Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran: Discover the Four Stans and Iran
Day 1 & 2: Departure from JFK to Almaty
Overnight flight to Almaty, Kazakhstan via Istanbul, Turkey.
Day 3: Arrive in Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Welcome to Central Asia! Upon arrival to Almaty Airport, we will meet you and transfer to hotel for rest after flight. Rest of the day is at your leisure! Overnight in Almaty.
Day 4: Almaty (Kazakhstan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Full day sightseeing in Almaty. Visit Panfilov Park, Zenkov Cathedral (wooden construction), St. Nicholas Cathedral, National Musical Instruments Museum, Central State Museum, Almaty Green Bazaar, Panoramic view from Kok Tobe. Overnight in Almaty.
Day 5: Almaty – Bishkek (Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. After breakfast depart Almaty and drive to Bishkek via a newly built highway. En route watch the natural landscapes. Afternoon arrival at Bishkek. Check in to the hotel. Afternoon sightseeing of Bishkek: visit Central Museum (museum is closed for reconstruction), Independence Square, Philharmonic Square, University Boulevard, and TSUM. Overnight in Bishkek.
Day 6: Bishkek – Issyk Kul – Karakol (Kyrgyzstan) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, you drive to Karakol town situated in the east of the lake area, at the foot of the most picturesque mountains of Tian Shan. The way passes along the south shore of Issyk Kul. Follow the way along the shore of Issyk Kul until the town of Karakol. On the way stop in yurt makers village Kyzyl Tuu and visit yurt masters home. Visit Djety Oguz canyon on the way. Djety Oguz in Kyrgyz means “Seven Bulls”. This picturesque gorge is named so because of the red rocky sand formations covered with forests of Tien Shan spruces. Overnight in Karakol.
Day 7: Karakol – Cholpon Ata (Kyrgyzstan) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, you start city-tour in Karakol: visit the wooden Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral. It was completed in 1895 and used as an officers’ club during Soviet Times; it is now restored and in use again as a church. There is also a small section of Russian colonial ‘gingerbread’ style residential buildings. Also you visit to a very pretty wooden mosque built entirely without nails by Chinese artisans between 1907 and 1910 for the local Dungans. (Muslims of Chinese origin who fled China during the aftermath of the XIX Century Hui Minorities’ War). Next visit is to the museum of Nikolay M. Prjevalskiy, the outstanding Russian explorer of the Asian Continent. Drive to Cholpon Ata, situated in the Northern shore of Issyk Kul Lake. Upon arrival to Cholpon Ata, visit Petroglyphs site, the temple in the open air of Scythians and Hungsuns civilizations in VIII-XIX Centuries B.C. until III-IV Centuries A.D. Overnight in Cholpon Ata.
Day 8: Cholpon Ata – Bishkek – Tashkent (Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Transfer back to Bishkek. En route visit Burana Tower historical complex in Tokmok District, which used to be center of Karakhanid Kingdom Culture. Lunch on the way in local restaurant or local family. Continue drive to Bishkek, Manas Airport, to take flight to Tashkent at 18.40 HY 780. Upon arrival immigration and customs clearance. Meet outside of arrival hall. Overnight in Tashkent.
Day 9: Tashkent (Uzbekistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Full day sightseeing in Tashkent, visit the old part of the city – Khast Imam complex as well as possessing a rich Islamic Library with immense Osman Koran, dating back to the VII Century, Chorsu Bazaar, Kukeldash Madrasah. Afternoon visit Independence (Mustakillik) Square with governmental buildings, A. Navoi Theater Square, A. Temur Museum and Square. Overnight in Tashkent.
Day 10: Tashkent – Samarkand (Uzbekistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Transfer to railway station for the bullet train AFROSIAB to Samarkand. Upon arrival to Samarkand Start tour of “Rome of the East” visiting: Registan Square, Gur Emir Mausoleum, Bibi – Khanum Mosque and Central Bazaar in Samarkand, Afrosiyob Museum, and Museum of Ulugbek Observatory, Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis. Overnight in Samarkand.
Day 11: Samarkand – Shakhrisabz – Samarkand (Uzbekistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Transfer to Shakhrisabz, hometown of Great Tamerlane, arrival to Shakhrisabz: visit remains of Ak-Saray Palace, Kok-Gumbaz Mosque, Khazrati Imam Ensemble. After sightseeing Shakhrisabz depart back to Samarkand and visit Paper Mills. Overnight in Samarkand.
