Option 1: Arrival in Tashkent.
Arrival in Tashkent by flight. Meeting at the airport and transfer to the hotel. Overnight in Tashkent.
Option 2: Arrival in Urgench.
Arrival in Urgench by flight. Meeting at the airport. Transfer to Khiva and accommodation at the hotel. Breakfast at the hotel. Rest. Check out until 12:00. Transfer to the artificial ponds named Kharot where the tourists may taste fresh-caught fried fish (lunch is not included into the tour’s cost). Transfer to Nukus (180 km). Arrival in Nukus and accommodation at the hotel. Overnight in Nukus
Option 1: Tashkent – Nukus.
Early breakfast at the hotel. Transfer to the airport. Departure from Nukus by morning flight HY 011 (07:10-08:55). Group gathering. Visit to the Museum named after Savitsky. Accommodation at the hotel after 14h. Proceeding to and visiting Mizdakhan Complex (Khodjeyli district) Visiting Mizdakhkan: Caliph Erejep, Jumart-kassab hillock, half-underground Mazlumkhan-sulu Mausoleum, Shamun-nabi Mausoleum. Back to Nukus. Overnight in Nukus.
Option 2: Nukus.
Breakfast at the hotel. Group gathering. Visit to the Museum named after Savitsky. Proceeding to and visiting Mizdakhan Complex (Khodjeyli district) Visiting Mizdakhkan: Caliph Erejep, Jumart-kassab hillock, half-underground Mazlumkhan-sulu Mausoleum, Shamun-nabi Mausoleum. Back to Nukus. Overnight in Nukus.
Welcome to the capital of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic – Nukus, our starting point for traveling to little- studied Ustyurt Plateau and disappearing Aral Sea. The city, which occupies an area of 200 sq km, is situated in the north of Uzbekistan, in an oasis in the southern part of the contemporary Amudarya delta, near the famous shrinking Aral Sea. Nukus is the sixth-largest city of Uzbekistan, with a population of around 250,000. It developed from a small settlement into a Soviet-style modern city by the 1950s. With the fall of the USSR and growing environmental disaster of the Aral Sea, the city’s situation has deteriorated. Contamination of the region by wind-borne salt and pesticides from the dry Aral Sea bed have turned the surrounding area into a wasteland.
Nukus has no architectural monuments, but it is host to a world-class museum of art, which is quite intriguing. The I.V. Savitskiy State Art Museum is famous for its collection of modern Russian and Uzbek art of 1918-1935 all over the world. Stalin tried his best to eliminate all non-Soviet art of this period, and sent most of the artists to the Gulag. But Igor Savitsky, the prominent Soviet artist, ‘Central Asian Tretiakov’, and his collection of Russian avant-garde paintings in Nukus survived because of the city’s remoteness. Now it is the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant-garde paintings. During 1957-1966, Igor Savitskiy also assembled an extensive collection of Karakalpak jewelry, carpets, coins, clothing and other artifacts. He convinced the authorities of the need for a museum, and, following its establishment, was appointed its curator in 1966. After his death in 1984 Igor Savitskiy was called ‘a savior of beauty’. Francois Mitterand and Albert Gore called his museum ‘one of the best in the world’.
Overnight rest in hotel.
Day 3. Nukus – Kungrad – Ustyurt Plateau – Sudochye Lake – Aral Sea.
Early breakfast at the hotel. At 07:00 in the morning departure from Nukus. Proceeding to Kungrad, then up to Ustyurt Plateau Transfer to Sudochye Lake. Proceeding to Village of Urga, first Russian settlement in Khorezm and Aral Sea region, lunch en route. Then transfer to Aral Sea. Photographing canyons en route. Arrival at camp site; descent to shoreline. Dinner. Overnight in tents. In the morning you are going towards Ustyurt Plateau (via the town Kungrad) and then, through the village Sudochye, to today’s shore of the Aral Sea, the tragic fate of which has become an enormous ecological problem the whole world is concerned about. Lake Sudochye (Lake Sudovshin), once located in the delta of the Amudarya River, was the largest lake in Uzbekistan. Then it got shallow and split into a few smaller lakes. The origin of the names Sudochye (Russian) and Sudovshin (Uzbek) is different, though they sound similarly. The Russian one originated from the Russian word sudak (‘pike perch’), while the Uzbek was formed from the Uzbek words suv (‘water’) and shin (‘true’).
