Nukus takes you off the tourist grid and back to Uzbekistan in its Soviet-era times. No wonder Savitskiy Art Gallery, the second most valuable collection of Russian avant-garde art, chose its home here.. Spend time in World Heritage-listed Bukhara – a sixth-century BC city that’s teeming with history and home to the formidable Ark of Bukhara.. Get a bit active and learn the stories and people of Uzbekistan while sharing home-cooked meals with local families on a visit to the Amankutan Valley.. Steeped in Silk Road history and immortalised in many a tale, the World Heritage-listed town of Khiva is full of colourful monuments and history spanning centuries.
Uzbekistan is bursting with ancient history, interwoven cultures, vibrant marketplaces and diverse landscapes, and on this 12-day classic adventure, you’ll experience the best of the Uzbek. Hitting the capital Tashkent at the beginning and end, discover the unique collection of Russia avant garde art in the most unusual choice of location – Nukus, walk the walls of the ancient inner city of Khiva, explore the sacred and holy sites in Heritage-listed Bukhara and be dwarfed by the medressas in the iconic Registan Square of Samarkand. Learn about a history that may be often overlooked, but is definitely not dull – Uzbekistan’s mix of Islamic influence, Silk Road splendour and Soviet-era rule provides insight into an era long gone, but definitely not forgotten.
Breakfast Included: 11 Lunches Included: 2 Dinner Included: 2
Xush kelibsiz! Welcome to Uzbekistan. The largest city in Central Asia with a population of over 2 million, Tashkent is a mix of Russian and Uzbek style, an indication of the fact that for many years it was a key city of the Soviet Republic. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm today, where you’ll meet your group leader and travel companions. If you have time beforehand, take a walk to see some of the contemporary architecture that sets this city apart from many other Silk Road destinations, or find yourself some samsa (savoury meat pastry) to snack on.
Take the day to explore Tashkent with your group leader and fellow travellers. Pass by Amir Temur Square and then visit the Khast Imam complex – one of the most well-known images of Uzbekistan, which houses Barak Khan Madrassah, Kaffal Shashi mausoleum, the Quran Library and Mosque. A highlight of today is the Chorsu Bazaar – one of the largest and oldest markets in Central Asia. Wandering through this giant marketplace is a great way to see locals going about their daily lives. After wandering through the stalls, explore some of the rich cultural history of Uzbekistan with a visit to the 16th-century Kulkedash Medressa – an Islamic school that sits beside the 15th-century Juma (Friday) Mosque. You'll also pass the elaborate Navoi Theatre, built with unique character and a stunning fountain in its forecourt.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport and take a morning flight bound for Nukus. Nukus is the capital of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, which takes up the entirety of the northwest of Uzbekistan. Once arrived, head 15 kilometres out of town to visit Mizdar Khan and Yusup Ishan necropolis. These acted as holy sites and are cemeteries for Zoroastrians – followers of an ancient religion dating all the way back to the fourth century BC. Here you’ll also find the remains of the Gyaur-Kala Fortress. Mizdar Khan town was once an important centre for handicrafts and trade, so keep an eye out for any remnants of its creative past. Later on, return to the Nukus and check into your hotel. In the afternoon, head with your group leader on a guided tour through the renowned Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art. This museum is a unique museum which houses the second most valuable Russian avant garde art collection, all collected by Igor Savitsky. Igor collected and moved the pieces to probably one of the poorest areas in the former Soviet Union – items that were faced with the fate of being destroyed by the authorities in the 1950s and 1960s. Here, you'll also see historical relics and archeological objects that are closely related to the Karakalpakstan, and wider Central Asian cultures.
This morning, travel by bus to Khiva (approximately 4 hours). Khiva is beautifully preserved town and perfect for exploring on foot, with impressive walls that mark the inner boundaries of the old city – Itchan Kala. Upon entering its gates, you will see the towering turquoise Kalta Minor Minaret and the Mohammed Rahim Khan and Muhammad Amin Khan medressas. Visit the Kuhna Ark, which was the main fortress, and look over the city from the hill of the Ak-Sheikh Baba observation platform, once used as a patrol tower of the citadel. Finish at Pakhlavan Makhmud complex, the most remarkable architecture memorial complex in Khiva with its majolica tiles. You’ll feel a true sense of history here – perhaps even some you mightn’t have heard of before, and that’s the exciting bit. Uncovering lost tales of people and places far removed from the boring old encyclopaedias, this is real history.
