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SALOM TRAVEL COMPANY
3, Sarafon Street
Bukhara 200118, Uzbekistan
Phone: (+998 65) 224 4148
(+998 65) 224 1266
Fax: (+998 65) 224-4259
E-mail: raisa@salomtravel.com
URL: www.salomtravel.com

21-day tour Print E-mail

The tour includes the following cities:
Almaty, Bishkek, Osh, Ferghana, Tashkent, Samarkand, Penjikent, Shahrisabz, Bukhara, Khiva and Ashgabad.

KAZAKHSTAN

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We begin our adventure in the Lost Cities of the Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which reaches from Siberia to the Tian Shan Mountains and from China to the Caspian Sea. This area is more than twice the size of the four other Central Asian Republics combined, or about the size of Europe, but with one of the world’s lowest population densities. Its vast, empty grasslands provided an unobstructed highway for a succession of conquering warriors, including Genghis Khan, and ideal grazing lands for the nomads on horseback who, for millennia, grazed their herds across this central steppe valiantly attempting to repulse succeeding waves of intruders.

Kazakhstan’s history goes back as far as 500 BC when the Saka, a nomadic people of the Scythian cultures inhabited the area leaving the fabulous Golden Man, a golden warrior’s costume made of 4,000 pieces of gold, now Kazakhstan’s most prized treasure but considered too fragile to display. Turkic peoples from today’s Mongolia and Northern China began moving into the area About 550 CE. Then in 1219 Genghis Khan, having sacked Bukhara, Samarkand and lands in Europe and the Middle East, added Kazakhstan to his empire. From the descendants of the Mongols, plus the Turkic and other peoples who were the Uzbek forebears, the Kazakhs emerged. Gradually Kazakhstan was taken into the iron grip of the Russians, a stormy grip that ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Day 1 Arrive in Almaty, Kazakhstan
In the late evening we arrive in the lush and vibrant city of Almaty (Alma Ata) and transfer to our hotel to rest up before our ambitious sightseeing schedule. Situated on the far eastern edge of Kazakhstan on the site of the former Silk Road oasis called Almatu, Almaty is a fairly new city owing to the several attacks and earthquakes since it’s beginning as a Russian fort, in 1854 established after the Russians solidified their hold on the area and abolished the Khanates. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the town became a place of exile where Trotsky, among others, was banished. When the city became the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan in 1927, it was renamed Alma Ata, Father of Apples, for the orchards that still exist on the outskirts. After independence in 1991, the president decided to move the capital 1,300 km (800 miles) to the nnorthwest to a city now renamed Astana. Almaty, however remains, some say, the most important city in Kazakhstan and, perhaps, Central Asia

Day 2 Almaty
After breakfast, we’ll embark on a full day of sightseeing in Almaty. The city is the commercial heart of the area and a business and transportation hub for the entire region, with all the trappings of a cosmopolitan city. Our tour begins in the middle of Panfilow Park, a rectangle of greenery in the middle of which is the brightly colored and beautiful Zenkov Cathedral. This landmark, one of the world's tallest all wood buildings with no evidence of nails, was designed in 1904 and is one of Almaty’s only Tsarist buildings that survived the 1911 earthquake. After many incarnations during the Soviet time, in 1995 it was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and is once again a house of worship. As we wander through the church we can admire the numerous stunning icons and murals that adorn the beautiful interior. We will then walk across the park to the Central State Museum where we will be able to get an overview of Kazakhstan’s history, as well as its geology, and early history. After lunch in the city we will board a cable car to a ride 1700 meters to the top of the Koektyube Mountain for the spectacular views of Almaty, the surrounding mountains and the Medeo sports stadium and skating rink. Returning once again to the city, we will visit the fascinating Museum of Kazakhstan National Musical Instruments, housed in another charming wooden building not far from the park. This unique collection includes wooden harps and horns, bagpipes, the two-stringed dumbra, similar to the lute, and the three-stringed kabiz, somewhat like the viola, which we may be able to hear as we tour the museum. In the late afternoon we will enjoy a special folklore program before returning to our hotel for dinner and the night.

