Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand: names that evoke the magic of a past time. Uzbekistan, also known as Transoxiana (meaning ‘Across the Oxus’), lies at a true crossroads of cultures, from Chinese to Arab, Indian to Persian and Mongol.
Perhaps the most enchanting part of the fabled Silk Road, with stunning blue domes set off by a backdrop of piercing azure skies and desert dunes.
The locals are colorful and are some of the warmest and most welcoming people you will meet anywhere in the world.
- A private view of the oldest Koran in the world in Tashkent
- A private tour of the avant-garde Savitsky museum in Nukus
- An exclusive folk show in the Hareem at the Tash Hauli Palace in Khiva
- Dinner under the stars in Ichan Kala, Khiva
- Meet local craftsmen reviving ancient crafts in each city
Day 1: Tashkent
Upon your arrival, you will be met by your guide and driver for a transfer to your hotel. Early check-in is included. Enjoy some time at leisure to relax and settle-in.
At 11:00AM you will meet your guide in the hotel lobby for a tour of Tashkent’s main sights. Originally an oasis on the Chirchik River, Tashkent gradually grew to become an important commercial center, which now has a population of over 2 million. Start in Tashkent’s Old City, where you will visit the Barak Khan Madrasah and the Tillya Sheikh Mosque.
At the mosque, you will have a private visit of its rich Islamic library with ancient manuscripts, including the famous Uthman Koran, considered to be the oldest copy of the Koran in the world. Dating from 655 and reputedly stained with the blood of murdered caliph Uthman, it was brought by Timur to Samarkand and later seized by the Russians as a war trophy and taken to St. Petersburg (held in the Hermitage) before it was returned to Uzbekistan in 1989.
After lunch, your guide will also take you to the Applied Arts Museum. This building was constructed at the end of the 19th century in the elaborate style of the period as a private residence of a wealthy merchant. It now displays various types of national handicrafts, including carpets, jewelry, woodcarving and gold embroidery from the 19th and 20th centuries.
At the end of your day, you will enjoy dinner in the garden of a famed Uzbek ceramist who comes from a dynasty of ceramic artists.
Day 2: Tashkent
Today, continue your exploration of Tashkent. First, stroll through the Chorsu Bazaar for the true feeling of Tashkent! Bazaars in Uzbekistan are a unique site in each city. You will capture some of your best local photos at these markets, where you will find everything from bins of spices, nuts, fruit and cheese to clothing, toys, tools and everyday goods.
Next, visit the 16th-century Kukeldash Madrasah, one of the few remaining authentic historic monuments in the Old Town (the massive earthquake of 1968 destroyed most of central Tashkent), and one of the largest Islamic schools in Central Asia. It was named after Kukeldash, who was a vizier (prime minister), a poet, and a scientist. The main façade of the Madrasah has a high portal, two-story loggias, and angular turrets. In the 18th century it was used as a caravanserai (roadside inn) and later as a fortress. Nowadays it also includes a functioning mosque.
You will also visit Independence Square and Amir Temur Square, before venturing underground to see some of Tashkent’s metro stations.
After lunch, you will tour the Navoi Theater. The current building was built in the 1940’s to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Alisher Navoi, the famed poet, painter, mystic and a true renaissance man of the Central Asia.
Day 3: Tashkent – Khiva
This morning, you will be transferred to the airport for the morning flight to Nukus departing at 7:10AM and arriving at 8:55AM. Nukus in western Uzbekistan is the capital of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, home to the Karakalpaks, a Turkic people more closely related to Kazakhs than to Uzbeks. A modern city, Nukus is at the center of an area crisscrossed by old caravan routes and dotted with ancient ruins. The surrounding cotton fields testify to the monoculture that stole the water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the rivers that fed the Aral Sea. About 230km north is Muynak and the former seashore.
Explore the wonderful Savitsky Art Museum. This remote desert museum houses the incredible life’s work of founder, Igor Savitsky, who was able to amass a collection of thousands of banned avant-garde Russian art pieces without interference from Moscow and keep it hidden from the watchful eyes of the KGB. The story of this collection has been told in the award-winning documentary, “Desert of Forbidden Art.” The museum houses the second-largest Russian avant-garde collection after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. (If you do not purchase a permit to take pictures, you will have to check your cellphone and cameras prior to entering.)
