At the Crossroads of Europe & Asia

Photo credit: Abdu Samadov

Silk Road Tour Spotlight: Journey Through Central Asia (video)

A lone shadow amid the ancient architecture of Central Asia. Photo credit: Peter Guttman
A lone shadow amid the ancient architecture of Central Asia. Photo credit: Peter Guttman

One of MIR’s best-loved and well-known group tours, Journey Through Central Asia: The five ‘Stans, explores a part of the world many know only from fairy tales or history lessons about the Old Silk Road. Dubbed “the 5 ‘Stans” – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – these Central Asian countries linked the great trade routes between Europe and China more than 2,000 years ago. Result: an exotic mix of foreign cultures, customs, architecture and religions.

This comprehensive video takes a visual deep dive into what travelers can see, hear, and experience on MIR’s iconic group tour, Journey Through Central Asia: The Five ‘Stans:

Each of the 5 ‘Stans is unique in its own history, culture and customs. Here are just a few of our favorite things to do and see in each country on MIR’s tour, Journey Through Central Asia: 

Kazakhstan


“Capital of Apples”

Once home to nomads and horses, Kazakhstan is the largest and richest of the 5 ‘Stans. The country’s former capital, Almaty, is known as the “capital of apples,” because it’s believed apples first originated here. Today it’s a thriving city nestled into the Tien Shan Mountains.

A roadside stand in Almaty displays colorful varieties of Kazakh apples. Photo credit: Ana Filonov
A roadside stand in Almaty displays colorful varieties of Kazakh apples. Photo credit: Ana Filonov

Zenkov Cathedral

Almaty is famous for its 170-foot-tall wooden Zenkov Cathedral – an explosion of color from czarist times. The Russian Orthodox cathedral was built to withstand earthquakes, using techniques that were innovative and daring at the time.

Zenkov Cathedral is an Almaty highlight – one of a handful of wooden cathedrals in the world. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
Zenkov Cathedral is an Almaty highlight – one of a handful of wooden cathedrals in the world. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

Kazakh Falconry

A falcon farm outside of Almaty is where Kazakhs hunters in traditional costumes demonstrate how these beautiful birds have been used in hunting for centuries.

A Kazakh eagle handler offers an up-close look at his hunting companion. Photo credit: Christine Z. Anderson
A Kazakh eagle handler offers an up-close look at his hunting companion. Photo credit: Christine Z. Anderson

(click image to view larger photo)

Kyrgyzstan


Beauty of Lake Issyk-Kul

Bordering four countries, rugged Kyrgyzstan is sandwiched among mountains and valleys, a pristine place for hiking and outdoor activities, such as at Lake Issyk-Kul.

 • More info and photos on Kyrgyzstan’s stunning Silk Road landscapes

Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul is the second-largest high-altitude lake in world, a saline lake that never freezes. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul is the second-largest high-altitude lake in world, a saline lake that never freezes. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

Beloved Horses

For centuries, horses have been an inextricable part of Kyrgyzstan’s culture and history. Equestrian polo-like competitions on horseback are thrilling to watch, with crowds cheering on riders and their steeds. 

Competitors tussle in a lively Kyrgyz horse game similar to polo. Photo credit: Christine Z. Anderson
Competitors tussle in a lively Kyrgyz horse game similar to polo. Photo credit: Christine Z. Anderson

Burana Tower

Built in the 11th century, Burana Tower is one of the few remaining watchtowers along the old Silk Road. The red-brick structure once loomed over the ancient city of Balasagun at 148 feet tall; earthquakes have dropped its height to 82 feet. 

From the platform of Burana Tower, visitors can see nearby petroglyphs and grave markers. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
From the platform of Burana Tower, visitors can see nearby petroglyphs and grave markers. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain (UNESCO)

Nicknamed “Little Mecca,” this 653-foot-tall mountain looms over the town of Osh in the lush Fergana Valley. It’s considered one of the holiest Islamic sites in Central Asia, long a rock beacon for those traveling the Silk Road.

A museum is built into the side of UNESCO-listed Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
A museum is built into the side of UNESCO-listed Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

(click image to view larger photo)

Uzbekistan


Margilan’s Silk Specialities

There’s so much to see in Uzbekistan – the heart of the Silk Road – that MIR’s Journey Through Central Asia spends considerable time here.  In the lush Fergana Valley is the town of Margilan, a major Silk Road stop renowned for its silk-making.  Silk threads are dyed bold colors and woven into complex designs known as “ikat,” like the one in this video:  

(click image to view larger photo)

Rishtan’s Renowned Ceramics

The red clay and pigments are unique to this town, with its earthenware dating back a thousand years. Rishtan ceramics are known for elaborate floral and geometric designs in bright blue and green hues.

The skills to create Uzbek ceramics have been handed down from father to son for generations. Photo credit: Michel Behar
The skills to create Uzbek ceramics have been handed down from father to son for generations. Photo credit: Michel Behar

(click image to view larger photo)

Tashkent’s Revival

One of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan, Tashkent is a modern capital today – rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1966 that destroyed much of its architectural history. Tillya Sheikh Mosque houses a large Islamic collection of manuscripts including the 7th century Uthman Koran, considered among the oldest Korans in the world.

