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Day 1/2 Astana Kazakhstan's new capital city was the futuristic vision of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Founded in 1997, it's construction was backed by billions of petro-dollars. It was built from scratch on the Northern Steppes of the country. Your 2 day tour of perhaps Central Asia's most unique modern city will include the Baitarek Tower (the symbol of Astana), the Pyramid of Peace, the Khan Shatyry (the world's largest tent and a totally unique entertainment center), the Hazrat Sultan Mosque, the President's Palace, the Palace of Independence, the President's Museum, the Kazakh Eli Monument, the Shabyt Palace and more.....The optional tour is complete with your included domestic flight to Almaty.
Day 3/4 Almaty Almaty was the former capital before it was moved to Astana. The name Almaty means "the place with apples" as there are many varieties of wild apples in the vicinity. Present Day Almaty was previously called Almatu when it was on the Silk Road. However the city was razed by the Mongols in the 13th century, leaving Almaty with no ancient remains. It is a beautiful city in the foothills of the Zaili Alatau mountains. Our Almaty city tour takes us to Paniflov Park, Zenkov cathedral, Almaty's central market-Green Bazaar, the State Central Museum and the fascinating Museum of Musical Instruments. Outside Almaty we enjoy a mountain drive to the Small Almaty Gorge and the picturesquely situated Medeo Sports Complex.
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Day 5 Lake Issyk-Kul Today after an early start, we cross the border by land into Kyrgyzstan, where our picturesque drive takes us to Lake Issyk-Kul. Surrounded by the Tien Shan mountains, it is the 2nd highest alpine lake in the world (5280 feet) after lake Titicaca in Peru/Bolivia. We arrive late afternoon where we relax and enjoy dinner at the hotel.
Day 6 Lake Issyk-Kul (Chopon Alta and Karakol) Today we enjoy a beautiful lakeshore drive to Karakol, enroute passing through picuresque fishing villages. Our stops include a great Petroglyph field dating from 700 BC and a local school. After lunch and sightseeing in Karakol, we return to our resort in Chopon Alta.
Day 7 Bishkek Our drive today takes us to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Enroute we stop at the Burana Tower, an 11th century watchtower on the Silk Road. We also see ancient Balbans (stone warriors) and ancient stone inscriptions from 800BC. These stones have not been moved since ancient times. We arrive in Bishkek in time for dinner and relaxation.
Day 8 Bishkek Our Bishkek capital city tour includes the Central Ala-Too square, Victory Square, the Bishkek History Museum and the Central Bazaar and market. This evening we attend a performance at either the Bishkek Opera House or Philharmonic Hall.
Day 9 Bishkek-Osh-Fergana AM flight to Osh. Visit Suleimans Throne(holy mount). It is the most sacred place for Muslims in Asia. Later cross border into Uzbekistan and drive to Fergana. Before arriving at Fergana, we stop at Margilon, a small town famous for its silk weaving, where we observe the age old process of silk production.
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Day 10 Rishton-Kokand-FerganaWe are now in the heart of the Fertile Fergana valley. Chinese traders came this way in the 1st Century BC and created what we now call the Silk Road. In the morning we stop at Rishton, a peaceful village famous for its ceramic master, where we visit his workshop and museum. A short drive takes us to Kokand, which was capital of the Kokand Kharnate. Here we visit the beautiful Khan's palace, the 100 pillared Friday Mosque, and the mausoleums of the Kokand kings.
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Day 11 Fergana-KhujandAfter breakfast we drive across the border into Khujand, Tajikistan. Khujand is the 2nd largest city in Tajikistan Our tour today in Khujand includes the bustling Panshanbe Bazaar, the Timurmalik fortress, the Muslihidden Madrassa, the Sogdian Museum, and the beautiful Arbot Palace, a copy of the Peterhof in St. Petersburg, complete with picturesque gardens and fountains.
Day 12 Khujand-Istaravshan-KhujandA short drive takes us to the town of Istaravshan, considered to be the best "old town" of Tajikistan. Overlooking the town is the fortress of Mug Tep which affords magnificent views of the town and surrounding mointains. After touring Istaravshan's sites, we return to Khujand.
