Giving to
Bryn Mawr

Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center

The Silk Road of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Ashkhabad

May 9 – 22, 2010

The incredible sky-blue tilework, woven brick constructions and brilliant fabrics of the Silk Road are among humankind’s greatest creative outpourings. Explore the UNESCO-listed Old Towns of the fabled Uzbek oases – Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva – as well as Tamerlane’s hometown, Shakrisabze. Visit Uzbekistan’s capital city, Tashkent, to get a glimpse of modern life in the country’s biggest urban center. Admire graceful Registan Square in Samarkand, where Tamerlane assembled the greatest pool of artisans and craftsmen in the world. Visit a local carpet factory where vivid silk and wool carpets take shape on traditional looms. Meet with a talented Bukharan architect to discuss ongoing renovations to the ancient Ark Citadel in Bukhara. Spend a day walking the museum town of Khiva, looking much as it did as the weary caravans arrived from the harsh desert; and browse one of Central Asia’s most exciting open-air bazaars, the Tolkuchka Sunday Market near Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan’s capital.

Back to the top »

Preliminary Itinerary

May 9, 2010 - Day 1: Sunday, Depart USA
Depart from your hometown and fly to Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Meals: Aloft

May 10, 2010 - Day 2: Monday, Arrive Tashkent
Arrive in Tashkent and after clearing customs transfer to the centrally located hotel for check in.
Meals: Light snack provided

Tashkent Palace Hotel or similar
This four star hotel is one of the newest properties in Tashkent. Known already for excellent service, the hotel boasts three international-style restaurants, three bars, a fully equipped health and fitness center with sauna and an outdoor swimming pool. All rooms have direct dial phones, TV, and mini bar.

May 11, 2010 - Day 3: Tuesday, Tashkent
Following breakfast at the hotel, embark on a city tour of Tashkent. Located at the foot of the Tien Shan Mountains, Tashkent dates back to the first century BC. Unfortunately, most of the city’s architectural history was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1966. Today, the city is an odd mix of wide tree-lined boulevards, oversized 20th century Soviet buildings and reconstructed traces of the old city with mud-walled houses, narrow winding lanes, mosques and madrassahs.

Today’s tour begins with the Square of Independence. The history of Independence Square (Mustakillik Maydoni) is revealed in the different names it has borne throughout its existence. First named Cathedral Square in honor of the Orthodox cathedral built here by Konstanin Kaufman, the first Russian Governor-General of Turkestan, it became Red Square in 1917. In 1966 it was designated Lenin Square, and it was not until 1992 that it became Independence Square.

The Navoi Opera and Ballet Theater was built in 1947 by Japanese prisoners of war, and includes six foyers representing the main cities of Uzbekistan. Each foyer is decorated differently, using carved and painted plaster (ganche), woodcarving and frescoes. The repertoire of the theater includes Uzbek music and dance, and international operas and ballets. Next, visit the Kukeldash Madrassah. Kulbobo Kukeldash, builder of the 16th century Kukeldash Madrassah, was the foster brother of Khan Abdullah. Located on a hill above Chorsu Plaza, the Kukeldash Madrassah is one of the largest 16th century madrassahs remaining in central Asia. Constructed of baked brick with only one facade decorated in majolica and glazed bricks, the madrassah was part of an ensemble that marked the center of the old town and included the newly restored Jummi Mosque.

Conclude today’s tour with visits to the Palace of People’s Friendship, the Kaffal-Shashi Masuoleum, and, time permitting, the Tashkent Museum of Applied Arts. This evening, celebrate the official start of the journey with a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Meals: B, L, D

May 12, 2010 - Day 4: Wednesday - Tashkent, drive to Samarkand
After breakfast, check out and depart Tashkent, driving overland along the same Silk Road that many a merchant has traveled to Samarkand. Modern Samarkand is built on the ruins of ancient Afrosiab, and once went by the name of Marakanda. Its location between China and the Western world secured its importance as a trade center and a clearinghouse for cultural exchange. Islamic beliefs from the Near East crossed paths with spices from Southeast Asia and silk from the Middle Kingdom. Its strategic location, cultural wealth and worldly riches made Samarkand an attractive target for the world’s most famous conquerors. Alexander the Great, upon his arrival in the 4th century BC said, “Everything I have heard about the beauty of the city is indeed true, except that it is much more beautiful than I imagined.”