Before your transfer to Khiva, you may also visit the Zoroastrian “Tower of Silence” from the 4th century. Upon your arrival into Khiva, check-in at your hotel. Those not too tired, can take a walk on the Ichan Kala walls to view the sunset before heading to dinner. Dinner tonight will be served under the stars in Ichan Kala on a private terrace reserved exclusively for our group.
Day 4: Khiva
Khiva’s origin dates back to the 6th century and during the medieval times it became a city of great importance. It also has a long history of barbaric rulers and your guide will give you a glimpse into their colorful stories. Today, approximately 40,000 people live and work inside the ancient city walls (called Ichan Kala). Within these walls, the old town of Khiva is an official “city museum,” where you will find several interesting sites.
You will visit the Djuma Mosque, which was built in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 18th century. Its unique design features a roof supported by 218 wooden columns, possibly an early Arabic influence. The two openings in the roof provide light for only the inner courts, while the opposite walls lie hidden from sight by the colonnade.
The mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud was built in 1810 to honor the patron of Khiva, Pakhlavan Makhmud, a poet and wrestler who died in the 14th century and is thought to be buried here. Its full turquoise dome has become a symbol of Khiva, along with the nearby Islam Khodja Minaret, banded in dark and light blue.
One of the most notable sites within the walls of Khiva is the Kunya Ark. This was the former fortress and residence of the Khiva rulers since the 12th century. You will be able to walk through the courtyards of this partially restored building and see some residential and administrative quarters, such as the harem, the mint, the stables, and the jail.
Just opposite the Kunya Ark, you will see the Muhammad Rakhim Madrasah II, which was built to honor the last Khivan Khan who surrendered the city to Russia in 1873 and signed a peace treaty, which turned Khiva into a semi-independent Russian province.
In the afternoon, enjoy a visit to a silk carpet workshop sponsored by UNESCO. The aim of the workshop is to revive the art of the purely natural dyeing process and recreation of the Timurid silk designs from the 15th century. You will view their rich collection of carpets and suzannis and get an insight into the different types of design.
Day 5: Khiva – Bukhara
ukhara is actually an oasis in the Kyzyl Kum desert, located on the banks of the Zeravshan River. It is believed to have been continuously inhabited from approximately 3,000 BC. Located on the historic Silk Road, the city has long been a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. The old city part of the town has a small and friendly feel and many of today’s sights are accessible on foot.
There are over a hundred buildings in the historic city center (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and you will have a very full day of exploration ahead.
Upon arrival in Bukhara, start with a visit to Sitoray Mokhi Khosa, the summer residence of the last Emir of Bukhara.
After lunch, continue exploring the Old Town and the impressive Poi Kalyan architectural complex located south of the Ark citadel. Its most impressive feature and a popular landmark is the Kalyan Minaret, which was built in the form of a circular 150-feet-high brick tower. A spiral staircase twists up inside the tower leading to a rotunda with 16 arched windows, from which the Muslims in the city were called to prayer. It is said that the tower so impressed Genghis Khan that he ordered it to be spared while his invading army was destroying the rest of the city. The 16th-century Kalyan Mosque is covered by 288 domes resting on 208 pillars. The mosque’s courtyard ends with a portal leading to the main chamber with a cruciform hall, topped with a massive blue cupola on a mosaic drum.
Next, visit the Lyabi Khauz, a pond that used to be the centerpiece of a magnificent architectural ensemble dating from the 16th -17thcenturies, Still standing today, it now includes a madrasah and a lodging house.
Day 6: Bukhara
Today, continue your exploration with a visit to the massive Ark Fortress – the very core of the ancient city and the oldest building in Bukhara. Initially built in the 5th century, it was used as a royal residence and a fortress until the early 20th century when it fell in the hands of the Russians. The main entrance into the citadel is protected by two 18th Century towers, the upper parts of which are connected by a series of rooms and terraces. A long covered corridor leads to a mosque and offers access to storerooms, prison cells, and the inner courtyard housing a large complex of building.
Just opposite the Ark, you will see the Bolo-Khauz Mosque. The earliest part of this religious complex is the pond called Bolo-khauz (The Children’s pond) – one of the few remaining historical ponds the city of Bukhara. Many such ponds existed up until the Soviet period and were the city’s principal source of water. Unfortunately, they were notorious for spreading diseases and were gradually filled-in during the 1920’s.