We will stop in the deserted Village of Urga. In the 1950s it was an ordinary functioning fishery village on the shore of Sudochye Lake, with population of a few hundred. It was one of the first Russian settlements in Khorezm. The last resident left the village in 1971.
On the way you are seeing peculiar rocks once cut by water, and, maybe, mirages over the sand: though the sea has gone, the image of its mirror-like surface is still there. Absence of roads during this part of the journey is compensated for by the beautiful scenery of the opening shore and waters of what is left of the Aral Sea in the distance.
The Aral Sea, suffering from one the world’s worst ecological disasters, was the fourth-largest lake in the world and supported a fishing industry. It is quite young; according to one of the hypotheses it formed about 10 thousand years ago. It had grown shallow twice during its life, but each time its waters rose to the mark of 55 m above sea level. In the 1960s the inflow of the rivers Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya, which fed the sea, decreased: their waters were sent to irrigation canals to support cotton growing in other parts of the country. The ecosystem collapsed and the water retreated. By the 1990s the inflow to the sea had decreased tenfold, and the sea had split up into two parts: the large one with the Amu-Darya flowing into it, and the small one fed with the Syr-Darya. By 2007 the sea’s surface area had further shrunk to 10% of its original size. Entire cities watched their economies vanish as the ships ran aground. Ecologists say that the sea will have completely dried up soon unless some emergency measures are taken.
Day 4. Aral Sea – Muynak – Khodjeyli – Mizdakhan Complex – Khiva.
Landscape: steppe, desert, saline land, cliffs, bottom of gone-away sea. Breakfast in tent camp. Proceeding to Muynak along the bottom of the disappeared sea. Visiting monument to the victims of the Second World War (now a monument to the Aral Sea), which is the highest point of the town of Muynak providing a wonderful panorama of the town and the bottom of the former sea. Visiting famous “Cemetery of Ships” in Muynak. Next visiting a museum at the House of Culture in Muynak,
where you can familiarise yourselves with the works of artists F. Madgazin and R. Matevosyan, who used to depict the Aral Sea and the Amudarya River. Lunch in traditional guest house of Muynak. Proceeding to and visiting Mizdakhan Complex: Caliph Erejep, Jumart-kassab hillock, half-underground Mazlumkhan-sulu Mausoleum, Shamun-nabi Mausoleum. Transfer to Khiva. Overnight rest in hotel.
Saying goodbye to once the much larger sea, you are going to the former port city Muynak. Muynak is a city along the former southern coast of the Aral Sea. Once a bustling fishing community and Uzbekistan’s only port city with tens of thousands of residents, its industry almost entirely driven by fishing of the South Aral Sea; Muynak is now a shadow of its former self, dozens of kilometers away from the rapidly receding shoreline of the Aral Sea with the empty landlocked fishing ports. Today it stands empty; no water, no fish.
Muynak’s major “tourist attractions” are the incongruous armada of rusting hulks that made up the proud fishing fleet during the Soviet era (they call it ‘a cemetery of ships’), and a one-room museum devoted to Muynak’s heritage of being a center of the fishing industry.
In Muynak you will best of all realize how sad the Aral Sea disaster turned out to be. Home to only a few thousand residents at most, Muynak’s population has been declining precipitously since the 1980s due to the recession of the Aral Sea. Scientists say it is impossible to save the Aral Sea. Even with all the waters of the Amudarya and Syradarya, without taking any for irrigation, the initial volume of waters of the sea might return only in 200 years. Today the former bottom of the sea is called Aral-Kum (‘Aral sands’).
Then you are coming to Khodjeyli (“a land of pilgrims”), a town located at a distance of 15 km west of Nukus, where you are seeing the impressive Mizdakhan Complex (Necropolis Mizdakhan) with a large number of mausoleums and tombs dating back to various centuries. It is probably the only necropolis with sepulchral structures of different religions.