Day 3 Almaty - Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
We will breakfast at our hotel and then drive into the magnificent nearby snow-capped mountains to marvel at the 8th century petroglyphs at Tamgaly-Tas and perhaps have time to stroll around the area admiring the lovely scenery. Having developed an appetite in the fresh mountain air, at lunchtime we will enjoy a hearty picnic surrounded by exquisite peaks. This afternoon we will travel through more beautiful scenery on our way to Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan and to our hotel for dinner and overnight.

KYRGYZSTAN

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Kyrgyzstan is often called the future Switzerland and is a bit larger than Austria and Hungary combined known for its wealth of nomadic traditions, its laid-back hospitality and its stunning natural beauty. There one can overdose on thousands of rushing rivers and sparkling alpine lakes, as well as lush grassy steppes and the most spectacular parts of Central Asia’s towering, forested and snow-covered mountains of the Pamir Altay and Tian Shan Ranges which rise to an average elevation of almost 3,000 meters (9,000 feet). A 700 meter (2,100 foot) depression forms the sparkling unspoiled Lake Issyk-Kul that, owing to its depth and mild salinity, never freezes.

Although the Soviets left the Kyrgyz seemingly without the means for survival the people are moving ahead with creativity, good humor, and industriousness. In addition Western nations are helping and a supportive liberal government is doing more than any of the Central Asian countries to invite and simplify tourism. The hospitable local people are helping by opening their homes and yurts to foreigners providing a fascinating glimpse of daily lives. Owing to a dearth of jobs, people of all backgrounds are learning felt making. With this skill and an artistic sense they are making the traditional hand-pieced felt shyrdak carpets, and developing a seemingly endless array of appealing, internationally-lauded felt crafts, such as charming ethnic dolls, fashionable clothing adorable toys, and a variety creative and colorful bags and slippers.

Among the earliest peoples in the region were the Saka (Scythian) warrior clans noted for the bronze and gold relics found in burial mounds from the 6th century BC to about the 5th century BC near the great alpine Issyk-kul Lake, as well as in southern Kazakhstan. Beginning about the 6th century BC, various Turkic alliances controlled the area and in 751 the Turks, aided by Arab and Tibetan allies, repelled the Tang Chinese invaders. The Turkic Karakhanids, ruled the area from the 10th to the 12th centuries. In the 13th century, the area that is today’s Kyrgyzstan, was most likely populated with people the Mongols drove out of Siberia, an area that was part of Genghis Khan’s bequest to his second son at his death. Then, in 1685 another group of Mongols, themselves later defeated by the Manchu (Ching Dynasty), drove the Kyrgyz south into present day Tajikistan. After much territorial manipulation among clans and Khanates in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Russians, after a revolt in 1916, took control and finally, in 1936, Kyrgyzstan became a full Soviet Socialist Republic. The current president, Akaev, a physicist, president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, and a liberal reformer was elected in 1990 and reelected after independence in 1991. Since then Kyrgyzstan has ratified a new constitution, revamped the government structure, and given Akaev a solid vote of confidence in a referendum he called for his economic program.

Bishkek

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In 1825, near a silk road settlement along a caravan route through the Tian Shan mountains, the Uzbek clan of Kokand, on a Chuy River tributary, built a small fort that later became Bishkek. However, in 1862, the Russians set up their own garrison which then became the town of Pishpek later becoming the capital of the new Kyrgyz social republic in 1926. Only in 1991 was it named Bishkek, the Kyrgyz version of Pishpek, the word for a kumis (fermented mare’s milk) churn. Today the city is the political and industrial capital of the independent Kyrgyzstan with an obviously relaxed atmosphere and a casual attitude toward its Soviet history and monuments. There is very little that is old in the city, and despite its economic problems, it has a growing middle class, well stocked shops, good restaurants and an influx of business people, aid workers and tourists who find friendly people and considerably simplified travel.

Day 4 Bishkek
After breakfast we will drive 140 miles (90 km) outside of Bishkek through small villages and magnificent mountain scenery to the 11th century Burana tower, the remnant of the Karakhanid minaret. Karakhanids were Turkic usurpers who were given credit for finally converting the Cental Asia to Islam. Briefly we will visit the small museum inside the minaret and climb the mound behind to get a better look at the old city walls. The mound is the remnant of an ancient citadel that was founded by the Sogdians and in the 11th century became the capital of the Karakhanids. On the back side of the mound is an interesting collection of Turkish grave stones. In the valley, many pieces of Scythian treasure, including a heavy gold burial mask, were unearthed but, sadly, are now either in St. Petersburg or in storage in the Bishkek’s State Historical Museum. We will have the chance to see more of the rural life as we drive to a nearby village for a good lunch and then make our way back to Bishkek for dinner and overnight.

