Uzbek tours

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Samarkand "The Blue Hour". Image Rosemary Sheel
Uzbekistan Art, Craft & History Tours 2017

Uzbek Journeys will offer two of its "one-of-a-kind" tours in 2017. The 16-day tours, scheduled for the very best seasons in Uzbekistan, focus on the history, architecture, and art and craft of this fascinating section of the Silk Road.

Overview
2017 tour dates
Itinerary
Tour cost, inclusions and exclusions
Health and fitness
Terms and conditions
How to book

Overview

Central Asia is a region steeped in history: Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan visited. Amir Timur (also known as Tamerlaine), Uzbekistan’s national hero, founded his empire here. Along the trails of the Great Silk Road prosperous cities such as Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Shahkrisyabz and Khiva sprang up. The finest craftsmen in Asia constructed majestic palaces, minarets, madrassahs and mosques: many of these monuments today are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.



Mathematicians, astronomers and scholars gathered in these cities: it was the greatest flowering of Islam in the Muslim world. Each of these unique cities deserves time. Not just to admire the architecture, but to wander the streets, visit artisans’ workshops, stroll through gardens, climb minarets, spend time sipping tea in Uzbek chaikhanas, enjoy the markets piled with astonishing goods, learn about the Russian and British players of the Great Game and even enjoy a scrub and massage in a 16th century hammam.

Group size is limited to 13 persons. (For many people this is the first group tour they have done. Based on client feedback, 13 seems to be the right number: it doesn't really 'feel' like a group tour!)

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Detail of Uzbek embroidery - suzani
An outstanding Uzbek guide leads the tours. A guide makes or breaks this sort of journey and Mirza is brilliant. As well as in-depth knowledge of the history and culture of his country, he is good-natured and caring. In 2017 Penelope Price will also accompany both tours.

Hotels, although not deluxe, are always chosen on the basis of location, quietness and atmosphere. They are often family-run. Of course private bathrooms are included, though not at the yurt camp.

There is time to explore and wander. Other tours of Uzbekistan are usually around 9 days: Uzbek Journeys style and pace ensures you are not packing and unpacking daily. However, please remember that distances can be long and roads poor. Uzbekistan is a complicated country to travel in at times: the Uzbek travel agency that coordinates the tour is professional and reliable.

The posts elsewhere on this website supplement the information below about the art, history, craft and culture of Uzbekistan.  The regularly-updated FAQ section provides answers to questions about flying to Uzbekistan, visas, climate, packing, health etc.

Depending on your flight schedule, you may also consider excursions to the silk and ceramic centres of the Ferghana Valley, or the ancient Buddhist and Islamic sites around Termez. Do consider spending extra time in Tashkent. It is an interesting city to explore and you will find many posts about things to do in Tashkent on this website.
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2017 tour dates

Note:  Seven places on each Uzbek tour are reserved for clients who also book a Kyrgyzstan tour scheduled to precede or follow the Uzbek tour. View the 2017 Kyrgyz tours.

All 2017 Uzbek tours are 16 days/15 nights and start and finish in Tashkent. The itinerary below is the same for both tours. Maximum group size is 13.

Tours will be led by the outstanding Uzbek guide Mirza Ruzmetov and will also be accompanied by Penelope Price.

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Delicious Uzbek flat bread
Uzbek Tour #1:  8 - 23 May

Status update 28 February 2017: This tour is fully booked. Please contact Uzbek Journeys if you would like to be on the waiting list.

Uzbek Tour #2:  18 September - 3 October  

Status update 28 February 2017: This tour is fully booked Please contact Uzbek Journeys if you would like to be on the waiting list.

Note: For travellers who join both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek tours in September 2017, there is a 4-night gap in Uzbekistan between tours at your own expense.  This is due to Uzbek Airways flight schedule from Bishkek to Tashkent. There are two flights a week - early morning Wednesday and Thursday evening. The Thursday evening flight to Tashkent coincides with the end of the Kyrgyz tour. 
 
Tashkent is a most interesting city to spend time in, especially over the weekend. Please read the posts 48 Hours in Tashkent  and Another 48 Hours in Tashkent. Both articles provide Tashkent options not included in the Uzbek Journeys tour. They also link to many other posts about what to see and do in Tashkent It is an interesting city to spend time in - in September the theatre, opera and ballet seasons open again. The weather is good and the harvest fruits and vegetables are plentiful.

Other clients have taken this opportunity to explore the Ferghana Valley or the Buddhist and Islamic sites of Termez. Some have hiked in the Chimgan mountain region, not far from Tashkent. 

