Silk Road Secrets of Uzbekistan with Sophie Ibbotson

Uzbekistan

Discover ancient sites and traditions in Uzbekistan

14 days £2,795 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Intro, Dates & Prices

Intro

What timeless secrets will Uzbekistan's Silk Road give up for you on this beguiling journey? From cities that were once caravanserais, to villages steeped in folklore; and from tree-cloaked mountains and weird canyons to old fortresses and bullet trains, this 14-day tour de force may just keep you enthralled.

Few are as qualified about Uzbekistan as author of the Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan, as well as Uzbekistan’s Tourism Ambassador to the UK, Sophie Ibbotson. To our delight, Sophie has handcrafted a unique tour of this enigmatic central Asian republic. Not only showcasing Uzbekistan's plentiful Silk Road heritage in both Samarkand and Bukhara, this tour also takes you to lesser-known sites around the country. Roam around the archaeological treasures of Termez. See prehistoric cave paintings and petroglyphs in the Nurata Mountains. Camp under the stars by Lake Aydarkul. Feel the ethnic charms and cultural continuity of Baysun. Attend workshops to learn manufacturing techniques that make Uzbekistan one the greatest producers of fine floor and wall textiles in the world.

What's more, your trip will directly benefit these communities, thus helping to preserve their customs, as well as governing our ethical principles here at Travel The Unknown.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ancient ruins of Fayaz Tepe in Termez
  • UNESCO-listed folk traditions of Baysun
  • Walk through Darband Gorge's sculpted rock formations.
  • Sublime monuments in Samarkand, World Tourism Capital 2023
  • Nuratau Mountains, an high oasis of nature and villages
  • Hayot village on the hiking trail through the Nurata Mountains
  • UNESCO Silk Road city of Bukhara
  • Uzbekistan's crucible of old and new, Tashkent.

Places Visited

Tashkent - Karshi - Termez - Fayaz Tepe - Baysun - Darband Gorge - Shakhrisabz - Samarkand - Nurata - Hayot Village - Aydarkul Lake - Bukhara

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Domestic flights
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks

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Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Tashkent

You will be met by our representative at Tashkent International Airport and transferred to your hotel for early check-in.

Breakfast and brief siesta until 11 o'clock before throwing yourself headlong into some late morning sightseeing in Central Asia's biggest city. In this urbanised hybrid of Sunni Islamic ancestry overlaid with Marxist-Leninist modernism and supercharged with today's free-market energy, there is much to savour. Sights we think you'll appreciate include the Kukeldash and Barak Khan madrassas, the Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum & the Khasty Imam Street mosque. Prior to lunch, a meander through Chor-Su bazaar to be tempted by stalls selling wonderful Uzbek handicrafts. 

Capital sightseeing continues apace after lunch at Amir Temur Square, Tashkent Metro and the Museum of Applied Arts. Other important landmarks visited include the Monument of Courage, Friendship of Nations and Independence squares, as well as the facade of Alisher Navoi Theatre.

In the evening a welcome dinner is scheduled, and a chance to get informally acquainted with your fellow travellers. 

Overnight in Mirluxe Plaza, Tashkent

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, has had a long and turbulent history. Early on, it fell under first Sogdian, then Turkic, and then Islamic rule before being destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219. Tashkent rose again as it profited from its position on the Silk Road, but was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1966, after which it was largely rebuilt again by the Soviets.

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Day 2 : Tashkent - Karshi

From Tashkent catch the bullet train to the kilim carpet capital of Karshi (Qarshi). Once at your destination, go on a sightseeing tour of a town that dates from 700 years before Christ. Highlights include Karshi's WWII memorial, commemorating Soviet losses. Also a chance to learn the ancient and fascinating secrets of kilim weaving (a kilim is a colourful, handmade, flat-woven rug). Dinner included in your hotel stay.

