Five 'Stans: Hidden Heart of Asia

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    Destinations: Far East
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Tour Description

Join us as we follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and the Silk Road merchants on this Western Asia expedition to the Five ’Stans. Gaze at river-studded plateau steppes in Kazakhstan and the snowcapped mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Imagine camel caravans navigating around rushing rivers and silver lakes in Uzbekistan. And glimpse the wide expanse of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert. This is Western Asia adventure travel at its finest, capturing the outstanding scenery of the land, as well as its rich culture, from the legacy of Chinggis Khaan to Samarkand’s Islamic architecture.

Western Asia Expedition Highlights:

  • Photo ops of soaring glacier-clad peaks in Tuyuk Su Gorge, a hallmark of Kazakhstan adventure travel.
  • Bustling markets, exotic cuisine, pashminas, hand-woven carpets, and other countless treasures found in local bazaars.
  • The Bibi Khanym Mosque, built by Tamarlane in the 14th century; its grand size pushed the limits of architectural knowledge.
  • Local folkloric performances, with regional cuisine, a special part of this Western Asia travel adventure.
  • Exploration of Tajikistan, the “Nepal of the ’Stans,” with over 90 percent of its land covered in high, glacier-capped peaks.

What to expect:

The Five ’Stans are countries rarely visited by outside travelers and, to that end, Western Asia adventure travel requires a healthy spirit of adventure and a flexible attitude. We aim to use the best available accommodations, but be advised that lodgings and food are not always up to Western standards. Deviations from the planned itinerary are possible. Please be able to walk or stand for extended periods; some days of our Western Asia tour will include long bus journeys over sometimes-rough roads. Information about dress codes and local customs will be sent out prior to your departure.

Join us as we follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and the Silk Road merchants on this Western Asia expedition to the Five ’Stans. Gaze at river-studded plateau steppes in Kazakhstan and the snowcapped mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Imagine camel caravans navigating around rushing rivers and silver lakes in Uzbekistan. And glimpse the wide expanse of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert. This is Western Asia adventure travel at its finest, capturing the outstanding scenery of the land, as well as its rich culture, from the legacy of Chinggis Khaan to Samaraland’s Islamic architecture.
Western Asia Expedition Highlights:
• Photo ops of soaring glacier-clad peaks in Tuyuk Su Gorge, a hallmark of Kazakhstan adventure travel.
• Bustling markets, exotic cuisine, pashminas, hand-woven carpets, and other countless treasures found in local bazaars.
• The Bibi Khanym Mosque, built by Tamarlane in the 14th century; its grand size pushed the limits of architectural knowledge.
• Local folkloric performances, with regional cuisine, a special part of this Western Asia adventure travel.
• Exploration of Tajikistan, the “Nepal of the ’Stans,” with over 90 percent of its land covered in high, glacier-capped peaks.
What to expect:
The Five ’Stans are countries rarely visited by outside travelers and, to that end, Western Asia adventure travel requires a healthy spirit of adventure and a flexible attitude. We aim to use the best available accommodations, but be advised that lodgings and food are not always up to Western standards. Deviations from the planned itinerary are possible. Please be able to walk or stand for extended periods; some days of our Western Asia tour will include long bus journeys over sometimes-rough roads. Information about dress codes and local customs will be sent out prior to your departure.

Itinerary

Day 1-2

USA / Almaty, Kazakhstan

Depart USA on your independent flight to Almaty via Frankfurt, Germany. Arrive in Almaty late on Day 2, transfer to our hotel for overnight.

Day 3

Almaty

The largest of the ’Stans, Kazakhstan has a steppe landscape of plateaus and plains rising to a mountainous eastern border with China. We explore Almaty, the country’s largest city and its former capital. Zenkov Cathedral is a masterpiece of nail-less wooden construction from the tsarist era. We also visit the Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments and the National Historical Museum.

Day 4

Almaty

We drive uphill into the countryside to Medeu, a picturesque, canyon-like valley where we visit Chimbulak, a top ski resort and base for alpine mountaineering. Enjoy a moderate hike into Tuyuk Su Gorge, with a lunch of regional cuisine.

Day 5

Almaty / Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Mountain panoramas surround us as we drive south to Kyrgyzstan, a rugged and beautiful country with over half its territory situated in the Tian Shan Mountains, which rise to elevations of 10,000 feet or more. An ancient Silk Road settlement, modern Bishkek is an attractive town lying under the mountainous backdrop. Upon arrival in Bishkek we have a late lunch before visiting the bazaar. Enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant followed by a vibrant folkloric presentation.