After a long period of Arab rule, the region came under the control of Genghis Khan, whose empire stretched from Beijing to Moscow at its height and encompassed much of modern-day Central Asia. The hundred-year rule of the Golden Horde set the stage for Tamerlane’s conquest, which brought Samarkand to its apex.

Upon arrival, have lunch and check in to the hotel.

After lunch, visit the Registan, the centerpiece of Samarkand, and the most recognizable landmark for visitors. The three emblematic madrassahs frame the square and loom over the empty space in the center. It was this central space that originally gave the place its name, for “registan” simply means “place of sand.” This sandy place was at the center of ancient Samarkand and was a public square and marketplace before the Ulug Bek, Tillya-Kori, and Shir Dor madrassahs were built. In its r reconstruction, the square maintains the majesty that it has radiated through the ages.
Meals: B, L, D

Hotel Asia Samarkand Opened in 2008, the new four-star Hotel Asia Samarkand has a perfect location just across from the Registan. The two-story brick hotel is nicely decorated and features air conditioning, a restaurant, nightclub, pool, sauna, fitness club and WiFi access.

May 13, 2010 - Day 5: Thursday, Samarkand
Following breakfast this morning, continue exploring glorious Samarkand. Visit the Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane to be the largest mosque in the Islamic world, and dedicated to the memory of his favorite wife. Architects from India and Persia were brought in to build the mosque, and 95 elephants were used to transport the marble and other building materials from India to Samarkand. Wander the row of tombs and mausoleums collectively called Shah-I-Zinde, or “place of a living king,” stretching between the present and the past. At its front is living Samarkand, and at it’s back the dusty slopes at the edge of ancient Afrosiab. Even on hot summer days the mausoleums remain shady and cool, and seem to lure the traveler to approach the oldest tomb at the far end. Behind the complex and set into the hill, lies an active cemetery with gravesites dating back as far as the 9th century, and as recently as the present day.

Other highlights include the colorful bazaar, as well as the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of Tamerlane. It was originally built for his grandson after the latter’s death, at the turn of the 15th century. The interior of the mausoleum has been restored and is brilliant in gold leaf and fresh tile. The heavily gilded central dome opens over the set of tomb-markers resembling sarcophagi (the bodies are located well below, but are on site). All are marble, with the exception of Tamerlane’s, which is a slab of solid jade reportedly from Mongolia.

The afternoon is yours to explore independently. Admire the superb tile work, which uses every motif permitted in Islamic art – floral images, geometric patterns, spirals and bands of Kufic calligraphy. Gather this evening for a folk performance or a visit to a workshop of a local artist before dinner and overnight.
Meals: B, L, D

May 14, 2010 - Day 6: Friday - Samarkand, drive to Bukhara via Shakrisabze
Following breakfast at the hotel, depart for UNESCO-listed Shakrisabze, the birthplace of Tamerlane. The town itself was originally founded under the name of Kesh, and was renamed Shakrisabze (green city) by Tamerlane himself. Admire the ruins of Ak Saray (White Palace), built in the 14th century and one of Tamerlane’s most expansive undertakings. The palace complex included a massive portal covered with incredible blue, white and gold ceramic tile mosaics and standing over 131 feet high. While much of the city is undergoing restoration, get a taste of the local flavor and perhaps visit the traditional market.

After lunch, continue on to Bukhara for check-in at the hotel and a late dinner.
Meals: B, L, D

Sasha & Son B&B
This charming property is more a boutique hotel than a B&B and is decorated in the national style. Fashioned from several old merchant houses, it contains high ceilings, exposed beams and beautifully decorated niches. All rooms have private toilet and shower/bathing facilities, and are air-conditioned with satellite TV and minibar. The rooms surround a nice gardened courtyard.