Overnight in Hotel Sultan , Karshi

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Karshi (aka Qarshi) dates back 2,700 years and was a strategic position on the Great Silk Road, thus attracting invaders over the ages. Karshi has Sogdian roots and is known for its impressive medieval madrassas, mausoleums and mosques. It also has a reputation for producing some of the finest flat-weave carpets. The city is also home to the most impressive and elaborate WWII memorial in Central Asia.

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Day 3 : Karshi - Termez

After a morning driving between Karshi, and today's destination, Termez, the afternoon presents opportunities aplenty to see Termez' Museum of Archaeology, Old Termez, plus the two Buddhist monasteries of Fayaz Tepe and Kara Tepe.

End the evening at your hotel in Termez. Dinner included.

Overnight in Termez Palace, Termez

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The city of Termez lies near the Hairatan border to Afghanistan in the south of Uzbekistan, the hottest part of the country. Termez is one of Central Asia's ancient cities that later became a significant Buddhist centre. The old city was destroyed in 1220 - by Genghis Khan - following the cities refusal to surrender peacefully. A new city was later built not far from these medieval ruins.

Termez Archaeological Museum was opened in 2002 in commemoration of the 2,500th anniversary of Termez. The museum exhibits archaeological remains that range from the Stone Age to the times of the Khanates. This consists of over 27,000 exhibits, including household pieces, paintings, sculptures and statues. 

The ancient ruins of Fayaz Tepe lie in the heart of old Termez. The Buddhist temple was constructed during the 1st century AD and destroyed during the Sassanid invasion of the 3rd century BC. The temple complex was rediscovered in 1963, when excavations revealed rich paintings and well-preserved sculptures. Today, Fayaz Tepe is also home to a museum, where further research and restoration efforts are ongoing. 

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Day 4 : Termez

Spilling over from yesterday's introduction to this administrative centre of Southern Uzbekistan's Surkhandarya region, we'll continue our exploration of Termez. Yet another of Uzbekistan's ancient human settlements, Termez has a long and storied past - most surprisingly as a centre for Buddhism which, it is thought, was brought by the Kushans from India. Our second day here incorporates famous sites, such as the Al Hakim At-Termizi Mausoleum, the Sultan Saodat memorial complex, Kampir Tepe, and Kyr Kyz. Evening at leisure. Dinner included in your stay. 

Overnight in Termez Palace, Termez

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 5 : Termez - Baysun

The morning involves a drive to the Baysun District, recognised by UNESCO with Intangible Cultural Heritage status. Here we visit the Baysun Museum of National Applied Art and Crafts Center. On the way to Baysun we will stop at the 12th century Jarkurgan Minaret, then onward to discover why Baysun was awarded UNESCO Intangible Heritage status: through the unique knotting and embroidery techniques that make Uzbekistan's Suzani tribal textiles, some argue, the world's best outside of Iran. We end with a visit to Omonhona natural mineral spa, where locals relax and sip the water as a nostrum for ailments and an exilir of life.

Return to your guesthouse in the evening. Dinner included.   

Overnight in Sitorai Darband, Darband

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Baysun District is located in south-eastern Uzbekistan on the route from Asia Minor to India, is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Central Asia. With the diminishing importance of the Silk Road and the political changes in Central Asia, the region became quite isolated, which favoured the preservation of ancient traditions that show traces of several religions, including shamanistic beliefs, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Islam. Ancient practices are still often used to conduct wedding ceremonies, funeral rites and shamanistic rituals to cure the sick. Among other popular traditions are ritual chants linked to annual festivals, epic legends and dances. UNESCO has classified Baysun District as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Source:  ich.unesco.org

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Day 6 : Baysun - Darband Gorge - Baysun

From our base in Baysun, we set off for the Kyzyl Canyon ('kyzyl' means red), an area strange and beautiful geological formations.  Afterwards,  you are invited to hike to the ruins of the Kurganzol Fortress - a Greek-Macedonian (Hellenistic) fortress, founded at the end of the 4th century BC. A day out in the wilderness, we'll then move on to the sculpted rock formations of Darband Gorge and surrounding high peaks. The shrine of a saint is located within the gorge and revered by locals. End this thematic tour day with another piece of natural drama: the scenic Kaptarkhona Canyon. Return to your guesthouse as evening falls. Enjoy dinner with your stay. 

