Ancient architecture, Silk Road fables, stories of merchants, traders and life on the road entwined with remote mountain lakes, valleys of wildflowers, hikes through remote cobbled villages dotted with shepherds and their flocks – a journey through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is the perfect introduction to Central Asia.
Dusted in eye-popping cobalts, cyans and sapphires, Uzbekistan has an incredible tangle of history to unravel and hidden sites to uncover. From its former Persian rule and key location along the famed Silk Road, to which is owes much of its grand architecture and culture, to a short period under Soviet rule, this jumble of traditions is a treasure trove waiting to be cracked open. We veer you through Uzbekistans great sites, mingle with their nomads and cross into Kyrgyzstan – a land defined by its natural beauty. Soak in joyously unspoilt mountainscapes, stark craggy ridges and rolling jailoos (summer pastures) which are brought to life by semi-nomadic, yurt-dwelling shepherds.
Welcome to Uzbekistan! Upon arrival in Tashkent airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Uzbekistan is the proud home to a spellbinding infusion of architecture and ancient cities, all deeply intertwined with the bloody, fascinating history of the Silk Road.
Leave your luggage at your hotel and set off on your city tour. Visit the wonderful complex Khast Imam, located in the old part of the city which has been the largest centre of Islamic culture in Uzbekistan for thousands of years. Continuing on, you will also visit Kukeldash madrasah, the largest madrasah and one of the most famous historical monuments of Tashkent. You will also have the opportunity to explore a local bazaar, Chorsu. This bazaar is one of the largest and most popular in the capital. Covered by seven domes tiled with coloured ceramic designs, mingle amongst the locals as they bargain and barter amongst themselves. Local farmers come from far and wide to sell products of their own production. Let your senses take over as you inhale the aromas of different eastern spices, vegetables and fruits. Enjoy a BBQ lunch here, hot off the open flames as you sit amongst the locals.
Enjoy meeting a ceramist from Rishtan. Become acquainted with the full cycle of ceramic production – from the preparation of the clay to the manufacture of finished products and take part in our master class and get your hands dirty, as you learn from the locals. This evening, enjoy a walking city tour as you visit Amir Temur Square, Sailgoh Street, Romanov’s Palace (outside), Navoi Theatre Square and Independence Square. Return to your hotel. (L,D)
Overnight Inspira S or similar
This morning, transfer to the train station for your train to Bukhara. Travelling by train along the Silk Road is sure to be one of your highlights – not only from the scenery out your window, but from the local engagement you may experience. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel where you will leave your luggage and set off on a city tour. Bukhara was a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route between the East and the West, and a major medieval centre for Islamic theology and culture. It still contains hundreds of well-preserved mosques, madrassas bazaars and caravanserais, dating largely from the 9th to the 17th centuries.
Explore the Lyabi-Khauz complex, an architectural ensemble, formed with three large, monumental buildings: Kukeldash Madrasah, Khanaka and Nodir Divan-begi. The centre of old Bukhara’s large ensemble became a reservoir.
Visit the Jewish Synagogue which still functions today and was built in 16th century and is protected by the government, as well as the Trade Domes. Medieval Bukhara was a big business city receiving merchants from Central Asia and other parts of the world and this is where much of the merchant trading took place.
Marvel at the Bozori Kord Khammam (Sauna bathroom) dating back to XIV century and the Abdullakhan Tim, a huge, roofed shopping passage from XVI century.
The only surviving building in Bukhara of Timurid-era, is the Ulugbeg madrassahs which you will have the privilege to see. Abdulazizkhan madrassahs is a part of architectural ensemble of Ulugbek Madrasah.
Spend your afternoon in fascinating Old Bukhara which is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Explore Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque and Miri-Arab Madrasah, Magoki-Attori Mosque, madrasahs of Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan, trade domes, Lyabi Hauz Ensemble, Chor-Minor Madrasah.
Venture into the Retro Saloon, Timur, where you will taste delicious herbal teas amongst the locals.
