-Kul lake and the other went to Bactria (northern Afghanistan). Here southern shore had two other ways: one went to India and the other went to the west to Merv, where it merged with the Northern Way. Further it went through Nisa - capital of Parthia, Iran, Mesopotamia and then went through Baghdad to Damascus finally coming to the Mediterranean.

Third and the most difficult one was named as Northern or Steppe way. Going over Tian-Shan one part of caravans went through Fergana valley and Tashkent oasis to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khorezm and further to the shores of Caspian. Another part of them went from Samarkand to Bactria and through Kashkadarya valley it came to Termez, from where they crossed the Amu Darya Riverand went to the Middle East and India.

Despite these three main highways making up the Great Silk Road there were other trails with the help of which these three were connected with each other.

Sea leg of the Great Silk Road started in Alexandria and in Egypt, it went by Red Sea and the Indian Ocean coming to the ports on the west coast of India. From here the road went to Bactria, to Termez town. Then along Amu-Darya river it went to Khorezm to Caspian Sea. It crossed the territory of Albania (Azerbaijan), Iberia and Colchis (Georgia) and came to Black Sea and then to Rome. This was the shortest route from India to the Caucasus.

Caucasian Silk Road started in ancient Samarkand which went to Khorezm, skirted the Caspian Sea, crossed steppes of Northern Caucasus and then went down to the town called Tskhum. From here trade caravans swam across the Black Sea to Constantinople – the capital of Byzantine empire.

Very important route went from Lower Volga region along the western shore of the Caspian Sea, through Caspian Iron Gates – Derbent to the south to ancient Albania and Parthia, connecting northern and main trails of the Great Silk Road.

Trails changed from time to time according to the political situation here and there. In VI-VIII centuries the main tril was considered to be the way Syria - Iran - Central Asia - South Kazakhstan - Talas Valley - Chu valley - Issyk-Kul Basin - East Turkestan.

One of this way’s branches came onto the trail which was going from Byzantium to Derbent into Caspian steppes - Mangyshlak - Aral - South Kazakhstan. This is because in the Seven Rivers the settlements of Turkic Hagans were formed and they controlled the trade on this route.

So the part going through Central Asia became very intense. On the way of Great Silk Road big towns, trade and craft settlements and caravanserais started to form. Merv in Turkmenistan; Bukhara, Samarkand, Urgench, Khiva in Uzbekistan; Otrar, Turkestan, Taraz, Ispedjab in Kazakhstan; Djul, Suyab, Nookat, Balasagun, Borskoon, Tash-Rabat, Osh, Uzgen in Kyrgyzstan. Nowadays they make some kind of necklace, through which the main tourist routes of Central Asia are going.

Program: GreatSilkRoad

Best Time: April - October
Activity: Journey of discovery
Duration: 39 days


Days Program Accomodation Meals
Day 1 Coming to Beijing Hotel -/L/D
Day 2 Excursion around Beijing. Going to Xi'an by train. Train B/L/D
Day 3  Excursion around Xi'an Hotel B/L/D
Day 4  Excursion around Xi'an. Going to Lanzhou by train. Train B/L/D 
Day 5  Coming to Lanzhou. Transfer to Xiahe. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 6  Excursion around Xiahe. Going to Jia-Yu-Guang by train. Train B/L/D 
Day 7  Excursion around Jia-Yu-Guang. Transfer to Dunhuang. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 8  Excursion around Dunhuang. Going toTurpan by train. Train B/L/D 
Day 9  Excursion around Turpan. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 10 Excursion around Turpan. Transfer to Urumqi. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 11  Fly to Kashgar. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 12    Transfer to Kyrgyzstan. Ancient caravanserai Tash-Rabat. Yurts B/L/D 
Day 13 Transfer to the southern shore of Issyk-Kul lake. Guest house  B/L/D 
Day 14 Excursion around Karakol town.Transfer to the northern shore of Issyk-Kul lake. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 15  Excursion on Burana tower. Transfer to Bishkek. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 16  Trabsfer to Chichkan gorge. Guest house  B/L/D 
Day 17  Transfer to Osh. Excursion around ancient Uzgen town. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 18 Excursion around Osh town. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 19  Trabsfer to Uzbekistan. Fergana town.  Hotel B/L/D 
Day 20  Excursion to Margelan.   Hotel B/L/D 
Day 21  Transfer to Tashkentс with visiting of Rishtan and Kokhand towns.   Hotel B/L/D 
Day 22  Excursion around Tashkent. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 23 Transfer to Samarkand. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 24  Excursion around Samarkand.  Hotel B/L/D 
Day 25 Transfer to Bukhara. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 26  Excursion around Bukhara. Hotel B/L/D 
Day  27 Excursion around Bukhara. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 28 Transfer to Khiva. Hotel B/L/D
Day 29  Excursion around Khiva. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 30 Transfer to Turkmenistan. Fly to Ashgabat. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 31  Excursion around Ashgabat. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 32  Transfer to Mara town. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 33  Crossing the border with Iran. Transfer to Mashhad. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 34  Excursion around Mashhad. Fly to Shiraz. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 35  Excursion around Shiraz.  Hotel B/L/D 
Day 36 Excursion around Shiraz. Fly to Isfahan. Hotel B/L/D
Day 37 Excursion around Isfahan.  Hotel B/L/D 
Day 38 Excursion around Isfahan. Fly to Tehran. Hotel B/L/D 
Day 39  Excursion around Tehran. End of the program. -//-//-//-//- B/L/- 

Best time: April - October
Activity: Journey of discoveries
Duration: 39 days

This program is the best to reflect the classic way of the Great Silk Road and connects five Asian countries along which once travelled huge caravans: China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. This tour is unique from its start till the very end: from the grandiose China Wall, mystic Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven in China till the tower of Azadi and countless majestic palaces of Iran. At the time of our travelling the ruins of ancient settlements are changed by the huge modern cities, local legends are filled by amazing landscapes and a spicy atmosphere of charming East is hidden behind every corner of the small ancient streets.
The main feature of this tour is that everyone may choose one or another part of the route and join the group in one of these towns: Beijing, Urumqi, Bishkek, Tashkent, and Ashgabat. 

Part 1. China

Day 1. Arrival to Beijing
The first thing we should do in Beijing is to visit the Tiananmen square which is located in the center of the city. It once was the Palace square located behind the podium of the Forbidden Palace. At the times of the emperor regular people could never visit this square, it was forbidden! As well as the Palace itself; because of this the Palace got the name “Forbidden town”. The majesty of the square takes the breath from the first second, it is symmetrical and grandiose. The square may hold up to 1 million people and that’s why it’s considered to be the biggest square in the world!
One more interesting place is the former residency of Chinese emperor which is without saying is the main attraction of Beijing. It’s full name in Chinese sounds like “Zi Jin Cheng” – “Purple Forbidden City”, and the name “Gugun” meaning “Plalace of the former rulers” appeared later. Though nowadays in Beijing people use the name Gugun and it has almost driven the first one.
In the evening it would be great to visit the summer emperor palace where under the trees’ shadows one may have rest from the multimillion city and plunge into the philosophy and contemplation. You will enjoy the colors of the sunset on the shores of one of the most beautiful lakes in Beijing where one may see the wooden gallery with many pictures reflecting the art of Chinese artists and the beautiful pavilion with surprising title "Hall of Jade Waves” will definitely become the best memories of Beijing and maybe even of the whole tour.
After the sunset we will go back to the hotel, have dinner and rest.