Day 12: Samarkand – Bukhara (Uzbekistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Start driving to Bukhara via Gijduvan. En route visit remains of Caravansary and Sardoba, a water reservoir. Excursion to Gijduvan – famous pottery house. Arrival to Bukhara, check in to the hotel. Sightseeing tour in Bukhara: Kalon Ensemble, Madrasah Miri-Arab, Magoki-Attori Mosque, Chashma-Ayub, Madrasah Ulugbek and Abdulaziz Khan, Kosh Madrasah, Trade Domes, Lyabi Hauz Complex, Madrasah Chor – Minor. Overnight in Bukhara.
Day 13: Bukhara (Uzbekistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Continue sightseeing of Bukhara: summer palace of Bukhara emirs Sitora-i-Mokhi Khosa, Necropolis Chor Bark, burial of Sheikhs and Royal Family members, Complex of Bahauddin Naqshband, place of locals to worship, visit Samanid Dynasty Mausoleum, Ark Fortress. Overnight in Bukhara.
Day 14: Bukhara – Farab – Turkmenabat – Mary (Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. In the morning depart Bukhara and drive to Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan border point Farab. Border formalities on both sides, crossing the border. Transfer to Mary via Turkmenabat and Merv (350 km/4.5 hrs.). Upon arrival tour of Merv which was located at the crossroads of Great Silk Road and quickly became one of most important and biggest cities of the ancient World. Sightseeing will include: Gyz Gala and Oglan Gala, Complex of Askhabs, Gyaur Gala, Erk Gala, Soltan Gala, Soltan Sanjar Mausoleum, Ibn Zeid Mausoleum. Overnight in Mary.
Day 15: Mary – Flight to Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at hotel. Transfer to airport for flight to Ashgabat. Upon arrival, enjoy sightseeing tour of the Blue Mosque, Arch of Neutrality and Independence Park with its rotating gold statue of Turkmenbashi. Drive to Nisa and explore the ancient ruined capital of the Parthians. Discover the unique fortresses, citadel, temples and tombs (III Century B.C.), the National Museum of History and Ethnography. Overnight in Ashgabat.
Day 16: Ashgabat – Mashhad (Turkmenistan – Iran) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at the hotel. Early morning transfer to Iran borders. Border formalities on both sides. Meeting with Iranian guide and driver, route to Mashhad (250 km). Accommodation upon your arrival. City tour of Mashhad. Visiting holy shrine of Imam Reza, Reza Museum, Bazaar, Nader Tomb. Overnight in Mashhad.
Day 17: Mashhad – Tehran (Iran) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, morning panoramic tour of city and transfer to the airport, then a flight to Tehran. Arrival and followed by a transfer to the hotel in Tehran. Overnight in Tehran.
Day 18: Tehran (Iran) [B,L,D]
After you enjoy a great buffet breakfast and leave the hotel, enjoy a full day guided tour of Tehran. First we will visit The Archaeological Museum: A must-see in Tehran. The collection includes pottery, ceramics, stone figures and carvings from 5th & 4th Millennium B.C. Four tablets inscribed in cuneiform, Darius I inscription, carved staircase, tiles from Apadana Palace, and salt man are some of the highlights. Later, we will explore The National Jewels Museum: The treasury of Iranian national royal jewels accommodates the world’s most precious jewelry collection. The treasury has an interesting history, going back centuries. The Glassware and Ceramic Museum would be our last stop before lunch. The premises have been turned into a museum where glass and clay works are on display and were built about 90 years ago. The building is a combination of the traditional Iranian style and the European architecture of the XIX Century. The collection of glass and clay works that are on display at the museum is among the rarest in Iran and it includes clay pots dating back the 4th Millennium B.C. up to the present time, as well as glass works from the 1st Millennium B.C. up to the contemporary era. European glass works from the XVIII and XIX Centuries are also part of the collection.
In the afternoon, we will visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Golestan Palace. The lavish Golestan Palace is a masterpiece of the Qajar Era, embodying the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences. The walled Palace, one of the oldest groups of buildings in Tehran, became the seat of government of the Qajar Family, which came into power in 1779 and made Tehran the capital of the country. Built around a garden featuring pools as well as planted areas, the Palace’s most characteristic features and rich ornaments date from the 19th century. It became a center of Qajari arts and architecture of which it is an outstanding example and has remained a source of inspiration for Iranian artists and architects to this day. It represents a new style incorporating traditional Persian arts and crafts and elements of XVIII Century architecture and technology. Overnight in Tehran.
Day 19: Tehran – Shiraz (Iran) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will visit the Carpet Museum with its beautiful modern architecture and a facade resembling a carpet-weaving loom. Founded in 1978, the museum provides a historical background for the evolution of this art form. Transfer to the airport and a short flight to Shiraz.
