An Expedition Through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
Follow in the footsteps of ancient caravans on this modern Silk Road journey from the Kyrgyz mountains at the border of China to the UNESCO-listed Silk Road oases of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand that dot the deserts of Uzbekistan. Delve into the past and discover the history, architecture and culture that combine to make this route as captivating today as in antiquity. Along the way, explore Tash Rabat, a timeworn caravanserai scenically situated in the Tien Shan Mountains; linger in the high-altitude pastures around Lake Song Kul, where herders set up yurts and tend their yaks and horses through the summer; see Uzbekistan’s mud brick and blue-tiled masterpieces, and stroll its bazaars celebrated for silks, ceramics, fruit and spices.
Days 1-4: Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Chong Kemin
Start in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, where visits to museums, the city’s main bazaar, and a textile-designer’s workshop serve as an introduction to Kyrgyz culture. Then drive to a traditional village in Chong Kemin and get immersed in the life of the countryside, sharing meals with locals and taking part in daily rituals.
- Visiting Bishkek’s State Museum of Fine Arts, featuring Kyrgyz art and handicrafts
- Marveling at the sights and smells of Osh Bazaar, with its fruits, nuts, prepared foods, and brilliant Kyrgyz textiles
- Taking a master class in silk scarf-making
- Climbing to the top of Burana Tower, one of the few remaining Silk Road watchtowers in Kyrgyzstan
- Seeing a yurt raised – a process so distinctive and well engineered that it’s on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Days 5-7: Naryn, Tash Rabat, Song Kul Lake
Drive up to the mountain town of Naryn, stopping in Kochkor on the way to watch a demonstration of felt-making – a centuries-old craft that’s falling out of common practice. Explore the well-preserved 15th century Tash Rabat caravanserai, a former highland outpost on the Silk Road that’s Central Asia’s largest stone structure. Continue on to Song Kul, a high-altitude lake surrounded by verdant pastures and snow-capped mountains.
- Watching a demonstration of traditional eagle hunting and learning how Kyrgyzstan’s famous felt rugs are made in Kochkor
- Visiting the ancient stone Silk Road caravanserai at Tash Rabat, high in the Kyrgyz mountains
- Touring Tash Rabat, a giant stone fortress and Silk Road caravanserai filled with underground passages and secret exits
- Getting to know a semi-nomadic family and learning about their lifestyle at their yurt camp near the shores of high-altitude Song Kul
- Attending an exciting game of kokboru near Song Kul, a remarkably beautiful backdrop to this fascinating horseback sport
Days 8-11: Toktogul, Osh, Fergana Valley (Uzbekistan)
Head down from the mountains along a winding a scenic road over two days, overnighting in the remote town of Toktogul along the way. Enter the Fergana Valley at Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s main town in the valley. After exploring there cross the border to Uzbekistan side of the valley – the country’s heartland. Spend two days learning about the crafts, culture, and history that make this region so special.
- Being astounded by the sensory overload of Osh’s fabulous Jayma Bazaar
- Pondering the legacy of Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty, as you gaze out across the valley from atop Solomon’s Throne – a hill in Osh
- Learning about the life and work of local artisans during visits to both ceramics and silk workshops in the rural Fergana Valley
- Discovering the history of the Khanate of Kokand, one of the three main political entitites in Central Asia prior to the arrival of the Russian Empire, as you explore its remnants in the moderrn town of Kokand
Days 12-14: Khiva, Bukhara
Drive from the Fergana Valley to Tashkent and then board a flight to Khiva, Uzbekistan’s farthest flung Silk Road Outpost, laying across the Kyzyl Kum Desert. Spend two nights there exploring the city’s compact and well-preserved old town. Then head out overland across the desert to Bukhara, a walkable and atmospheric town with some of Uzbekistan’s most astounding architecture.
- Wandering the streets of Khiva, a remote desert town with an intact and compact center that possesses an exotic feel
- Crossing the Kyzyl Kum Desert overland – a journey taken by caravans since time immemorial – as you head from Khiva to Bukhara and Samarkand, taking in all three UNESCO-listed Silk Road oases in Uzbekistan
- Experience the timeless character of Bukhara’s Old Town with its winding streets and colorful markets
- Visiting a cooperative in a village near Bukhara where suzanis, traditional silk-on-cotton embroidery are made by hand
Days 15-18: Samarkand, Tashkent
From Bukhara take a high-speed train to the next Silk Road oasis, Samarkand. Samarkand is home several dramatic examples of monumental Timurid architecture, some of the most iconic and frequently photographed structures in the Islamic world. Spend some time here getting to know the city and its people before you back to Tashkent by another high-speed train. The journey concludes in Tashkent.