Grandiose ancient architectural ensemble Mizdakhan (IV century B.C. – XIV century A.C., XVII – XX centuries) is situated on hills, in 3-4 km to the South from Khojeyli town, not far from Nukus and occupies a large territory in 200 hectares. Mizdakhan is a huge ensemble of mixed-age antiquities and comprises one of the most ancient cemeteries in Central Asia (including the mausoleums of Shamun-nabi, Mazlumkhan-sulu, Caliph Erejep and a hillock of Jumart-kassab), and also a city of Golden Horde times, caravanserai, ruins of separate estates and palaces, remains of irrigation canals. During the period of Middle Ages Mizdakhan was a third large city in Khorezm.
Mizdakhan today is one of the most honorable Muslim shrines on the territory of Uzbekistan. In the ancient necropolis, traditions of Zoroastrism (Mazdaism) and Islam are interlaced: old burial grounds, ruins of the Middle age mausoleums, swollen ruins of ancient constructions, which have only the very top now, as their most part is hidden under layers of time and send. Many historians consider Khorezm a motherland of Zoroastrism (Mazdaism), which appeared much earlier than Christianity and Islam. When you step on the ancient land of the people of Sun, local old residents will surely tell you, that the tomb of Adam and mausoleum, built up above it and called World Clock in this region, are located just right here. As you have made a pyramid from seven stones here, you can hope for your cherished wish coming true.
Having heard these and other legends and beliefs in the necropolis, you are going to the fabulous Khiva, a city of ancient Khorezm.
Overnight rest in hotel
Day 5. Khiva.
Breakfast at the hotel. Guided city tour in Khiva, visiting Ichan Kala (historical inner city): Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex, Kunya-Ark Fortress, Islam Hajji Madrasah & Minaret, Tash Khauli Alakuli Khan Palace, Juma Mosque, Muhammad Amin-Khan Minaret & Madrasah, and Avesta Museum. Overnight rest in hotel.
Khiva is an amazing historic city called ‘a museum under the open sky’. Khiva’s Ichan-Kala ‘inner city’ historic part (also spelled Itchan-Kala), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a walled medieval Central Asian town being preserved as it was in the past – an artifact town. Although protected by the state and having the status of a museum reserve, Ichan-Kala is populated with real people, mainly artisans. Khiva has no tall modern buildings and wide roads with much traffic. It seems time has stopped here to preserve what was built centuries ago.
The best places to visit in Khiva:
All the sights of Khiva are compactly located within the historical Ichan-Kala old town walls. Ichan Kala is encircled by brick crenellated walls whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th c. The walls themselves date back to the late 17th c. Behind them there are over 50 architectural monuments and 250 old houses; most of them date back to the 18th – 19th c. When you are in Ichan-Kala, you feel you find yourself in a Scheherazade’s story of 1001 Nights.
You can climb the stairs of the 44.5-meter-high Islam-Hajji Minaret – the highest minaret in Ichan-Kala and the symbol of Khiva – and have a fabulous panoramic view of the city from its top window.
Djuma Mosque, which was built in the 10th c and rebuilt in 1788 – 1789. It is famed for its hypostyle hall, which still has 213 wooden pillars of the previous 10th-century structure, decorated with unique carvings.
Kunya-Ark ‘old fortress’ was Khiva rulers’ residence and citadel. Since the end of the 18th century the fortress had been a guarded “town in the town”; it was hidden behind its own castellated adobe wall, not to mention the 10-meter-high and 5-6-meter-thick fortification wall of Ichan-Kala itself.
The complex of Pakhlavan Mahmud, the famous Khiva’s poet and a very strong and brave hero who became a local saint after death.
Tash Khauli Alakuli Khan Palace built in 1830 – 1838 is an example of Khorezm architectural grandeur of those times. The palace was built by order of Allakuli-Khan. All the parts of Tash-Khauli are connected with a labyrinth of dim corridors. The walls are richly decorated with white and blue majolica panels; the ceilings are painted brown and red; the windows have fancy copper grates. No part of the decoration is repeated.