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Itinerary

Note: The itinerary below is the same for both 2017 tours.

Tashkent

Day 1: 8 May (Monday) / 18 September (Monday):            Arrival Tashkent

You will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. (Check in available after 12:00 noon). There are no activities arranged this day.

Day 2: 9 May (Tuesday) / 19 September (Tuesday):             In Tashkent

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Uzbek skullcap. Image: Richard Marshall
After breakfast, depart around 9:00 a.m. for all-day sightseeing. Tashkent is a green, wide-avenued city rebuilt in the 1960s following the devastating earthquake of 1966. It was the 4th largest city in the Soviet Union.

Spend the morning at the Applied Arts Museum. The wealthy Tsarist diplomat Alexander Polovtsev, a connoisseur of Oriental architecture and decorative patterns, invited local master artisans to decorate his private mansion. It now houses a splendid collection of ikat fabrics, suzani, ceramics, metal work, carved wood, carpets and national garments. It is an excellent introduction to the applied arts you will see during the tour.

After lunch visit dancer Tamara Khanum’s small house museum, followed by a demonstration by a contemporary woodblock printer in his studio in the old city. Then visit an embroiderer and end the day with a tour of an outstanding ceramic workshop.

Day 3: 10 May (Wednesday) / 20 September (Wednesday):    In Tashkent

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Tashkent metro stop Independence
Start the day by travelling on the excellent Tashkent metro,  stopping off at several stations to admire the beautiful platform decorations. Then catch the metro to Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent’s largest market, in the old city. Plenty of time to explore Chorsu's different sections.

In the afternoon, visit the Earthquake monument and leafy Golubie Kupola Park and its second-hand book sellers. End the afternoon with a visit to the 19th-century Abulkasym madrassah, where wood carvers and miniature painters continue the fine traditions of their ancestors.
Tashkent optional treats:

The opera, music and ballet program of the Alisher Navoi theatre is usually available 4 weeks in advance. If there is a performance, for those interested, tickets are around US$10.  Performances start at 6:00 p.m.

The famous Ilkhom Theatre, the Soviet Union's first experimental, independent theatre has some programs with English surtitles. The program is usually available online 4 weeks in advance.

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Samarkand

Day 4: 11 May (Thursday) / 21 September (Thursday):   To Samarkand

It will be an early start to catch the fast, Spanish Talgo train from Tashkent to Samarkand. Rail travel will ensure maximum time in 'golden Samarkand'. The family-run hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Registan Samarkand's famous square .

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Gur-Emir mausoleum, Samarkand
Visited by Alexander the Great, turned into a centre of learning by the Arabs, then laid waste to by Ghengis Khan, Samarkand reached its peak as the capital of Timur’s empire during the 14th and 15th centuries.

It was a jewel of the Silk Road, famous for the products in its bazaars, its scholars and artisans, and for its extraordinary monuments.

Today you will visit the Samarkand bazaar, the Registan complex, Bibi Hanum and the workshop of Nargis Bekmuhamedova, a designer  who reworks new and antique silk ikat fabrics and woodblocks into fabulous clothing and accessories.

Day 5: 12 May (Friday) / 22 September (Friday):   Shakhrisabz

Today you will travel by sedan cars to Shakhrisabz, birthplace of Amir Timur and a World Heritage site. (Sedans are more comfortable and much faster). Drive via the mountain road with beautiful views of the Zeravshan range.

Visit the remains of Timur’s Ak Saray palace, the Kok Gumaz mosque and Dorut Tilovat. The area is also famous for its distinctive embroidery style and the stalls around the Kok Gumbaz have excellent pieces considerably cheaper than Samarkand.
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Urgut market.- vintage suzanis Image: Rosemary Sheel
Day 6: 13 May (Saturday) / 23 September (Saturday):    Samarkand

In the morning you will visit other significant monuments: Gur-Emir, Ulughbek’s observatory and the ruins of the ancient Sogdian city of Afrosiabs.

Also visit a silk carpet factory that uses only natural dyes (onion skins, madder, roots, walnut shells, pomegranate etc). You will view the entire process of silk dyeing, design selection, weaving at the loom.  Late afternoon, when the light is softer, visit the necropolis of Shah-i-Zindar, with its extraordinary tile work.

Day 7: 14 May (Sunday) / 24 September (Sunday):   Urgut and Konigil

Urgut, 40 kms from Samarkand, claims to be the oldest extant market in Uzbekistan. It’s an exciting, bustling place where you can find vintage textiles, jewellery, hats, traditional shoes etc. The Sunday market is the busiest day with the greatest range of products. Prepare to haggle hard!

