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
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.
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