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Day 13 Khujand-Tashkent
This morning we cross the Western border of Tajikistan back into Uzbekistan. After lunch, our 1st stop will bring us to the Hasti Imam, Tashkent's main religious complex with it's beautiful blue domed Mosque, Minarets and Madrassahs. the highlite here is what scholars believe is the world's oldest Koran, from the 7th century, in the Library of Ancient Manuscripts. It is on deerskin, inscribed in Medina (present Saudi Arabia) by Uthman, the 3rd caliph of Islam, 19 years after the death of Mohammed, It is in the UNESCO World Register. We'll also visit the Museum of Applied Arts, which will give us a great overview of Uzbekistan's arts, crafts and architecture from medieval times to the present.
Day 14 Tashkent
After breakfast we'll take in Tashkent's main market, the Chorsu bazaar. Overlooking the bazaar is the impressive Kulkedesh Madrassah and Friday Mosque. Next we'll tour Independence Square, with it's government buildings, adjoining park, and monuments. It was 1st named Cathedral Square to honor an Orthodox cathedral built here, then Red Square in 1917. In 1966 it was named Lenin Square, and finally Independence Square in 1992, with the country's independence.
After lunch on "Broadway", Tashkent's pedestrian street area, We'll also stop at Tashkent's Assumption Cathedral complex and the Earthquake memorial and finally we'll visit the Tamerlane (Emir Temur) museum. This small but beautiful museum will give us a great introduction of what we will see throughout our tour... Dinner ala carte at the famous Caravan restaurant.
Day 15 Tashkent-Samarkand
Today we take the deluxe Hi-Speed train to Samarkand. (UNESCO World Heritage) After our hotel check-in and lunch we'll tour Registan Square, Uzbekistan's most famous site. The square was the center and marketplace of ancient Samarkand and meant "place of sand". The Madrassahs of Ulug Bek (1420), Tillya-Kori (1660), and Shir Dor (1636) surround the Square and make it Central Asia's most noble, beautiful and breathtaking square.
Day 16 Samarkand
We continue our tour today of Samarkand's other great sites. The Bibi Khanum Mosque (built by Tamerlane in dedication to his favorite wife) which was at the time the world's largest and grandest mosque and the Shah-I-Zinda Neocroplis, with its many magnificently blue tiled mausoleums of Uzbekistan's "who's who" of centuries past. We'll also stop at the Observatory of Ulugbek (Tamerlane's Grandson) who was a more famous astronomer than that of a ruler. This evening we have dinner at the famous Karimbeck restaurant while being entertained by their folklore dancing show.
Day 17 Samarkand-Shakhrisabz-Samarkand
We have an excursion today to Shakhrisabz (UNESCO World Heriyage). Tamerlane was born near here. We'll see the remains of his White Palace (Ak-Saray) built in the 14th century and other impressive monuments. On our return we'll also stop at the impressive tomb of the Old Testament Prophet Daniel. In the evening we will enjoy the famous "El Merosi" show with the coloful costumes of Samarkandians down through the centuries.
DAY 18 Samarkand--Bukhara
After breakfast we drive to Bukhara (UNESCO World Heritage) We'll have lunch by the famous Lyabi Haus pool, the true center of historic Bukhara. After lunch we'll check into our hotel, perfectly located inside Bukhara's "old city" There are no cars here, and with an introductory stroll, we can truly imagine ourselves walking through history in Bukhara's medieval splendor.
Day 19 Bukhara
We start our walk through history at the beautiful Lyabi Haus ensemble. Bukharans from ancient times to the present have benn meeting here for tea and everything else. The square is built around an ancient pool which is surrounded by 3 beautiful Madrassahs dating from 1417. A few steps away is the medieval synagogue and the Maghoki Attar (Central Asia's oldest surviving mosque). We continue our walk through medieval splendor to the Kalyan mosque and Minaret (the symbol of Bukhara), several other magnificient Madrassahs, the Ark Citadel, the Chasma and Samani Mausoleums and Bjukhara's famous covered domed markets, housing many world renowned skilled artisans.
