Splendours 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 roots and Soviet history in the vibrant countries of today’s Central Asia. Explore Uzbekistan’s Persian heritage, including the exquisite Sogdian murals of Afrasiab in Timurid Golden Samarkand, and marvel at dazzling tiled mosques in the romantic city of Bukhara.
Discover Kyrgyzstan’s stunning natural landscape of rugged mountains and rich green valleys while travelling along the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul. Visit the town of Rishtan, one of the oldest centres of ceramics in Uzbekistan, renowned for its blue glaze Ishkor ceramics. In Dushanbe, see the mesmerising blue dome of the Kök Gumbaz mosque, one of the oldest buildings in the city and a rare example of Timurid architecture in Tajikistan.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Arrive in Bishkek on suggested Emirates flights and transfer from the airport to the hotel (transfer included in tour price).
Enjoy the morning at leisure to rest before joining Iain and fellow tour members at 3:00pm for a welcome briefing.
Then, 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 before an early dinner.
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.
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 visiting the Przhevalsky Museum and Memorial Site, dedicated to Nikolay Przhevalsky, a Russian geographer and renowned explorer of Central Asia.
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.
Check out of the hotel and travel to Bokonbaevo, the main village on the Southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant surrounded by the deep blue lake, the snow-capped peaks of the Ala Too mountains and the curious red rock formations.
Then, continue to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, for the night.
Depart Bishkek on a morning flight to Osh (flight included in tour price). Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and was known as early as the 8th century as a centre for silk production along the Silk Road.
Upon arrival, drive around the city taking in the main sights, including Central Square, Lenin’s statue, and the Memorial Park.
After lunch, cross the border into Uzbekistan and travel through the picturesque Fergana Valley, surrounded by the Tien Shan mountains and traversed by the waters of the Syr Darya and Naryn rivers.
Arrive in Fergana and check in at the hotel before dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Depart Fergana and continue to the town of Rishtan, renowned for the manufacturing of the blue glaze Ishkor ceramics. Take a tour of the unique ceramic workshops and see the skills and pottery designs that have been passed down from generations. Rishtan ceramics are made from red clay, which is mined only in this area.
Enjoy lunch at the house of Rustam Usmanov, a renowned pottery designer who investigated the artefacts discovered at archaeological expeditions in the area and recreated lost ornaments.
Later, cross the border into Tajikistan and continue to Khujand, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, dating back about 2,500 years to the Persian Empire.
This morning, explore the city of Istaravshan, one of the oldest settlements in Tajikistan.
Visit Fortress Mug Teppe, located atop a hill overlooking the city, and learn about its critical strategic importance throughout history. The fortress has been stormed by Alexander the Great in 329BC, the Arabs in 772CE and Genghis Khan in the 13th century.
Then, visit the 15th century Abdullatif Sultan Madrasa, also known as Kök Gumbaz (Blue Dome). Kök Gumbaz is one of the oldest buildings in the city and is a rare example of Timurid architecture in Tajikistan.
After lunch, continue to the capital city of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. Later, check into the hotel and enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant.
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. Then, visit the new National Museum, which features an extensive collection of natural history, archaeology and contemporary fine arts.
Later in the afternoon, enjoy some time at leisure before dinner at a local restaurant.
Following a morning talk by Iain, take an orientation tour of Dushanbe, visiting also Rudaki Park, where a monumental statue of Rudaki, the founder of classical Persian literature, stands overlooking a series of landscaped gardens.
In the afternoon, travel to the Hisor Fortress, probably occupied by Cyrus the Great, and then visit the shrine of Makhdumi Azam. Makhdumi Azam was a great religious and political figure, leader of the Naqshbandi order and one of the theoreticians of Islam.
Later, visit the nearby 17th century Madrasah Kukhna, which was once a mosque that taught upcoming clergy representatives Arabic, khadises (the Prophet’s sayings) and the history of Islam.
Depart Dushanbe and drive through the northern Tajikistan mountains stopping to see Iskanderkul Lake, an opal-blue mountain lake formed by glaciers millennia ago, and to visit the nearby village of Sarytag.
Arrive in Penjikent in the afternoon and enjoy some time at leisure before dinner at a local 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 Silk Road.
After lunch, cross the border into Uzbekistan and continue to Samarkand, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia.
On arrival in the city, pass by Registan Square and glimpse its three decorated Islamic madrasahs before checking in to the hotel.
Begin the morning with a talk by Iain before visiting 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 necropolis 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 evening is at leisure.
Transfer to Samarkand Railway Station and board the high-speed train, Afrosiab, to Bukhara (included in tour price).
On arrival in Bukhara, 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, visit the Samanid Ismail Mausoleum with its exquisitely patterned brickwork, one of the oldest monuments in the Bukhara region. Then, visit the 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. Enjoy the evening at leisure.
This morning, visit the summer palace 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 Uzbekistan’s capital city, Tashkent (flight included in tour price). Upon arrival, 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.
In the very early hours of the morning, 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
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Final payment due
02 April 2024
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in three-, four- and five-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including wine with dinners
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Economy Class flights from Bishkek to Osh 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 (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, minibar, taxis etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Bishkek – Hyatt Regency Bishkek*****
Chon Kemin – Kemin Guesthouse
Karakol – Hotel Green Yard***
Fergana – Grand Fergana Hotel***
Khujand – Parliament Palace Hotel***
Dushanbe – Hotel Serena*****
Penjikent – Panjakent Plaza***
Samarkand – Kosh Havuz Boutique Hotel***
Bukhara – Mercure Bukhara Old Town ****
Tashkent – Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.
Tour code: AG2406
Fitness level: Challenging
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions here.
Please note that a reasonable level of fitness and a sense of adventure are required for this tour. The tour includes the exploration of remote areas of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan with basic tourist infrastructure.
Suggested airline: Emirates
Please contact Renaissance Tours for current airfares and flight reservations.
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – No visa required for Australian and New Zealand passport holders.
Download booking form here.