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The Great Silk Road TOP007_13

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The Ultimate Silk Road Adventure

Travel the entirety of the largest branch of the Silk Road in this 47 day epic journey across Asia. A huge adventure covering a distance of 12,000 km from Beijing to Istanbul. Explore the natural landscapes and fascinating cultures the vastly different countries of China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Iran.

Highlights

  • Explore for than 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • Meet the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Uighur, and Turkmen people
  • Cross the Toi Dek Pass (3554m)
  • Visit the Overhanging Wall and the fort at the end of the Great Wall
  • Visit the town of Osh, believed to be over 3000 years old
  • Discover Samarkand, one of the most incredible cities along the route

Your predecessors on this journey include Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Hsuan-Tsang and innumerable ancient traders. You’ll see not only world famous sites like Samarkand’s Registan Square and Xiam’s Terracotta Army but take in brilliant grasslands, high deserts, and soaring mountains. A wonderful combination of history and nature, modern and traditional life.

The journey begins in Bejing, China’s capital. See remarkable sites like Tienanmen Square, The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and take a cycle rickshaw through the cities back lanes to see its unknown side. As you begin to travel east stops include Xi’am, Xiahe, site of the Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery which belongs to the Guluk (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

The upcoming weeks take you into the Mogao Grottoes and the Thousand Buddha Caves. Explore the ghost city of Jiaohe, the Flaming Mountains, and the formidable Taklamakan Desert. Once you arrive in Kashgar at the start of week three you’ll meet Kazakh and Kyrgyz traders at the famous animal market. Once in Uzbekistan, visit the 19th century palace that once belonged to Khudayar Khan followed by time in the capital city of Tashkent.

In Turkmenistan you’ll journey to Mary in order to visit Ancient Merv, a significant stop for the traders on the ancient route. After this you’ll visit Gonur Depe, believed to be the site of the fifth greatest civilisation of the ancient world. In Iran visit Golestan Palace, see the crown jewels and the famous Peacock throne, and spend three days in Esfahan discovering Jameh Mosque, the Armenian Quarters, and much more. In your final destination of Turkey explore the Ishak Pasha palace and hike around Mount Ararat.

This is a big adventure; an epic continental journey by bus, boat, car, plane and train, along one of history’s most important routes. Enquire today and secure your spot.

Day 1: Tour starts in Beijing (China)
Our epic trip starts this morning in the Chinese capital, where after an introductory briefing we’ll visit the C15th century UNESCO Temple of Heaven.

Day 2: Beijing
This morning we’ll head for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City; by way of contrast, this afternoon we’ll take a cycle rickshaw tour around Beijing’s remaining hutongs (back lanes).

Day 3: Beijing – Great Wall – Xi’an
Today we make for the imposing Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, 90km north of Beijing and away from the crowds at the Badaling section of the wall. Then we’ll fly to Xian.

Day 4: Xi’an
In this ancient city we’ll visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda as well the old town. The afternoon has been left free to allow time for personal exploration of this endlessly fascinating city.

Day 5: Xi’an – Lanzhou
A highlight of any visit to Xi’an is a visit to see the Terracotta Warriors – one of the greatest archaeological finds of the last century – which we’ll do today before boarding our overnight sleeper train westwards.

Day 6: Lanzhou – Xiahe
Lanzhou was once an important link along the Northern Silk Road and a major crossing point of the Yellow River. Today it provides us with our gateway to Xiahe, home to the famous Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

Day 7: Xiahe
We’ll have the whole day to explore Labrang Monastery – one of the six great monasteries belonging to the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism- as well as the nearby Sangke Grasslands.

Day 8: Xiahe – Lanzhou – Jiayuguan
Returning to Lanzhou today, we’ll be catching the overnight train through the Gansu Corridor to Jiayuguan, where we will find the first pass at the western end of the Great Wall.

Day 9: Jiayuguan
After some time to relax, we’ll drive this afternoon to visit the Overhanging Wall for a walk and we’ll also visit the Wei-Jin tombs that date back to 220-420 AD.

Day 10: Jiayuguan – Dunhuang
Jiayuguan marked the western end of the Great Wall its fort is one of the quintessential images of western China, built in 1372.

Day 11: Dunhuang – Turpan
We’ll visit the Mogao Grottoes, which are one of the world’s richest treasure troves of Buddhist manuscripts, wall paintings and statues known as the Thousand Buddha Caves. Later we’ll take a train to Turpan.

Day 12: Turpan
Turpan is one of the lowest places on earth and here we’ll visit the fascinating ghost city of Jiaohe, the Flaming Mountains and the 18th Century Emin Minaret built in Afghani style.

Day 13: Turpan – Urumqi – Kashgar
A 3hr drive takes us to Urumqi, Xinjiang’s bustling capital, from where we’ll take a flight over the imposing Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar.

