The Golden Journey to Samarkand
The Silk Roads of Uzbekistan
Some of the oldest settlements in the world conjure up images of sandy-coloured buildings adorned with turquoise domes, intricate wall tiles in magnificent rich colours that fill entire rooms, and bustling bazaars complete with patterned carpets and the smell of spices swirling the air all of which will transport you back to a time when these places were the centre of world trade. Situated in the heart of the Eurasian Steppe, the country boasts a dramatic geography of unforgiving deserts, sumptuous oases and fertile valleys watered by the Amu Darya, the ancient River Oxus. From its fast modernising capital Tashkent, to the small oasis of the ancient Islamic world in Khiva a trip to Uzbekistan offers a truly pioneering once in a lifetime opportunity, especially when enjoyed in the company of Paul Wordsworth, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Faculty of Oriental Studies and an expert on Islamic archaeology and the history of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The ‘Silk Roads’ were a series of trade routes that stretched from China to the Mediterranean, established during the Han dynasty. Not only were these routes crucial to the trade of goods including textiles, spices and of course silk, arguably its most important export was culture. Religion, language, philosophy and technology all travelled with the merchants and were introduced to societies all over the civilised world. The Silk Roads were closed off in the mid-fifteenth century by the Ottoman Empire, which wasn’t a total disaster. Traders were forced out to sea, which saw the dawn of the ‘age of discovery’. Uzbekistan played an important role on the route and flourished. After a turbulent history in which it has been conquered by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Imperial Russia as well as a period of oppressive Soviet regime, it has been left with a rich and diverse history.
- With Dr Paul Wordsworth, expert on Islamic Archaeology
- A true Uzbekistani Odyssey
- Dramatic geography
- Visits to isolated Silk Road Cities
"The Cultural Experience brings professional insight, planning and performance to an enviable level"
Day 1 - Depart
Fly overnight from London to Tashkent.
Day 2 – Tashken
Arrive Tashkent early morning and check-in to the Wyndham Hotel. After some rest and recuperation, we will re-group for lunch and an afternoon visit to the Fine Arts National Museum where there is an extensive collection of paintings, ceramics, royal regalia and Syuzani and enjoy a special visit to its Institute of Restoration.
Day 3 - Shohruhiya and Tashkent
Drive through the Uzbeck countryside to the ancient settlement of Shohruhiya, the first large city of Tashkent oases, situated on the Great Silk Road through Yaksart. Return to Tashkent to explore the old city or “eski shakhar” including the spiritual heart of Tashkent, Hast Imam Square, the Tellya Sheik Mosque and the striking brand new Mosque of Hazrati Iman.
Day 4 – Khorezm Oasis
Check-out of our hotel and take an early morning flight to Ugrench from where we explore the remains of two of the ancient desert castles on the edge of the Khorezm Oasis: Ayaz Kala and Toprak Kala, the latter known as the fortress in the wind. After lunch in our Yurt restaurant we drive across the entire oasis we arrive at Khiva, the most isolated of Uzbekistan’s Silk Road cities situated on the edge of the Karakum desert. Check-in to our hotel Orient Star, a former Madrassa for two nights.
Day 5 – Khiva
We spend the whole day exploring this wonderful city on foot. Although it was virtually destroyed by Genghis Khan, much of what was subsequently rebuilt is impressive. Particularly its designated World Heritage inner fortress of Ichan Kala home to the Kunya Ark, the Khan’s fortress, the Kalta Minor Tower, the Djuma Mosque, the superbly tiled Pakhlavan Makmud and many other mosques and madrassas. This evening we dine besides Lake Kharrat and enjoy the wonderful sunset over the Kizilkum Desert.
Day 6 – Journey to Bukhara
We take a long drive through the desert. enjoying a picnic en-route and stopping at the wides expanse of the Amu Dayre (River Oxus) to see how its waters have been diverted by the Socients causing the Aral sea to dramatically recede. We arrive at Bukhara mid-afternoon allowing time to visit the beautifully located Samani and Chashma Ayub mausoleums and the Bolo Khauz Mosque before we check-in to our hotel for the next two nights.
Day 7 - Bukhara
A full day to explore the ‘Noble City’ of Bukhara, once one of the most important and beautiful cities of the Muslim world with over a hundred architectural monuments, the most important being the Po-i-Kalyan religious complex and the massive Ark fortress including its infamous Zinden in which Col Stoddart and Capt Connolly were imprisoned prior to their beheading in 1842. This evening we shall enjoy a traditional folk show followed by dinner.
Day 8 – Bukhara to Samarkand
Drive to the Palace of the Moon-like Stars, the Summer Palace of the last Rmir of Bukhara. Thence to the Sarmysh Gorge to see the 4000 year-old open-air petroglyphs painted on its polished basalt rocks. Arrive Samarkand where we check-in to the Grand Samarkand Hotel for three nights.
Day 9 – Shakhrisabz
Travel via the Takhta Karcha Pass to one of the oldest cities in the world and the birthplace of Amir Temur. Among the architectural monuments there are the remains of the massive portal of the Ak-Saray Palace and the Dor-us-Saodat Burial Complex, an outstanding example of Khorazmian architecture. Also here is a mausoleum built for Temur himself several years before his death arranged in the shape of a tent. On our return we visit the shrine of Langar Ota with its monument to Temur's general and its wonderfully tiled 15th century mosque.
Day 10 – Samarkand
Visit the 14th century Ulugbek Observatory, its small museum and the giant astrolabe; explore the stunning Shah I Zinda avenue of beautifully tiled mausoleums; The Afrosiab museum with its important archaeological collection; the lavish Regional Studies museum with its peculiar collection including furntiture captured from Napoleon in 1812; Registan Square and its architectural ensemble of Tilla-Kori Madrasah; Ulugbeg Madrasah and Sher-Dor Madrasah, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001.
Day 11 – Samarkand, Tashkent
Morning visit to the Bibi Khoym mosque built in commemoration of Temur's wife, buried in a tomb located in a madrasa complex nearby. Continue to the Gur Emir mausoleum complex where Temur is interred. In the late afternoon, we take the high speed train to Tashkent.
Day 12 – Depart
An opportunity to explore the Chorus Bazaar before transferring to the airport for our return flight home arriving London mid-evening.
Recommended Reading List
- Central Asia in World History
- Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of Central Asia
- The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion
- The Silk Road in World History
- The Silk Road: A New History
- The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction
- The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
- Tombs of paradise: the Shah-e Zende in Samarkand and architectural ceramics of Central Asia
22nd September - 3rd October 2017 (12 Days)
Return flights from London, internal flight, Business Class train, 4 star hotels, all meals with drinks each evening, all entrance fees and expert guide throughout.
Activity Level: 2
Guide: Dr Paul Wordsworth
Tour price: £2950.00
Single supplement: £165.00
Price without flights: £2500.00