Shiraz is crowned as the heartland of Persian culture and this city of sophistication will never fail to conjure up images of roses and nightingales, gardens and poetry. This gorgeous city in the province of Fars is home to famous poets such as Hafez and Sa’adi. Also, historical sites from different eras stretching back 6,000 years ago can be found there. Relish in the highlights of Shiraz when it was the capital of Iran during the Zand Dynasty. Be inspired by the glorious Karim Khan palace, the splendid Vakil mosque, Vakil Bazaar and Saray-e-Moshir with its splendid architecture and interesting ethnic souvenir shops and Nasir Almolk Mosque. Next, we will stop for a mouth-watering Iranian lunch at one of the traditional restaurants of Shiraz. In the evening, we will visit Ali-Ebn-e-Hamzeh and be prepared to marvel at its beauties. Take a stroll through the Jahan Nama Garden and witness its tall and proud cedars. Not forgetting the two famous Persian poets, Hafez and Sa’adi, whose mysterious poems are everlasting in the Persian language, we will get a chance to pay homage to their tombs. Finally visit the Delgosha Garden and Khajoo-Kermani tomb from where the perspective of the mysterious city of Shiraz will perpetuate in our mind. At night have dinner in a restaurant with specific atmosphere in the north of Shiraz. Overnight in Shiraz.
Day 20: Shiraz – Persepolis – Shiraz (Iran) [B,L,D]
Get ready for a truly wonderful day! After breakfast, we’ll drive about 35 miles to Takht-e-Jamshid or as the Greeks called it, Persepolis, a ruined capital of ancient Iran. It is one of the greatest artistic legacies of the ancient world and perhaps one of the most beautiful and spectacular archaeological sites surviving today. In the VI Century B.C., the Achaemenian King Darius I, created Persepolis as a palatial precinct for an empire which eventually became larger and more efficiently ruled than any other in the ancient world. Persepolis was reserved only for ritual celebrations. In the spring of each new year, on Nowruz, the Zoroastrian observance of the beginning of Spring, March 21st, the dynamic ruler and his court gathered at Persepolis to receive the tribute of subject nations and to reestablish universal order for the coming year. Nowruz is still celebrated today. Step back in time as we enter through the Gate of All Nations. The arrival of the erstwhile delegations was announced by trumpeters who stood at the top of the staircase in front of the Gate of Nations. They were then led to the Hundred Column Palace to the presence of the king. Superb bas reliefs depict the flow of ritual processions that once passed through the palaces and audience halls of the Achaemenian Kings. We’ll explore the Gate of Xerxes, the Apadana Palace, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers. Persepolis was completed by Xerxes and Artaxerxes I who ruled Persia in the V Century BC. The palaces were used by the Achaemenid kings up until they were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. as revenge for the sacking of Athens during the Persian Wars with the Greeks. To top off the afternoon, visit Naghsh-é-Rostam, which contains the rock carved chambers of four Achaemenian Tombs, believed to be those of Darius the Great, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius II. The ornamental facades are rock reliefs from the Sassanian dynasty depicting various scenes of imperial conquests as well as a probable fire temple from Achaemenian times. Later, return to Shiraz via the Koran Gate for overnight in Shiraz.
Day 2: Shiraz – Pasargadae – Yazd (Iran) [B,L,D]
Today, we say goodbye to Shiraz and embark on our journey to Yazd, stopping en route at Pasargadae – another UNESCO World Heritage site. Pasargadae was the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus ll the Great in the 6th century BC. Its palaces, gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization. Particularly noteworthy vestiges include: the Mausoleum of Cyrus ll; Tall-e-Takht, a fortified terrace; and a royal ensemble of gatehouse, audience hall, residential palace and gardens. Pasargadae was the capital of the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. Spanning the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Hindus River, it is considered to be the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different peoples. This was reflected in Achaemenid architecture, a synthetic representation of different cultures. After a leisurely visit to Pasargadae, you continue on through the desert to the city of Yazd. Upon arrival, we’ll have an evening stroll through Fahadan Historical Neighborhood and Amir Chakhmagh Square. Overnight in Yazd.
Day 22: Yazd (Iran) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will explore the city of Yazd. Visit the Towers of Silence and the Fire Temple and adjoining museum, to learn about the Zoroastrian faith, their holy book – the Avesta, four divine elements – air, water, earth and fire, and motto – good thoughts, good words, good deeds! Next at the Yazd Water Museum we learn about the construction of Qanats (canals or canats), which are underground tunnels or subterranean aqueducts carrying life-giving water from the mountains to the homes, Persian gardens, fields, orchards, pomegranate groves. You’ll admire their courageous builders using techniques developed from the fourth century B.C., and explore a house with its own Qanat System in place. There are enough Qanats in Iran the distance of which to go the moon and back four times! Walk through the Friday Mosque and see more of the crafts of the area. Visit Alexander Prison and learn about the famous “Badgirs” or wind-catchers water towers that efficiently cool a home in a desert setting. We’ll have a look at the area’s famed handicrafts – carpets, ceramics and textiles. You’ll find silk Ikats and Termeh – a traditional hand-made cloth woven with precious threads and metals. Textile design spread from Persia to Moghul, India. Overnight in Yazd.