Day 14: Kashgar
Today we will have the chance to experience the famous Yakshambe Bazaar – the Sunday Market where we’ll be able to meet Uighur, Kyrgyz and Kazakh traders at the famous animal market.

Day 15: Kashgar – Sary Tash (Kyrgyzstan)
An early start sees us drive out of Kashgar due west along the main artery of the Old Silk Road to the Irkishtam Pass. This is a stunning drive through an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Day 16: Sary Tash – Osh
After breakfast we will drive on another extraordinary road over the 3554m Tol Dek Pass and on into the Fergana Valley to the ancient Silk Road town of Osh, reputed to be 3000 years old.

Day 17: Osh – Kokand (Uzbekistan)
We cross the border into Uzbekistan and in Margilon we hope to see the entire silk-weaving process from cocoon to end product.

Day 18: Kokand – Tashkent
After a chance to visit the 19th century Palace of Khudayar Khan this morning, we will transfer to cars to drive through the mountains to reach Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.

Day 19: Tashkent – Samarkand
A fast train this morning takes us to Samarkand, one of the finest cities of the Silk Road and undoubtedly a tour highlight.

Day 20: Samarkand
We’ll enjoy a full day wandering through this incredible city, taking in such sights as the Bibi Khanym mosque, the Shakhi Zinda ‘street of the dead’ and we’ll have the chance to return to the Registan for sunset.

Day 21: Samarkand – Bukhara
After breakfast, we’ll drive along the “Royal Road” to Bukhara. We aim to arrive early afternoon to allow free time in this atmospheric town.

Day 22: Bukhara
This morning we visit the famous Arc. We’ll also visit the Kolan Minaret – or Tower of Death, from which Amir Nasirulla Khan threw his enemies – as well as the rest of the beautiful old town.

Day 23: Bukhara – Mary (Turkmenistan)
An early start today takes us to the border with Turkmenistan, where we’ll proceed to Mary to visit Ancient Merv, one of the most significant Silk Road sites in all of Central Asia.

Day 24: Mary
After an early breakfast we drive northeast from Mary to ancient Margush and the archaeological site of Gonur Depe, an amazing site said to be the fifth great civilisation of ancient times.

Day 25: Mary – Ashkabad
Today we’ll drive west to Turkmenistan’s eclectic capital, Ashkabad via the once important Silk Road city of Abiverd and the archaeological excavations at Anau.

Day 26: Ashkabad
Today we will take a tour of the Turkmen capital – one of the most bizarre places in Central Asia – to view some of the fascinating reminders of the city’s rich and eclectic past, including the Arch of Neutrality and the National Museum.

Day 27: Ashkabad – Mashhad (Iran)
This morning we will leave Turkmenistan behind us as we drive to the Iranian border and go through immigration formalities en route to Mashhad.

Day 28: Mashhad – Tehran
We visit the impressive Imam Reza shrine, whose golden domes and towering minarets present one of the most remarkable monuments anywhere in the Muslim world. Then we take an overnight train to Tehran.

Day 29: Tehran
On arrival, we’ll te take a tour of the Iranian capital which will include the Golestan palace, the Carpet Museum and the breath-taking Crown Jewels.

Day 30: Tehran – Esfahan
This morning we drive south into Iran’s mountainous and desert interior. We stop in Kashan before continuing on to the fascinating city of Esfahan, the Safavid Capital, which will be our base for the next 3 nights.

Day 31: Esfahan
Esfahan is one of the world’s most beguiling cities and there’ll be lots of time to discover its amazing architecture, tile-work, bazaars and bridges that have made this city so rightly famed.

Day 32: Esfahan
We’ll have another day to explore this fascinating city with time to visit the Jameh Mosque, the Armenian Quarter and the many bridges that cross the Zayandeh River.

Day 33: Esfahan – Tabriz
Flying via Tehran we’ll arrive in Iran’s north-west city of Tabriz, which is home to many famed sights including the Blue Mosque, which was constructed in 1465. Tabriz itself can date its history back over 3000 years.

Day 34: Tabriz
This morning we head to the nearby village of Kandovan which is known for its troglodyte housing. we’ll return to Tabriz to explore the UNESCO bazaar which stretches over 7km!

Day 35: Tabriz – Dogubeyzit (Turkey)
A drive to the Turkish border takes us to our final international crossing of the trip. Once through we’ll head on to the nearby small town of Dogubeyzit situated on the plain at the foot of Mt Ararat.

Day 36: Dogubeyzit – Kars
After breakfast we’ll make an optional short sharp hike up to the Ishak Pasha palace and we hope to get fine views of Ararat as we walk. We then head north-westwards to Kars.

Day 37: Kars
We’ll have most of the day to visit at leisure another one of the tour’s definite highlights – the ruined ancient city of Ani, which was the Armenian capital in the 10th century.

Day 38: Kars – Erzerum
We will head west to Erzerum, Turkey’s highest city at 1920m, which occupies a key strategic location and is home to some striking medieval Islamic buildings.