Next, you will visit Ismail Samani mausoleum, built in the 9th century as the final resting place of Ismail Samani – founder of the Samanid dynasty, the last Persian dynasty to rule in Central Asia.
Near the Samani mausoleum, you will also see the Chashmai Ayub (Job’s Well). According to a legend, Job (Ayub) once visited this place and made a well with a single blow of his staff. The water of this well is considered to be healing. The current building was constructed during the reign of Timur and features an unusual conical dome.
After lunch, your guide will also take you to the Jewish Quarter where you can see the Synagogue. Bukhara once had a large Jewish community. As a matter of fact, most of the Jews in Central Asia in the 16th century used to live in Bukhara and played a major role in the city’s development. Many Bukharan Jews migrated to the United States and Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but still speak a distinctive language, which is a dialect of ancient Persian.
At the end of the day you will enjoy a tasting of herbal teas in the “Silk Road Spices” tea house.
Day 7: Bukhara – Samarkand
Today, you will have an early departure to Samarkand. On the way, you will stop in Shakhrizabs, the birthplace of Tamerlane, which over time has become a Mecca to him. Over the last four years, billions of Uzbek Soums have been spent on restoration and upgrades, culminating with it’s completion in 2016. You will visit the impressive Aksaray Palace and the main sites of the city, including the Mausoleums of Kuk-Gumbaz and Gumbazi Sayidon, Mausoleum of Djakhangir and Hazrati Imam Mosque.
This afternoon, continue the drive to Samarkand. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel and check-in.
One of the most famous towns along the Silk Road, Samarkand also belongs among the oldest cities in Central Asia. It was sacked by the Mongols under Genghis Khan in 1220’s and remained under Mongol domination until the late 14th century, when Timur (Tamerlane) decided to make Samarkand the capital of his empire which extended from India to Turkey.
Today will be a long day, with arrival at the hotel at approximately 8.00pm where a light dinner has been pre-arranged upon arrival. Those who wish to may go and visit Registan Square after dinner to see it beautifully illuminated at night.
Day 8: Samarkand
One of the highlights of today’s tour will certainly be the Registan Square, Samarkand’s most famous landmark. Registan (Sandy Place) probably got its name from the sand that was strewn on the ground to soak up blood from public execution held there until the early 20th century. Nowadays, the complex consists of three main buildings – the 15th-century Ulugbek Madrasah, Tilya-Kori Madrasah and the 17th-century Sher-Dor Madrasah, where you can get acquainted with the history of Uzbek musical instruments. Your guide will also show you the Bibi Khanym Mosque constructed in the 14th century after Timur’s conquest of India. It is said that some 90 elephants were used to carry the precious stones and metals from India used to decorate this temple. There is a large marble Koran standing in the center of the mosque’s courtyard and the bazaar next to it has changed little since the time of Tamerlane.
You will also walk through Siyab Bazaar and then visit Happy Bird handicrafts center and meet with the famous artist Mr Toir Sharipov.
This afternoon, you will also see the Shakhi Zinda Necropolis. This cluster of 11 mausoleums was built during the 14th and 15th centuries and showcases several types and periods of architecture and design of the region. This religious center is still very much in use today. Next, visit the Gur Emir (Tomb of the King) Mausoleum – the actual place where Timur was buried. This architectural complex with its bright blue dome contains not only the tomb of Tamerlane, but also the ones of his sons, grandson, and other notable figures.
Tonight our final dinner together will be a la carte at Restaurant Platan.
Day 9: Samarkand – Tashkent
Today, you will visit the Observatory of Ulugbek, located on a hill in the outskirts of the city. Ulugbek turned Samarkand into the intellectual and scientific center of the empire. He built the madrasah on Registan Square and invited Islamic mathematicians and astronomers to study there. His observatory was a remarkable scientific discovery in its time (the early 15th century). As Ulugbek did not have a telescope to work with, he improved the accuracy of his observations by increasing the length of his sextant, which helped him compile one of the best known star catalogues of that time.
Day 10: Tashkent
Check-out of the hotel and meet your driver for the transfer to the airport for your onward flight.