ITINERARY & MAP
Your Central Asia Tour starts in Bishkek, a very pleasant city to explore on foot and that’s exactly what you will do today. Bishkek has changed a lot over the years, but it still has a charm like no other city in the world. There are lots of sights that we’d like you to see: the monument of Manas, a hero of Kyrgyz people; Ala Too Square, the main square; the Kurmanzhan Datka Monument, the Queen of Alay; countless parks and governmental buildings; the Old Square with Parliament House and Lenin´s Monument.
At a central bazaar, you can buy some locally produced dried fruits and nuts to take for your tour. In the evening, you can try Kyrgyz food at a local restaurant; we’ll outline the tour itinerary and give you plenty of opportunities to ask questions as well as to get acquainted with your guides and fellow tour participants.
We’ll meet in reception and depart to Issyk-Kul. Our first destination today is the Konorchek Canyon. The reds and terracottas of the rock take on a vivid hue in the sunshine but it will be the extreme faulting of the rock strata and the intricacies of the shapes cut by erosion that will take your breath away. We’ll take a hike to take a closer look at this splendid narrow mountainous canyon.
Back on the road, we’ll lunch at a typical Kyrgyz guesthouse which will also be our base for the night. It’s located on the northern shore of Issyk Kul Lake, a body of water which is nicknamed the “Pearl of Kyrgyzstan”. The deep ultramarine of the lake is often mirrored by a cloudless blue sky and you’ll instantly see why many consider this to be so special. Even the statistics back this up: at 1600m above sea level it’s the second highest mountain lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in South America.
Duration of trekking tour: 2.5 hours
After a few more snatched moments on the shore of Issyk Kul, today we drive up to Son Kul Lake through the spectacular Kalmak-Ashuu Pass. Located at an altitude of 3446m, the surrounding mountains dwarf the road that meanders through them. Descending slightly to 3000m above sea level, we’ll arrive at Roza’s yurt, where we will have lunch.
Song Kul Lake is an oasis surrounded by mountains, where many migratory birds of Central Asia stop. Nomadic people have been making their temporary home on the shores of the lake for centuries. It’s a world-class view, without a doubt. In the afternoon, we’ll go horse riding across the vast meadows speckled with delicate Edelweiss flowers that line Son Kul Lake. After the ride, we’ll drive back to another yurt where we will stay for the night.
Our base will be on the southern shore of the lake, an area free from light pollution. The skies will come alive with the twinkling of thousands of stars that remain hidden from sight if you’re usually one of the world’s many city dwellers. It’s a magical experience and you’ll be reluctant to fall asleep.
Duration of horseback riding: 3 hours
Waking up fully refreshed, we’ll spend the morning hiking in the hills south of Son Kul Lake. Huge lumps of granite litter the verdant meadows and we’ll wander among them keeping our eyes peeled for the petroglyphs that can be found on some of them. These rock drawings depict scenes of rural life that have changed little in the intervening centuries.
After our hike, we’ll leave Song Kul through the Kara Keche Pass (alt.3360m) and drive through a diverse landscape consisting of red sedimentary rocks, green meadows, black rocky mountains and yellow sandy hills. This is an artist’s palette of color and perhaps we’ll be inspired to sketch it for ourselves as we stop for a picnic on the way. Later, we’ll arrive in Kyzyl Korgon, a very small mountainous village where we will stay with a local family in their home.
Duration of trekking 4 hours, +200m / -200m elevation change
Departing in the early morning we’ll take a challenging road which skirts the Kekemeren River and is often marked only by the tracks of the vehicles that have come before us. We’ll drive through a dramatic gorge where 500m high blood orange cliffs overhang the road, squeezing it into the narrowest spaces between the rocks and the river. Once again, the scenery changes constantly, a reminder of the diverse beauty that characterizes Kyrgyzstan.
Pausing for a picnic on the way, we’ll cross the Ter Jailoo Pass (alt.2465m), another spectacular mountain route. We’ll seize the opportunity to hike through the “Jailoo” (meaning pastures in Kyrgyz) as far as the village of Kara Jygash. We will also have the chance to meet nomadic families on the way, who will most likely invite us to drink kumis, the traditional beverage of the nomads. It is fermented mare’s milk, an acquired taste, but one you should try at least once during your trip. We’ll arrive on the shore of Toktogul’s Lake, this time, not a natural lake but instead an artificially created reservoir created by damming the Naryn River. Dinner and a bed for the night will be at in a small hotel in Kok Bel, on the southern shore of the lake.
Duration of trekking tour: 5 hours, +600m / -1000m altitude change
In the morning, we’ll drive along the Naryn River towards the border with Uzbekistan. The Naryn River starts to flow ever stronger despite the fact that this is still only the beginning of the mighty Syr-Daria River, known as Iaxarte by the ancient Greeks, irrigating Central Asia with its sibling Amu-Daria. The color palette fades to one of sage greens, ice blues, and charcoal grays, but it’s every bit as photogenic as the scenery we’ve experienced already.
We’ll leave the Tien Shan Mountains behind us as we enter the Fergana Valley, a very fertile plain that straddles Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The climate starts to become a little warmer, there is a higher density of population and once again the landscape undergoes a transformation. We’ll arrive in Arslanbob, a village with a high concentration of ethnic Uzbeks. They make their home against the foothills of the mountains, by one of the largest forests of walnut trees in the world. We’ll stay with one of the families and have enough time to explore the village, the forest and even hike to one of the nearby waterfalls. The villagers have donkeys for hire should you wish to ride one.
Duration of trekking tour: 3 hours
We’ll depart Arslanbob in the morning and drive along the Uzbek border to Uzgen, one of the capitals of the Karakhanid Empire during 11th and 12th centuries. Three mausoleums date from this period, once used for Karakhanid governors; a minaret also survives. We’ll take our time visiting this medieval architectural complex, unique to Kyrgyzstan before enjoying lunch in Uzgen next to the old bazaar.
After lunch, we drive to Osh, an ancient Silk Road city with a history spanning three thousand years and a culture that draws on both Uzbek and Kyrgyz traditions. We’ll climb Solomon’s Mountain and visit his throne and the museum tucked away in a natural cave nearby. The bazaar is also a draw, with traders’ stalls strung out along the river banks of the city. Dinner tonight will be taken in a traditional chaikhana, where we can taste plov, the famous Central Asian dish. Our overnight base will be in the house of a typical Uzbek family.
In the afternoon transfer to Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border point Dostuk. After the border formalities, your guide will welcome you on Uzbek side and take you further on your journey to Fergana. This is one of the world’s great drives, with desiccated slopes rippled with the marks of dried gulleys stretching as far as the eye can see. Beyond, a backdrop of craggy peaks, their summits dusted with snow even in summer, help to take our minds off the sometimes uncomfortable road. On the way visit Andijan and Quva. This is the stuff of adventures, where dust and discomfort will be forgotten long before the incredible panoramas that will surely be etched into our memories.
Arrival at Fergana. Your tour leader will be by your side to explain and inform, offering context on topics as varied as history, people and tradition. We’ll meet over dinner in one of the city’s great restaurants and discuss our plans, so rest assured you’ll have myriad opportunities to ask questions.
Today is all about the journey as we begin our way over the Kamchik mountain pass, located at 2267 metres above sea level. We’ll pause at Margilan and Kokand, once a bustling transport hub for Silk Road merchants bound for the Fergana Valley. Our driver will take us to Margilan.
Our first stop is at the Said Akhmad-Khoja Madrassa, its geometric architecture softened by the trees planted around it. These days, it’s the base of craftsmen carrying on the age-old tradition of producing carpets and silk. At the Yodgorlik Silk Factory, the wooden looms click as bolts of cloth are produced the old-fashioned way, the vibrancy of their colors matched only by the dresses of the women that work them. The traditional Ikat patterns that you’ll see are created before the cloth is woven by binding yarn and dip dyeing to form elaborate patterns.
Kokand was formerly the capital of Uzbek Khanate and an important religious center, it fell to the Russians in 1883 and surrendered its independence to become part of the Russian Republic of Turkestan. Its many mosques and madrassas will offer a welcome diversion from the road. The palace built by the last Kokand Khan, Khudoyar, is an impressive sight, the turquoise domes at its gate rising above an intricately tiled structure that combines shades of blue, yellow and brown which glint in the sunshine. By the evening, we will reach Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s lively capital.
The largest city in Central Asia is a curious blend of Islamic and Soviet influences and we’ll continue our exploration today. We’ll return to the Old City area of Tashkent to visit the Khast Imom Complex which contains ancient holy books and the Madrassa of Barak-Khan, as well as taking a closer look at the Tilla Sheikh Mosque and the Mausoleum of Saint Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi.
Then, we will take a ride on the city’s famous Soviet-era metro system which like Moscow’s features some of the most ornately decorated stations in the world. You’ll exit at Amir Temur Square Station for a look at the statue of the great conqueror and next to it, the grandeur of Independence Square. We visit Applied Arts Museum where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the vibrant Uzbek art scene. As the afternoon fades into evening we’ll make our way to the airport for our flight to Bukhara.
Even the very name Bukhara conjures up images of the exotic Orient. Today, as for centuries, it’s an important trading post and you’ll have numerous opportunities to see traditional Uzbek products being bought and sold. The Old Town has been well preserved and this, Uzbekistan’s holiest city, is crammed full of minarets, mosques and madrassas. Its once notorious canals and pools, the source of many an epidemic, have now been drained but the most famous, Lyabi-Hauz, is still there, an oasis shaded by mulberry trees at the heart of the city. Your guide will show you the city’s unmissable sights, after which there’ll be plenty of time for you to wander Bukhara’s labyrinthine alleyways to soak up the atmosphere by yourself.
A single day isn’t enough to do Bukhara justice and so we devote a second to exploring this fascinating place. This morning, we’ll take you to the summer residence of Bukhara’s last Emir, a unique site which blends Oriental and Russian architecture. In the afternoon, hit the road, as tonight’s destination is the exotic city of Samarkand.
Sublime Samarkand evokes an almost mythical past full of romance and intrigue. This was the domain of Timur, one of history’s great conquerors. His vast empire rivalled any, stretching across the Eurasian steppe, who ruled his kingdom with an iron fist while at the same time patronising the arts and literature. Much of his architectural heritage has been preserved, allowing us to see how the city might have been at the peak of his power.
We’ll begin in spectacular Registan Square, the focal point of ancient Samarkand and framed by three beautiful madrassas. We’ll explore one of the city’s unmissable sights, the Bibi Khanum Mosque, before delving into the Siyob Bazaar to haggle for dried fruit and souvenirs to take home. Finally, our guide will show us the well-preserved Ulugbek Observatory. Uzbek astronomer Ulugbek was decades ahead of the west with his observations of the solar system and the earth and we’ll learn more about his story in this prestigious setting.
Today we continue sightseeing in magical Samarkand. We visit the Afrasiyab Museum and Tomb of St. Daniel before we head out of the city to nearby village Khoni Ghil, where we can learn about the traditional way of making Samarkand paper from mulberry.
At 17.00 we take high-speed train Afrosiyob to Tashkent which takes just little more than two hours. Back in Tashkent we will transfer to restaurant for farewell dinner.
Today it’s time to say a fond farewell to your Central Asia travel adventures. Our driver will provide your transfer to Tashkent International Airport. We hope you’ve enjoyed your trip and will return soon to explore other Central Asian countries.