A road trip itinerary through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – following the ancient Silk Road
When it comes to traveling, there are few names as evocative as the Silk Road. Marco Polo traveled along the endless winding tracks, but certainly, far-flung destinations as Samarkand or Bukhara are equally well renowned. Ever since I was a child I always wanted to see it. While traveling from Venice to Nanjing would be the real dream, I knew I had to settle for a less extended itinerary. For now.
Sadly, defining this itinerary proved way harder than I originally thought. Inner Asia is so far off the international tourist tracks, that finding accommodations, flights, and inland connections take longer than anywhere else in the world (that’s how it felt at least). I finally settled on seeing Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. To me, it is the perfect combination of ancient culture and picture-perfect landscape – spectacular cities, without missing out on the nomadic culture. All I knew: There are just so many outstanding things to do in Uzbekistan.
I will be traveling through Uzbekistan without a tour or guide, while I booked a private tour for Kyrgyzstan. Call me shy, call me spoiled, but I hate traveling around with strangers. When I am on the road I like to enjoy the silence and not spent the time sharing my curriculum vitae with every passerby. Weirdly enough, I got no problem whatsoever to do this here on my blog…well digital schizophrenia here I come! Anyway, here are the details:
My Silk Road itinerary Part 1: Uzbekistan
I will be starting in Tashkent. Basically this the only feasible starting point for international tourist. There are no direct flights from Germany (or from most other countries), so I will have a short layover in Istanbul. The other popular alternative would be via Moscow. There is also a train going from Moscow to Tashkent.
Now I heard great things about Tashkent, but I decided against spending any time there, as it is a fairly modern city and I have seen my share of these. From Tashkent, I will head straight to Khiva. Found a good deal for an inland flight to Urgench, which is 20km away from Khiva. There are also regular trains. I guess it just depends on the day of the week you are arriving.
Khiva is an amazing city. It is, essentially one museum piece dating back to the beginning of the 10th century. The whole inner city it a designed UNESCO World Heritage Site full of ancient mosques and minarets. Over 50 historic monuments are crowding Khiva and I intend to see them all.
If you want to know more about this fantastic city, do read my guide to Khiva.
From Khiva, I will be taking a taxi to Khiva. Sadly there are no daily trains leaving from Khiva to Bukhara, but my hotel was kind enough to organize private transportation for me. Bukhara is, just like Khiva, another city museum – just a little bit bigger and way older.
World-renowned is the Ismail Samani mausoleum, the Po-i-Kalan complex, and the Kalyan Minaret. Blue tiles and adobe walls seem to recreate the stories from the Arabian Nights. I will be staying 3 days in Bukhara
Update: Read about the 10 best things to do in Bukhara here
A short train ride will bring me to Samarkand. Samarkand is, according to Wikipedia, one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia. I am beyond positive that I will thoroughly enjoy it. Just seeing pictures of the world famous Registan complex makes my eyes wet.
The great Timur is responsible for most of its architectonic highlights that are now protected by the UNESCO.
Just like in Khiva and Bukhara I will have three days in Samarkand. I am actually afraid it will be not enough, especially since the heat of the day will leech away my strength in no time. On my last day, I need to catch my flight from Tashkent (which is roughly 4hours by train away), leaving me 2 spare hours in the capital of Uzbekistan, I will probably spend hugging my luggage in a hopefully air-conditioned airport lounge.
Update: Here is my article on 10 amazing things to do Samarkand.
My Silk Road itinerary Part 2: Kyrgyzstan
I decided to start the second leg of my Silk Road adventure in Bishkek. I read (and I got no means of verification) that the borders between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan can be shut on a short notice. So I felt like taking a plane would be safer. Also, I will see Kyrgyzstan on a private guided tour and there was no way around starting from the capital.
I am quite aware that a lot of inner Asia tour companies offer a smoother transition between the countries, but I did not want to rely on them. Also, I hate taking pre-organized tours, with no room for exploration and changing the plan for the day on a whim. Here’s a list of the 20 most amazing things to do in Kyrgyzstan for all those who like to organize things themselves.
Anyway, from Bishkek we will head straight into the Alamedin Gorge and then onwards to Bay-Tur. This will be just a little stop on our way to Kyzyl Oi, where the day after (23. July 2016) a great national festival will be held. Horse races, wrestling, and dance – I expect to see it all.
We will then slowly head towards the famous Son-Kul Lake. I saw so many pictures of it and still can’t seem to get enough of it. I just HAD to see it. Naturally, I plan to hike extensively along its pristine shores, though our guide already informed us that bathing is not possible.
From Son-Kul Lake the tour goes on to Tash Rabat. This is an ancient silk road caravansary – said to be one of the best preserved of them all. It’s quite close to the Great Pamir, though we will not be heading in that direction.
From the Chinese border will be slowly moving onwards to Issyk Kul Lake. Our first stop will be the town of Kochkor (where we will be staying with locals) and then to Termi-Kanat. There will be a lot of horseback riding involved here and I intend to look all the way like Marco Polo!
I am also really looking forward to Jeti Ögus. Here we will be seeing impressive red rock formations and we will be hunting with eagles! When I heard this would be possible I was more than thrilled! While I was on the Isle of Skye in May I already had the chance to see a white-tailed eagle and I expect this to be even more fascinating.