Overnight in Sitorai Darband, Darband

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Darband Gorge is situated 20km from Baysun. The Khozhimoy Ota spring within the gorge is a holy place for the people of Surkhandarya. It is the burial place of a revered saint, which is located on one of the platforms on the wall of the gorge. The shrine is surrounded on all sides by huge vertical rocks. Nearby is a cave with an underground lake in which fish live. Fish are also considered holy and no one tries to catch or eat them. The Kaptarkhona Canyon is within the gorge and once upon a time it was a wild canyon in which wild pigeons nested, which is how it got its name. It consists of bizarre turns, narrow gorges and boulders scattered in the middle of a narrow path. It is very picturesque, especially in spring.

Darband, just at the northern extremities of Tehran, is the perfect place for a city escape and to explore the beautiful walking trails in the Alborz mountain range. Trails can be very busy on Thursdays and Fridays, but it is a great place to meet locals. At the foot of the mountain, a wide range of eating and drinking options are available.

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Day 7 : Baysun - Shakhrisabz - Samarkand

Leaving our base in Baysun, we hit the road on a journey to Samarkand, via the UNESCO-listed town of Shakhrisabz, birthplace of Uzbekistan's national hero, and founder of the feared Turco-Mongol Timurid Empire, Timur (Tamerlane to Europeans). After a worthy pitstop there, we go back on the road again, heading to our eventual destination in none other than fabulous, turquoise-tinted Samarkand.

Settle into the comfort of your hotel with dinner. 

Overnight in City Samarkand, Samarkand

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Shakhrisabz translates to "Green City". Founded over 2,700 years ago when it was known as "Kesh" or "Kish", it is one of Central Asia's most ancient cities. Throughout history, the city has fallen under the rule of various dynasties, including Alexander the Great in 329 BC. Today, Shakhrisabz is renowned for its handicrafts including carpet weaving, embroidery and tubeteikas (a traditional Uzbek hat). 

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Day 8 : Samarkand

Start your full day exploring the wondrous sights this linchpin of the Old Silk Road has to offer. Among architectural features considered universally iconic, you'll stand amid Registan Square, pay respects to the Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum, Tamerlane's burial place under the azure dome of Gur-e-Amir, as well as standing before Bibi Khanym, a contender for Uzbekistan's most graceful mosque. 

Evening at rest in your hotel with dinner. 

Overnight in City Samarkand, Samarkand

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia, with evidence of human activity stretching back over 40,000 years to the late Paleolithic era. The city itself is 2,700 years old. Falling variously under Greek, Persian, Arab, Turkic and Mongol rule throughout its history, it prospered greatly as a key junction on the Silk Road and reached its golden age under the rule of Timur. The city's backdrop of madrassas, mosques and mausoleums highlights its rich medieval history. Today it is Uzbekistan's second largest city and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001.

Registan Square lies at the heart of the city of Samarkand. Three of the square’s four sides are framed by grand madrassa buildings that were built between the 14th and 16th centuries, each with a unique design that displays traditional oriental architecture. All were active until the 1920s, when the Soviets shut them down. Registan translates to “sandy place”, as the central square was covered by sand and functioned largely as a trading market before the three madrassas were built.

Gur-e-Amir is the mausoleum of Timur (a.k.a. Tamarlane) and his male ancestors. The tomb was built in 1403 for Timur’s favorite grandson, Mohammad Sultan, but also became his own, after he died suddenly of pneumonia on his way to conquer China at the age of 69. The grand entrance to the mausoleum features ornately carved bricks and mosaics, whilst the interior displays a high-domed chamber decorated with hand-painted niches and archways. Stalin dug up Timur’s bones in 1941 to prove it was indeed him, despite Timur’s warnings to those who would disturb him. The next day Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union!