Day 20 Bukhara
We venture a bit outside of Bukhara today, visiting Bukhara's last Emir's Summer palace, the Sitori-Mohi-Hosa, Nearby is the beautiful Bahouddin Naqshband mausoleum and complex. Naqshband (1318-89) was the founder of the most influencial Sufi order of central Asia and he is the unofficial patron saint of Bukhara On returning to Bukhara, we'll have lunch, stop at the quaint Chor Minor and have plenty of time to wander Bukhara's markets. This evening we enjoy a folklore show while dining in a 15th century Medrassah in the Lyabi Haus Square.
Day 21 Bukhara-Khiva
Today we drive to Khiva (UNESCO World Heritage) arriving late afternoon. After a pleasant lunch stop, we drive through desert terrain along side the Amu Darya river which is the border of Turkmenistan to the south. We relax and have dinner in the old town.
Day 22 Khiva
Our hotel is located in the historic quarter within Khiva's medieval walls which surround the town (the Ichon Kala). We tour the Ark Citadel, the palaces, the beautiful madrassahs, the harem complex, the famous Dzhuma Friday mosque, and Khiva's bazaars. Khiva though relatively small, is a living museum of medieval times and our time here will never be forgotten. For our last evening in Khiva we are entertained by a family troupe of singers and dancers.
Day 23 Khiva-Nukus
This morning we drive north to Nukus, which is the capital of Uzbekistan's autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Here is one of Uzbekistan's most unusual hi-lites, the world famous Savitsky Museum, founded by Igor Savitsky (1915-1984)-see "The Desert of Forbidden Art" (a documentary and CD.) Savitsky was an Avant Garde artist and archeologist, who was forbidden to display his art in Russia, because they did not conform to Soviet Realism. So he self exiled himself to this remote corner of the then USSR. It is one of the most remarkable and unusual collections of Art and Artifacts that one can see.
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Day 24 Nukus-Konye Urgench-Ashgabat This morning we cross the northern land border into our 5th and Final "Stan" Turkmenistan (6 if you count Karakalpakstan). After border formailities, a short drive takes us to Konye Urgench (UNESCO). Most of the ancient monuments are in an Archeology park. Konye Urgench was in ancient times the capital of the region but both Ghengis Khan in 1221 and finally Tamerlane in 1388 "finished off" the city. Finally when the Amu Darya River changed its course in the 17th century, therefore drying up its water supply, the city lost all hope of retaining its former glory. After taking in Konye Urgenche's sites, we drive to Dasoguz, where we take an afternoon flight to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan
Day 25 Ashgabad We have a city tour of modern Ashgabad. It is an astonishingly beautiful city with its many beautiful squares, statues, fountains, and monuments, which include the Government complex, Victory Square, Independence Square, the Neutrality Arch, the New Mosque, and the great History Museum.
Day 26 Ancient Merv An Early AM flight to Mary, from where we drive to Merv(UNESCO World Heritage). We tour the vast remains of the ancient Qalas (fortress cities) which date from the 6th century BC. In its heyday, Merv stood alongside Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. It was called Marv-i-shahjahan....translation..."Merv-Queen of the World" and was a key stop on the Silk Road. In short, in 1218 Genghis Khan demanded taxes and grain along with the city's most beautiful women. His envoys were rebuffed and killed. In retribution, Tolui, the most brutal son of Genghis, returned and slaughtered the entire population of 300,000. After our tour we take our short return flight to Ashgabad.
Day 27 Ancient Nisa-Ashgabad After breakfast we take the short drive to Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage) where we tour the Ancient Parthian kingdom remains. Nisa became the Parthian capital in the 3rd Century BC. It was surrounded by a thriving commercial city. One ruling dynasty replaced another until the 13th century, when once again, the Mongols arrived and razed the city to the ground. On the way back to Ashgabad we visit the magnificent golden Domed Kipchak Mosque, built by the late president Niyazov, who styled himself as the "Father of the Turkmen". It is an architectural masterpiece indeed. In the afternoon we have some free time to wander in the downtown area and the central market.
Day 28 Ashgabad-Departure Transfer to airport for return flight to the USA or elsewhere