Essence of the Silk Road & Beyond by Private Train
Photo credit: Abdu Samadov
From Almaty to Tashkent Aboard the Orient Silk Road Express
This tour combines the classic sights of Central Asia’s Silk Road with the relaxed pleasures of travel by private train. You’ll visit the region’s star attractions – the spectacular UNESCO-listed oasis cities of Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara. You’ll also take a boat ride on the world’s second-largest alpine lake, tour two of Central Asia’s grandest palaces, shop in a bustling bazaar, and sit down to meals in a traditional yurt and a madrassah. Sixteen days of travel take you to four counties – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – with seven nights spent in hotels and eight onboard the comfortable Orient Silk Road Express private train.
Shorter routes covering much of the same territory are also available, both eastbound and westbound between Ashgabat and Almaty.
Travels to: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
Photos and details: Discover what life is like aboard the Orient Silk Road Express.
Days 1-2: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Start the tour in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and a thriving business center situated amid the majestic Tien Shan mountain range. Visit Panfilov Park, a hub of the city and home to Zenkov Cathedral. Have lunch in a traditional Kazakh yurt and then board the Orient Silk Road Express to begin the rail journey.
- Panfilov Park, a green oasis in the middle of Almaty where locals meet to stroll and unwind
- Colorful Zenkov Cathedral, one of the tallest wooden structures in the world and an impressive feat of engineering that survived a massive 1911 earthquake unscathed
- Lunch in a traditional Kazakh yurt
Days 3-4: Lake Issyk-Kul (Kyrgyzstan), Bishkek
Entering Kyrgyzstan, take a boat ride on beautiful Lake Issyk-Kul and have a picnic lunch in the mountains accompanied by a folklore performance. The following day tour the capital, Bishkek, paying a visit to the National History Museum, and drive outside the city to Ala Archa National Park, which encompasses more than 20 glaciers and 50 peaks.
- Lake Issyk-Kul, the second-largest high-altitude lake in the world
- The tools, clothing, and other artifacts showcasing Kyrgyz history and traditions at Bishkek’s National History Museum
- The alpine beauty and steep, forested gorge in Ala Archa National Park
Days 5-6: Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Kokand
Cross the border and disembark in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital and largest city. Tour some of its most noteworthy sights, including Amir Timur Square and Kukeldash Madrassah. Then cross 8,700-foot Kamchik Pass into the Fergana Valley, an oasis of cotton fields and melon plantations that’s the most fertile region in Central Asia. In the town of Kokand, visit a 19th century khan’s grand palace and get a lesson in traditional bread baking from a local family.
- Tashkent’s Kukeldash Madrassah, one of the largest 16th century madrassahs remaining in Central Asia, constructed of baked brick with a classic glazed tile facade
- Amir Timur Square, dominated by an equestrian statue of the conqueror Tamerlane
- Khudayar Khan’s 113-room palace in Kokand, known in the 19th century as one of Central Asia’s most luxurious palaces, now partially restored to its former glory
- Baking Uzbek flatbread with a local family
Day 7: Shahrisabz
Make a stop at Shahrisabz, hometown the 14th century conqueror Tamerlane, and visit the UNESCO-listed ruins of his Ak Saray (White Palace).
- Shahrisabz’s Ak Saray, a monumental palace complex that was one of Tamerlane’s most ambitious architectural undertakings
- On board the train, a tasting of Uzbek wines
Days 8-10: Samarkand
Continue to blue-tiled Samarkand, Tamerlane’s legendary capital, hailed by UNESCO as “the crossroad of cultures.” Take in massive Bibi Khanum Mosque, Ulug Bek’s incredible observatory, and gracefully proportioned Registan Square. Tour of a silk carpet factory and visit a workshop where handcrafted paper is made using a method that dates from the 8th century.
- UNESCO-listed Samarkand’s Registan Square, bordered by three beautiful madrassahs
- The 14th century conqueror Tamerlane’s architectural legacy in Samarkand, including Bibi Khanum Mosque, the largest of its day
- Shah-i-Zinda, a row of mausoleums and tombs that collectively span the history of Samarkand
- Ulug Bek Observatory, where Tamerlane’s grandson made historic advances in astronomy
- Seeing artisans make beautifully crafted carpets and paper using age-old techniques
Days 11-12: Khujand (Tajikistan), Khiva (Uzbekistan)
Stop in Khujand, the second largest city in Tajikistan, to visit its historic Muslihiddin Memorial Complex and shop in Panjshanbe Bazaar, one of Central Asia’s most atmospheric markets. Then return to Uzbekistan and cross the Kyzyl Kum Desert to the city of Khiva, the last great oasis on the northern caravan route. Wander through the winding alleys of the UNESCO-listed Old Town filled with minarets, cobbled alleys, mosques, and the beautifully preserved Kunya Ark, the original residence of the ruling khans.