After the market visit the Oblakoulov family’s ceramic workshop. Urgut ceramics are traditionally brown, green, mustard and pale lemon; Mr. Oblakoulov’s family has been potters here for over 350 years. The women in the family produce beautiful embroidery pieces with traditional Urgut motifs: all silk threads, often in unusual pastels, are made of natural dyes.

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Skull cap seller. Image: R. Marshall
On the way back to Samarkand stop at the papermaking workshop in Konigil. Thanks to a UNESCO project, the ancient papermaking art using a water mill and traditional techniques has been revived.

Samarkand optional treats

Dine one evening in the restored wing of an old, private residence and listen to the remarkable tale of how this house was saved from demolition and restored by Samarkand's finest artisans. (About US$10).

Uzbek traditional music concert, dinner and fashion show at Nargis' boutique. (About US$15)

Lunch in the Oblakoulov family’s courtyard in Urgut after the market. (About US$10)

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Day 8: 15 May (Monday) / 25 September (Monday):    Travel to Bukhara

Set off early for the holy city of Bukhara, about 270 kms away along the Kyzyl Kum desert road. En route stop at the impressive Rabati Malik caravanserai, built in the 11th century.

Later in the afternoon check into your hotel. Then the alleyways and tea houses of Bukhara are yours to discover.

Note:  A new Talgo high-speed train is scheduled to start between Samarkand and Bukhara in autumn 2016. At the time of publication of the 2017 tours the timetable and ticket prices are not available. Uzbek Journeys tours will use that train if it will operate at a convenient time. An additional fee of an estimated US$30 will be added to the final tour price.

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Detail of the portal of Bukharan madrassah. Image: Rosemary Sheel
Days 9 & 10: 16 & 17 May (Tuesday & Wednesday) / 26 & 27 September (Tuesday & Wednesday):   In Bukhara

A traditional Arabic saying states ‘Samarkand is the beauty of the earth, but Bukhara is the beauty of the spirit.' At the turn of the 1st millennium, Islamic scholars believe that Bukhara housed 365 madrassahs supporting students from as far away as Andalusia and Yemen. Bukhara was the forefront of  the teaching of astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and medicine.

Bukhara is also the city where Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly met their deaths at the hands of the gruesome emir Nasrullah Khan during the Great Game between the Russian and British empires.

You will spend 2 days here visiting architectural wonders such as the 9th century Ishmael Samani Mausoleum, a perfect cube made of baked bricks in basket weave pattern.

Other sites include Bolo Hauz mosque, the Kalon minaret (which served as a beacon on the Silk Road), the Ark fortress, the Registan area and the last Emir’s summer palace. This palace, an over-the-top Russian/Central Asian confection built in 1911, also houses the excellent Bukhara Museum of Decorative Applied Arts.

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The baked domes of Bukhara. Image: Richard Marshall
Bukhara is a city to discover on foot, roaming the back streets. There was once a flourishing Jewish community: one synagogue, which you will visit, still operates. Crafts people fill the former caravanserais and madrassahs with marvellous carpets, woodcarvings, silk weaving, suzani, wood block printed cottons, gold embroidery, jewellery, metal work and skullcaps.

There are lots of antiques and collectibles here. You will visit a private and fabulous textile and ceramic collection -- yes, pieces are for sale -- and also enjoy an ikat weaving demonstration.

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Bukhara optional treats

Enjoy a delicious, traditional dinner, cooked in tandoor clay ovens, in the courtyard of a restored merchant’s house. (About US$10)

Be scrubbed and massaged at a 16th century hammam. There are separate hammams for men and women. (About US$25)

Visit the home of a renown water colourist and later enjoy lamb tandyr at a local restaurant.

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Bukharan puppets. Image: Richard Marshall
Traditional Bukharan puppet theatre performance (about US$8)

Khiva and Karakalpakstan

Day 11: 18 May (Thursday) / 28 September (Thursday):    To Khiva

This is a long day’s drive: 470 kms along the Kyzylkum desert road and crossing the Amu Darya river, known as the Oxus in ancient times. (Because the road is still under reconstruction it may be necessary to hire sedan cars at an additional cost of US$50 per person).

This supplement will be collected locally. It will reduce travel time to around 7 hours versus 10+ by minibus. Unfortunately there are no regular flights between Bukhara and Khiva).

However, the desertscape is compelling: vast steppes, shepherds and their flocks, odd villages, military outposts, surprising vegetation.