Day 5 Bishkek
This morning we will visit the large, white marble cube that is the Historical Museum just steps from the Kyrgyz White House, the seat of the government, the president’s office and the parliament. At the museum we will enjoy a lecture on the history and culture of the region’s nomadic peoples. We will also learn more about the culture from the exhibits, including Kyrgyz carpets, two yurts, many lovely embroideries, clothing, implements and other beautiful crafts, and a small archaeology exhibit. As evidence of Kyrgyzstan’s casual attitude to remaining Soviet symbols, upstairs is an overpowering bronze shrine to Lenin and the Revolution of the sort that has been expunged from most other former Soviet states. A short stroll down Chuy Prospekt, the city’s broad main avenue, will bring us to the Fine Arts Museum with its fine collection of Soviet paintings. After a typical Kyrgyz lunch we will visit the Children's Craft Center where we will see beauty created by Kyrgyz boys and girls. If there is time before dinner we will pay a visit to a local pottery workshop where we can get acquainted with the local ceramic’s style and history. After our full day, followed by dinner we will return to our hotel for our last night in Bishkek.

Day 6 Bishkek - Osh - Fergana, Uzbekistan
This morning we will transfer to the airport for the flight to Osh, one of Central Asia's oldest and most important crossroads on the storied "Silk Road”. On our way to the bustling and colorful Osh market we will be able to see that, somewhat inconveniently, the town is built on two sides of Solomon’s Throne, a small craggy mountain that seems to loom up wherever we go. For centuries, the mountain has been a pilgrimage destination because, it is said, the Prophet Mohammed once prayed there. Because it looks like a recumbent pregnant woman, it is also favored by women who have been unable to have children. In 1497 the adolescent king Zahiruddin Babur, founder of India’s Mogul Dynasty, built a shelter and private mosque a long, steep climb high on the eastern side. Saying goodbye to Kyrgyzstan, we will drive to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border and, after completing border formalities, we will continue a short distance to Fergana for dinner and overnight.

Day 7 Fergana – Tashkent
This morning we will drive 1½ hours to Kokand, capital of the Kokand Khanate in the 18th and 19th centuries when it, like Bukhara, with scores of mosques and madrassahs, was a main religious center in Central Asia. In 1918 the Tashkent Soviet laid wastes the religious building and slaughtered 14,000 inhabitants in response to the declaration of a rival administration. Most of the surviving mosques are once again viable places of worship although not all welcome non-Muslims. In Kokand we will visit the Khan's palace and museum in the central Muqimi Park, a former Soviet pleasure park featuring a mothballed Yak-40 plane and other attractions. At the palace we will see the two courtyards, all that remain of the original seven and some of the only 19 remaining rooms of the original 113. Inside is a Museum of Local Studies where we will see jewelry and musical instruments as well as Uzbek furniture and oriental porcelain, and a small art gallery. Once again on the road, we will continue on to Rishton, one of the most important ceramic centers in Central Asia, where we will have lunch at a local potter's home and perhaps see his assistants throwing and delicately painting pots and plates in the traditional blue and green patterns. Later we will visit the silk ikat-weaving center of Marghilan to learn how the weavers bind and dye the warps for the magnificent ikat patterns. We may also have a chance to purchase brilliant, shimmering, silk ikat scarves or fabric lengths. A short drive will bring us to the Ferghana airport for a relaxing early evening flight to Tashkent where we will spend the night.

TASHKENT

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It is believed that Tashkent dates to the second or first century BC. By the 8th century, when the Arabs arrived, it had become a major caravan crossroads but it was not until the 11th century that it acquired the name Toshkent or Tashkent (City of Stone in Turkik.) Although in the 13th century the Khorezem shahs and Genghis Khan destroyed the city, it slowly recovered under the Mongols, and then under Timur (Tamerlane), eventually becoming prosperous in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of the architectural monuments we can see today were erected during this period. In the 19th century, as Bukhara was planning to capture the city a Russian general, in defiance of orders, outmaneuvered them and took possession. From this base the Russians slowly overtook the surrounding khanates and during the Great Game for imperial power with Britain, Tashkent became the Tsarists’, and later the Soviets’, main center for espionage. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 it became the capital of Turkistan SSR.

