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2015 Uzbekistan Tour
The RSAA returns to its roots as the Central Asian Society, exploring both the famous highlights of the Silk Road but also lesser-known destinations
- 1 - 18 September, 2015
In September 2015, the RSAA will be returning to the heart of the Silk Road, a country with some 100,000 years of human history, and a place central to the Society’s early years as the Central Asia Society: Uzbekistan. This 19-day, expert-led tour will allow members to explore not only the rightly famous cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, but also less often visited destinations that are nonetheless key to understanding the country, past and present.
An international flight with Uzbekistan Airways will bring guests directly to Tashkent, just seven hours flying time from London. Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s capital, a lively, modern city built mostly during the Soviet period but with a number of impressive post-independence buildings too.
Staying for two nights at the immaculate Hotel Lotte City Tashkent, we’ll explore the Old Town with its mosques and necropolis, including a visit to the Muyi Muborak Library with its holy relic (a hair of the Prophet) and the world’s oldest Qu’ran, stained with the blood of Caliph Uthman. With the assistance of the Uzbek Embassy in London, we hope to arrange several briefings with senior government officials on aspects of Uzbekistan’s development and foreign relations, and we will combine these with a walking tour of Amir Timur and Independence Squares and the chance to visit the State Museum of History, the largest repository of historical artefacts in Central Asia. Whilst in Tashkent we will also take in a performance at the Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, designed and built in the 1940s by the same architect responsible for Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow.
From Tashkent we will take the half day’s drive by air conditioned coach to Samarkand, the Silk Road jewel made even more famous by James Elroy Flecker in The Golden Road to Samarkand. We will stay two nights at the Hotel Grand Samarkand, located in the centre, and have the opportunity to visit Afrosiab, the 120ha hill fort which is the earliest surving part of the city; the nearby Mausoleum of Daniyar (the Old Testament Prophet Daniel) and the medieval astronomical observatory of Ulug Beg; and, of course, the Timurid architectural masterpieces that comprise the Registan, the Shah-i Zinda and the Bibi Khanym Mosque. We will dine one evening at a private home, a finely-preserved 19th century merchant’s house.
On Day 6 we will take the short drive across the mountains to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Amir Timur. Here we will visit the remains of the Ak Serai, once the greatest palace in Central Asia, and also the attractive mosques and tombs of the Dor at-Tilyavat and Dor as-Siadat.
Continuing south, we travel back in time to Termez, a Graeco-Bactrian city on the Amu Darya River (the Oxus of antiquity) which was historically the meeting point of Mediterranean, Indian, Persian, Chinese and Central Asian civilisations. The Termez Archaeological Museum sets the scene for life in the city from the time of Alexander the Great into the early centuries AD, and it contains superb wall paintings excavated from archaeological sites at Balalyk Tepe and Tavka Kurgan.
In Termez we will visit Old Termez (the city’s medieval citadel) with its Sufi mausoleums and river port; and also Buddhist Termez, which includes the Zurmala Tower (Uzbekistan’s oldest surviving building), the rock-cut temple complex of Kara Tepe, and the 1st century BC stupa at Fayaz Tepe. Spending three nights in Termez will also enable us to travel into surrounding areas, visiting Kyr Kyz, the intriguingly named 40 Girls Fortress; the Sultan Saodat Complex, the family necropolis of the Termez Sayyids; and the Timurid-period Kokil Dara Khanagha, a resting place for Sufi dervishes.
Returning to central Uzbekistan, we will drive from Termez to Bukhara, stopping en-route for lunch at the Khasim Ata Mosque Complex, a still-active religious site that dates back to the 13th century.
In Bukhara we will stay three nights at Hotel Asia Bukhara. Our first full day of sightseeing will be spent exploring the Old Town, with remarkable sites including the recently restored Ark Fortress, where Nasrullah Khan imprisoned (and later executed) Conolly and Stoddart; the Lyabi Hauz complex with its beautifully tiled madrassas and khanagha; and the Poi Kalyon, whose towering Kalyon Minar is the only major building in Bukhara to have survived destruction by Genghis Khan.
On the second day in Bukhara, guests will have the choice to further explore Bukhara independently, or to travel outside the city with a guide. Sites on this itinerary will include Sitorai Makhi Khosa, the summer palace of the Emir of Bukhara and the location of the First Congress of the Bukharan Soviet in 1920; and the Mausoleum of Bakhauddin Naqshband, the birthplace and tomb of the founder of the Naqshbandi order of Sufis.
Day 13 requires a six-hour drive west through the desert from Bukhara to Khiva, close to the border with Turkmenistan. Here we will stay three nights at the Orient Star, a former madrassa that has been converted into an atmospheric hotel inside the fortress walls.
Khiva’s Ichon Qala is a museum city that at its height included nearly 100 mosques, 54 madrassas, tens of mausoleums and also palaces within its walls. We will have a half-day guided tour of key sites, in particular the Juma and Ata Murad Matriza Kushbegi Mosques, the Muhammad Rahimkhan II Madrassa, the Kalta Minar and the Masuoleum of Sayyid Ala’uddin, and then the opportunity to discover other buildings independently as per personal interest.
The following day, we will enter the Dichon Qala (the outer city) to see its 19th century madrassas, tombs and either the Nurillabay Palace, built in 1906 and inspired by Muhammad Rakhimkhan II’s visit to St Petersburg, or Kibla Tozabag, his summer palace, which has been recently restored and also fuses Asian and European architecture. Given sufficient interest, we will drive 20km outside of Khiva to visit the 13th century Mausoleum of Sheikh Mukhtar Vali, set within the grounds of the Chapaev Kolkhoz collective farm.
A short drive from Khiva, and partly buried beneath the desert sands of the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, are the fortresses of ancient Khorezm. These UNESCO-listed sites, collectively known as the Golden Ring or the Elliq Qala (the 50 fortresses), date back some 2,500 years. We will visit the vast Toprak Qala, a city fortress and important regional centre of Zoroastrianism; and the equally impressive Ayaz Qala, a hilltop fortress where we can enjoy the views and take a ride by camel. We will spend the night beneath the stars in a specially built yurt camp.
Our final destination is Nukus, the concrete capital of Karakalpakstan, which hides behind its grey exterior a ruby in the dust: the Igor Savitsky Museum. Here we will see the world’s second largest collection of Russian avante-garde art, acquired from persecuted Soviet artists in the 1960s and 70s; Uzbek art from the 1920s and 30s; folk and contemporary Karakalpak art; and archaeological finds excavated from the Khorezm fortresses.
Returning by domestic flight to Tashkent and spending our final night in Uzbekistan at the Tashkent Palace, we will visit Chorsu Bazaar, the city’s main market, for souvenir shopping, and hope also to arrange a drinks reception with the British Embassy.
This tour will be led by RSAA member Max Lovell-Hoare, long-term Central Asia resident and author of the Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan. The cost will be £2480 per person based on two people sharing; £2800 with a single-person supplement.
Those interested in joining the tour should complete the booking form below and return it to Indus Experiences along with their deposit.