May 15, 2010 - Day 7: Saturday, Bukhara
Spend today exploring Central Asia’s most ancient living city. An oasis in the desert, Bukhara offers cool shade and rest to the modern traveler as it did to the camel caravans that plied the Silk Road hundreds of years ago. Bukhara is as old as Samarkand, and has preserved its ancient architecture and design to an arguably larger extent than that city. The Old Town in Bukhara has a unified feel, drawn together by a central reflecting pool and plaza, by commonality in the structure of the domed bazaars and by the major monuments ringing the Old Town: the Kalon Assembly, the Zindan Prison, and the Ark Citadel.

This morning, sightseeing begins at Lyab-i-Khauz Plaza, located in the heart of the old town. With the feel of a true oasis in an oasis town, the plaza is at the center of Bukhara’s old town and is – as it has been throughout history – a place to meet friends, to eat, to drink, and to relax in the shade. The atmosphere is cooled by the long rectangular reflecting pool that makes up the center of the plaza, and by the shade of the trees that ring the plaza. The mulberry trees here are hundreds of years old and frame the 16th and 17th century madrassahs that make up three of the four edges of the ensemble.

Visit the nearby Kukeldash Madrassah, the largest of Central Asia’s Koran schools, which dates from 1417. Stroll through the capmaker and spice bazaars and past street-level mosques and madrassahs before moving on to the Kalon Mosque and Minaret, the second largest mosque in Central Asia, after the Bibi Khanum in Samarkand. The 12th century Kalon assembly, including the Kalon Mosque and Minaret, and the Mir-i-Arab Madrassah, surrounds an open plaza teeming with merchants and local vendors. The minaret towers over the dusty square, looking down from a height of more than 150 feet, and casting its shadow between the mosque and the madrassah. Fourteen unique bands of brickwork circle the tower at intervals, and at the top of the minaret resolve into a traditional stalactite formation.

Located near the Kalon Mosque is the Ark Citadel, the original fortress of Bukhara and likely dating back two thousand years or more. The current structure has been built and rebuilt on the same site throughout its history, and has preserved something of the form, purpose and function of the first Ark. Like the medieval castle complexes of Europe, the Bukhara Ark served the Emirs of Bukhara as a residence, audience hall, as protection from neighboring enemies and for more mundane purposes, such as a trade center and a police station. Just behind the Ark Citadel is the infamous Zindan Prison and the even more infamous "bug pit" or "black hole," the cell where two of Britain's finest Great Game players were imprisoned before their execution. Also visit the Ismael Samani Mausoleum, the 10th century resting place of Ismael Samani, founder of the Persian Samanid Dynasty, with its sixteen different styles of brickwork. The little mausoleum was buried by the desert sands and not discovered until the 20th century.

During today’s touring, meet with a local Bukharan architect who will provide you with an interesting look into the current state of historical architectural renovation in Bukhara. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight.
Meals: B, L, D

May 16, 2010 - Day 8: Sunday, Bukhara
Following breakfast today, visit the Summer Palace of the last Emir and stop at its Museum of National Crafts. Called the Palace of Moon and Stars, the Summer Palace was built at the turn of the century after the Russians took control of Bukhara. The palace itself is something of a showpiece, as it was designed to keep the emir in luxury, but removed from the city, in isolation and political impotence. The main palace is a mixture of local materials, regional influences, and Russian style. Western furniture abounds, but design choices reflect traditional Uzbek decorations.