Day 8 Tashkent
A city sightseeing tour today will give us an overview of this capital city of more than 2.3 million that owing to the 1966 massive earthquake left the city in ruins and left 300,000 homeless. Now the city is visibly divided between the old and the new. Our tour takes us to the Fine Art Museum where we will have the see old Turkestan-Zoroastrian artifacts, 1,000-year-old Buddhist statues, royal furnishings, and 20th century applied arts, including superb, brilliant silk-on-cotton suzani (finely embroidered dowry hangings) and other craft work. Continuing our introduction to Uzbekistan, we will visit the Museum of History; the city’s biggest, with its 8,000 exhibits, including a small, peaceful Buddah statue excavated from a Kushan temple near the Afghan border. At the Abdul Khasim Medrassah we will visit artisans making traditional Uzbek crafts in former student cells, including metal chasers, woodcarvers, miniature-painters, jewelers, mosaic artists, embroiderers, etc. After lunch the Tashkent Puppet Theatre honor us with a special performance and perhaps give us a chance the meet the puppeteers. We will then drive to the Museum of Applied Art situated in a splendid house commissioned by a wealthy Tsarist diplomat wonderfully decorated by the country’s finest artisans. This evening we will dine amongst the colorful traditional ceramics in the museum of Akbar Rakhimov, a local potter and one of the most noted ceramic artists in the country.

Day 9 Tashkent - Samarkand
This morning we will pay a visit to the Imam Al-Bukhari Islamic Institute. Then, on the edge of the section of Tashkent that survived the earthquake we will visit the large and exciting Chorsu Bazaar. Around it is an area of old maze-like narrow dirt streets and low mud-brick houses among mosques and madrassahs dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. People from all over, some in traditional dress, are drawn to this huge bazaar to find things unavailable elsewhere in the country. Here we will see typical Uzbek cradles specially outfitted for swaddled infants, hand-made musical instruments, hope chests, carpets, tea sets and a variety of other needs. We will also visit the large fruit and vegetable market with its splendid displays of neatly stacked, colorful fruits and vegetables, bags of spices, bowls of nuts and raisins, varieties of milk products and hanging carcases. After lunch, our bus will take us through a variety of lovely and mountainous landscapes to Samarkand that fabled city on the ancient Silk Road. There, we will check into our hotel in the late afternoon in time to freshen up before dinner. Later, on our own, we may wish to stroll around and see some of the glorious buildings and beautiful turquoise-tiled domes lighted like an exotic stage set.

SAMARKAND

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The very name of Samarkand evokes romantic visions of Silk Road camel caravans with cargoes of sumptuous goods destined for fairytale places. Founded in the 5th century BC, it was a prosperous city by the time Alexander arrived saying, “everything I have heard about (it) is true except it is more beautiful than I ever imagined”. By the 13th century it was larger than today and, despite a seeming constant change of hands, it prospered until Genghis Khan arrived and obliterated the city. In 1370, however, Timur, decided to make Samarkand his capital and rebuilt it into an almost fairyland city. He employed the finest artisans available anywhere and turned it into Central Asia’s economic and cultural center. His grandson, Ulug Bek, later transformed it into an intellectual center as well. The city declined when, following a series of earthquakes, the Uzbek Shaybanids, in the 16th century, moved their capital to Bukhara. Not until the arrival of the Russians and the Trans Caspian Railway did the city again prosper.

