Splendours of Uzbekistan
Central Asia is a fascinating blend of ethnicities and cultures, encompassing extremes of landscape from arid deserts to fertile oases, from vast steppes to majestic mountain ranges. For over two millennia, migratory tribes travelled across its vast territory in a heady mix of conquest, destruction and construction. At the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, Central Asia absorbed many religions, including Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Islam, and many cultures as wide ranging as Greek, Persian, Turkish and Chinese.
This tour focuses on Uzbekistan, the undoubted jewel of Central Asia and the repository of the region’s most impressive treasures. During the reign of the terrifying tyrant Tamerlane (Amir Timur) in the late 14th century, Transoxiana, as the area of Uzbekistan was known, became the cradle of one of history’s largest empires and the birthplace of some of the most arresting architecture in the Islamic world. Travel across the vast territory of today’s Uzbekistan and explore the architectural legacy of Timur and his successors in the romantic oasis cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand – ancient citadels strung across the desert like rare pearls, their turquoise tiled mosques, madrassahs and minarets dazzling in the distance. Discover a rich tradition of arts and crafts, such as intricately embroidered suzanis, exquisite silk Ikat weavings, hand woven silk carpets, miniature paintings, tribal jewellery and distinctive ceramic ware.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Morning departure from Sydney on Korean Airlines to Seoul. Late afternoon arrival and overnight at Seoul Airport hotel.
Morning at leisure.
After lunch, transfer to the airport for an afternoon flight to Tashkent on Korean Airlines. After immigration and customs formalities, transfer to your hotel.
The capital of Uzbekistan and the largest city in Central Asia with a population of 2.3 million people. For centuries Tashkent has stood at the crossroads of the ancient trade route along the Silk Road.
Welcome briefing and introductory talk.
Depart the hotel for a full day tour of Tashkent. Drive to Amir Timur Square, with its imposing statue of Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet hero, Tamerlane. Continue past Independence Square, the largest city square of the former Soviet Union. Visit the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan, largely formed from the collections of Prince Romanov and other private collectors, nationalized after the Bolshevik Revolution. Today the Museum houses an excellent collection of Uzbek and Russian painting, and also a fine collection of textiles, jewellery, wood carvings and ceramics. Lunch with the locals at a popular Plov (Pilau) restaurant.
After lunch explore the charming area of Old Tashkent. Drive to the restored Barak-Khan Complex, with striking blue tiled domes and decorative Iwans (entrance portals), built during the 16th century when the Shaybanid Dynasty (the Uzbeks) replaced the Timurid Dynasty. Visit the Hast Imam library to see an 8th century manuscript Quran written in the territory of modern Iraq in Kufic script. It is believed by local Uzbek Muslims to have belonged to the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan and is the oldest Quran in the world.
Evening at leisure.
Morning visit to the Chorsu Bazaar, centre of daily life in the heart of old town. The Bazaar comprises a unique complex of trade halls crowned with interrelated domes. Everything from exotic dried fruits, fresh herbs, handmade cheese and freshly-killed meat to colourful handicrafts is for sale.
Afterwards, explore the impressive Tashkent Metro, which opened in 1977 in honour of 60th anniversary of the USSR. Each station has its own unique architectural features made of semi-precious materials including marble, granite, glass, ceramics and carved alabaster.
After lunch, visit to the Museum of Applied Arts, with its vast collection of Uzbek traditional crafts. The museum is housed in the former residence of Russian diplomat A. A. Polovtsev, which was built at the end of 19th century in the Uzbek national style.
Evening at leisure.
Following a very early breakfast, transfer to the domestic terminal for flight to Nukus. Transfer to Hotel for check-in.
Drive to the Igor Savitsky Museum (Karalpak Museum).
This remarkable museum, opened in 1966, is located in the most remote region of Uzbekistan and houses an enormous collection, including antiquities from Khorezm traditional Karakalpak folk art, Uzbek fine art and, uniquely, the second largest collection of Russian avant-garde in the world (after the Russian Museum in St Petersburg). After lunch, free time to further explore the Savitsky Museum on your own.
Morning departure by coach to Khiva (200km, 3.5hrs). Along the way, see remains of a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence (Chilpak Kala). Visit the archaeological sites of Toprak Kala, 3rd century capital of ancient Khorezm and Ayaz Kala, with its three mud-brick fortresses, dating from the 4th century BCE to the 7th century AD. Abandoned for 1,300 years, the Kalas (fortresses) were rediscovered in the 1940s by the Russian archaeologist S.P. Tolstov.
Late afternoon arrival in Khiva and hotel check in. Dinner at Art Café.