- Khujand’s Muslihiddin Memorial Complex, which includes a 16th century mosque, a 19th century minaret, and the 12th century mausoleum of revered leader and poet Muslihiddin Khunjandi
- Pink-painted Panjshanbe Bazaar, a large, lively covered market
- Khiva’s Old Town (Ichon-Qala in Uzbek), a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Tash-Hauli Palace, built in the 19th century for the khan and his four wives
- Dzhuma Mosque, famous for its carved wooden pillars
- Kunya Ark, the original residence of Khiva’s khans
Days 13-14: Bukhara
Spend two days in beautiful Bukhara, Central Asia’s most ancient living city. Its UNESCO-listed Old Town encompasses more than 140 protected monuments, including the Lyabi-Hauz Plaza at the heart of the city and the Ark Citadel, Bukhara’s original fortress. Take in a traditional Uzbek performance along with dinner at a former madrassah.
- Bukhara’s evocative Old Town, with its ageless domed bazaars
- Central Lyabi-Hauz Plaza, adorned with a reflecting pool
- Ark Citadel, Bukhara’s giant ancient fortress
- A performance and dinner at a local madrassah
Days 15-16: Tashkent
After a morning spent exploring Bukhara, return to Tashkent for the final evening of the trip. Independent exploring could include seeing some of the city’s monumental 16th century Islamic architecture, such as Kaffal-Shashi Mausoleum and Barak-Khan Madrassah, or a stroll through park-like Independence Square.
- Further touring in Tashkent, possibly including Kaffal-Shashi Mausoleum, Barak-Khan Madrassah, and Independence Square
Dates & Prices
Minimum group size: Minimums vary – call for confirmation status
Land Tour Price, Per Person.
Sept 2 - 17Ali Baba, double occupancy$7,545Ali Baba, single occupancy$10,200Aladdin, double occupancy$8,795Aladdin, single occupancy$12,020Kalif, double occupancy$14,345Kalif, single occupancy$21,390
- Accommodations, as noted in the itinerary.
- Most meals, as noted in the itinerary.
- Arrival/departure transfers, provided you arrive and depart on the tour start/end dates and in the tour start/end cities.
- All guided off-train tours, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Services of an experienced Train Tour Manager as well as local guides for scheduled off-train tours.
- Complimentary tea, coffee, and mineral water from your car attendant at all times while on board the train.
- Baggage handling.
- Complete pre-departure information, including detailed packing list, reading list, and Touring with MIR handbook with country-specific information, maps, and travel tips.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note that international airfare is not included in the land tour cost).
- International airfare, including taxes/fuel surcharges, and surface transport to the point of joining/leaving the tour. MIR is able to assist with arrangements, as detailed in the itinerary.
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement (difference between double rate and single occupancy rate) if requested or required.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Visa fees, excess baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccination, and other medical costs.
- Travel insurance including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Items of a personal nature such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
- Gratuities not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Travel entry pass to Turkmenistan payable on arrival.
Level 2: Moderate
This rail journey by private train features significant touring on foot, throughout which travelers are expected to keep up with other group members. Walking during touring days will be on a variety of surfaces, with many streets and sidewalks being uneven, and elevators generally not available during touring excursions, leading to some stair climbing. Challenges on board on board the train include long onboard distances with heavy doors, as well as steep steps and gaps to navigate while embarking and disembarking. Only those willing to accept local standards of amenities and services should consider joining this program.
Travelers must be able to walk a mile per day keeping up with other group members. Streets and sidewalks can be uneven or unexpected surfaces, and handrails are not always present. Steps, which may be required due to lack of elevators, may be steep and/or uneven, and may also lack handrails. The distance on board the train between sleeping and dining carriages may be significant, and there are many heavy doors to navigate when moving throughout the train. Getting on and off the train involves navigating steep steps, low platforms, and possible gaps between the train and the platform. Navigating rail stations may also involve traveling up and over steep steps/footbridges to cross tracks, or steep steps and dark tunnels to cross under to/from the train station. Although porterage is provided where possible, you may have to carry your baggage for short distances.
General shortcomings of the tourism infrastructure may include problems with bureaucratic service and availability and quality of public restrooms when not on board the train.