Muhammad Amin-Khan Minaret & Madrasah built in 1845 – 1855 still impresses us with its splendor. It is the largest Central Asian madrasah. It was Muhammad Amin-Khan who conceived this Khiva’s largest madrasah. He also initiated the construction of the tallest minaret (known as Unfinished Kalta-Minor Minaret) to be 80 meters tall – taller than Kalyan Minaret (46 meters) in Bukhara and Qutub Minar (78 meters) in Delhi. However, the khan was killed in a fight against Turkmens during his Khorasan military campaign, and the implementation of the grandiose minaret project stopped at a height of 29 meters.
Avesta Museum in Ichan-Kala deals with the history of Zoroastrianism; Khwarezm, with Khiva as its center, is believed to be its cradle.
It is really worth seeing these and many other sights in Khiva “live”. We recommend that you visit Khiva’s bazaar and handicraft shops, where traditional Khorezm carpets, suzani tapestries, robes, embroidered scull-caps and an abundance of other souvenirs are offered. Only at the restaurants of Khiva you can taste traditional Khorezmian dishes that are cooked nowhere else in Uzbekistan. Khiva is particularly beautiful at sunset. You can take magically beautiful pictures of the setting sun and the ancient city flooded with orange light standing on some elevation, such as the top of a minaret or an observation deck.
Overnight at the hotel
Day 6. Khiva – Bukhara.
Breakfast at the hotel. Ride across the famous Kyzyl-Kum desert and along the Amudarya River to Bukhara. Lunch en route. Arrival to Bukhara. Leisure time. Visiting the souvenir shops and workshops. Overnight at the hotel.
After breakfast you set out on a long (7-8 hours) and exciting journey to Bukhara across the Kyzylkum Desert (also spelled Kyzyl-Kum, Qyzylqum) and along the Amudarya River (also spelled Amu Darya; known as the Oxus from its Ancient Greek name in historical sources).
Bukhara is one of the world’s oldest cities. It is over 2,500 years old, and seems to be emanating the breath of history.
Bukhara was a large political and religious center in the Middle Ages; it is one of the seven holy cities of Islam. Bukhara boasts a large number of old mosques of different architectural styles, as well as a lot of madrasahs, minarets and mausoleums. The historic center of Bukhara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After you have checked in at your hotel, you still have some leisure time to spend before your overnight rest. We recommend that you stroll about the surroundings, feeling the charm of the city in the evening, and visit souvenir shops. In Bukhara you can perceive the Orient in full. At every step you will encounter a trader offering fine craftwork: astrakhan hats, masterly embroidered suzani, national shirts, skullcaps, knives and artfully decorated jewelry. This urge for trading seems to be inherited from the ancestors who used to travel in caravans along the trails of the Great Silk Road.
Overnight at the hotel
Day 7. Guided sightseeing tour around Bukhara.
Breakfast at the hotel. Sightseeing program in Bukhara: Mausoleum of Samanids, Chashma Ayub Mausoleum, Bolo-Khauz Complex, Ark Citadel, Po-i-Kalyan Complex (Kalyan Minaret and others), Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah, Architectural Ensemble of Kosh-Madrasah, Ulugbek Madrasah. After lunch continuation of sightseeing program in Bukhara: Lyab-i Hauz Architectural Ensemble, Kukeldash Madrasah, Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah, domed shopping arcade. Overnight at the hotel.
Bukhara City Tour. Historic Sights and Tourist Attractions in Bukhara:
Your tour of Bukhara begins with Ismail Samani Mausoleum (9th c. – 10th c.), one of the most esteemed Central Asian architectural monuments. It was built as the sepulcher of Ismail Samani, the founder of the last Persian dynasty ruling in Central Asia. The mausoleum features fascinating brickwork patterns that look different as the light changes during the day.
Chashma Ayub Mausoleum. Chashma Ayub is translated as ‘Job’s spring’ in Persian. According to a legend, the biblical saint Job (Ayub) once visited the place during a severe drought in the area and opened a spring with a blow of his staff. This spring water is still there, fresh and pure, and is considered to be healing. The mausoleum was built in the 15th century by master builders Tamerlane had brought from Khorezm after capturing Khiva, so the building features a Khorezm-style conical dome, uncommon in Bukhara.