Built in 1399 by Timur to commemorate his conquest of India and named after his favourite wife, the Bibi Khanum mosque was the largest mosque in the world until the Blue Mosque in Constantinople eclipsed it in the early 15th century. Earthquakes and weathering caused it to fall to ruins, but it has undergone extensive reconstruction efforts, which are still ongoing. The restored main chamber and minarets feature beautifully ornate details and decorative mosaics, whilst just outside visitors can see the symbolic statue of a Koran stand.

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Day 9 : Samarkand - Nurata - Nuratau Mountains

Setting out from Samarkand, we take the highway to the Nuratau Mountains, via the old fortress town of Nurata. Beyond the town, we head onward and upward into the mountains and onto the trail that connects the ridge top villages. We'll be staying in one such village, Hayot. From the village, take a gentle afternoon walk to the site of ancient petroglyphs. These mountains, forming the western buttress of the Gissar Range, are fascinating, insofar as they rise above a barren steppe, providing much needed relief for the arid landscape, and even more relief for the plants and animals that call this nature reserve home.

Settle in to your Hayot guesthouse at day's ending. Dinner as part of the local hospitality. 

Overnight in Nurata Guesthouse , Hayot Village

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The small town of Nurata is nestled in the foothills of the Nurata Mountains. The origins of the town are unknown - some associate this with the construction of fortress Nur by Alexander the Great in 327 BC, whilst archeological excavations suggest that humans have inhabited the region for forty thousand years. Today, Nurata is the administrative and cultural centre of the mountainous Navoi region.

Hayot is a small stone village located along the walking trail through the Nurata Mountains. A microcosm of rural life in the mountains of Uzbekistan

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Day 10 : Nuratau Mountains - Aydarkul

Descending the mountains, we'll hit the flats and on to stunning Lake Aydarkul, a man-made lake, and part of the Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve. What started out as a Soviet irrigation project has morphed into a lake second only in size to the Aral Sea. Here you'll rest up at a yurt camp to sleep under wide skies.

Enjoy dinner al fresco as part of this wilderness package. 

Note: the yurts and bathrooms are on a shared basis.

Overnight in Aydarkul Yurt Camp , Aydarkul Lake

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Aydarkul Lake can be found in the Kizil Kum Desert. The lake is a byproduct of Soviet irrigation (1960s and 1970s), whereby irrigation and damming led water from the Chardarya Reservoir to flow into the Arnasay lowlands. Aydarkul Lake was subsequently formed, and has since become the second largest lake in the region after the Aral Sea.

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Day 11 : Aydarkul - Bukhara

From your camp on the lakeside, we turn our attentions to another potent reminder of the old Silk Road: Bukhara. Once there, settle in to your new, urban surrounds in this former caravansarai, now a city of a quarter million souls, studded with sublime religious buildings and topped with these recognisable blue domes.

Evening at your boutique hotel with dinner. 

Overnight in Komil B&B , Bukhara

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 12 : Bukhara

A full day discovering Uzbekistan's 7th-largest city, and one of its oldest and most abiding. A darling of UNESCO's cultured patrons, Bukhara is held up as the most complete example of a Medieval city in Central Asia, its urban fabric largely untouched. For this reason alone, a full day in Bukhara is something to be reckoned with.

Back to your boutique hotel for dinner and rest. 

Overnight in Komil B&B , Bukhara

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

UNESCO-listed Bukhara was a key staging point on the Silk Road. According to myth the city was founded by a Persian prince who escaped his wicked stepmother across the Oxus river in search of new fortunes . The city today is home to over 140 largely intact architectural monuments. Constructed on an artificial hill in the 5th century BC, the Ark Fortress is Bukhara’s oldest building. The former military structure became the winter residence of Bukhara’s emirs before it fell under rule of Russia in 1920. Besides an edifying visiti to the Ark Museum, the Fortress houses the former Russian Embassy, the former home of a progressive vizier named Kush Begi, and the throne room, where emirs were coronated and coins were minted.