You will either stay in a small hotel or a family guesthouse, both within the old city's baked mud walls.

Days 12 & 13: 19 & 20 May (Friday and Saturday) / 29 & 30 September (Friday & Saturday)  In Khiva

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The Walls of Khiva. Image: Rosemary Sheel
Khiva, once famous for it slave trade and ruthless emirs, is the most intact and the most remote of Central Asia’s Silk Road cities. The Soviets removed the residents, restored the city and made it an "open air" museum. Happily, since independence, families have moved back and life again vibrates within the baked mud walls.


The old town is only 26 hectares, however, it is packed with interesting buildings and wonderful craft studios. It is a place of extraordinary wood carved doors and magnificent tile work.

There is a wonderful carpet shop in Khiva: unique silk carpets inspired by the designs of the tiles and doors of the city.

You will spend two days exploring Khiva and visiting Juma Mosque, Kukhana Ark Shir, Gaza Khan Madrasa, Islam Khwaja madrasah, Tosh Khovil Palace, Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud, and the nearby Nurullah Palace, Atajan Tura mosque and madrasah.

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Day 14: 21 May (Sunday) / 1 October (Sunday))  Nukus > Ayaz Kala

Head out early morning from Khiva for a 3-hour drive west to Nukus.

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Nadezhda Kashina "Shir-Dor" 1928
The purpose of visiting this remote city is to tour the extraordinary Savitsky collection, the second largest collection of Russian and Uzbek avant garde art in the world. The Karakalpak museum also houses a vast folk art collection of pile rugs, flat weaves, embroidery, appliqué work, jewellery and hand-made textiles.

You will spend most of the day there. It is one of the major highlights of the journey. An award-winning documentary Desert of Forbidden Art was made in 2009 about the remarkable collection and the obsessive collector, Igor Savitsky. You can view the trailer and also consider purchasing a copy.

Depart the museum late afternoon to travel to  the Ayaz Kala desert fortress complex on the Khorezm section of the Great Silk Road.

The Ayaz Kala site consists of three fortresses built from the 4th century BC to the 7th century AD.  The simple yurt camp is located on a dramatic steppe setting.

Day 15: 22 May (Monday) / 2 October (Monday)   Ayaz Kala to Khiva then back to Tashkent

After breakfast, tour the nearby Red Fort, which dates from the 4th century BC. Leave late morning for Khiva, where you have the afternoon free for roaming or shopping prior to the evening flight back to Tashkent.

Khiva and Karakalpakstan optional treats
Pre-booking dinner for the evening of your arrival after the exhausting road trip from Bukhara to Khiva. The Khorezm Art café serves delicious soup and a dill noodle dish with chickpeas. (About US$10). Perfect for weary travellers.

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Yurt camp with the fort in background. Image: R. Marshall
A roof-top dinner in Khiva enjoying sunset views of the magnificent domes. (About US$10).

A thrilling, traditional rope walking performance in the courtyard of the Muhammad Rakhim Khan by the Jabborov family. (About US$5)

A performance of dance and music at the yurt camp – it may sound cheesy, but in fact this is a magical, evening moment on the steppe. (About US$5)

Day 16: 23 May (Tuesday) / 3 October (Tuesday)    Tashkent

The tour ends today. It will include a visit to the Museum of Victims of Repression, dedicated to the suffering of Uzbeks during the Russian and Soviet periods. Many exhibits draw on information culled from the former KGB archives.

Then visit the Barak-Khan Madrassah complex in the old city to see the world's oldest Koran. Hopefully you will have time to visit the very cool boutique Human Wear, which sells contemporary designers' clothing as well as quality souvenirs. For those with evening flight departures from Tashkent today, late check out and airport transfer are included. 

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Tour cost, inclusions and exclusions

Tour pricing: Because of the volatility of the Australian dollar,  tour prices are now quoted in US dollars. 

Please note that Australian dollars are not convertible in Central Asia - Uzbek Journeys can only pay partner travel agencies in US dollars. Although tour costs are quoted in US dollars, payments can only be made in Australian dollars to Uzbek Journeys. It is not possible for Uzbek Journeys to accept payments in US dollars.

Please read carefully the section on tours costs in the Terms and Conditions.

Prices: The cost per person for tours #1 and #2 is US$2890, based on a twin share room.  Single supplement is an additional US$325.