Day 2. Beijing
It would be unfair not to stay in Beijing for one more day. Today we will have an excursion to the Great Wall of China. If to be exact to the part that is close to Beijing and located in 70km from the city. It’s not just the attraction of China, it’s the symbol and pride of the whole Chinese civilization, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We will have a two hours walk along the wall and after that we will get back to Beijing and continue our educational excursion.
After seing the Great Wall and having lunch we will go to the Temple of Heaven. Temple of Heaven is the sacrificial altar of the emperor on the southern outskirts of Beijing. Ncient Chinese people as well as many other nations believed in good and bad spirits. The spirits had to be blandished. Farmers made the sacrifices to the spirits of their ancestors or spirits of home; aristocracy – to the spirits of rivers and mountains; emperor relatives – to the spirits of the Moon and the Sun and the immolation to the supreme Deities (the Heaven and the Earth) could make only the emperor himself.
For this reason the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) was built in 15th century.
In the evening we will travel to Xi’an by train. Xi’an another beautiful Chinese town which was the capital of China for 13 dynasties. The Great Silk Road started right here.

Day 3. Xi’an
Upon arrival to the city we will first accommodate in the hotel and then the whole day of Xi’an exploring is waiting for us. As it was already mentioned Xi’an was the starting point of Great Silk Road. From here in II century BC the first caravans started their way. By the legend the emperor Wu Di needed thoroughbred horses for his cavalry. In 138-126 BC the emperor’s ambassador Zhang Qian travelling through Central Asiasaw the local pure-bred stallions. When he returned, he told the emperor that in the countries he traveled to the silk weaving craft is not known, but in those regions there are wonderful horses, fruit, wine, and other things. This brought the emperor to the thought of creating the trade way. In 121 BC the first caravan consisted of camels carrying silk and bronze mirrors went to the Fergana oasis through the Turpan Basin along the Fire Mountains and the spurs of Tian Shan. So in Xi’an the start of the many centuries history of the Great Silk Road was given.
Nowadays Xi’an is an administrative center of Shaanxi Province. It’s located in the western part of Guanchzhu plain and is its largest city. In ancient times Xi’an had the name of Chang'an and was the worldwide known capital. The history of the city counts more than 3000 years during which many unique monuments were created here.
We will see the famous Chinese Palace ensemble built in 212 BC, in 1995 it was again built on the old place. In the new palace the Afangun  Front hall, Lanchi palace, the palace chambers of the six countries, gallery, lying bridge, gate with a stone, a terrace and an altar that were once in the old one were built. The Palace has a majestic and the luxurious view.
If we have time we will visit the pagoda "Big Goose" - Datsyen Temple built the twenty-second year of the reign of Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong Chzhenguanya (648), a seven-story brick pagoda was built in the form of a tower. Its height is about 64,7 m, the base has the square form, the style is strict and solemn. Inside, there are unique steles, figures of the Tang era carved in stone, the remains of the founder of Buddhism and the Buddha statue of pure gold. Pagoda has a rich Buddhist culture and has a high value.
Overnight in the hotel. 

Day 4. Xi’an - Lanzhou
We will spend one more day in this amazing city. The visit of the History Museum of Shensi Province, Great Mosque and local Muslim market where you will have a chance to get traditional souvenirs which will remind you of everything you saw at the starting point of the Great Silk Road is waiting for us. Here you may also try the traditional Chinese sweets: corn dumplings “Voto”, sweet rice with candied fruit “babaofan” and fruits in hot caramel “bass”. The trays of street food vendors offer (except sweets) all kinds of tofu, a variety of mushrooms, pieces of meat and bamboo shoots, and even fried stalks.
In the evening we will be transferred to the railway station to go to our next point - Lanzhou city. 

Day 5. Lanzhou - Xiahe (280 km)
Upon our arrival to Lanzhou you will be transferred to a small town called Xiahe.

Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu province and one of the biggest cities on the north-west of China. The town is founded on the place of intersection of Great Silk Road and Huang river. Its history counts more than 2000 years. One of its main sights is the Binhe park also called as the “Green Tourist Hall”. It’s located on the north of the town along Huang river. In the park there are meadows, flower fields and among them you may see different sculptures. Here you may find the statue of Mother Huang, the group of camels on the Great Silk Road, pilgrims going to the East and other monuments reflecting different periods in the history of Lanzhou. One may buy here calligraphic scrolls, handmade carved screens, old coins, shiny swords, wooden crossbows, bronze statues of warriors and gods, pipes, boxes with secret, unusual jewelry and many many other interesting things.
In the southern part of the city on the Gaolanshan mountain there is a park called Lanshan spreading onto 10 km. In 1948 after the liberation of Lanzhou on the top of the mountain there was only one tree. The citizens worked hard to plant and grow the trees as the height here is about 2100 m and the territory is considered to be a semi-desert zone. People brought the pieces of ice on the top of the mountain to water the soil in winter. Today there are about 10 mil of trees growing on the slopes of Gaolanshan. Here was built the attraction center, the route around the mountain was made and on the top of the mountain there were built three pavilions overlooking the surrounding countryside.
On the way to Xiahe we will visit the Monastery Binlin which is located in 80 km from Lanzhou. One may get to the monastery only by crossing the artificial pond on the boat which appeared here as a result of a dam built on the Huang river in 1967. In Binline there are famous Thousand Buddha Caves. By the grandeur and historical value they are second only to the grottoes in Dunhuang and Mount Maytszishan. 34 grottoes and 149 niches with 679 stone figures and 82 clay sculptures as well as 900 sq.m. frescoes are still preserved here. After lunch we will continue going to Xiahe and upon arrival we will accommodate in a cozy hotel.
Overnight in the hotel.

Day 6. Xiahe- Lanzhou - (280 km, 5 h) - Jia-Yu-Guang
Today we have to see the legendary Xiahe Monastery. This is one of 6 biggest monasteries of Gelugpa sect in China. Xiahe Monastery is the real treasure house of art. Here you may see the breathtaking frescoes and tapestries, Tibetan furniture, white Tibetan scarves and stupas (conical vessels, decorated with jewels, which holds the bones of religious and political leaders of Tibet), and a great number of statues of Buddhas: Peaceful Sakyamuni (Buddha of the present) and Maitreya (Buddha of the Future), decorated with turquoise and gold ornaments, gold Chun Kha-Pa and a bronze statue of Tszyamuyana I. The monastery is located in the picturesque landscape being the ideal place for horseback riding.