Day 10 Samarkand

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This morning we will view the dramatic tile facades and domes of the madrassahs in the Registan, Samarkand’s legendary central square. Only a few years ago these sumptuous buildings, erected by Tamerlane and his grandson, Ulug Beg, had decayed into ruins. However, in honor of the 2,500th anniversary of Bukhara in 1997, the Registan was restored to its original splendor described in a special exhibit. As we stroll around the three famous monuments we can gaze up at the turquoise domes, the towering entrances, and the minarets designed to appear of uniform diameter from top to bottom. We will see the numerous student cells (hujras), now housing gift shops. A short way down the street we will see the legendary Gur-Emir, Tamerlane’s mausoleum with a huge, but now broken, slab of jade as his cenotaph. With luck we will be able to see the actual tomb beneath the building. Returning past the Registan we will visit the Bibi-Khanum Mosque welcomed by a giant stone Koran rest in the entrance courtyard. A visit to the bustling neighboring market, with its fascinating products and colorful displays of food, just before lunch will certainly whet our appetites. After lunch we will visit the Shaki-Zinda (Tomb of the Living King) ensemble of 14th and 15th century mausoleums with their exquisite and varied examples of polychromatic faience tile work reflecting the development of the Timurind Dynasty’s monumental art and architecture. Most of Timur’s family and favorites are interred here. Behind is a modern-day cemetery with fascinating etched granite monuments and wonderful views of the city and distant mountains. This evening we will try more traditional Uzbek dishes at a local restaurant and overnight in Samarkand.

Day 11 Samarkand - Shakrisabz – Samarkand

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This morning we will prepare for a full-day excursion. Our day will take us to visit the once-magnificent Shakrisabz, the 1336 birth place of Tamerlane, where we will inspect the remains of the Ak Saray White Palace, Tamerlane's monumental summer residence complex which took 24 years to build. All that is now left are bits of the 130-foot (40 meter) high entrance covered with filigree-like mosaics. We will then move on to Tamerlane’s son, Jehangir’s, mausoleum, one of the few remaining remnants of the Kok-Gumbaz ensemble which some say was even grander than the AkSaray White Palace. Then, a few streets further we will come to the Kok–Gumbaz (Blue Dome) Friday mosque completed by Ulug Beg in 1437 in honor of his father, Shah Rukh (Timur’s son). We will then visit the Dorut Tilavet (House of Meditation) Madrassah and Shamseddin Kulyal Mausoleum which was completed by Timur in 1374. A picnic lunch at Ming Chinor tea house will cap our morning after which we will spend the afternoon visiting the region’s craft centers noted for their many colorful and neatly embroidered items, such as pillow covers and bags of all sizes, and carpets. Afterward we will enjoy dinner at a local restaurant and once more overnight in Samarkand.

Day 12 Samarkand

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This morning, after breakfast, we will further our knowledge of Uzbek culture at the 1874 Samarkand State Art Museum with its many exhibits of traditional crafts such as suzane embroidery, carpets, ornate costumes, metal work, etc, modern art, and a mock-up of a traditional yurt, as well as the immense 19th Century Koran that replaced the Osman Koran on the huge Bibi Khanum lecturn. We will also see exhibits on regional archaeology, including vessels and ossuaries from the site of the ancient city of Afrosiab. After an enriching morning, we will drive out examine the remains of the medieval world’s best and most remarkable observatory developed by Tamerlane‘s brilliant and learned grandson, Ulugbek. Although originally part of a three-story observatory and a 30-meter-high ( foot) marble astrolabe for observing the positions of the stars, only the astrolabe’s below-ground semicircular track remains. Ulugbeg discovered 200 previously unknown stars with this instrument, and his calculations as to the length of the year have been shown to be amazingly accurate. In the little museum next door we’ll learn more about Uzbek astronomers, then after lunch we will drive to Marakanda the actual site of the ancient city of Afrosiab and visit the Afrosiab Museum with its excellent collection of treasures unearthed from the site. In the evening we will return to the dramatically lighted Registan Square to watch a Folk Program in the open air theater in front of the magnificent madrassahs. At a nearby restaurant we will have dinner and return to our hotel for the night.

Day 13 Samarkand – Bukhara

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This morning we will head for the ancient museum city of Bukhara, stopping enroute in Gizhduvan, the most important ceramic center in the Bukhara region. There we will see local master potters at work and possibly even the tireless donkeys turning huge stone wheels to grind natural glazes, and a working traditional wood-fired kiln. Lunch will be served as a master potter’s where we will learn more about the revival of this craft and its local traditions once threatened with extinction in this area. In the afternoon we will continue our drive to Bukhara arriving late in the afternoon. We will have dinner at our hotel situated in the old Jewish quarter and decorated with contemporary and antique traditional Uzbek crafts from throughout the country. Some of us may wish to stroll around the area after dinner to view some of the small craft studios tucked into ancient madrassahs and trading domes near the hotel.