Continue your historical escapade in Khiva and head to the 17th-century Djuma Mosque – a cathedral mosque with a roof that lies on 212 wooden-fretted columns, giving the structure unique acoustics and streams of lighting. Continue to the Islom Hoja Minaret and Medressa, as well the Tosh-Hovli Palace – a 19th century summer palace of Mohammed Rahim Khan II set in orchards and surrounded by walled gardens. With some free time this afternoon, why not walk up the inner city walls to get another perspective over the city, or get a couple of your travel pals together to enjoy a drink and the sunset over the ancient town.
Refuel with some breakfast, then board a morning train bound for Bukhara (approximately 6 hours). Do not fear – your group leader will have organised some lunch for you on the train, but you might like to pick up some other snacks for your trip today if you get peckish. As today is a longer travel day, kick back and relax once you’ve arrived at your hotel. Later on in the evening, your group leader can take you for a short stroll in and around the Lyab-i Hauz ensemble – one of the few remaining central ponds in the heart of Bukhara’s Old Town.
Bukhara is widely regarded as Central Asia’s holiest city, being part of the ancient Silk Road and listed as a World Heritage site. With more than 100 officially preserved monuments, there is a lot to see, and you’ll have the next couple of days to check out the rich tapestry of history on offer. Much of the monuments date back over 1000 years, and their meticulous restoration of mosaics and stone ornaments have ensured the magic of this old city isn’t lost. Today, begin with a visit to the fifth century Ark Fortress, which acts as the ancient heart of the city, as well as exploring the Poikalon, comprising of the Kalon Minaret and Mosque, and the Mir-i-Arab Medressa. Take a step onto the Great Silk Road with a visit to Bukhara’s trading domes which still stand since the Shaybanides dynasty, and discover the bazaars beneath alive with a buzz of activity. Tonight, gather together with your group in town and enjoy dinner with a traditional folk music and dance show.
Have another day to get under the skin of Bukhara, taking another guided city tour with your small group. You’ll see the Ulugbek and Abdul Aziz Khan medressas, the Magoki-Attori Mosque and the grand four-pointed Chor Minor Minaret – try saying any of those names after a few glasses of the local brew. In the afternoon, take a train to Samarkand (approximately 1.5 hours), arriving in the early evening for a chilled-out night.
Samarkand is a city that evokes the romance and history of the Silk Road like no other. This morning, take a visit to the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum – the final resting place of the mighty 14th-century ruler Timur and his sons and grandsons. Continue to the Shah-i-Zinda complex – the so-called ‘Town of the Dead’ necropolis – with more than 20 beautifully decorated unique buildings. Nearby is the Ulugbek Observatory, built in the 1420s by the Timurid astronomer of the same name. Stop in the Afrasiab Museum, which houses a seventh century fresco of the Sogdian King Varkhouman. Also, be sure to stand in the middle of the iconic Registan Square today with the three medressas – Ulugbek, Sher Dor and Tilla-Kari – towering over you. This is probably the most recognisable sight in Central Asia. Finish your day with a classic Uzbek experience – join a local family for a cooking demonstration on the traditional meal known as plov. This dish is cooked over an open flame in a traditional cauldron and is made up of meat, onions, carrots, rice, raisins, berries and chickpeas.
Drive to the nearby Zarafshan Mountain Range this morning (approximately 1 hour each way), admiring the Tahta-Karacha mountain pass and stopping for some photos at the snaking roads. Continue into the Amankutan Valley where you’ll join your leader for a short hike, taking around an hour. Refuel with a home-cooked lunch in a local house nearby, where you can get acquainted with the daily life of your hosts and learn the traditional methods of cooking bread. Afterwards, return to Samarkand for a relaxing afternoon.
This morning, you’ll have some more time to check out what you’ve missed in Samarkand, perhaps heading to the Bibi Khanum Mosque or the Siab Bazaar. In the afternoon, head back on the train to Tashkent (approximately 3 hours). Tonight, why not get together with your group leader and travel pals for a celebratory dinner, sharing stories and some beers to celebrate the memories you’ve made in Uzbekistan.
With no activities planned for today, you are free to depart at any time of the day. Hotel check-out time is usually around 12 pm, however if you have later onward connections, you will be able to store your luggage at the hotel reception during the day.