All day we will explore the monastery and in the evening will go back to Lanzhou to get on the night train going to Jia-Yu-Guang.

Day 7. Jia-Yu-Guang - Dunhuang (330 km, 5-6 h)
In Jia-Yu-Guang we will visit the city fortress, Museum of the Great Wall of China (just behind the main gate of the fortress), part of the wall between the ffortress and Keel mountains and also one of many observation towers, built at the times of Ming dynasty.

Jia-Yu-Guang was the first fort on the Great Silk Road. It’s located at the western end of the Great Wall of China. Nearby the fort the same named town had grown. This fort had successfully protected the strategic ways through the centuries. This pass from both sides encircled by the rugged cliffs, was a great temptation for invading armies. Silk Way going through them contributed to the development and prosperity of the city which was the place of fees’ collection from passing caravans. This pass is the best preserved gates in the Great ancient military fortress.
The legend about this military facility building is quite interesting. At the time of this part of the Great Wall of China building the architect was asked why he needed so many bricks. People made as many bricks as were asked and started working on it. As a result after they have finished it appeared that the architect was mistaken only for 1 brick. Though this fact didn’t save him from the accusation of an excessive embezzlement. This "unaccounted" brick can be admired even today - it lies in a prominent position above the central aisle.
After that we will continue our way to Dunhuang.

Day 8. Dunhuang - Turpan.
Dunhuang laid on the main trade way along which many representatives of different cultures were going:Turkish, Mongolian, Christian, Buddhist and Manichaean. The tracks of different artistic styles and philosophies are still preserved hare; it became a very important center of Buddhism and the place of pilgrimage. You may feel that Dunhuang was once influenced by Hellenistic art which came here from Gandhara in North India.
Dunhuang is also known for its caves.Mogao Caves (Mogao Chico) in the side of the rock in the desert about 24 km to the south-east of Dunhuang. The caves started to appear in this place in IV century and were decorated during 6 centuries by Buddha pictures, were filled by religious writings and in XI century were mystically hermetically closed. They are also known as “The caves of Thousand Buddha”. They are a unique collection of frescoes, sculptures and examples of ancient architecture (IV - XIV c), accumulated during the rule of nine imperial dynasties. On all 500 grottoes there are aluminum lockable doors, and only guides and guards can open them. Inside grotto walls are decorate by frescoes and on each of them there are one or some multicolored statues. Of course to the most interesting grottoes one may get only by paying for it. It’s forbidden to make pictures here and it will be useful to bring a "long-range" flashlight with you and water to drink.
Also 5 km from the town there are so called Singing Sands. These are huge dunes. It’s really hot here during the day but if the weather is windy (though not stormy) the sands start to sing. It’s said that these are the bogest dunes in China, that even in Taklamakan desert they are lower.
After a little rest we will get back to Dunhuang as the night train to Turpan will be waiting for us.

Day 9. Turpan.
The geographical contrasts on the territory of Turpan basin are considered to be the most record on Earth. Turpan basin is the second deepest in Asia (and in the world) after the Dead Sea. The first person to measure the "height" of its bottom was the student of Przewalski – Roborovskiy. It appeared that the basin lies 130 m (plus-minus 30 m) lower than the sea level. It was a geographical furor, even the boldest geography theorists did not anticipate that, among the highest mountains of the world there may be such a lowering. Really even the closest mountains encircling the Turpan basin such as covered with eternal ice array Bogda Ula, rise up to five and a half km. And it’s an important distinction from the Dead Sea - the cliffs of the Judean Desert and Moab do not exceed 300-400 m in altitude.

Here we will visit a picturesque ancient settlement Tuek as well as the amazing caves with the name of Caves of a Thousand Buddhas “Baytszykelike”. Here they will tell us about the history of Buddhism spreading in Turpan. These caves are located about 15 min drive from the canter of the town in the mountain Hoyanshan. At first there were about 80 caves but only 67 of them have preserved till our days. And this is not surprising as the age of these caves goes deep into the history.
The surprise is waiting for us in Turpan, we will visit a hospitable Uighur family which will acquaint us with their unique customs and traditions, and will prepare for us their national Uighur dishes.
Turpan is also known for its grapes as all the way of life of local people is connected with this fruit. The grapes are grown here for more than 2000 years. Even the main street of the Turpan is the Grape alley. And the drive ways and the sidewalks on both sides of them are like green tunnels. This vineyard goes for many kilometers. And of course we have to mention that the main feature of local architecture is the two-story adobe buildings with tracery laid out on the second floor. These are dryers where the collected grapes are hanged on special wooden hangers. All the further work is done by hot and dry air. Ready raisins are falling down themselves to the smooth clay floor. The only thing left is to sweep them from the floor and put them in the bags. These famous green raisins from Turpan can be found in any market throughout China and beyond.
Overnight in the hotel.

Day 10. Turpan - Urumqi (200 km, 4-5 h)
After breakfast in the hotel we will have a rich excursion program in Turpan. At first we will visit Jiaohe settlement - the former capital of the once prosperous nation South Cheshi. This greatly preserved clay town fascinates by its measures, age, which is more than three thousand years, and a very mysterious kind. In the twilight of day it is so quiet here that, they say, one hear the terrible horse clatter - an echo, which is still carefully preserved by the unbroken walls of the ancient city.

After lunch we will be transferred to Urumqi – the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. After our arrival to the city and accommodation in comfortable hotel we will go and explore Urumqi and its attractions. Urumqi is the city which raises a great interest in each of its guests. The acquaintance with this town strikes at first sight. Glass and concrete skyscrapers here neighbor with almost destroyed slums, every place here is full of life, and trade. After our exploring of the town we will go to a big market in Urumqi where you will be able to get a lot of different interesting products including the traditional Uighur silk and Chinese cotton, different types of nuts and dried fruits, herbs, essential oils ...
Overnight in the hotel in Urumqi.

Day 11. Urumqi - Kashgar (CZ6803 08:30 - 10:15).
We will go to the airport early in the morning to fly to our final destination in China – Kashgar.
Kashgar during the middle ages was considered to be the main trade point on the Great Silk Road and most of the caravans were going from here to the West (Fergana valley), to the South (Jammu and Kashmir) and to the North (Urumqi and Turpan). In 1273 Marco Polo was here who noted the presence in the Nestorian Churches in this town. At the end of XIV century the well-being oasis suffered an attack of Amir Timur, after which the Islamization of the local population increased. In 1755 Kashgar again succumbed the Chinese government. Kashgar was an important connection between so called “north” and “south” arteries of the Great Silk Road.
The central part of Kashgar is a real ancient city without any right plan, build up with narrow and curve streets with many squares used as markets, houses made of bricks and clay and dark alleys, hallways going off to nowhere. Our excursion of the city includes the Id-Kah mosque – the biggest mosque in China. It appeared here in 1442. The mausoleum Apak Khodja isnot less interesting  which is the most sacred place for the Sufis throughout Xinjiang. It was built in 1640. Besides them we will definitely visit the crafts street – the place clustering many craft shops, where local craftsmen skillfully create their works of art.
Also one of the main tourist place is the Big Sunday market which is a shopping arcade, organized according to the principle of elementary logic: the name of a series allows the buyer to sort out the variety of goods offered (for example, "fruit", "Hardware", "Food" - so all these names make it clear).The customers are dazzled by the variety of goods! One cannot even list all fruits: pomegranate, figs, grapes, melons, watermelons, peaches, apples ... There are so many traders that a basket, which has fruits, and tray, and even a piece of cloth on the ground may already be "counter."One can buy here the famous yangishar knife, with more than 200-year history. It is distinguished by a beautiful fabric and beautiful form. Handle inlaid with silver or copper, decorated with pearls, shells, etc.
Overnight in the hotel.