BUKHARA

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When the Arabs, who brought Islam with them, arrived in the area in 709 they found a prosperous trading center and so many revolts that they soon left. In the 9th and 10 centuries it was the capital of the Samanids and Bukhara (Bukhoro-i-sharif – Noble Bukhara) became the religious and Persian influenced art and cultural center of Central Asia. It was said that instead of the heavens lighting Bukhara, the light radiated upward lighting the heavens. However, in 1220, as with other towns in Central Asia, Genghis Khan and his marauders sacked the town leaving only the Kalon minaret standing. However, in the 16th century is became the capital of what became known as the Bukhara khanate under the Uzbek Shaybanids. Khiva was soon added and eventually most of Central Asia and adjacent lands. It was during this time (16th century) that the old part of the city took on its present appearance. The town center featured a huge marketplace in front of the Ark (fortress) dozens of specialized bazaars and caravanserais (hotels) and more than 10,000 students in over one hundred madrassahs plus an equal number of mosques. However under the Ashtarkhanid dynasty, the Silk Road slowly declined and, with it, Bukhara. Another turn of fortunes came when the local representative of a Persian ruler made himself Emir in 1753 founding a dynasty that ruled, sometimes brutally and tyrannically, until the Bolsheviks took over.

Today, most of the center of the city remains as it was two centuries ago and it is trying valiantly, if sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep the 21st century at bay. The area is dotted with restored former madrassahs and caravanserais, the massive, partially restored Ark fortress and the remains of a vast market as well as mosques. . In nooks and crannies throughout master craftsmen work to revive or perpetuate the ancient traditional crafts while others hawk crafts from the countryside of which make their way to all corners of the world. However, while looking at individual monuments we must remember also to get a sense of the whole of this remarkable town.

Day 14 Bukhara

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Today we will have a full day of visiting the myriad historic sites and monuments in this museum town, including a visit to the considerably restored 2000 year-old Fortress Ark, where Emirs once lived. During the Great Game, two British emissaries were held captive here and beheaded, ostensibly because they defied etiquette. We will then visit the great 12th century, 154-foot high Poi-Kalon minaret, the city’s focal point that once also served as a beacon on the Silk Road, guiding traders to this important trading market between Asia and the West. It so impressed Genghis Khan that he ordered it spared. See if you can spot storks’ nests along the way. After lunch we will explore Lyabi-Khaus, Tajik for “around the pool”, an architectural complex composed of 16th century medrassahs and a mosque surrounding a, now restored pool and shaded by equally old mulberry trees. On the east side is a statue of the “wise fool” Hoja Nasruddin from Sufi teaching tales and a favorite of children. Along our route we will note that Bukhara is truly the craft capital of Uzbekistan with myriad mast craftsmen, tucked into nooks and crannies throughout the city showing a wide variety of fine traditional crafts produced by master local craftsmen and those from throughout Uzbekistan. In the evening, during dinner in the courtyard of one of the old medrassahs, we will enjoy a folk program and a fashion show by one of Bukhara’s master designers and then return to our hotel for the night.

Day 15 Bukhara

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Today we drive into the countryside to begin our sightseeing at the Sitorai Mohi Hosa, (Palace of moon-like stars), the former summer residence of the last ruler, situated beside a wooden pavilion and pool where women of the harem played and frolicked. Designed by Russian architects outside and local artisans inside, we will observe interesting examples of the delicate traditional filigreed plaster designs over mirrored walls and dainty painted floral interior plaster decorations, as well as huge banquet halls. Of particular interest is a large collection of historic costumes, including those face screens (paranjas) and heavy outer garments decreed to preserve the modesty of women, as well as a fine collection of Ming china and lovely silver. Returning to our vehicle we will travel a short distance to the 16th century Chor-Bakries necropolis of rather decrepit mausoleums of some of Bukhara’s aristocracy, as well as a Friday Mosque and a former kanaka, a building with mosque and a shelter for dervishes. After we arrive back in Bukhara we may have some free time before dinner and overnight at our hotel.