- Admiring the majesty of the Registan and explore the architectural wonders of legendary Samarkand
- Learning how bread, silk carpets, and paper are made using traditional methods while visiting three different artisans in Samarkand
- Seeing the impressive 15th-century mausoleum of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) – the founder of the Timurid dynasty
Dates & Prices
Small group tour – max 12 travelers
Land tour price, per person. Based on double occupancy and minimum group size of 5 travelers.
This tour connects to our Pamir Highway tour: Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway, August 17-31, 2024.
July 31 - Aug 17Tour, double occupancy$6,295Plus internal airfare$180Partial single supplement$795
- Accommodations, as noted in the itinerary.
- Most meals, as noted in the itinerary.
- A daily supply of bottled water.
- Arrival/departure airport transfers on the tour start/end date. MIR will arrange for all travelers to be met upon arrival and seen off upon departure whether or not we make your flight arrangements.
- Ground transportation throughout tour by private van or coach. (Type of vehicle depends on group size.)
- Services of experienced, English-speaking local guides, drivers, and other staff, including a MIR Tour Manager.
- Guided sightseeing tours and entrance fees, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Special events, excursions, and cultural performances, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Gratuities to local guides, drivers, and other service personnel, including servers at group meals.
- Complete pre-departure electronic document that includes detailed packing suggestions, reading list links, country-specific information, maps, travel tips and more.
- Electronic final update bulletin, with any late news, updates and important information.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note, international airfare is not included in the land tour cost.)
- Customized visa information and instructions. (Please note, visa fees are not included in the tour price.)
- International airfare and taxes/fuel surcharges.
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement (or partial single supplement where applicable), if requested or required.
- Gratuities to Tour Manager.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Travel insurance, including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Visa and/or passport fees, excess-baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccination and other medical costs.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
- Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
- Baggage handling.
Level 4: Rigorous
This intentionally adventuresome (due to the nature of the destination) small group tour features challenging overland travel on steep, rough, single-lane mountainous roads using 4WD vehicles; and rustic accommodations, some without electricity or indoor plumbing (the two nights in a yurt at Song Kul Lake). There are long days walking and standing while touring, a border crossing on foot while carrying/rolling your own luggage, unpaved sidewalks and streets, uneven surfaces and steps, absent handrails, significant stair-climbing, and absence of elevators. Only those very fit to travel and who are willing to accept local standards of amenities and services, and the physical challenges, should consider joining this program.
Conditions are expected to be particularly challenging in the high altitude regions of Kyrgyzstan, especially the day trip to Tash Rabat and the two overnights at Song Kul Lake. Those with a history of medical problems, particularly cardiac or respiratory, must consult a doctor before considering this trip. We strongly encourage you to speak with us about any questions you may have regarding the rigors of this trip or destination when considering this tour.
Travelers must be able to walk at least two miles a day (with some hiking), keeping up with fellow travelers on a variety of terrain including through villages, on dirt paths, and the like. Some drives in steep, mountainous conditions with poor-quality roads at high elevation and without guardrails may last as long as 7-9 hours driving time (with comfort stops). A large part of the trip is at high elevations ranging from 7,000 ft to over 10,000 ft (the highest points on the itinerary are Tash Rabat and Song Kul Lake). Electricity is not a reliable constant throughout the itinerary. If you rely on electricity for CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), or for any other reason, you must have your own battery or other back-up, or please reconsider participation. In some places, established public restrooms will be Eastern-style. In other places where there are no restrooms, the group will make “bush stops.”
One night is spent in a yurt/tent camp in Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan with camp-like facilities and no indoor plumbing; yurts are shared among several group members. Yurts can be cold at night, and hot water and/or showers are often unavailable.
The border crossing may require walking up to about a half-mile while managing baggage, and bags may need to be carried rather than rolled, as the road/sidewalk surface is not always paved or smooth. Some attractions are only accessible via steep staircases with tall uneven steps, and some of the sites may involve steep steps inside narrow passageways with limited light. Elevators are not available at touring sites, nor at a few of the hotels. Air conditioning is a luxury and often not available in facilities outside the capitals and larger towns.
Other challenges include overall shortcomings in the tourism infrastructure of these developing destinations, including some that can cause walking challenges such as unpaved sidewalks, uneven surfaces and steps, packed-dirt streets, broken pavement (streets or sidewalks), and a general absence of handrails or ramps. Past travelers have also encountered challenges with plumbing, bureaucratic service, variety of locally available foods, and availability and quality of public restrooms.
1/11 Jered Gorman
2/11 Photo credit: Max Sjoblom
3/11 Photo credit: Vlad Ushakov
4/11 Photo credit: Jake Smith
5/11 Photo credit: Max Sjoblom
6/11 Photo credit: Abdu Samadov
7/11 Photo credit: Andra Artemova
8/11 Photo credit: Jake Smith
10/11 Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik
11/11 Photo credit: Jake Smith