Hidden Treasures of Central Asia

Uncover the wonders of Central Asia, home to the great steppes, magical deserts and spectacular mountain ranges, and explore the ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Penjikent.

Experience the intriguing blend of ancient and modern history in the vibrant countries of today’s Central Asia. Visit the unchanging, storied landscapes of Kyrgyzstan on a journey from the picturesque Chon-Kemin Valley to the peaceful Russian town of Karakol before crossing to the leafy city of Almaty.

In Tajikistan, explore Dushanbe, a landscape of Soviet modernism and now the capital of Tajikistan, and continue to the ancient Sogdian city of Penjikent.

Then explore Uzbekistan’s Persian heritage, with the exquisite Sogdian murals of Afrasiab in Timurid Golden Samarkand and the romantic city of Bukhara which are still crowned with dazzling tiled mosques.


This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.

Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Emirates flights to Bishkek via Dubai. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.

Arrive in Bishkek and transfer from the airport to the hotel (transfer included in tour price).

Enjoy the morning at leisure before joining Iain and fellow tour members for a welcome briefing followed by lunch.

This afternoon visit the Bishkek State History Museum and see the monument to Manas, the hero of Kyrgyzstan’s most famed literary work, in Ala-Too Square.


Begin the morning with a visit to Burana Tower, a minaret built by the Kara-Khanid dynasty for their northern capital in the 10th century. The minaret is surrounded by the covered remains of an earlier pre-Islamic Sogdian city and the later medieval city built on the ruins. Wander through the petroglyphs and balbals (carved grave markers), which scatter the ground surrounding the tower, and learn about the rich history of the Kyrgyz foothills.

Continue to Chon-Kemin, a picturesque valley between the Ala-Too mountain ranges, which is lined with lush alpine forests and scattered with tranquil mountain lakes. After lunch, enjoy a short walking tour of this traditional village.


Depart Chon-Kemin and drive to Cholpon Ata, where a sweeping field of glacial boulders have been decorated with petroglyphs dating back to the Bronze Age. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before continuing to Karakol.

On arrival in Karakol, transfer to the Przhevalsky Museum and Memorial Site, dedicated to Nikolay Przhevalsky, a Russian geographer and renowned explorer of Central Asia. Check in to the hotel in the afternoon and enjoy dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.


Following a morning talk by Iain, visit the Dungan Mosque built by Chinese Muslims fleeing persecution in China throughout the 19th century. Much of the imagery incorporated into the architecture reflects the Dungan’s pre-Islamic Buddhist background, while the colourful exterior represents different cultural beliefs. Continue to the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, before enjoying lunch in a local restaurant.

This afternoon, take a scenic drive through the Valley of the Flowers and visit Djety Oguz Canyon, where a series of spectacular geological formations which resemble seven charging bulls overlook a picturesque canyon.


Depart Karakol and pass by the San Tash burial mound complex, an ancient and enigmatic pile of stones thought to represent the soldiers who died in a battle between the Timurid Empire and China in the 15th century.

Cross the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan at Kegen and transfer to Charyn Canyon, a deep amber gorge featuring sculptural rock formations carved by erosion over millennia, before continuing to Almaty.


After a talk by Iain in the morning, visit the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan to see the iconic armour of the ‘Golden Man’ – the remains of an ancient Scythian warrior who was buried with an enormous collection of gold ornaments and is now a national symbol of modern Kazakhstan.

After lunch in a local restaurant, continue to the Sunkar Falcon Farm for a hunting demonstration featuring birds of prey and to learn about the rescue work being done with endangered species.

Continue to Kok-Tobe Hill and enjoy panoramic views over Almaty from the highest point in the city.


Depart Almaty on a morning flight to Dushanbe in Tajikistan (flight included in tour price).

Arrive in Dushanbe and visit the new National Museum of Tajikistan, which features an extensive collection of natural history, archaeology and contemporary fine arts.

Then enjoy an orientation tour of Dushanbe, including a visit to Rudaki Park, where a monumental statue of Rudaki, the founder of classical Persian literature, stands overlooking a series of landscaped gardens.


Following a morning talk by Iain, explore the National Museum of Antiquities, which houses a collection of archaeological finds that represent key pieces of Central Asian history.

This afternoon travel to the Hisor Fortress, probably occupied by Cyrus the Great and shrine of Makhdumi Azam. Visit the nearby 17th century Madrasah Kukhna, the Museum of the Tadjik Way of Life and the Mausoleum of a Sufi saint, known only as Makhdumi Azam, meaning ‘supreme lord’, before returning to Dushanbe.


Spend the day driving through the northern Tajikistan mountains from Dushanbe to Penjikent.

En route, stop to see Iskanderkul Lake, an opal-blue mountain lake formed by glaciers millennia ago, and visit the nearby village of Sarytag.

Arrive in Penjikent in the afternoon and enjoy some time at leisure before dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.


Begin the morning with a visit to the Rudaki Republican History and Regional Study Museum, named after the renowned Penjikent-born Persian poet, which holds a significant collection of ancient frescoes of hunting scenes and statues of mysterious Zoroastrian deities.

Continue to the site of ancient Penjikent and see the ruins of the once-bustling city which formed one of the major stops along the old Silk Road.