Day 16 Bukhara

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Today we will visit one of Bukhara’s oldest monuments, and one of the most elegant structures in Central Asia, the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, dating from the early 10th century during the Samanid dynasty. The two-meter thick walls of delicate and varied brickwork, although from Islamic times bears a few Zoroastrian signs such as a circle within squares above the door symbolizing eternity. As the sun moves across the sky and the shadows shift during the day, the structure appears gradually to change personality. Sometime it appears like basket weaving, sometimes like carving. Probably because it was partly buried the Mausoleum escaped the wrath of Genghis Khan’s warriors who otherwise destroyed most of the town. Behind, we will catch a glimpse of a small section of the eroded 9th century town wall and a restored Tali-Pach gate. A short distance away, at the edge of the big farmer’s market, we will visit Chashma Ayub - the Spring of Job, where according to the Old Testament, Job caused water to gush from the desert. After lunch, we will get a better view of the remains of the ancient city walls and visit the 12th century Magoki-Attori mosque. We will continue on to the Madrassah of Ulug Beg (1417), the earliest of three he commissioned featuring star motifs reflecting his interest in astronomy, the facing unrestored Abdul-Asis Khan (1652) Madrassah, and the nearby dome covered markets so important on the Silk Road. A special farewell dinner at our hotel or a restaurant and a good night’s rest will cap our last day in Bukhara.

Day 17 Bukhara – Khiva
This morning, after breakfast we will see another aspect of Uzbekistan’s endlessly varied landscape as we drive through the Kizyl-Kum desert on our way to Khiva, the most intact and remote city in Central Asia. Upon reaching the storied Amu-Darya River we will pause for a picnic lunch and to reflect on the vital part it has played in the fortunes of the area as it continually changed course. After lunch we will continue on to Khiva, the name that evokes thoughts of former slave caravans, barbarism, and deadly marches across baren landscapes and fierce tribesmen so feared by 19th century soldiers and spies. Arriving late in the afternoon in this combination of a seemingly lifeless perfectly preserved museum city packed with mosques, madrassahs, tombs and palaces, and a normal, busy Soviet-influenced town. We will be struck by the turquoise tiles and plant motifs brought into favor with the Persian invasion in the 18th century. There we will have dinner at our hotel and overnight.

KHIVA

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Human settlement has existed in the area for at least 4,000 years. Khiva itself has been settled since the 8th century starting as a small fort and trading post on the Silk Road which it remained so until the 14th century, even as the surrounding area prospered. After Timur destroyed the capital of Konye Urgench, Khiva finally came into its own. Then, in the 16th century, the Shaybanids took over and thereafter the town’s destiny was considerably influenced by its busy slave market for which the town became known. Khiva, in exchange for protection, had in the meantime offered to bow to Peter the Great. By the tine Russian sent 4,000 troops in 1717 the Khivans had changed their minds and killed off most of those Russians. However, the Persians invaded and wrecked the town in 1740 and the area then became the northern outpost of the Persian Empire. By the end of the 18th century it was usurping some of the trade of the neighboring Khanates while its slave market remained the largest in Central Asia adding unlucky Russian who were infringing on the borders. Twice the Russian attempted to free their countrymen but then a lone British officer managed to broker a deal for the release of the hostages in exchange for an end to Russian military incursions against Khiva and freedom for the Khivan hostages held by Russia. About a half century later the Russians captured the town, massacred the Turkmen tribesmen and made the khan a vassal of the Tsar and took his silver throne back to Russia. The Russian in 1920 set up a theoretically independent Peoples’ Republic which became part of the Uzbek SSR in 1924.

Day 18 Khiva

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Today we will spend the day in Khiva, the remotest city in Central Asia with its most homogenous collection of architecture in the Islamic world. One of the first building we will see is the Mohammed Amid Khan Madrassah which now serves as a hotel beside we will see a squat, rotund turquoise-tiled minaret appearing in need of at least 50 more feet in height – or taller than the Kalona minaret in Bukhara. Across the way we will see the partly restored 12th century Kukhna Ark, the residence and fortress of Khiva rulers. The squat bump-out on the side is the kindon or Khan’s jail, replete with chains, and weapons and pictures of people being tossed off the minaret and stuffed into a sack of wild cats – a favorite form of execution. Inside we will feast our eyes on the Summer Mosque, an open air area with gorgeous tile and gold roof. Ahead of us is a restored building; some say it is the harem; others the throne room with its raised circular platform for the royal yurt, a holdover from the nomadic days. Outside stands Khiva’s one camel, a favorite of shutterbug tourists and children of all ages. At noon we will lunch with a local family or at the hotel restaurant. Our afternoon we will have free time to enjoy strolling around the town, trying on the preposterously long haired but warm hats, and visiting monuments too numerous to mention. We will rejoin the group for dinner at the hotel restaurant and overnight in Khiva.