The Ark Fortress is Bukhara’s oldest building, constructed on an artificial hill in the 5th century BC. The former military structure became the winter residence of Bukhara’s emirs, before it fell under rule of Russia in 1920. Today, the Ark is home to a museum that depicts its history and you can visit the former Russian Embassy, the former home of a progressive vizier named Kush Begi, and the throne room, where emirs were coronated and coins were minted.

Poi Kalyan is a religious site that encompasses Kalan Minaret, Kalan Mosque and the Mir-i- Arab Madrassah. Kalyan Minaret, which stands at around 46.5m high, was built in 1127. It’s often called the "Tower of Death", as during the reign of Emir Nasrullah – the Butcher of Bukhara - many of those sentenced to death were thrown from the top. Kalyan Mosque was built during the 1500s, on the site of a former mosque that had been destroyed by Genghis Khan. Modelled on Naqsh-e-Jahan square in Isfahan in Iran and built by Persian craftsmen, it served as a warehouse during Soviet rule. The ornate Mir-i Arab Madrassa was built by Ubaidullah-khan in honour of his spiritual mentor, Sheikh Abdullah Yamani of Yemen. A great blue dome stands above the intricate murals that adorn the great entrance. 
 


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Day 13 : Bukhara - Tashkent

Morning dedicated to final sightseeing in historic Bukhara. Outside the city limits lies The Palace like the Stars and & the Moon. Sitorai Mohi Xosa was the summer residence of the Emir of Bukhara from the pre-Soviet Caliphate days. Moving along, we'll then pay respects at the nearby Baha-ud-din Naqshband Complex, housing the interred remains of the venerated 14th century Sufi scholar Baha-ud-din Naqshband Bukhari (aka Saint Sheikh), whose Naqshband school of mystical Islam was renowned in its day.

After a leisurely lunch get ready to ride the splendid, all-new Afrosiyob bullet train on a 4-hour high-speed service to where you started your tour in Tashkent. Retire to your hotel for a farewell gathering around the dinner table. 

Overnight in Mirluxe Plaza, Tashkent

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The traditional Chorsu bazaar can be found at the heart of Tashkent’s old town, near the famous Kukeldash Madrasah. Dating back over one hundred years, the bazaar sits beneath a large, blue-domed roof that is designed to keep out heat and dust. The bazaar serves up an abundance of fruits, nuts, meat, spices, fresh bread, as well as various handicrafts.

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Day 14 : Departure

Transfer to the international airport for flight home or to other onward destination.

Note:  extensions elsewhere in Uzbekistan can be arranged - for example to Nukus and Khiva. Contact us for more information.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

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Hotel Sultan

Karshi (1 night)

Hotel Sultan  is a high-class hotel that was opened on March 17, 2017. A modern three-star hotel, located in the center of Karshi. The spacious rooms at Sultan Hotel are decorated in a classic style with wooden furniture. All rooms have climate control, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a private bathroom. The hotel has an entertainment and health complex. The complex includes a swimming pool, sauna, fitness and billiards room. 

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Termez Palace

Termez (2 nights)

The hotel is designed to meet the modern requirements of the modern traveler. From technical spaces to inspiring design, affordable standard rooms to royal suites that promise to make our guests’ stay memorable and delightful. For relaxation, there are three types of thermal zones: a steam room (hamam) and a Finnish sauna, a swimming pool with hydromassage (for adults) and a gym.

Attentive attitude to the individual needs of each guest, harmony, peace and comfort, gives guests maximum immersion and relaxation after a hard day’s travel.