Day 12. Kashgar – Torugart 
Today we will go to Torugart pass and cross the border with Kyrgyzstan. 

Part 2. Kyrgyzstan

Day 12. Kashgar – Torugart  – Tash-Rabat
Today we will cross the border with Kyrgyzstan. We will visit one of the caravanserais on the Great Silk Road – Tash-Rabat. Among the medieval architectural historical monuments of Central Asia there you won’t find anything similar to Tash-Rabat. It’s hidden in the remote gorge called Kara-Koyun on the height of 3100 m surrounded by snowy peaks and towering ridges of Central Tian-Shan not far from the border with China. Through the alpine valley into the upper reaches of Naryn river there went one of the main caravan trails of the Great Silk Road which connected Fergana valley with Issyk-Kul shores and Kashgar oasis. That’s why the human civilization started living here very early and despite the harsh climate and wild nature of high mountains and left many traces of original culture. Historians and archeologists still didn’t come to a consensus about the question of who, when and why built this majestic monument in this wild place. Tash-Rabat is considered to be the biggest and hardest to build stone construction which doesn’t have any analogues on the vast territory from the Gobi desert to the Caspian Sea. Some researches consider it to be a Christian monastery that played the role of caravanserai for the traders going by, others claim that it was a fortress and had a defensive value. The exploring of the monument and the surroundings, the study of written sources of medieval Asian history don’t give any answers but make the interest to this amazing bastion even bigger. Today will be the first day of our sleeping in yurts as the real nomads or travelling with the ancient caravans wanderers.

Day 13. Tash-Rabat – Issyk-Kul lake
Transfer to Issyk-Kul lake where on its southern shores we will stop at an amazing place called Kadji-Sai in the guets house “Al-Hayat”.

Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyz language means “Hot lake”, it’s the second biggest alpine lake in the world and is located on the height of 1609 m. The lake never freezes (that’s why it has such a name) despite the snowy peaks surrounding the lake. There is a rare combination of unique climate in the valley: sea, steppe, mountain and the zones of eternal glaciers. The emergence of Issyk-Kul lake is still some kind of “geological puzzle”. Not far from Kadji-Sai there is a location which played a great role on the Great Silk Road – Barskoon town.

On the way to the lake we will stop at Kochkor village where we will have a delicious Kyrgyz lunch in Kyrgyz yurt and will also visit the local ethnographical museum.

Day 14. Kadji-Sai – Cholpon-Ata
Transfer to the northern shore of Issyk-Kul lake through Karakol town which was founded in 1869 as an military-administrative center on the caravan way from Chu valley to Kashgar by the captain baron Kaulbars which was given a task to find a good place for the new town came to here and ordered to found the military administrative center on the way of Great Silk Road going from Chu valley to Kashgar. This date became the date of town founding named by the river it stayed on – Karakol.

The town has a strict rectangular layout and is surrounded by garden. It was decided to build a garden city so everyone was ordered to plant trees in front of their houses. The houses looked different in here as well, not like in any other towns of Central Asia. Until 1887 almost every house was built of clay but after the big earthquake this year people started to build wooden houses with porches decorated with rich intricate carvings.

In 1872 in Karakol town there were already 132 yards and the population in 1897 was 8108 people. Now there are 65443 people living in the town.

The town has changed its name several times: until 1889 the town had the name Karakol, afterwards by the order of Tsar the town got the name of Prjevalsk in honor of known Russian traveler N.M.Prjevalsky who died in this town on the way of his 5th trip and by his wish was buried on the shore of Issyk-kul lake. In 1992 the town was officially recalled Karakol.

After the excursion around Karakol we will be transferred to the northern shore of Issyk-Kul lake and will stay for the night  in a cozy hotel.

Day 15. Cholpon-Ata – Bishkek.
Transfer to Bishkek – the capital of Kyrgyzstan. On the way we will visit one more sight which is located on the territory which was once the capital of Karakhanid’s dynasty and was one of the most important points on the Great Silk Road. This is the Balasagun town, the only thing which reminds us of the big town sunken in time is the tower once used as a minaret – Burana tower. This architectural building dates back to the 11th century and is also interesting with the historical-archeological museum located on its territory which has the artifacts found on the territory of Balasagun.

Upon arrival to Bishkek you will be able to get acquainted with the town architecture. Visit Ala-Too square from where there is a great view of the Kyrgyz range; green parks; “Manas” statue at the philharmonic hall and many other places.

Accommodation in hotel.

Day 16. Bishkek – Suusamyr valley – Chychkan gorge
Today we will start our way from Bishkek to Osh going by the main highway connecting two capitals. The road goes through the mountains of Kyrgyz range and is startling in its diversity. There is a great view of the Suusamyr valley from Tuya-Ashuu pass (3586 m). Suusamyr valley is a great place loved by the nomads who spend summer months on the pastures considered to be the richest alpine pastures in Kyrgyzstan. This night we will stay in a cozy guest house “Oson” in Chychkan gorge.

Day 17. ChychkanOsh.
Change of the landscapes is fascinating. On the way we will visit one more ancient capital of Karakhanid’s dynasty – Uzgen town.

Uzgen is one of the oldest towns in Kyrgyzstan founded by Turks in VIII-XI centuries in the center of oasis on the way from Maurya to Eastern Turkestan on the right bank of the mountain river called Kara-Darya. The town has the two thousand years history. Ancient Uzgen was a  strong fortress with the gates from which the roads went to China, Samarkand, Kashgar and all sides of Fergana valley.

The trade road from Fergana to Seven Rivers along which the trade with Turks wasdone went through Uzgen .

Ancient Uzgen was located on the upper right bank of Kara-Darya river and consisted of three Shakhristans. Now there are only high hills left of those shakhristans. Though on the territory of one of them there are minaret (XI c) and three mausoleums (XI-XXII c) the unique architectural monuments of medieval Central Asia still preserved.

Nearby the Uzgen minaret there are three mausoleums build in one line. These mausoleums got the names Northern, Middle and Southern.

As for the Uzgen town itself, it’s a small touristic center with the wide net of cultural institutes. Here is also a colorful market with many works of folk art. You may buy the things which are made by hand in front of you.

Transfer to Osh. Accommodation in a hotel.