Full day walking tour of Khiva, an “open air museum” consisting of two parts, Dichan Kala the outer town, and Ichan Kala, the inner town protected by 2.2km long sloping brick wall, with foundations laid in the 10th century. Visit Kunya Ark Citadel, residence of Khivan Khans founded in 1680s with further buildings added in the 19th and 20th centuries. Visit the 19th century Kalta Minar or Short Minaret, one of the most ambitious projects of the ruling Khan, intended to be the tallest minaret in the Islamic world.
Visit the Djuma Mosque and Minaret, originally constructed in the 10th century, in typical Arabic mosque architectural style. Today’s building was constructed in the 18th century. The main hall has over 200 wooden columns, earlier columns are decorated in Kufic and Naskh inscriptions, while the later in the typical Khivan floral-vegetative pattern. Later explore the majestic Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum (14th/19th cent.) with its dazzling turquoise dome. The Mausoleum is the shrine of Khiva’s patron saint and gifted poet, soldier, furrier, professional wrestler and healer of diseases, Pahlavan Mahmud.
After lunch, visit the Islam Khodja ensemble originally built in the 11th/12th centuries and reconstructed in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It consist of the smallest Madrassah and the tallest Minaret, the city’s symbol, ringed with stripes of lustrous blue tiles. Then visit the most ancient architectural structure in Khiva, the 14th century Sheikh Said Allauddin Mausoleum.
Early evening enjoy sunset from the platform on the City Wall. Dinner at the national house. Overnight in Khiva.
Further exploration of Khiva. Morning visit to the local bustling bazaar, and the 19th century Tash Hauli Palace and Harem, the main palace of the Khivan Khans, with its ceramic tiles, carved marble and painted wood, it is the most striking example of architectural decoration in the city. Lunch and tea ceremony at Zaynab’s family house. Afternoon and evening at leisure.
After breakfast drive by coach to Bukhara, considered since ancient times to be a sacred city. Bukhara is Uzbekistan’s fifth largest city, with a population of over 250,000. Travel across the Kyzyl-Kum (red sand) desert (480km, 8-9hrs), stopping for a barbeque lunch at a Chai-Khana (tea-house). Check into your hotel, centrally located in the Old Town. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Full day tour of Bukhara, continuously occupied for at least 5 millennia. Located on the Silk Road, the city has long been a centre of trade, scholarship, culture and religion. Begin with the perfectly proportioned 9th/10th century Samanid Ismail Mausoleum, with its exquisitely patterned brickwork. Then visit the nearby 14th/16th century Chashma Ayub Shrine featuring a conical dome. Visit the most ancient archaeological complex in the city, the imposing 1st century Ark Citadel, rebuilt after it was largely destroyed by the Red Army in 1920. Opposite the Ark, see the 18th century Bolokhauz Mosque and its striking iwan, supported by twenty wooden columns with mushroom shaped, brightly painted stalactite capitals. Continue to the 12th/18th century Kaylan Square dominated by the Kaylan Minaret, the main symbol of city.
After lunch, stroll through the central square, Lyabi-Hauz, built around a large pool. Visit the oldest preserved mosque in Bukhara, 10th century Magoki-Attori Mosque, built over an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple. Also visit the beautifully restrained 15th century Ulubek Madrassah and the larger, more lavishly decorated 17th century Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah, constructed on the Persian model with a large courtyard, divided by four Iwans.
Overnight in Bukhara.
Morning drive approximately 4km north of the city, to the old European style Summer Palace, once the sumptuous residence of the Bukhara Emirs, built in the second half of the 19th century. Today the palace houses a museum of decorative arts. Continue to the Bahauddin Nakshbandi Memorial Complex, one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Bukhara. At the heart of the complex is the mausoleum of the famous Sufi philosopher Bahauddin Naqshbandi. Drive on to visit the grave of a local Sufi sheikh, poet and a theologian Sayf ad-Din Boharzi (1190-1261), famous for the conversion of the Golden Horde’s Khan Berke to Islam. Nearby is the 14th century Mausoleum of Boharzi’s pupil, Buyan-Kuli-khan. Return to Bukhara, free time for exploring the old bazaars. Dinner followed by folk performance.
Morning depart Bukhara and travel along the ancient Royal Road to Samarkand. En route see an impressive portal, the only remnant of the Rabat-i-Malik, a royal caravanserai. Drive to the Sarmish-Say Gorge, 30kms northeast of the city of Navoi, in the Karatau Mountain Range and see remarkable petroglyphs depicting hunting scenes and rituals. There are over 4,000 petroglyphs and pictographs scattered along the gorge over a distance of two kilometres. Most of them are approximately 6,000 – 4,000 years old. Lunch en route.
Continue to the ancient city of Samarkand, once conquered by three of history’s greatest generals – Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Amir Timur. Under Timur, Samarkand became the glittering capital of a vast empire.