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City Samarkand

Samarkand (2 nights)

City Samarkand Hotel is situated in the most beautiful, green and quiet area of Samarkand - University Boulevard. Most of the main tourist attractions of ancient Samarkand are within a walking distance from the hotel.
The property has 10 single rooms, 10 double rooms, one triple room and two suites designed in European style. Each room is equipped with air conditioners, bath, satellite TV and IDD telephones.
Different services are provided to the guests, including booking of air and train tickets, taxi and translation services, secured car parking, room and laundry services.
The hotel also has a restaurant offering National and European cuisine and a swimming pool. 

Visit hotel's site
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Nurata Guesthouse

Hayot Village (1 night)

Charming village guesthouse along the trail through the village of Hayot in the Nurata mountains.

Visit hotel's site
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Aydarkul Yurt Camp

Aydarkul Lake (1 night)

Traditional Turkic nomadic home, the yurt. 

Visit hotel's site
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Komil B&B

Bukhara (2 nights)

Located in the heart of the old city of Bukhara, the building was built over 100 years ago. Today the interior of each room remains as it did in 19th century Bukhara with intricately carved and hand painted walls and shelving. The family-run, owned and managed Bed and Breakfast offers a combination of traditional Bukharan style and atmosphere, with modern conveniences and personal attentive care.

Extensions

Uzbekistan Extension Ideas (8 days)

Extend your trip in Uzbekistan

Culinary Uzbekistan

Enrich your taste buds and culinary skills

Navoi Extension (5 days)

Discover petroglyphs and valleys on this extension.

Village Walks in Tajikistan (5 days)

Village walks around the Fann Mountains

The Fergana Valley (2 days)

Silk Road wares and the fertile Fergana.

The Aral Sea Extension

See what became of this vast freshwater lake.

Five Stan Odyssey (along the Silk Road) (30 days)

Get under the skin of all five 'Stans'

Silk Road Secrets of Uzbekistan with Sophie Ibbotson (14 days)

Discover ancient sites and traditions in Uzbekistan

The Silk Roads of Uzbekistan & Tajikistan (14 days)

Desert Highways & Mountain Lakes.

Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan Explorer (14 days)

From desert citadels to alpine lakes.

Silk Road Cities & Villages of Uzbekistan (11 days)

Get under the skin of Uzbekistan's towns and villages

Uzbekistan Odyssey (11 days)

Ancient cities, spell-binding architecture and stunning landscapes

Essential Uzbekistan (8 days)

Connecting Classic Silk Road Cities.

Ski The Silk Road (7 days)

Silk Road sites and ski slopes

Reviews

A well-planned trip, allowing us to see some of the amazing rich history of Uzbekistan, and giving us a chance to see some of the excellent craftspeople who still produce gorgeous handmade items.

Deborah Conway-Read , Uzbekistan Odyssey

The Uzbekistan Odyssey was a well constructed and executed tour of Uzbekistan. We saw so much of the country, including towns, cities, deserts and mountains, and experienced the wonderful architecture, the turbulent history and the beautiful arts and crafts of the country. And all that with the background of the romance of the Silk Roads!

Doreen Hutchings , Uzbekistan Odyssey

We spent a memorable month in Central Asia, travelling through four 'Stans. The long history of ethnic diversity and exchange of cultural ideas make it a fascinating place. The architecture and landscapes were breathtaking and the hospitality and warmth of the people unforgettable.

Dave Every , Tailormade 'Stans'

The Silk Road trip is the second tailored tour we have made with Travel the Unknown. The itinerary was well-planned and we found every guide knowledgeable and good company. Thank you.

Tony & Chris Cram , Tailormade Uzbekistan

Travel The Unknown proved to be knowledgeable, efficient and flexible. An extensive and packed itinerary ran like clockwork. The quality of accommodation, food, guides and the friendliness of all the people of Central Asia were all surprisingly good and better than anticipated. An excellent trip!

Peter & Janice Lacey , Tailormade Five Stans

The itinerary and arrangements for our trip to Uzbekistan were perfect. The local guide, Shovkat, was helpful and knowledgeable and made us feel very welcome.

David York , Tailormade Uzbekistan
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