Day 18. Osh
Osh -  «Southern capital» of Kyrgyzstan. The exact date of ite foundation is not known but the legends connect the town with the name of Alexander Macedonian and the Solomon prophet (Suleiman). One legend tells about Suleiman who brought his troops and in front of them had two oxen with the plow and when they came to the mountains Sulaiman said “Khosh” which means “enough”. From this word the town founded here got the name Osh..

Osh is one of the oldest towns in Central Asia and no doubt the oldest in Kyrgyzstan. The archeological finds indicate that the city is at least 3 thousand years old. In X century Osh was the third biggest town in Fergana valley and was the point of road intersection going from India and China to Europe on the Great Silk road which we follow. Besides that Osh is one of the religious centers in Central Asia. There are many legends about Suleiman-Too (called by the name of Suleiman prophet who could cure people from any diseases).

Osh market is one of the most important sight of Osh town and for many centuries it is located on one and the same place where in ancient times the traders sold their goods which they brought from different countries located on the Great Silk Road. As many other eastern markets – Osh market is a center where the information exchange is made and the whole cultural life of the town is centered here. 

Today we will visit the Suleiman mountain. This is a great place to watch the town in the rays of the sunset.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 19. Osh - Fergana.
Today we will get to the border with Uzbekistan. Getting over the border and filling all the documents needed (you have to be patient with that). After that you will enter the Fergana valley.

Part 3. Uzbekistan

Day 19. Osh - Fergana.
Today we will get to the border with Uzbekistan. Getting over the border and filling all the documents needed (you have to be patient with that). After

Exactly here the famous Davan horses were bred because of which Chinese emperor U-Di opened the first Great Silk Road.  

Overnight in the hotel in Fergana valley.

Day 20. Fergana - Margilan - Fergana.
Today after breakfast we will be able to see some ancient towns of Fergana valley. First thing we will visit Margilan town the foundation of which is connected with the opening of the Great Silk Road which preserves the memory of Alexander Macedonian invasions. In X century this town was famous for the silk and khan-atlas fabric products the fame of which went far beyond the borders of Fergana valley. Fabrics from here went to Egypt, Greece, Baghdad, Khorasan and Kashgar. We will be able to see these unique products by visiting the silk factory “Yodgorlik” and also the Eastern market where you may buy many souvenirs and other useful things.

At the end of XV – the beginning of XVI centuries Margilan town was also known for the fact that in this town one of the great sons of Timur  - sultan Babur was born and raised here who finally became the ruler of Fergana, founded the Mughal state in India and was thefounder of Babur dynasty which ruled until the mid XIX century. This town will give you lots of good memories as from the ancient times it was the place of caravan rest and is still covered in green! After the excursion around Margilan we will get back to Fergana.


Day 21. Fergana - Rishtan - Kokand - Tashkent (310 km, 5 h).
We continue the acquaintance with Fergana valley and today we will drive to Rishtan and then to another town of the valley – Kokand. Rishtan in Uzbekistan is famous for its numerous workshops where the unique ceramic works are made. The blue ceramic of Rishtan is the great national tradition coming from early centuries. You will visit some workshops and see how the ceramic works are made by the masters who put their whole souls in these wares. Rishtan masters are famous for the whole world today by their unique production technology of ceramic works and an extraordinary way of their decoration.  

Further our way goes to Tashkent but we will stop on the way in one more town of Fergana valley – Kokand. This town won’t leave you indifferent as not so long ago at the end of XIX and the beginning of XX centuries Kokand was the second biggest town of Fergana valley! At the period of active land trade along the Great Silk Road Kokand was very famous in Chinese sources of X century for its handicraft products.

In the evening we will get to Tashkent and accommodate in the hotel for the night.

Day 22. Tashkent.
Today you will see Tashkent, its modern beauty and majesty. Tashkent is one of the oldest towns in Central Asia..

Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan, the fourth biggest town in  CIS with the population of about 2,3 mil people. It has to be mentioned that Tashkent is contingently divided into two parts – Old and New towns. These names speak for themselves – Old town consists of Madrasah, mausoleums and the real eastern market, so to say the monuments of the past times, but in the New town there are green parks, squares, monuments and modern buildings. These two original places exist at the same time and don’t disturb each other, more than that they fulfill one the other. By this feature Tashkent shows the main feature of Uzbekistan in whole – harmonic coexistence of ancient traditions and modern technologies.

Excursion around Tashkent includes:
Old town.
Madrasah Barak-Khan – great monument of 16th century located in the very heart of Old town on the Khast-Imom square encircled by old adobe houses. Earlier in this madrasah there was the Asian religious Muslims Control of Central Asia, led by Mufti. Here is also the rich library of eastern manuscripts and in the special hall the famous Osman’s Koran is preserved which was written in VII century and is the
primary source of the holy book of Islam  - Koran. This ancient manuscript with the initial text of Koran containing 353large sheets of parchment was preserved for centuries in the treasury of the caliphs (in Medina, Damascus, and Baghdad). At the time of Amir Timur Koran of Osman was brought from Baghdad to Uzbekistan and then in XIX century it went to Sankt-Petersburg where its authenticity was proved by Russian scientists. It finally got back to Central Asia where it still is.
Mausoleum of Yunus-Khan (XV c) – a monumental structure built in XV century in honor of one of the Tashkent’s rulers. The
Mausoleum of Kafal-al-Shashi Mazar (XVI c), Kafal-Al-Shashi was a missioner preached shafiitizm. He was a poet-mystic. Died in 10th century and his tomb built in 16th century became a popular place for muslim pilgrims.  
Kukeldash Madrasah (XVI c) is located not far from eastern market Chor-Su and up to today is working madrasah where the students live and study. From the towers located at the corners of the main building portal the special people - muezzins – called the faithful to prayer (namaz).

New town.
Handicrafts museum.
The Independence Square – the main square of the country located in the middle of the town. All the main festivals at the times of national holidays are made here. Last year its design was completed by grandiose arch which is lighted at night time by many small lamps fitted in the floor which fill the air around with some cosmic light.
You may have a 15 minute walk from the Indipendance Square to the building of Uzbek National Opera and Ballet Theater.
Further to Istiklol Square – the second biggest square of the town on which the festivals are also made. The concert Hall is also located here which invites domestic as well as foreign variety art representatives.
We advise you to get to all these places using metro. At the summer time this is the best type of transport. Metro in Tashkent is as good as in Moscow. Each station of Tashkent metro is unique in its great design and decoration. Unfortunately
itisforbiddentotakepicturesin metro.  

Day 23. Tashkent - Samarkand (330 km, 5-6 h).
Transfer to Samarkand – the oldest and one of the famous towns in Central Asia once known as Afrasiab and Marchanda.  Samarkand is one of the most important points on the Great Silk Road. This town-museum, town-heart of the caravan trade, has preserved the unique aura of Medieval Asia and has seen lots of things through centuries. In 1220 Genghis Khan destroyed the town almost to the bottom, but after only 150 years at the time of Amir Temur Samarkand became the official capital of a huge empire. At the trade field Samarkand carpets always had the lead.