Full day tour of Samarkand. Visit the spectacular 15th/17th century Registan Square, framed by three madrassahs, Ulugh Beg Madrasah (1417–1420), Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646–1660) and the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619–1636), with their soaring entrance portals constructed in the distinctive Timurid architectural style. Visit the partial ruins of the gigantic early 15th century Amir Timur Mosque (Bibi-Khanyum Mosque).
After lunch explore the expansive territory of the Shah-I-Zinda Necropolis, with rows of richly decorated Mausoleums built during the 14th/15th centuries for various members of the Timurid Dynasty. The main mausoleum is said to be the grave of Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Kusama Ibn Abbas. According to legend, Ibn ‘Abbas came to preach in Samarkand in 640, where he was ultimately beheaded by the Zoroastrians. During medieval times, a pilgrimage to the grave of “The Living King” was equated to Mecca hajj. According to a legend, water source at the grave possesses healing powers. Dinner at the national house.
Morning drive in small cars over the Mountain to Shakhrisabz, birthplace of Amir Timur and the second capital of the Timurids, after Samarkand. Visit the remains of the grandiose 14th/15th century Ak Sarai palace built by Timur. Visit the Dor as-Siadat burial complex, which includes a mausoleum for two of Timur’s sons, Jahangir and Umar Sheikh and the Amir Timur crypt. Continue on to the Memorial Mosque, Kuk Gumbaz (the Blue Dome), an outstanding example of the Khorezm architectural style. Lunch in Shakhrisabz.
Morning drive to the stunning 14th century Gur-Emir Mausoleum with its exquisite ribbed dome decorated in brilliant azure tiles. Originally built for Timur’s grandson, it inadvertently became Timur’s own resting place (instead of Shakhrisabz). Continue to the Observatory of Timur’s grandson and astronomer, Ulugh Beg. Built in the 1420s, it was considered to be one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world. The observatory was only rediscovered in 1908. Drive to Afrasiab, the ancient area of Samarkand, to visit the Museum featuring the remarkable mid-7th century mural paintings, Ambassadors’ Painting, a rare example of Sogdian art discovered as recently as 1965. Dinner at the national house with music performance.
Morning free. Farewell lunch and hotel check-out.
Afternoon transfer to Railway Station for the high speed train, Afrosiyab, to Tashkent.
Evening departure on Korean Airlines to Seoul. Overnight in flight.
Morning arrive in Seoul and transfer to your hotel (rooms available on arrival). Afternoon drive through the city of Seoul, passing by the unique City Hall where a glass tsunami structure folds around a modernist building. Visit the Gyeongbok Palace, home to kings since 1395. Walk through Bukchon, a traditional residential area with a history spanning 600 years to the main street of Insa-dong, where vendors are set up along the street peddling their antiques, ceramics and artworks.Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
(B –in flight, D)
Today will be spent exploring two of Korea’s major art destinations. Begin with the National Museum of Korea, the flagship museum of Korean history and art, and the country’s largest museum. Follow with the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art which exhibits both traditional and modern works of art by both Korean and international artists.
After lunch, return transfer to the airport for departure on Korean Airlines to Sydney. Overnight in flight.
Morning arrival in Sydney.
Final payment due
14 July 2017
Reduction without international airfare
– AUD 2,000
Reduction without international airfare and Seoul stopover
– AUD 2,400
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.
Australian passport holders visiting Uzbekistan for tourism purposes, do require a visa for Uzbekistan.
Tour price includes
- Economy class flights Sydney – Seoul – Tashkent – Seoul – Sydney on Korean Air (23 KG luggage allowance)#
- Accommodation in centrally located hotels (best available) with private facilities and daily breakfast (B)
- Overnight at Seoul Airport hotel, 14 September incl. breakfast (B)
- Transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on group flights
- Domestic flight Tashkent – Nukus in economy class incl. taxes (20 KG luggage allowance)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
- Comprehensive sightseeing, visits to museums and attractions with Liz Gibson and local guides including entrance fees as per itinerary
- Lectures and talks with your tour leader throughout
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
# Payment for flights required 120 days prior to departure
Tour price does not include
- Visa for Uzbekistan
- Transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on group flights
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone calls, laundry, taxis etc.
- Drinks with meals
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance
Please note that a good level of fitness and a sense of adventure are required for this tour. The tour includes the exploration of remote areas of Uzbekistan with basic tourist infrastructure.
Your hotels (best available in smaller towns)
Seoul – Grand Hyatt Icheon **** (14 Sep)
Tashkent – Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace****
Nukus – Jipek Joli hotel ***
Khiva – Asia Khiva***
Bukhara – Devon begi***
Samarkand – Registan Plaza****
Seoul – Courtyard by Marriott Namdaemun****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted