The history of Central Asia is closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the ancient trade routes across the Asian continent. Little known and even less visited, the countries along the Great Silk Route provide spectacular surprises for the traveller willing to explore.
Discover the fabled Khanate of Khiva and the dazzling Islamic monuments of Bukhara and Samarkand before crossing the windswept steppe to ride in the Tien Shan mountains or bathe in the clear waters of Issykul. These are true frontier countries rich in deep-rooted traditions and steeped in colourful history.
We have travelled extensively in Central Asia and will design a unique itinerary that truly captures the essence of this astonishing region. There are many more border crossings you can make between the ‘stans’ than mentioned in our sample itineraries, so do call us for options.
“At night the sound of bells was heard, faint and hard to distinguish in the distance. Slowly it grew clearer, and its rhythm betrayed the measured step of camels. It came nearer and nearer, and when the first bell passed our tent its sound was loud and piercing. The others followed in due order, and finally we heard the last bell of the last camel in the caravan. I listened, moved by these old familiar bells, the special melody of the caravan route for a thousand years past, around which the whole desert life of traveller, driver, merchant unfolds its varied and fascinating picture”.
Fiona’s travel tips
THE GREAT GAME: The Great Game refers to the 19th century battle for supremacy played out by the Russian and British empires for political dominance in Central Asia. While Russia spread east, swallowing up the Silk Route khanates of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, Britain edged determinedly north towards the forbidden land of Tibet, with the aid of knowledge accumulated by fabled pundits like Nain Singh. The very centre of this political chessboard was the Gilgit Valley, where, high among the mountains, the borders of India, China, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan all converge.
DON’T MISS: Drinking green tea in Bukhara’s Lyiab-y-hauz in the shade of an ancient mulberry tree, watching some of the elders sitting cross-legged on charpoys bent over a chess board.
BOOKS: Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game and Eastern Approaches by Sir Fitzroy Maclean.
BEST TIME TO GO: The ideal time to travel is May to September, apart from Turkmenistan where the height of summer is better avoided.
FOR THE ACTIVE: For wild, remote, back to nature trekking, Tajikistan is perfect.
WHY NOT: Start your journey in Azerbaijan and cross by local ferry from Baku into Turkmenistan, the hottest, driest and harshest of the stans, where Ashkhabad’s Sunday Market will be swarming with the dominant Turkmen tribe, the Tekke, resplendent in their extraordinary shaggy hats.
Kazakhstan: 9 hours (direct)
Kyrgyzstan: 9½ hours (direct)
Tajikistan: 9 hours (indirect)
Turkmenistan: 9 hours (indirect)
Uzbekistan: 8¾ hours (direct)
Clients’ comments“Our journey along the Silk Route was truly memorable. These beautiful ancient lands with their Khanate cities and bazaars, unforgiving deserts and high, snow-capped mountains with lakes and lonely passes are memories we will treasure. Our guides were knowledgeable, helpful and fun, sharing their own family lives and culture with us, helping put all that we saw into a social context. The planning and organisation of our trip was faultless and Fiona’s first-hand knowledge and contacts in Central Asia smoothed a forced change in plans at short notice efficiently and effortlessly. Thank you so much."
Mr and Mrs Rob Aylott, Central Asia from Baku to Urumqi