A mix of old and new, as young kids play outside Tillya Sheikh Mosque in Tashkent. Photo credit: Michel Behar
A mix of old and new, as young kids play outside Tillya Sheikh Mosque in Tashkent. Photo credit: Michel Behar

Samarkand’s Registan Square (UNESCO)

The heart of the long, ancient Silk Road is Uzbekistan. Some of the most famous UNESCO-listed sites are in this country, such as Samarkand, the “Crossroad of Cultures.” Its strategic location and wealth made the city a favorite target of conquerers, from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan. Registan is considered one of the greatest squares in all of Central Asia, with its blue-tiled mosaics, mosques and madrassahs.     

Majestic Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Ana Filonov
Majestic Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Ana Filonov

Bukhara’s Historic Center (UNESCO)

Bukhara was an oasis in the desert for Silk Road camel caravans long ago, and still is for modern travelers today. The heart of this UNESCO-listed Old Town is Lyabi-Hauz Plaza with its reflecting pool and centuries-old mulberry trees, framed by mosques, minarets and madrassahs.

Bukhara’s Lyabi-Hauz is an oasis within a Silk Road oasis, for centuries a place to meet, eat, and relax. Photo credit: Abdu Samadov
Bukhara’s Lyabi-Hauz is an oasis within a Silk Road oasis, for centuries a place to meet, eat, and relax. Photo credit: Abdu Samadov

Khiva’s Old Town (UNESCO)

Known as “Ichon Qala,” Khiva’s UNESCO-listed Old Town today looks very much as it did centuries ago, with its dun-colored walls, main gate, and wood carvings – as seen in this video.       

(click image to view larger photo)

Tajikistan


Ancient Khujand

Infused with the influences of Islam and Russia, Tajikistan is home to 2,000-year-old Khujand, once a religious center and important stop on the old Silk Road.

Khujand’s Historical Museum of Sogdiana houses artifacts and exhibits from Tajik history. Photo credit: Dilshod Karimov
Khujand’s Historical Museum of Sogdiana houses artifacts and exhibits from Tajik history. Photo credit: Dilshod Karimov

Colorful Panjshanbe Bazaar

Khujand is also known for its colorful, ancient bazaars – such as the covered Panjshanbe Bazaar, filled with fruits, spices and farm-fresh produce. 

Khujand’s fanciful pink-colored covered bazaar is the city’s bustling central market. Photo credit: Michel Behar
Khujand’s fanciful pink-colored covered bazaar is the city’s bustling central market. Photo credit: Michel Behar

Muslihiddin Memorial Complex

Across from Panjshanbe Bazaar is the final resting place for Sheikh Muslihiddin Khudjandi, Tajikistan’s beloved 12th century poet and governor of Khujand.  Destroyed by invaders and rebuilt several times, the complex contains the Muslihiddin mosque, minaret, and mausoleum.

First built in the 12th century, the sacred Muslihiddin Memorial Complex is located in Khujand’s Old Town. Photo credit: Michel Behar
First built in the 12th century, the sacred Muslihiddin Memorial Complex is located in Khujand’s Old Town. Photo credit: Michel Behar

(click image to view larger photo)

Turkmenistan


Ancient Ruins (UNESCO) 

This last country visited on MIR’s tour, Journey Through Central Asia, mixes tribal culture and camels with modern cities and transportation.  Its UNESCO-listed ancient ruins of Merv is one of the Silk Road’s oldest and best preserved cities, inhabited for more than 4,000 years.  Other UNESCO ruins include the Parthian Kingdom of Nisa along with Khorezm’s Kunya Urgench and 11th-century Kutlug-Timur Minaret. 

The UNESCO-listed ruins of Merv offer a glimpse into the evolution of urban centers. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes
The UNESCO-listed ruins of Merv offer a glimpse into the evolution of urban centers. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

World Record for Marble Buildings

MIR’s epic Silk Road tour ends in Turkmenistan’s capital city of Ashgabat, filled with so many white marble buildings that it set a Guinness world record.  

        • More info and photos on Ashgabat’s lavish capital

Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, is awash in white marble buildings – more than 540. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, is awash in white marble buildings – more than 540. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

Akhal-Teke Horses

The importance of horses in Silk Road history and devotion to them across all of Central Asia is concentrated in a visit to a horse-breeding farm of Akhal-Teke horses, considered the oldest breed of horse in the world. 

Akhal-Teke horses are praised as one of the world’s most beautiful horse breeds: metallic sheen, long legs and grace. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
Akhal-Teke horses are praised as one of the world’s most beautiful horse breeds: metallic sheen, long legs and grace. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

(click image to view larger photo)

Travel to Central Asia with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia, with an affiliate office in Uzbekistan and a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you’ve only dreamed about, or never even imagined. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

You can experience the exotic countries of KazakhstanKyrgyzstanUzbekistanTajikistan and Turkmenistan on  MIR’s small group tours and rail journeys by private trains that travel to Central Asia or on one of MIR’s handcrafted private independent travel itineraries, such as Essential Central Asia.

Newlyweds pause for pictures among Samarkand’s ancient architecture. Photo credit: Michel Behar
Newlyweds pause for pictures among Samarkand’s ancient architecture. Photo credit: Michel Behar

Or, you can create your own Silk Road journey through Central Asia with the help of MIR’s custom and private journey specialists.We specialize in personalized, handcrafted itineraries, taking  your ideas and desires and and weaving them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise, with each journey unique to your interests, dates and pace.

Chat with one of our destination specialists now!

PUBLISHED: August 19, 2021


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