The tour cost includes:
  • Accommodation in twin share rooms with private, bathroom facilities. At the yurt camp, however, 4 - 5 people share a yurt and usually there are separate men's and women's yurts. There are shared toilets at the yurt camp but no showers
  • Late check out in Tashkent on Day 16 if you are flying out that evening
  • All breakfasts
  • Dinner at the Ayaz Kala yurt camp
  • Internal flight Nukus/Tashkent economy class
  • Services of an Uzbek guide for the entire trip plus Penelope Price's participation
  • Transportation in private air-conditioned mini-bus within Uzbekistan as per itinerary
  • Train travel between Tashkent and Samarkand
  • Travel by private sedan Samarkand/Shakhrisabz/Samarkand
  • Transfer from Samarkand railway station to downtown
  • Tashkent airport transfers on days 1, 15 and 16. (If you arrive earlier or leave later, there will be an additional transfer fee of US$20 each way).
  • Transfer to Urgench (Khiva) airport (Day 15) and transfer from Tashkent airport to Tashkent hotel (Day 15)
  • Tourist map of Uzbekistan that includes city maps and Tashkent's metro map
  • 1 litre of still, bottled water per person per day
  • Visa facilitation fee
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  • Flights to and from Uzbekistan
  • Visa and passport fees 
  • Lunches and dinners except dinner at the yurt camp. Although there are options for special lunches and dinners noted in the itinerary above, some people don’t necessarily wish to spend every meal with everyone! The choice is yours to discover local cafes or simply snack on fruit, cheese and crackers, and Uzbek beer in the courtyards of the hotels.  Budgeting US$8-10 for lunch or dinner is ample.
  • Cost of the high speed train from Samarkand to Bukhara IF the planned new service is operating and at a schedule that suits the tour. (See Day 8 above)
  • Surcharge of US$50 per person if sedan cars are hired between Bukhara and Khiva (see Day 11 above - this amount would be paid on-the-spot).
  • Personal beverages
  • Entrance fees: Uzbek site and museum entrance fees have increased. To save time queuing, museum, site and workshop entrance fees will be collected on the morning of Day 2. Total is around US$100. Photography and video fees can only be paid on the spot. These are generally around US$2. However, in the Savitsky Museum in Nukus the photography fee is US$35.
  • Tips for guides and driver - I will discuss this in the pre-tour information sessions.
  • Travel insurance: comprehensive travel insurance, providing cover against personal accident, death, medical expenses and emergency repatriation is a condition of participating in this tour. It is strongly recommended that it also cover cancellation, travel interruption, personal liability and baggage loss. And, you should also consider that it is not possible for Penelope Price, operator of Uzbek Journeys, to obtain Public Risk cover for risks outside Australia. Therefore it is not possible for you to rely on any such cover. Please arrange this with your flight booking agent. Details of your insurance cover must be provided at the time of final payment.
  • Laundry (reasonable laundry services are available at most hotels, though, unsurprisingly, not the yurt camp)
  • Any excess baggage charges
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Health and Fitness 

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Uzbek musician playing the tor. Image R. Sheel
The tour includes walking (and standing) within ancient cities and sites, sometimes in strong sun. There are no lifts in the hotels where you stay, and sometimes staircases are narrow and steep. Hotel staff are available to assist with baggage - and a small tip would be appreciated.

It is your responsibility to advise Uzbek Journeys of any pre-existing medical condition and/or disability that might reasonably be expected to increase the risk of you requiring medical attention, or that might affect the normal conduct of a tour and the enjoyment of other trip members.

Any person 75 or over at the time of travel is required to provide a Fitness to Travel certificate from his/her doctor at the time of making a booking and again just prior to final payment. Please also review the FAQ section on health.

Terms and Conditions

Please read carefully the Terms and Conditions explained separately on this website. By booking a trip with Uzbek Journeys (ABN: 72818242110 , Travel Agents Licence 2TA0882) you are deemed to have agreed to these Terms and Booking Conditions and, provided there is availability, your booking will be accepted on this basis.
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How to book

Please review carefully the terms and conditions. Then contact me to check the availability of the tour. If available, I will forward you a pdf file containing the terms and conditions, booking form and participant declaration.

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Young rope walker, Khiva. Image: Richard Marshall
A strictly non-refundable, non-transferable deposit of A$700 per person will secure your spot. Your deposit will be converted into US$ based on Westpac Bank's A$-US$ telegraphic transfer rate of the date when the funds are deposited. You will then be advised of the US dollars balance.

Credit cards/Paypal are not accepted.

Uzbek Journeys is an online travel agency only. There is no facility to accept bookings from participants who do not have regular internet access. All documentation, updates, visa forms etc are sent and received electronically.

I look forward very much to introducing you to Uzbekistan.

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