Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan holiday, Silk Road explorer
Description of Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan holiday, Silk Road explorer
There are actually three ‘Stans’ being covered on this extraordinary sixteen day holiday: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Silk Road countries that boast so much history and culture they can be overwhelming. Which is why we carefully crafted this itinerary to capture these evocative countries in the best way possible.
Starting in Tajikstan, in the capital city of Dushanbe, formerly ‘Stalinabad’, you can still see plenty of Soviet influences in architecture, with the Museum of Antiquities taking you back to times well before that too. As does the nearby fort town of Gissar, which dates back to the 16th century. Heading west, we start to witness some of the country’s great landscapes, such the stunning, opal blue Iskander-Kul Lake in the Fann Mountains, part of the Gissar Range.
More ancient stops along the Silk Road await in Tajikstan, including Istaravshan which still has a craft and artisan trading quarter today, and so we take time to explore the maze of workshops from woodworkers to blacksmiths. Over the border in Uzbekistan, another of the most important Silk Road cites is Samarkand, which we visit after stopping in the fascinating if less aesthetically appealing capital of Tashkent. More historic elegance is to be found in Bukhara, a city of medieval magnificence. In contrast, the country’s desert landscapes are a wonderful place to spend a night camping and also explore ruined forts, as well as the walled city of Khiva. Khiva, unlike the other ancient towns and cities in the region, still seems utterly stopped in time from the minute you walk through the ancient gates of Ichan Qala and into its old town.
The third and final country on this cultural journey is Turkmenistan, where there are many fascinating and fantastic sites to explore. For the former, the ancient ruins at UNESCO World Heritage Site of Merv and the mausoleums of Konye-Urgench are eye opening. But for the latter, few things beat the flaming gas crater of Darwaza. We spend a night camping here in order to take in all of its bizarre beauty: a natural gas field that collapsed into a cavern known locally as the "Door to Hell", it glows and burns all year round, like the earth’s coolest fire pit.
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PlanetMost of the time on this tour is spent in towns and cities, but we do spend some time in the Kyzyl Kum desret, where we stay overnight in yurts. When exploring these areas on foot we take care to stick to any trails that exist and not to damage any of the flora, as some parts of the region are quite a fragile environment. We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, and work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem. We ensure that all litter at the yurts is disposed of properly – this means working with the owners to educate them about recycling, and taking waste back to proper disposal sites where possible.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off – small things but Central Asia is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.
PeopleOn all of tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we try to allow our travellers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the country; a good example of this is when we stay overnight in yurts in Yangigazgan. Not only is this a great experience for travellers but it means that small scale community based tourism projects, often ignored by mainstream tourism, are able to benefit from our visit. We also visit a small private museum in Gijduvan on this trip, which is working to preserve certain parts of the region’s heritage, and the entrance fees we include here help to ensure that its history is preserved for future generations.
Some of the sites that we visit are popular attractions, others less so –an example of these is the desert castles of Karakalpakstan. Relatively few tourists visit here and so the entrance fees that we pay are more critical than in other places in contributing to the preservation of their heritage. These sites are quite fragile, being made mostly of mud brick, and we ensure that our travellers do not unwittingly contribute to their degradation by briefing them on appropriate behaviour.
Parts of Central Asia are very traditional with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not always that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This also applies to the numerous mosques and mausoleums that we visit on this trip; religion is important here and it is important that we respect these traditions.
We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the country. Where possible we encourage our travellers to spend their money with local businesses; for this reason we do not include meals where it is feasible to eat outside of the hotels, in order that local restaurants are able to benefit from the presence of tourism, rather than the income being channelled just to the hotel.