Bolo Hauz Complex (17th c.). It is the hauz ‘pond’ and two surviving structures of Bukhara registan central square complex – a mosque, still functioning, and a minaret. Very rich in ornaments, the mosque is called ‘a mosque of 40 pillars’ because all its 20 pillars, decorated with beautiful engravings, are reflected in the pond.
The Ark, the impressive Bukhara citadel (6th c. – 7th c.). It is the location the city grew from. It is hard to imagine that just 100 years ago they still beheaded criminals on the square before the citadel and its dungeons were full of inmates suffering from poisonous insects. Today’s Ark is a most interesting tourist attraction featuring reconstructions with dummies and housing a few museums.
Po-i-Kalan Complex (12th c. – 16th c.) you proceed to consists of Kalyan Mosque, Mir-i-Arab Madrasah and the famous Kalyan Minaret – a 45.6-meter-tall circular-pillar brick tower, narrowing upwards (built in 1127). The minaret miraculously survived many wars and invasions. It was used as an observation tower and an execution tool in the past: criminals were killed by being tossed off the top of it in the past, so it is also known as Tower of Death.
Ulugbek Madrasah, built in 1417 by order of Ulugbek, Tamerlan’s grandson, the famous mathematician and astronomer called ‘a scientist on the throne’.
Lab-i Hauz Complex (1568-1622) consisting of Kukeldash Madrasah (1568-1569), a khanaka monastery and hospice for Sufi travelers (1622) and Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah (1622). All the structures of the complex stand around a large pond that is a perfect place to relax in the outdoor teahouses around it in hot summertime. You can also take a look at the statue of a man riding his donkey there. It is Nasreddin, the legendary medieval Central Asian folk character, famed for his wit and humor.
Visiting the above-mentioned Bukhara sights, you go past unique medieval domed shopping arcades. They are still used for retail sale and offer an abundance of souvenirs and other traditional merchandise: garments, old Bukhara coins, jewelry. We recommend that you visit them during your leisure time after the tour.
Overnight at the hotel
Day 8. Bukhara out-of-town guided sightseeing tour. Bukhara – Samarkand.
Breakfast in hotel. Out-of-town guided sightseeing tour (4 km from Bukhara): Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace, memorial complex of the Islamic saint Baha-ud-Din Naqshband, Chor-Bakr Memorial Complex. After lunch transfer to Samarkand. Arrival in Samarkand, transfer to hotel and check-in. Overnight at the hotel.
Today you will make a ride outside the city (it’s just a 15-20 minutes ride from Bukhara), where you will see the countryside residence of Bukhara emirs called Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace (‘Star-like and Moon-like Palace’, 19th c.). The palace features a mixture of western and eastern architectural styles. In comparison with the rest of Bukhara, the climate in the palace is different: it is never hot there even on the hottest days.
Next, you go to the unique Chor-Bakr Memorial Complex (‘memorial complex of four brothers’). They began building it during the reign of the Samanids as long ago as the 16th c. It is also called Town of the Dead, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The first and the main grave the necropolis of the complex began to grow was Abu Bakr Saad’s, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Also let’s take a look at the complex of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari, which is sometimes treated as the Central Asian Mecca. Baha-ud-Din Naqshband was a mentor of Tamerlane and a powerful Sufi, who became the founder of the Sufi Order called Naqshbandia, which soon became one of the most famous orders. The complex includes many different buildings: mosques, a minaret, a mausoleum, and a khanaqah.
After lunch transfer to Samarkand. Arrival in Samarkand, transfer to hotel and check-in. Samarkand is beloved city of Tamerlane, the capital of his once great and mighty empire. Samarkand is probably the best-known Uzbekistan’s historic city. Over 2,750 years of age, it boasts very impressive architectural monuments and has a rich history. Geographers and poets called Samarkand ‘Rome of the Orient’ and even ‘Eden of the Orient’ in the past. Samarkand, like Khiva and Bukhara, boasts world-famous masterpieces of medieval Islamic architecture, most of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A museum-city, the heart of caravan trade, the junction of cultures on the Great Silk Road, Samarkand has retained an aura of a Central Asian megalopolis. Samarkand occupied a key position on the caravan routes between China and Europe. Its favourable situation on the junction of caravan routes made Samarkand the centre of trade and cultural exchange. Unique recipes, religious ideas, innovations and even trade secrets used to travel along the roads of the Great Silk Route together with merchants.