Day 6

Bishkek / Ala-Archa Gorge

Today we take a day trip to Ala-Archa Gorge for a hike in this verdant national park whose name means “bright juniper.” The Alamedin River flows through the gorge, which is surrounded by lush forest, alpine meadows, and glacier-clad peaks.

Day 7

Bishkek / Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Today we enjoy a tour of Bishkek, a city graced with noted cultural and architectural monuments and expansive parks. In the late afternoon we board our flight to Tashkent for our third ’Stans republic, Uzbekistan. A former crossroads of Silk Road caravans and invaders, Uzbekistan is rich in architectural treasures.

Day 8

Tashkent

We spend the day exploring this European-flavored city. View the beautiful facade of the Navoi Theater of Opera and Ballet, visit the Museum of Applied Arts, and tour Old Tashkent, the center of Uzbek culture.

Day 9

Tashkent / Samarkand

Today we drive to Samarkand, a prosperous Silk Road trading city and the capital of Tamerlane’s 14th-century rule.

Day 10

Samarkand / Pendjikent, Tajikistan

In the morning we plan to cross the border into Tajikistan for a short drive to Pendjikent. Tajikistan is the “Nepal of the ’Stans,” with over 90 percent of its land covered in high, glacier-clad peaks. We visit the ancient ruins of Bunjikath, explore the former residential quarters and citadel, and the town’s wonderful museum, plus the bazaar. After a lunch of regional cuisine, visit a beautiful local town mosque before returning to Samarkand. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 11

Samarkand

Today we explore this city’s architectural treasures, including the mausoleums of Shakh-i-Zinda Necropolis. In Registan Square, admire the magnificent domes and gleaming turquoise tiles of historic madrassas (Islamic seminaries). Nearby Bibi Khanym Mosque boasts elegant façades and an interior covered in delicate carved marble, glazed tiles, and frescoes. After lunch we visit Ulug Bek Observatory. We gather this evening to enjoy a folkloric show at Shere Dore complex before dinner.

Day 12

Samarkand / Bukhara

This morning we visit Samarkand’s bazaar where displays of grains, fruits, and vegetables are reminiscent of Tamerlane’s time. Watch for colorfully clad Uzbek women in this photographer’s paradise. We also pay a visit to Tamerlane’s tomb, the Gur Emir, with its turquoise dome and richly gilded interior. Enjoy an early lunch before we depart for Bukhara. By the 10th century, this Silk Road trading city had become Central Asia’s religious capital. Its prominence as the capital of the Shaybanids resulted in the flowering of its architectural creativity. Enjoy dinner in the old city this evening.

Day 13-14

Bukhara

We spend two full days exploring Bukhara, a city endowed with magnificent examples of Islamic architecture. Highlights include the central Lyab-i-Khauz square; the elegant 10th-century tomb of Ismail Samani; the 16th-century Ark Fortress; the massive Kalyan Mosque and minaret complex; the graceful Chor Minor; and historic 17th-century madrassas.

Day 15

Bukhara / Chardzhow, Turkmenistan / Ashgabat

This morning we depart Bukhara for the Turkmenistan border, and cross over into the town of Chardzhow. On arrival we have a late lunch, and time permitting, tour the town’s museum before continuing to the airport for our evening flight to Ashgabat.

Day 16

Ashgabat

Today we explore Ashgabat, the country’s capital, located at the base of the 10,000-foot Kopet Dag Mountains. The city borders the Karakum Canal, the world’s longest canal, which carries water nearly the entire length of the country. Watch for the exotically dressed Turkmen, known for their splendid horses. We visit the ancient citadel at nearby Nisa where archaeological digs are under way. At the Carpet Museum, see fine specimens of brilliantly colored hand-woven carpets, a specialty of Turkmen. Dinner is at a local restaurant in the city tonight.

Day 17

Ashgabat

Early risers tour the morning bazaar for an authentic experience of local culture amid overflowing displays of spices, jewelry, and crimson carpets. After lunch at a local restaurant the afternoon is free to explore on your own. We gather this evening for a festive farewell dinner.

Day 18

Ashgabat / USA

Early morning transfer to the airport for independent flights homeward.

Departures

Pricing Information

Land-based Accommodations

All prices are in US dollars and do not include international airfare, unless otherwise noted.

Prices displayed are based on the lowest season base price and assume double occupancy. Prices are shown in U.S. dollars and may or may not include administrative fees, taxes, meals, airfare (where applicable) and Single Supplements. Cancellation penalties, blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.

Options and Extras

Tour Notes

Flights are not included in the cost of expeditions; however, Zegrahm Expeditions has a fully-staffed air department that can assist you with flight arrangements. Since many of our expeditions embark and disembark from remote destinations, the airports that serve these areas often have limited carriers and/or daily flights. As such, our air team is well-versed in planning complex routings for our travelers.