Day 23: Yazd -Na’in – Esfahan (Iran) [B,L,D]
This morning, we continue to Esfahan. We’ll make stops along our journey to visit the early Islamic period Friday Mosque in the city of Na’in. We will continue our drive to the beautiful city of Esfahan (Isfahan), the XVII Century capital of the Safavids, referred to as “Nesf-e-Jahan” (Half of the World) in Safavid sources. We’ll stay for three nights at the exotic Abbasi Hotel which was built in the 1960’s on the site of a XVII Century caravansary. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 24 – Esfahan (Iran) [B,L,D]
Today is another full day of sightseeing in wonderful Esfahan. Wander through the antique Friday Mosque; as it stands now is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the twentieth century. Archaeological excavation has determined an Abbasid hypostyle mosque in place by the 10th century. Buyid construction lined a facade around the courtyard and added two minarets that are the earliest example of the double minaret on record. Continue to the Naghsh-e-Jahan complex, the central focus of Esfahan. It is a Royal Square, 1,674 feet by 540 feet and enclosed by double-storied arcades. The square drew merchants and ambassadors to the Safavid court for centuries. It’s unmatched in elegance and spaciousness anywhere in the world! It is seven times the size of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and puts the grandeur of the surrounding palaces and mosques into appropriate proportions. On the north side is the entrance to the Royal Qaysariyeh Bazaar. On the east side is the Lotfollah Mosque. Constructed between 1603 and 1617, it served as a private chapel for the Imperial Family. You’ll see exquisite XVII Century Persian tile work on the domed ceiling. On the west side is the Ali Qapu Palace. To the south is the Friday Mosque and Shah Mosque, dedicated to Shah Abbas the Great. To many it is considered to be the most beautiful mosque in the world. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 25: Esfahan (Iran) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we start on our tour of Esfahan. We’ll begin with a visit to the beautiful Chehel Sotoun (forty pillars) Palace, with its exquisite collection of frescoes and paintings on tile. The reflecting pool magnified the majesty of the ruler. Here Shah Abbas II welcomed dignitaries and ambassadors. Today you are the guests of honor! Next, we’ll begin with a walk across the historical bridge of Khaju, constructed by Shah Abbas II in 1650. It is essentially a bridge superimposed upon a dam, 436 feet long and supported by twenty-four stone arches. On the far side is the garden tomb of Arthur Upham Pope and his wife Phyllis Ackerman, Americans who were dedicated to the study of Persian art, history and culture.
Continue to the Armenian Quarter to visit the richly decorated Vank Cathedral. Begun in 1606 at the time of arrival of Armenian immigrants to Isfahan, it was completed between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Arch-bishop David, with the encouragement of the Savid rulers. It is the historic focal point of the Armenian Christian Church in Iran. The dome and walls have colorful paintings representing the story of Creation. Pause for lunch in the Armenian Quarter.
During our time in Isfahan, you are invited to a private gallery to visit with a famous miniature artist.
Those who are interested may visit a carpet shop to sip tea and admire Iran’s most valuable craft and art form. The Persian knot allowed the tight composition to create intricate Arabesques, geometric and other floral designs. See both City and Tribal Carpets. Unlike Arabic Islamic design, Shia Muslims took literally God’s commandment to know Him through His creation. Thus you find figurative art in all forms including tile, metalwork and carpets. Persians also developed natural – and lasting- dyes. Cobalt found in Isfahan was exported to China where it was used in the blue on ceramics known later by the British as ‘China’.
End the afternoon with a visit to the Hasht Bahesht (eight paradises) Pavilion and Park. It was built as an official court and a reception hall by Shah Abbas II (1647 AD). The ceilings are outstanding. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 26: Abyaneh – Kashan – Tehran (Iran) [B,L,D]
Today, will visit the UNESCO recognized village of Abyaneh, located at the foot of Mount Karkas and in the vicinity of desert. Appreciate the serenity of this quaint village with its splendid archaeology and meet the dwellers who speak, live and dress in the original Persian style. Province and the city of Kashan are among the most prominent producers of the stunning handicraft. The wool for the carpets is usually shorn by local men in Spring or autumn and women are mostly in charge of the weaving. Next, hop on to Kashan and visit Tabatabaei and Borujerdi houses and some other historical places specially chosen by our tour guide and be acquainted with the previous century’s architecture, the Qajar Era. Overnight in Tehran.
Day 27: Departure from Tehran [B]
Transfer to the airport for your flight back home from Tehran.