At the entrance of the town on a small hill there is the Khazrat-Khizr mosque. From the hill there is a great view of the ancient Shakhi-Zinda necropolis, town market and distant mountain summits. Khazrat-Khizr mosque being a very old structure couldn’t escape the sad fate befallen the biggest part of Samarkand at the times of Ginghis Khan, though in XIX century it was reconstructed.

Overnight in the hotel. 

Day 24. Samarkand.
Excursion around Samarkand.

Our excursion will start at the main square of Central Asia – Registan (XV-XVII c) located at the center of Samarkand. The word “Registan” means “Sandy Place”. Registan was founded as the center of handicrafts and trade. This is the crossroad of 6 roads which went out from the town gates. Here the goods brought from different countries were sold and new goods were bought. The square was encircled by the majestic buildings: Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619 - 1636), Tillya-Kari Madrasah (1647 - 1660).

In 1417 Ulugbek (the grand son of the famous Amir Temur) started to build madrasah named after him. In 1420 building was ended and the square became the center of science. At first over hundred students lived and studied In Ulugbek madrasah - higher religious education institute of its time, a kind of medieval university.

In XVII century on Registan there were built two more monumental structures: Sherdor Madrasah and Tilya-Kari.  They differ by their big sizes and rich decoration. Sherdor madrasah (“building with lions”) with the pictures of fantastic animals of feline and chamois on the portal is the mirror reflection of Ulugbek madrasah. It was built for about 17 years by the order of Samarkand ruler Yalangtush Bakhadur. 10 years after Sherdor was built at the time of the same ruler Tilya-Kari started to be built completing Registan ensemble from the north. The name “madrasah” means “covered with gold”. Madrasah besides its main aim to teach students had the role of the main Samarkand mosque. Registan still has the rank of the central square of the town.  

After that we will visit Gur-Emir mausoleum -  the tomb of Temurids where the remains of the great commander Amir Temur are still preserved. By the legend nobody can open the tomb as right after that there will be a war. 

Rukhabad necropolis where by the legend the hair of Muslim prophet Muhammad (XV c) is preserved; Bibi-Khanum mosque (XV c) which was built by the special order by 200 best architects from the whole Timur’s empire, by 500 workers and 95 elephants from India; or the Ulugbek observatory (XV c) where there is a unique astronomic structure -  sextant.

We may also visit an architectural ensemble of Shakhi-Zinda (XII – XV c) the name of which is connected with the legend about the cousin of Muhammad – Kusam ibn Abbas who was buried here and whose name is translated as “Alive King”. The legend tells that Kusam ibn Abbas came to Samarkand with the Arab invaders in VII century to preach Islam and was beheaded for the religion. But he picked up hissevered head and went down the deep well where he still lives. Also here in Shakhi-Zinda the remains of the closest people of Amir Temur are preserved.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 25. Samarkand - Bukhara (300 km, 4-5 h).
Transfer to Bukhara, one more ancient town in Central Asia. The road to Bukhara goes along the edge of the great desert Kyzyl-Kum which still has the traces of caravans once slowly travelling here along the Great Silk Road. “Bukhara-i-Sharif”, “Noble”, “Saint” – these are only some of many epithets by which this ancient town was called. One of the legends tells that the founder of Bukhara was Siyavush – the son of Iranian Shah. Zoroastrians from Bukhara revered the place of his death and on the spring holiday Navruz each man slaughtered a rooster at the eastern gate of Gurian where he was buried. At the tomes of Samanid’s dynasty Bukhara was the capital and was considered to be the greatest town of all Islamic world. Besides that it was the center of trading between China and Western Europe. So many things were sold here! These were dried fruit, cloth, wine, jewelry and many other things. Thus, Bukhara became a kind of money-changing shop for all Asian nations.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 26. Bukhara.
Our excursion around Bukhara will start with the visit of Samanid’s mausoleum (IX – X c) which is a pearl of Central Asian architecture. This is a family tomb of local dynasty the founder of which was Ismail Samani. Mausoleum is unique in many ways. For example by the canons of Islamic architecture the tombs with roofs were forbidden. But as a result this rule was first violated at the time the Samanid’s tomb was built. After that as the historians say the building itselfmeets all architectural canons of Zoroastrian fire temples, i. e. it’s built according to the pre-Arab religious traditions, though at the time of wide spread of Islamic religion in Central Asia. Thus, Samanid’s mausoleum is referred to the structure having determined synthesis trends and assimilation of diverse cultures on the basis of which a unique architectural style of the Central Asia further developed.

After that the tomb of Chashma Ayub Mazar (XII c) which means “Job’s Spring” will be waiting for us. This place is the best to illustrate the influence of the Great Silk Road on all countries located on its way even the most remote ones.

After this place we will continue our excurtion and go to the ancient fortress of Bukhara, citadel Ark (about II c) which fits into the colorful local landscape and is an impressive fortified fort, where, actually the ancient Bukhara began. The modern view of the citadel is referred to the last restoration of Ark gates (1785-1800) by the ruler of Bukhara Shakhmurad which was known as “Sinless Emir”. It’s considered that at the times of other ruler Nasrulla which was known as “Butcher Emir” on one of the gates a leather whip was hanged as a symbol of authoritarian power. Inside the citadel there was a compact town which included residential and administrative buildings: the mosque, a prison, treasury, the residence of the Emir and other.

Poi-Kalyan complex (XII-XVI c) is the central in Bukhara and is translated as “The Footstep of the Great” i. e. the footstep of the famous Kalyan minaret (with the height of 49 m, built in 1127) the highest in Bukhara. The minaret was surprisingly preserved during all wars and invasions.  At one time he was an observation point , the it was the place of public execution.By the way the word “minaret” is translated from Arabic language as “a place where something is burned”.

Ulugbek Madrasah (XV c) was built in Bukhara in 1417 as well as in Samarkand. Ulugbek was a very just and highly educated ruler oriented to the high ideals of science and education.

Lyabi-Khauz ensemble (XVI-XVII c) which includes Kukeldash madrasah (1568), Khanaka and Nadir Divanbegi madrasah (1622). All the structures are grouped around the central pond one of the few which survived the mass draining of ponds in Bukhara in the Soviet times.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 27. Bukhara.
Today we will have an excursion to the summer residence of Bukhar Emir (XIX c). «Sitorai Mokhi Khosa» («The Palace of Moon and Stars», which has an amazing mixture of European and Islamic architecture.

Bakhaddin Nakshbandi which is considered to be the Central Asian Mecca is also amazing. Nakshbandi himself was a very powerful  Sufi at his time and was a spiritual mentor of Amir Temur.

Afetr lunch we offer you to walk along the streets of ancient Bukhara and deep into all subtleties of the East.

Overnight in the hotel in Bukhara.

Day 28. Bukhara - Khiva (440 km, 7-8 h).
It will be a long drive to an ancient town of Uzbekistan called Khiva.