Day 19 Khiva - Tashauz - Ashgabad, Turkmenistan

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This morning after breakfast we will drive to Kunya Urgench, the original capital of the Khorezm Kingdom which, after having been attacked by Genghis Khan and five times by Tamerlane, the town was in ruins. It was finally abandoned when the Amu-Darya changed course leaving its inhabitants without water and town little more than a mud brick ghost town. In the southern part of the area we will have the opportunity to see the 220-foot high Kutlug Timur minaret, the tallest in Central Asia, erected in the1320s. Across the road we will visit the beautiful mid-14th century blue-tile mosaic- domed Turabek Mausoleum, one of Central Asia’s most perfect buildings erected after the Mongols destroyed the area. Turabek Khanym, for whom it was named, was the daughter of Khan Uzbek who is credited with converting the Golden Horde to Islam and is considered the father of the Uzbek peoples. Our next stop will be to visit the12th century tomb of Sultan Tekesh and the huge portal of the Dash Kalas Caravanserai. As we drive on we will stop on the way for a picnic and then continue on to Tashauz for a late afternoon flight to Ashgabad very close to the Persian border. There we will have dinner and spend the night.

ASHGABAD

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Ashkabad dates back to about the 2nd century BCE as a small town 10 km outside Nissa, the capital of the Parthian Empire. It was demolished by an earthquake in the 1st century BCE but because of its location on the silk route it was soon rebuilt and prospering – until the Mongols again destroyed it and it became the haunt of the Turkmen tribes who had no use for cities. Thus, in 1881, the Russians found only a small town that they chose to develop as a regional center that soon became quite metropolitan populated primarily by Russians and boasting a spot on the Thomas Cook tour.

Day 20 Ashgabad

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Today we spend the day seeing the many interesting sights in Ashgabad, especially the vast, colorful, and exciting Sunday market with crafts and other items of a kind and colors we have not seen in Uzbekistan. This fairly new city was demolished by a powerful earthquake in 1948 that killed 110,000 people and subsequently rebuilt in the soviet style with wide, straight streets. Seeing believes so we will visit the 250-foot Arch of Neutrality topped by a 40-foot golden statue of President Niyazov that rotates with the sun. Adjacent we can see the new marble and gold Palace of Turkmenbashi and the government buildings facing a large plaza. At noon we will have lunch in a local craftsman's family home. After lunch we will visit The Textile and Carpet Museum with guides dressed in lovely embroidered traditional costumes pointing out a stunning collection of hand-made carpets. There we will see the world’s second largest hand-woven rug -- the largest being in one of Niyazov’s palaces. At the History Museum we will feast our eyes on a superb collection of carved ivory drinking horns from the 1st and 2nd century BC Nissa, and then, at the Fine Arts Museum, we will be treated to some great Soviet-Turkmen paintings of happy peasants and busy factories, as well as a collection of Western European painting, including a Caravaggio, and a stunning collection of unique Turkmen jewelry. A traditional folklore program will give us a better glimpse of Turkmen folk culture after which we will have dinner and overnight in Ashkabat.

Day 21 Ashgabad

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Today we will breakfast and then drive out to the site of ancient Nissa, going back to the time of the Parthians in the third century B.C. who repulsed Alexander the built an empire. This ancient grassy site, looking much like a green, wave- decimated sand castle, is located at the foot of the Kopet Dag Mountains which divide Turkmenistan from Iran and is what remains of this fabled city as it existed 2300 years ago. Originally, it was reinforced with 43 towers that guarded the royal palace as well as a couple of temples. The then thriving city was ruled by succeeding dynasties until the arrival of the Mongol Hordes who razed the city in the 13th century. Later we will stop at the famous stud farm of the Akhal Tekke horses. Tonight we will have a very special farewell dinner before our last night in Ashkhabad.

Day 23 Ashgabad – home
After a good breakfast we will head for the airport to catch our plane to...

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