This afternoon is open for independent exploration or just relaxing in the old town of Bukhara. Bukhara is a fantastic place to shop for handcrafted souvenirs from the local cloth printers, wood carvers, gold and silk embroiderers and jewelry makers. This evening, visit a local madrassah to dine and enjoy a performance by local artists.
Meals: B, L, D

May 17, 2010 - Day 9: Monday, Bukhara • drive to Khiva
This morning, head for the last great city on the Uzbekistan part of your itinerary, Khiva. The drive today takes you across long stretches of the Kyzyl Kum, or Red Sands, Desert. This is the same route ridden by loaded Silk Road camel caravans and once plagued by brigands on hand to plunder their riches. Today the landscape is made up of dunes, saxaul bushes, and the distant mountains. Stop en route to take a look at the Amu Darya River, which used to be called the Oxus, and loosely parallels the Uzbek-Turkmen border. Arrive in Khiva in time for dinner and overnight.
Meals: B, L, D

Hotel Asia Khiva
The four-star Hotel Asia Khiva was built in 2004 and is located just outside of Ichon Qala, a two minute walk from the city wall. The hotel offers a beautiful lobby, a restaurant with its own bakery, bar, conference hall, Internet, pool and sauna. All rooms have air-conditioning, satellite TV, phone and minibar.

May 18, 2010 - Day 10: Tuesday, Khiva
Legend says that the ancient Silk Road oasis of Khiva was founded at the place where Shem, son of Noah, discovered water in the desert, and that the city got its name from Shem’s joyful shout, “Hey va!” at the discovery. Today the living city is part museum town, part re-creation of life hundreds of years ago.

Spend the day exploring Khiva on foot. Highlights include the Tash Hauli Palace, once the home of the khan and his four legal wives, and an open courtyard for enthroning the khans. Also see the 9th century Dzhuma Mosque with an unusual wood ceiling and 115 carved wood columns, creating a forest-like effect.

The khans had several residences, including the Tash Hauli Palace, but the Kunya Ark (Old Fortress) dates back to the 5th century as the original residence. The view from the watchtower of the Kunya Ark encompasses an ensemble of architectural masterpieces. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant on the edge of the old town. Dinner and an overnight at the hotel.
Meals: B, L, D

May 19, 2010 - Day 11: Wednesday - Khiva, drive to Tashauz, fly to Ashkhabad
Early morning departure from Khiva by coach. Today cross the border into Turkmenistan. The drive to the border takes a little over an hour. Customs formalities can be time consuming; after clearing customs, drive to the city of Tashauz to do some light touring and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Later this afternoon, transfer to the airport for a flight to Ashkhabad. Following an hour-long flight over the Kara Kum desert, arrive in Ashkhabad and transfer to the hotel for dinner and overnight.
Meals: B, L, D

Hotel Grand Turkmen
Located in the city center near museums, shopping and bazaars, this five-star hotel's amenities include air conditioning, satellite TV, health club, sauna, swimming pool and tennis courts. Restaurant, two bars, disco, casino and business centers are also featured.

May 20, 2010 - Day 12: Thursday, Ashkhabad • Tolkuchka Market
Get an early start today to spend the morning at the Tolkuchka Oriental Bazaar, located about an hour’s drive from the city center. The Tolkuchka is one of the most exciting open markets in Central Asia; its name means, literally translated, “a lot of elbowing.” The huge market is brimming with all types of goods, including traditionally patterned carpets, Turcomen jewelry and animals for sale.

After lunch this afternoon, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ancient Parthian Kingdom of Nisa. The beautiful Kopet-Dag Mountains rise up around Nisa, a site 15 miles outside of Ashkhabad that was once a major center of the ancient Parthian Kingdom. More than two thousand years ago the Parthian Empire spread out from Nisa and took its place among such kingdoms as the Achaemenid under Cyrus the Great and the Macedonian under Alexander the Great. Though Nisa was ruled by a succession of dynasties, it remained an important center in the ancient world until the 13th century, when the Mongols sacked it. Today archaeological work continues at Nisa.
Meals: B, L, D

May 21, 2010 - Day 13: Friday, Ashkhabad
Following breakfast at the hotel, depart on a city tour of Ashkhabad. In spite of its location on a trade route, Ashkhabad never achieved the status and influence of other Silk Road cities like Khiva or Bukhara. Originally known as Konjikala, the city was destroyed by Mongols in the 13th century. In 1881 the Russians built a fortress on the site as a buffer against Englishdominated Persia, and by the early 20th century Ashkhabad was a prosperous and flourishing city. In 1948 a massive earthquake leveled the city, killing over two-thirds of the population. Recently Ashkhabad has seen a boom in new construction, which has had a major impact on the look of the city.