Originally our guide wanted us to stay in the city Karakol (famous for its horse marked) after that, but I decided for a lonely mountain village 20 kilometers way called Kara-Kyz. I really wanted to stay in yurts as much as possible (though I am not sure if I will regret that decision :P).
Sadly our tour will then be almost done. The last stop will be Tamshy, where we will hopefully be able to spend the day bathing in the Issyk Kul last. And then it’s onwards to Bishkek (but not without visiting the Burana Tower from the 10th century).
Last notes on my Silk Road adventure
Deciding for a good time to visit both countries was, though. As we are doing quite some hiking July is the ideal time for Kyrgyzstan. We will be moving constantly above 2,000 meters and higher. On the downside, the temperatures in Uzbekistan will be outright blazing during that time. From what I heard June or September would have been the ideal times to see the country, but as I am not traveling alone this was not an option.
To be quite frank with you, I am actually not a fan of high temperatures. I constantly felt miserable in Thailand and loved the eternal ice wastes of Spitsbergen close to the North Pole. But I am also a tough guy and I am quite positive I will survive those 10 days of scorching heat. After all, I got outstanding highlights to distract me.
Note: For all those planning a trip to Kyrgyzstan, I compiled a neat packing list with everything you need to bring (it’s quite a challenge!)
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I intend to bring back thousands of wonderful pictures from my adventures. For now, the picture credit goes to: David Stanley, Michał Huniewicz, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Malcolm Manners, Stefan Krasowski, Thomas Depenbusch, Dmitry Karyshev, Gustavo Jeronimo, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
This sounds fantastic. What a wonderful adventure to experience. I hope you’ll share more about it when you return.
I definitely plan to do that! Everything looks so spectacular and I am quite sure I will be able to shoot some wonderful pictures as well :)
Sounds like a good plan! if you are on instagram share your photos form Uzbekistan taking #VisitUzbekistan!:) and if you need any local advice feel free to ask! (we do not plan to accompany you during your trip;) )
Enjoy your traveling!
thank you for the kind offer! And I am on instagram and plan to share tons of pictures (internet permitting).
Have tons of fun Norman! It will be amazing I’m sure. Thanks for sharing your itinerary. I might need it in the (hopefully near) future.
I’m planning on going to Uzbekistan and either Kyrgyzstan. I’d like to know how the border crossing is at the moment. I read in March there was some tension at the border of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and I’d like to avoid that if possible. Any thoughts?
well that was the same rumor I heard so I decided to take the plane for Tashkent to Bishkek (it is certainly the fastest option). If you wanna see the Feragana-Valley border crossing might be a better option, though. I got no clue whatsoever if it is easy or hard. I just know that the airport in Tashkent checked my luggage 5 times in a row (hell alone knows why so many security checks are needed).
Nice itinerary. I have rarely seen someone visiting Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, so your travel would make it for an interesting read. I am also not a fan of a sweltering heat, so I have been miserable for the past few month in Canada. prefer winter there haha. Have fun and look forward to seeing your pictures!
Yeah…these countries need more attention and so deserve it! Same heat here in Germany. Normally i hate it, but after my stay in Uzbekistan I am used it it now. heh.
das ist ein sehr interessanter Bericht. Wir wollen im Mai 2017 nach Usbekistan und haben auch schon verschiedene Anbieter ins Auge gefasst. Normalerweise mögen wir Gruppenreise gar nicht, aber da wir kein Russisch können, wird uns wohl nichts anderes übrig bleiben. Wie hast du die Englischkenntnisse der Bevölkerung erlebt und wo hast du deine individuelle Tour gebucht?
Viele Grüße Tommy & Annika
jemand deutsches liest mit, sehr schön! :) Ich kann selber auch nur gebrochen russisch (mein Vater, der mit mir dabei war, etwas besser). Grundsätzlich würde ich sagen, dass man auch ohne Russisch gut durch kommt. Ein paar Floskeln sollte man schon können. Die gut bewerteten hotels auf booking.com (wo ich gebucht habe) konnten alle sehr gut englisch und mit denen konnte man eigentlich alles sehr gut organisieren (taxi’s etc).
Hab ja in Kyrgyzstan eine geführte Tour gemacht (selber zusammengestellt, aber halt fahrer und übersetzer dabei) und das war ehrlich gesagt ne katastrophe. Insofern: Uzbekistan geht total einfach ohne Gruppe.
Achso..Bevölkerung kann GAR kein Englisch. Außer in Samarkand hab ich ein paar jugendliche getroffen die mit mir Englisch sprechen wollten (und einmal ein kleiner Junge). War ganz witzig.
There are direct flights twice a week from Frankfurt to Tashkent for many years already. Plan a trip to Tashkent, I will show you the city and you will be amazed how underestimated this city is. Great stories and pictures.
This is wonderful can you tell me how to find a good and trustworthy guide in Kyrgyzstan? We have a similar plan to travel alone in UZbekistan as I love trains and also hate groups. BUt I see this is difficult on public transportation in Kyrgyzstan so there we will need a guide. We will do this trip in May or June.