Upon arrival accommodation in the hotel.

Day 29. Khiva.
Khiva is an “open air museum”.

Khiva is one of the main points on the way of the Great Silk Road. It was the center of Khiva Khanate and many times was destroyed and restored. Traders from Khorezm were waited in many towns as the firs and fabrics from here were considered to be the best. Despite the fact that the appearance of modern Khiva didn’t change from the times of Khiva Khanate archeological excavations show the cultural layers relating to the centuries BC.
Khiva consists of two towns Ichan-Kala (inner town) and Dishan-Kala (outer town). Many monuments of Khiva are centered in the inner town Ichan-Kala, fortresses with four gates oriented on four cardinals for caravan’s comfort. But there are more sights to see in Khiva.

The most famous places in Ichan-Kala are Kalta-Minor, Islam-Khodja minaret, Djuma mosque and Pakhlavan Muhammad mausoleum – mausoleum of the saint Khiva protector, warrior and poet.
Kalta-Minor was planned as a very grandiose structure in ancient East. Its 14-meter basement gives the idea of the hypothetical height of the minaret. In the history there is almost no information about it, but it’s said that the work stopped with the death of the ruler Muhammad Amid Khan and his descendant didn’t have the budget to finish his project. But as always there are many legends by one of which the architect promised the ruler to build even a higher minaret after this finishing this one. And he was finally thrown from the top of 26-meter unfinished tower. This is the only minaret in Central Asia which is fully decorated by ceramic tiles.

Djuma mosque is very interesting here – it’s unique as it doesn’t have the inner yard. Its ceiling is held by 212 different columns and each of them has its own picture and history. Inside the mosque during the day there is a great mixture of light and shadow which gives coolness even in the hottest day. Columns are situated in the way that one may see minbar from any place – niche which symbolizes Mecca and every person during the prayer should be turned to it.

Khiva is very beautiful at the sunset time and at night, laconic backlight and the light of the moon Turn Ichan-Kala into a fairy tale. It’s absolutely safe to wander through the night Ichan-Kala what the most curious tourist really enjoy. In the inner town there are about 300 families and the national crafts are really well developed here, it’s mostly the wood carving. Almost every house of Khiva is decorated with carved wooden doors made by local masters.

Overnight in the hotel.

Part 4. Turkmenistan

Day 30. Khiva - Kun - Urgench - Tashauz - Ashgabat (350 km).
In the morning we will be transferred to Uzbek-Turkmen border “Shavat” from where our Turkmen part of the tour along the Great Silk Road is going to start. Saying Good Bye to the sunny Uzbekistan and having solved all the formalities on the border we will enter the not less hospitable Asian land – Turkmenistan. Great Silk Road also went through Turkmenistan on the way to Iran and then to the Mediterranean.

Our travel in Turkmenistan will start with the transfer to Tashauz (Dashoguz) town and visit of its main sight – ancient historical town called Kunya-Urgench. It’s located 100 km from Tashauz. Ancient Kunya-Urgench is a beautiful picture ofoutstanding achievements in architecture and crafts, which were reached by an ancient civilization of Khorezmshakhs. Nowadays it’s not only a known tourists center but also a very important point of Muslim pilgrimage. In this town we will visit such monuments as Tyurabek-Khanym, Tekesha Sultan, Il Arslan mausoleums and Kutlug Timur minaret.

After the excursion we will go to Tashauz itself and then fly to the capital of Turkmenistan – Ashgabat in the evening. Uponourarrivalwewillaccommodateinthehotel.

Day 31. Ashgabat.
After breakfast we will go for the town sightseeing and get acquainted with the architecture of Ashgabat. Our excursion will include the visit of Independence Park and the Arch of Neutrality, the Museum of History and Ethnography, the archaeological site of the "Old Nisa," "Sacred Mosque of Turkmenbashi" and the "Ertugrul Ghazi" mosque.  

Among all mentioned monuments the most interesting one is the site of “Old Nisa”. Actually Nisa is an ancient settlement located 18km from modern Ashgabat and dated by I century BC. Old Nisa was once the residence of Parthia and  functioned as a capital of Parthian Kingdom. At the times of Parthia existence Old Nisa was called by the name of the king - Mitridat I by the order of whom the town was built. At that period of time Nisa was the capital of the empire but later the capital was moved to Asia Minor. When Sassanids came Nisa had lost its former power, it was plundered and forgotten. The new level in Nisa’s history starts from its becoming a part of the Arab Caliphate. The town had raised again but couldn’t reach its former position.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 32. Ashgabat - Turkmen-Iranian border - Mary - Mevr.
In the morning we will drive Mary. Not far from Mary, about 30 km, there is an ancient town called Mevr which will be our last site in Turkmenistan. At the ancient times Mevr was considered to be one of the Eastern pearls which shone and  shimmered for about 5 centuries on the background of mighty empires of ancient dynasties and was either their capital or the Shahs biggest and beloved town. From the time of its founding and until the time it was destroyed by Mongols year after year, decade after decade it grew, developed and improved with the help of qualified craftsmen and caring people. Nowadays Mevr is considered to be a religious canter for pilgrims as it has saved old spiritual monuments which were built at the times of long gone generations.

On the territory of this amazing historical place with the area of 60 there are Sultan Sandjar’s and Mohammad ibn Zeida’s mausoleums, ruins of the palaces dated back to the times of Achaemenid, Parthian and Seljuk dynasties.

Return to Mary. Overnight in the hotel.

Part 5. Iran

Day 33. Mary – Turkmen-Iranian border «Serakhs» - Mashhad (185 km, 3 h).
Today, we have to cross another border to get into a wonderful country with rich history, the country of the Great Silk Road - the ancient Persia and modern Iran. So, from the Turkmen-Iranian border "Seraks" we will continue our way to the Iranian city of Mashhad.

Mashhad, as the first Holy City is extremely crucial for the Shiite world. The city owes its fame to a relic located on its territory - the mausoleum of Imam Reza, which has a religious, architectural and historic interest. About 2 million pilgrims from all over the Shiite world annually visit this sacred place..

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 34. Mashhad- Shiraz.
Tour around the city of Mashhad. We will visit such sites as the mosque of Imam Reza and Eastern market - bazaar. The basis of the mausoleum of Imam Reza in Mashhad is actually a tomb itself, there are many other buildings around the mausoleum: the tombs of revered imams, museum, library, schools of theology, cemetery, mosque of Govarshad (early XV century) and the rest house for pilgrims. They form a kind of ring, which, however, is not the only one; not so long ago the second ring was completed, topped with tall minarets, and the construction of the third circle was started, which is promised to be no less spectacular than the previous two. Large-scale complex of Imam Reza is called "Astan-I Quds-i Razavi" or "Abode of Reza holiness". The complex began to be build in the late IX century. But in 993 it was destroyed. Its reconstruction was started in 1009. During the following centuries, the complex was rebuilt many times. To a large extent it was built at the times of the Timurids, the Safavids and Nader-Shah Afshar.