Day 39: Erzerum – Kemaliye
After some time this morning to explore Erzerum further, we’ll then follow the Euphrates River as far as the town of Kemaliye, which is known for its historic architecture, including many Ottoman-era houses.

Day 40: Kemaliye – Divrigi – Sivas
From Kemaliye we’ll head to the town of Divrigi which is home to one of the finest examples of Seljuk mosque architecture in Anatolia. In the afternoon we’ll head north-west to the old Seljuk capital of Sivas.

Day 41: Sivas – Amasya
We’ll have the whole morning to enjoy this historical city before moving into the Pontic Mountains to Amasya, located on the Yesil River.

Day 42: Amasya
An exploration affords an opportunity to take in the Hellenistic as well as the wonderfully preserved Ottoman mansions that represent some of the best examples of Turkish domestic architecture in the country.

Day 43: Amasya – Bogazkale
Today’s journey will take us via the historic settings of Yazilikaya and Bogazkale, site of the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusha during the 16th-12th centuries BC.

Day 44: Bogazkale – Ankara
A morning’s drive takes us to Turkey’s modern day capital, Ankara, which is home to two of the country’s most essential sights – the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, and the Mausoleum of Ataturk.

Day 45: Ankara – Istanbul
The last stage of our epic journey takes us by high-speed train towards Turkey’s cultural capital, Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.

Day 46: Istanbul
We’ll spend the morning exploring Sultanhamet, Istanbul’s historic centre. Here we’ll see the Aya Sophia, Blue Mosque and Hippodrome. The afternoon is free to explore at your leisure.

Day 47: Tour ends in Istanbul
The tour ends after breakfast.

More Details

Accommodation:
As an overall ethos, wherever possible we aim to use characterful accommodation that enhances the overall travel experience, not just offers a bed for the night. This can obviously vary dramatically from country to country and from trip to trip. On this particular trip we will predominantly be staying in comfortable hotels but there will four nights spent on sleeper trains and 2 nights spent in more basic homestays/guesthouses.
Please note that the accommodation mentioned in the itinerary is intended as a guide only and is always subject to availability, especially in Iran where we are somewhat at the mercy of the authorities.

Transport:
On this tour we will use a combination of minibuses, boats, cars, domestic flights and trains.

Climate:
For a 47-day trip which spans the breadth of the entire Asian continent and which travels between sea level (at Istanbul) and 3000m (at the top of the Irkishtam Pass between China and Kyrgyzstan) it is very hard to provide a general climate guide other than to say that – as per the travellers of old – you can expect a wide variety of temperatures and weather patterns.

We’ve chosen to run this trip at what is considered to be the optimum time and as such we expect many fine sunny days with daytime temperatures in their mid-20s. However you should also come prepared for some occasional colder nights, especially in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and the Anatolian Plateau of Eastern Turkey.

Additional Comments:
Please note that although anyone in a reasonable state of health, with an open mind and a sense of adventure should be perfectly able to cope with this tour, it should not be underestimated that this is a BIG trip that, for its duration alone, may take its toll on any inexperienced travellers.

We have tried our best to pace the trip to allow for rest days and some ‘time-out’ but this is a journey of some 12,000 kms with only 4 domestic flights, so come prepared for some long days, some culture shocks and lots of red-tape, especially at border crossings. We have also chosen to increase our usual maximum group size from 12 to 16 as over longer trips a slightly larger group size tends to work better.

Departure dates:

  • 11 September  2017
  • 8 April 2018
  • 3 September 2018

Length: 47 days

Price: from 9,950 GBP (excluding international flights to /from start/end of trip)

WHAT IS INCLUDED

  • Full services of a Tour Leader with local guides and drivers
  • Meal plan with drinking water as required with the majority of meals being taken in local restaurants where viable
  • All transport as outlined in the itinerary
  • All accommodation
  • All entrance fees, as per itinerary

WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED

  • Visas (if applicable)
  • Local airport taxes
  • Tips (always optional, but some guidance will be given in the pre-departure information pack you’ll receive after booking)
  • Beverages other than drinking water & any costs of a personal nature
  • International flights to/from the start/finish of the trip
  • Airport transfers (unless booking suggested flights through the tour operator office)

Operator

This operator is a multi-award winning adventure travel company specialising in small group tours and tailor made holidays to some of the most extraordinary destinations across the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, Latin America and Europe.

We love their unique, original itineraries – whether they are for small group travel or individually created for tailor made clients – allowing you to take journeys that venture beneath the surface of the region. This operator concentrates on the locations they know and love. They don’t source itineraries from other agents, nor do they run the same tour over and over (thus creating a ‘tourist circuit’, spoiling an untouched region). Instead, they rarely run any group tour more than a couple of times a year on routes they have discovered for themselves, to give a truly authentic, off-the-beaten-track experience.

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