Today’s tour includes visits to the Lenin Monument, the new mosque and Turkmen-Turkish cultural and spiritual center, a local bazaar and the Berzenghee Settlement, with great views of the surrounding Kopet-Dag Mountains. Visit the National Museum of History and Ethnography with its superb collection of carved ivory drinking horns from Nisa.

Ashkhabad’s excellent Museum of Carpets and Textiles displays an abundance of gorgeous carpets, kilims, cushions and costumes and explains the nuanced differences in carpet and textile patterns among different Turkmen tribes and regions. One of the largest hand-knotted carpets in the world hangs here. The museum makes a great place to shop for a carpet, as the staff can provide you with the necessary authorizations.

Following lunch at a local restaurant, visit the personal studio of a master of Turkmen jewelry. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Meals: B, L, D

May 22, 2010 - Day 14: Saturday, Depart Ashkhabad
Transfer to the airport and depart Ashkhabad in the early morning.
Meals: In flight

Back to the top »

Cost and Program Inclusions

Land Cost* . . . . . . . $5,995

*Per person based on double occupancy

Package Inclusions:

  • All accommodation based on double occupancy per itinerary with breakfast daily, local service charge and tax;
  • Arrival and departure transfers for passengers arriving and departing on scheduled start/end days;
  • Transportation per itinerary including one-way domestic flight economy class from Tashauz to Ashkhabad;
  • All sightseeing and excursions including entrance fees per itinerary;
  • Local English speaking guides throughout itinerary;
  • Services of a MIR tour manager throughout the land program;
  • Meals as listed in itinerary with bottled/purified water with meal. All meals on trip are included in the land portion of the trip;
  • Beverages with lunches/dinners: choice of one non-alcoholic drink;
  • Baggage handling at the hotels where available;
  • Gratuities to local guides, drivers, and tour manager;
  • Special cultural features, including meeting with an Architect, special evening performances, and time schedule for lectures;
  • Destination preparation information packet;

Price Does Not Include

International airfare between the U.S. and the start and ending cities; air taxes or fuel surcharges; pre- or post-tour services; visa or passport fees; medical and trip interruption insurance; evacuation costs; food or beverages not included in group meals; items of a personal nature such as laundry, alcohol, telephone expense, excess baggage fees, photo/video expenses inside museums (where allowed); other items not expressly listed as included.

Special Features

  • Visit Uzbekistan’s capital city, Tashkent, to get a glimpse of modern life in the country’s biggest urban center;
  • Admire graceful Registan Square in blue-tiled Samarkand, where Tamerlane assembled the greatest pool of artisans and craftsmen in the world;
  • Learn the full process of production at a local carpet factory by the 4th generation owners, where vivid silk and wool carpets take shape on traditional looms;
  • Meet with a talented Bukharan architect to discuss ongoing renovations to the ancient Ark Citadel in Bukhara;
  • Spend a day walking the museum town of Khiva, looking much as it did when the weary caravans made their way through its gates from the harsh desert;
  • Wander one of Central Asia’s most exciting open-air bazaars, the Tolkuchka Sunday Market near Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan’s capital;
Back to the top »

Study Leader

Sergey Glebov,
Assistant Professor, Smith College
Sergey Glebov

Leading your trip will be Sergey Glebov, a historian of the Russian Empire/USSR. Professor Glebov received his Masters degree in Nationalism Studies from the Central European University in Budapest and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. His research focuses on intellectual, political, and cultural history of the Russian empire and on ideologies of imperial expansion, Russian nationalism and Russia 's nationalities. He published on the Russians' perceptions of " Europe " in the 19 th and early 20 th century, as well as on early Soviet nationalities policies. He is currently working on the manuscript based on doctoral dissertation - The Challenge of the Modern: Eurasianism and the Russian Empire - that explores the emergence and development of an ideology that proclaimed the existence of a separate civilization coinciding with the former Russian empire.

Back to the top »

Back to the top »