Overnight at the hotel
Day 9. Samarkand – Tashkent.
Breakfast at the hotel. Sightseeing program in Samarkand: the most impressive square in the entire Central Asia – the Registan Square (madrasah of Ulugbek, Sher-Dor madrasah, Tilya-Kori madrasah), Gur-e Amir mausoleum – necropolis of the Timurids. After lunch: Bibi-Khanym mosque, architectural ensemble Shah-i-Zinda, Ulugbek observatory. Transfer to the railway station. Transfer to Tashkent by premium service train «Afrosiab» (17:00-19:10). Meeting at the railway station. Transfer and accommodation at the hotel.
After breakfast sightseeing tour and visiting the most spectacular sights of Samarkand:
The Registan Square and the three grand madrasahs (Islamic colleges) on its sides. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is certainly one of the world’s most impressive historic squares. The madrasahs date from different times. Ulugbek Madrasah, the earliest of them, was built in 1417 – 1420 by order of Ulugbek. Two centuries later Sher-Dor Madrasah (“Possessing Lions”; also spelled Sherdor) and Tilla-Qori Madrasah (“Gilded”) were erected by order of Samarkand governor. Each of the madrasahs features unique decoration: fascinating tile mosaics, delicate stone carvings, splendid gilt ceilings, etc.
Gur-e Amir Mausoleum, the sepulcher of Tamerlane (Timur) and the Timurid dynasty (1404; also spelled Gur Emir). It contains the graves of Tamerlane, his two sons, two grandsons, and his spiritual mentor. Gur-e Amir (“tomb of the king”) is the precursor of the famous Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and Taj Mahal in Agra, which were built by Tamerlane’s descendants, the ruling Mughal dynasty of North India.
The Friday communal prayer mosque Bibi-Khanym (“senior princess” or “senior wife”; also spelled Bibi-Khanum). Built in 1404, it is one of the largest historic mosques in the Islamic world. According to Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, a Spanish ambassador to Samarkand in Tamerlane’s times, the mosque was built by order of Tamerlane in honor of his senior wife’s mother by 200 best architects and 500 workers brought from all the corners of his empire.
Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis (12th c. – 15th c.; also spelled Shohizinda, Shah-i-Zinde means “living king”) you see next is a complex of more than 20 mausoleums with 44 tombstones; most of them are of Tamerlan’s relatives, as well as military and clergy aristocracy. The main of them is the mausoleum of Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of Muhammad the Prophet. According to a legend, Kusam ibn Abbas came to Samarkand with Arab conquerors to preach Islam and was beheaded for faith in the city. However, he took his head and went down to a deep well where he remains alive.
The surviving part of Ulugbek Observatory (15th c.). It still has a section of the mural sextant, once the world’s largest, which Ulugbek used to compile his world-famous star catalogue, the best between Ptolemy’s and Brahe’s. Ulugbek’s discoveries greatly advanced knowledge in the field of astronomy and mathematics in the Middle Ages.
Then you go to the railway station and departure for Tashkent by the high-speed train Afrosiab (17:00 – 19:10).
Overnight rest in Tashkent hotel.
Day 10. Tashkent. Departure.
Breakfast at the hotel. Check-out untill 12:00. Leisure time (without any transport and excursion services). Visiting bazaars and walking around the city are recommended. Transfer to the airport. Departure.
On the last day of your tour you may still have time (depending on your flight) to walk around the city or visit Tashkent Metro – one of the world’s most beautiful underground railway systems. You can also visit bazaars and choice some original Uzbek souvenirs, and also go for a walk in City Park named after Alisher Navoiy.
Among all Uzbekistan tours this one in the shortest time covers the main and most picturesque attractions of the country and crosses Uzbekistan from West to East, from the shores of the Aral Sea to the capital city of Tashkent.