After visiting the complex and bazaar, our way goes to the south-west of Mashhad, to an ancient city of Nishapur. The road to it will take us about 2 hours (114 km). Nishapur is often called as "the city of tombs," because of many illustrious personalities of Iran that were buried here. The city is the second largest in the north-eastern province of Iran - Khorasan. This city is famous for its monument - the tomb of Omar Khayyam. The grave of the poet of the XI century is surrounded by a beautiful garden, where anyone can buy books of the eminent writer translated to all the major languages of the world, and buy CDs with recitation and singing of his poems.

In the evening we will have the flight to Shiraz which will take us about 1,5 hours.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 35. Shiraz.
Shiraz is a beautiful city of a beautiful country, the town of Iranian history and a tourist center of the republic, which has long been one of the most important centers of culture, art and commerce. The Great Silk Road went through the territory of the town, which made it famous not only in Persia, but far beyond its borders. Today Shiraz is a very warm and refined city, famous for its relatively mild climate, an abundance of greenery in the streets, and oases, which were arranged according to the descriptions of the ghostly gardens of the beatitudes in Qur'an. Now it is also a center of the oil and electronics industries. The most interesting buildings in Shiraz are located in the old part of the city. There are more than a dozen mosques, and you may also find the house of a very unusual shape.

This city will show us such historical and cultural monuments as the Garden of Eram, Nasir-ol-Malk Mosque, Theological School, the Mausoleum of Hafez (or Saadi), Vakil complex (mosque, bath, Citadel and Bazaar), Kavami citrus plantation and the most amazing mirror mosque called the tomb of Ali-ibn-Hamza.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 36. Shiraz - Persepolis - Pasargadae - Isfahan.
Moving to the suburbs of Shiraz - the ancient city of Persepolis, the path to which will have a big sense: on the road you will be taken to the Gates of the Quran.

Now as the Persepolis town itself. Persepolis was once the second capital of the Achaemenid’s empire, which arose in VI-V centuries BC. The city is located 60 km north of Shiraz and 70 miles of Pasargadae. Persepolis nowadays is a palace complex with the area of 135 thousand sq. m, which consists of the religious buildings’ ruins. In Persepolis we will visit several attractions: Gates of the Quran, the Persepol temple palace which was built in 500 BC.

After that we will visit the city of Pasargadae - the first capital of the boundless Persian Empire of Achaemenids. The ruins of this city are located 130 km from Shiraz and 87 km from Persepolis. The name of the town translated from the Persian means the "Gardens of Fars." Even during his lifetime, in 546 BC, the Persian king Cyrus the Great began to rebuild his capital. However, he did not live up to the moment when the capital was finally moved to Pasargadae. Later, Darius I built Persepolis, which became the new center of the state. In ancient Pasargadae we will visit the most significant archaeological site of the city - the tomb of the great Persian king Cyrus II. Six broad steps lead to the mausoleum, Alexander the Great in 330 BC walked up these steps, already having won the war with Achaemenid’s empire. When Alexander was in the Indian campaign, the tomb was looted. But later, when Alexander came back, the robbers paid with their heads for such a barbarity. Among the Arabs, who came to this area there was a belief that this building was the tomb of the Prophet Suleiman’s mother, also known as King Solomon. Pasargadae is often associated with the name of Solomon, and perhaps that is why many buildings of the city were not destroyed during the fall of the Achaemenid Empire and had survived to the present day.

Despite the fact that the building is still recognized as the tomb of Cyrus, there is also a suggestion that the tomb of the king could be at another place - in the necropolis of Naqsh-i Rustam. It is thought that mausoleum of Pasargadae could serve as a sanctuary of ancient Zoroastrian fire.

Another evening flight from Shiraz to Isfahan. The flight takes only 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 37. Isfahan.
Isfahan - it's not just a city, it is half of the world! It is one of the most attractive regions for the tourists to visit. There is a huge number of architectural monuments, which affect people by its splendor, elegance and uniqueness. All of this shows that once Isfahan was the capital city of a huge empire. We will definitely visit the square of Imam Khomeini. Former name of the Square is Nahsh-e Jahan Square (which means "Map (portrait) of the World"), and until 1979, the complex was called the Shah's Square. After the Islamic revolution now every Friday people gather on the square for the Friday prayer. The square is 560 meters long and goes from north to south and 165 meters wide (from west to east). The modern image of the square appeared in the 16th century, when Isfahan was the capital of the Safavid’s Empire. Now the square is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

On all sides the square is surrounded by no less important historical monuments: on the south side of the square there is the Imam Mosque, to the west - the Palace of Ali Kapu, to the east – the Mosque of Sheikh Lotfally, on the north – there is the Grand Bazaar, the length of which is about 2 km.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 38. FlightIsfahan - Tehran.
Today wewill go to the Cathedral mosque - the largest mosque in the city. Remarkably, its walls should accommodate up to hundreds or even thousands of worshipers! The history of the mosque begins with in XI century, when the Seljuk Turks built a Friday mosque at the place of the old Zoroastrian temple. Seljuk’s mosque stood here for almost 100 years, but, unfortunately, was almost all burned down, leaving only two large domes. In 1211, its active reconstruction was started, which ended only in XVIII century. Nowadays it is only occasionally restored.

Next place of our visit is Vank Cathedral, which actually never belonged to the Iranians. In fact, it is the temple of the Armenian Church, located in the Armenian district, which has the name of New Julfa. The full name of the cathedral is” the Cathedral of the Holy Sisters”. The interesting fact is that the word "Vank" from Armenian is actually translated as "cathedral", however, for the Iranians this word became a name, and later to foreigners in all languages of the world the name of the cathedral was featured as "Vank", but the Armenians have no offense to Iranians for such a tautology. Cathedral was built between 1606 and 1655 years, at the contrast of the Christian and Islamic styles.

The surprise of our today's tour will be the Isfahan Shaking Minarets and forty column palace of Chhel Setun.

Once again, local airlines will take us to the capital of Persia - Tehran. The flight will take us about 1 hour 05 minutes.

Overnight in the hotel.

Day 39. Tehran. Departure.
Today is the last day of our amazing journey along the Silk Road. And this day is going to be saturated.

Tehran is considered to be one of the most picturesque capitals. The main interest for visitors of the capital is its excellent museums, so our stay in Tehran will not only be enjoyable, but also educational. Thus, the Golestan Palace- Museum, built during the reign of the rulers of the Qajar dynasty, will tell us how the Shahs - masters of the world for his people - once lived. there are several museums in the palace, the best of which is a marble throne Museum, which is located in a large ceremonial hall with an alabaster throne; Negar Khan Museum - this museum displays a collection of artwork of Qajar epoch and is decorated with a large number of mirrors and Sham Al Emarat Museum (Palace of the sun) - it was once the tallest building in Tehran, it was built in a mixed style, combining features of the European and Persian architecture.

In addition, you may visit the National Museum and the Museum of coins in Tehran.


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