After lunch, transfer to the Jartepa border and cross the border between Tajikistan to Uzbekistan and continue to Samarkand.

On arrival in Samarkand, pass by Registan Square and glimpse its three decorated Islamic madrasahs before continuing to the hotel for dinner.


Begin the morning with a talk by Iain before transferring to the Afrosiab Museum and the extraordinary preserved frescoes painted by a Sogdian ruler just before the city of Afrosiab was destroyed by Muslim armies. Continue to the Shah-i-Zida necropolis, a complex of stunning 14th and 15th century Timurid tombs mostly of female family members of Timur Leng. Lavishly decorated with the tile work, the street of the dead is protected by a portal built by Ulugh Beg and ends at an Islamic shrine built over the remains of a pre-Islamic cult centre.

After lunch visit Siab Bazaar, Uzbekistan’s most famous market, which once formed a vital point on the Silk Road, before visiting Bibi-Khanym Mosque. Built by the legendary military conqueror Timur, founder of the Timurid Empire, it is one of the grandest mosques in the Islamic world.


This morning visit Registan Square and explore the three lavish madrasahs, Ulugh Beg Madrasah, Tilya-Kori Madrasah and Sher-Dor Madrasah, which surround the square. Built between the 14th and 17th centuries, these schools hosted some of the most important poets, philosophers and astronomers in Islamic history.

After lunch, continue to the remains of the observatory built by the renowned Timurid sultan, astronomer and mathematician, Ulugh Beg, in the 14th century. Continue to Gūr-i Amir, the tomb of Emperor Timur Leng, and explore one of the most important buildings in Persian-Turkish Central Asian architecture. The remainder of the evening is at leisure.


Transfer to Samarkand Railway Station and board the high-speed train, Afrosiab, to Bukhara (included in tour price).

After lunch, visit the Lyabi Hauz ensemble, a complex of 17th century Islamic madrasahs surrounding one of the only remaining hauz ponds, small pools which were the city’s principal source of water up until the Soviet period. Then visit Magoki-Attori, one of the oldest surviving mosques in central Asia, before walking to Kaylan Square to see the Kaylan Minaret built by the Kara-Khanids for their western capital.


Following a morning talk by Iain, transfer to the Samanid Ismail Mausoleum with its exquisitely patterned brickwork, one of the oldest monuments in the Bukhara region. Then visit Chashma Ayub Shrine, where, according to legend, the biblical Job made a spring of healing water by striking the ground with his staff.

After lunch, continue to the Ark of Bukhara, a massive military structure built in the 5th century CE. Visit the citadel and explore the nearby old Zindon Prison. Then transfer to Bolo Hauz Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed mosque featuring a lavishly decorated façade with delicate columns and ornamental vaulted ceiling. Return to the hotel and enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.


This morning visit the Summer Place of the last emirs of Bukhara, a unique blend of European and Oriental architectural features originally completed in 1917 just before Soviet forces occupied Uzbekistan. Continue to the Memorial Complex of Bahauddin Nakshbandi, founder of one of the largest Sufi Muslim spiritual orders, which is now a place of Islamic pilgrimage. Transfer to Chor Minor, the historic gatehouse for a now-destroyed madrasah which features four iconic blue-domed minarets.

The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to further explore Bukhara at your own pace.


Depart Bukhara on a morning flight to Tashkent (flight included in tour price).

Visit the Uzbekistan State Museum of Applied Arts, housed in an exquisitely carved wooden building, which contains an extensive collection of textiles and ceramics. Later, enjoy a driving tour around the city and glimpse the sights of this remarkable city, including Independence Square, Amir Timur Square and the Opera House.

Tonight, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Iain and fellow travellers.


Transfer to the airport for suggested Emirates flights to Australia and New Zealand via Dubai (transfer included in tour price). Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any extra nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.


Per person, twin-share

AUD 9,950

Single supplement*

AUD 950

Deposit per person (at time of booking)

AUD 1,000

*Single travellers may request to share. Please advise at time of booking.

Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.

Final payment due

03 July 2020

Tour code


Fitness level

Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.


Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – No visa required for Australian and New Zealand passport holders.

Tajikistan – Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a tourist visa. Visas are obtained online prior to departure. Renaissance Tours will assist you with the application process.

Suggested airline

Please contact Renaissance Tours for current airfares and flight reservations.

Tour price includes

  • Accommodation in three-, four- and five-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
  • Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including drinks with dinners
  • Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
  • Economy Class flights from Almaty to Dushanbe and from Bukhara to Tashkent (20kg luggage allowance)
  • Train ticket from Samarkand to Bukhara
  • Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
  • Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure
  • Lectures and talks with your tour leader, Iain Shearer
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers and waiting staff
  • Hotel porterage (one piece per person)

Tour price does not include

  • International airfares from Australia/New Zealand (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
  • Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, minibar, taxis etc.)
  • Visa for Tajikistan
  • Airport porterage
  • Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)


Your hotels
Bishkek – Hyatt Regency Bishkek*****
Chon-Kemin – Ashu Guest House***
Karakol – Hotel Green Yard***
Almaty – Novotel Almaty City Center****
Dushanbe – Hotel Serena*****
Penjikent – Hotel Rudaki***
Samarkand – Hotel Dilimah****
Bukhara – Devon Begi***
Tashkent – Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace****

N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.