In the evening, visit a local family in their house where you will get hands on and assist in plov cooking. Plov is a very popular, historic Uzbek dish. Also referred to as “pilaf” or “palov”, it’s made up of long grain rice, tender chunks of lamb, onions, and carrots. (B,L,D)
Overnight Paradise Plaza or similar
After breakfast, you will depart and drive to Gijduvan (approx. 1 hr). On the way, stop in Vabkent to see the famed minaret, which is one of the most refined works of local architecture. The minarets construction dates back to 1196-1197. A Kufic inscription on the lower decorative belt is visible around the trunk of the minaret. Continue driving to Gijduvan.
The small town of Gijduvan is situated 46 km northeast of Bukhara. In Gijduvan, there are remnants of architectural monuments: the latest of three is Ulugbeg Mardassahs from the 15 century, of which only the front part has survived. You will also see Abd-al-Khalyk Gijduvani mazar. Gijduvan ceramics take a special place among the large number of crafts produced here. Gijduvan embroidery is the other distinctive craft in the region. The craftswomen of the Narzullaev family embroider silk on cotton fabric in the traditional style which is local to Gijduvan. Whilst here, visit the ceramic workshop and the Museum of Ceramics founded by Narzullaev family.
As you continue on, you will visit the ruins of Rabat Malika Caravan Saray, which served as a fortress for travellers along the Great Silk Road (approx. 1 hr). Make your way to the village of Asraf nestled in the Nurata Mountains (approx. 4 hrs), where you will become fully immersed in the life of the locals. Local people build themselves houses of small stones, rocks and clay. They plant and collect fruits and vegetables to cook for their meals, which are all cooked in the open-fire oven. Each family has a few head of livestock and poultry, which provide eggs, milk, meat and wool. Settle into your guesthouse where you will spend the night. Explore the village and see the local mosque, ruins of ancient forts. (B,L,D)
Overnight local guesthouse
Awake to embrace the lifestyle of the local villagers and embrace the purity of the neighbourhood. After breakfast, you will transfer to Samarkand (approx. 4 hrs). Samarkand is a fascinating city in Uzbekistan known for its mosques and mausoleums. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. This afternoon, explore the main attractions in Samarkand, including the Registan, which is a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, majolica-covered madrassas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries. You also have the chance to explore Gur Emir, the towering tomb of Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire. Other points of interest include visiting the Shakhizinda, which is a necropolis in the north-eastern part of Samarkand and Bibikhanum Mosque which is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. Visit a handicraft centre in Koni Ghil Village, where you will be acquainted with the production ancient paper, pottery, carpentry and oil following the processes of ancient tradition. (B,L,D)
Overnight Arka Boutique or similar
This morning you will transfer to the train station and take the Afrosiyob train (06:11-08:21) to Tashkent. On arrival, you will visit ceramist Akbar Rahimov’s workshop (the dynasty of potters), the house of a master potter who has given new impetus to local pottery by picking century old styles and combining this with new designs. Enjoy a tea break with oriental sweets. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Bishkek this evening. (B,L,D)
Overnight Plaza Hotel or similar
Enjoy breakfast before setting off on your city tour of Bishkek. Visit the Osh Bazaar – a huge open-air market, where it’s possible to buy everything. From food products and spices to common household goods, clothes, souvenirs, and even musical instruments. Mingle with the locals as you practice your bantering and bartering. Enjoy lunch in Bishkek before continuing to the Chon-Kemin Valley (approx. 3-4hrs). Its eponymous river flows across the Kungei-Ala-Too and Iliysky Ala-Too mountain ranges, stretching over 110km, with seven lakes in its basin. Here, also lies a specially protected region, Chon-Kemin National Park, a lush natural area brimming with diverse flora and fauna. Forming the sides of the valley are conifer forests, which are home to many varieties of herbs, berries, and mushrooms.
The Chon-Kemin valley is a place for those who truly appreciate natural beauty, as it remains – many say – in its virgin state. This afternoon, you have the option to explore on foot and go hiking or jump on a horse and venture off with a local guide. Your accommodation is simple but comfortable, something that adds to the area’s back-to-basics charm. (B,L,D)
Overnight Kemin Guesthouse or similar
This morning you will set off towards Karakol along the northern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake (approx 4-5hrs) . Lunch is enroute. On the way, you will visit the museum of Nomad’s Civilization and an open-air museum of ancient petroglyphs. This evening you will stay at a beautiful farm known for its horse breeding. Enjoy an orientation through this stunning property and learning about the importance of horses in this nomadic culture. (B,L,D)
Overnight at a local farmstay or similar
Early this morning, if it is a Sunday, you will have the opportunity to visit the animal markets. A visit to the Sunday-only animal market in the outskirts of Karakol is a bit like going back in time. It hasn’t changed much over the decades and it’s unlikely to change in the next ones, either. Wear sturdy footwear, because you’ll get up close and personal with horses, sheep, cattle, goats, and donkeys of every size and stripe. While you’re probably not planning to buy an animal, this is a great opportunity for truly one-of-a-kind encounters with locals, and of course, memorable photos.
Breakfast in ash-lyanfu place, a hidden local restaurant serving traditional Dungan food. Many Dungan people settled here in Karaol after fleeing from China. Their culture and stories are fascinating.
Continuing on, enjoy a city tour of Karakol where you will visit the Russian Orthodox Church, Muslim Mosque in Dungan Style and the Museum of Prjevalski, a famous traveller and Central Asia explorer. Lunch today is in a local restaurant and this evening you will enjoy a traditional dinner served by a local Dungan family. (B,L,D)
Overnight Green Yard Hotel or similar
After breakfast transfer to Jety-Oguz Gorge (around 2 hours). From here you have the option to do a hike into to Svetlaya Polyana gorge for about 3-4 hours. This is a scenic gorge with wild nature and perfect for exploring on foot. Enjoy a packed lunch on top of small pass before you transfer to the southern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake.
Issyk-Kul Lake is one of the world’s few remaining ancient lakes, estimated to be an incredible 25 million years old, but also the second-largest alpine lake on the planet. Surrounding the lake are the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains, towering as high as 4000m in the sky. The lake itself reaches depths of over 610m.
Boasting a long and storied history, the lake was once a stop along the ancient Silk Road. Issyk-Kul was also once used by the Soviet Navy as a torpedo testing site, during which time foreigners were not permitted to visit the area. (B,L,D)
Overnight Yurt Camp or similar
Enjoy breakfast this morning before you continue along the southern shoreline. Today’s driving time is approx 4-5 hrs. On the way, you will stop to witness the production of yurts in the village of Kyzyl-Tuu, before witnessing an eagle hunting show. Hunting has always been important in the nomadic lifestyle. Food gathering has generated many different customs and traditions.
Since ancient times, it was believed that the hunting bird was the most loyal and reliable assistant. Eagles and falcons were used for a long time before the appearance of firearms and held the status of a family member.
Kyrgyz tribes have used hunting birds to hunt since the 10th century AD. Today, they keep this incredible tradition from generation to generation. You will have the opportunity to meet with local eagle hunters and see how the birds are trained.
Continuing on, explore Fairy Tale Canyon. This place is certainly a magical place, full of mystery and mysticism, sufficient to stimulate the imagination of those with the inclination to stand, and stare, and wonder. Whipped into unique shapes and rock formations from the wind and water, this landscape is simply spectacular. This evening, you will spend the night in a yurt camp.
In Kochkor, you will visit a felt workshop which is run by the local women community called “Altyn Kol”. (B,L,D)
Overnight Nomad Lodge Hotel or similar
After breakfast transfer to Son-Kul Lake (approx 2-3hrs). Son-Kul is one of the highest lakes in Kyrgyzstan (2030m above sea level). It’s a place where you can experience true nomadic life. You may have a chance to ride a horse, see edelweiss flowers, camels, yaks, golden eagles, and to see how local women make the Kyrgyz national drink – Kymyz (mare’s milk). This is a remote mountain lake situated on a treeless, high mountain plateau, where shepherds bring their livestock in the summertime and establish a camp where they will live for the season and set up their yurts. In this area of beauty, you will see hundreds of herds of animals and their shepherds, as well as many different yurts.
Enjoy hiking around the lakes edge and through the valley where you have the option to visit many nomadic families who have settled in the valley for the season. (B,L,D)
Overnight Yurt Camp or similar
After breakfast transfer to Bishkek (approx 5-6hrs). Stop in Kochkor for lunch. Upon arrival into Bishkek, take some time for rest freshen up before your farewell dinner. (B,L,D)
Overnight Plaza Hotel or similar
Following breakfast, the day is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.