This is an itinerary of the exotic, a route for those ready to take the road less known, who want to discover a wild and beautiful landscape, meet warm and wonderfully hospitable people, and walk in the steps of the giants of history, from Alexander the Great to Marco Polo. Travel conditions are not up to Western standards, but what you forego in comfort, you get back in lifelong memories.

Travel back in time as you move up the Pamir Highway to find people living much the same as centuries ago before spending some time in Dushanbe.

You can then follow the Uzbekistan loop, starting in Tashkent. After spending time exploring the city, take the train to Samarkand and take a couple of days to take in the sights.

A direct train will take you to Bukhara, or you can opt to make the journey by car, stopping at caravanserais and minarets along the way. If you have an extra two days take the roundabout way to Bukhara through the Nuratau mountains.

There is no rail connection between Bukhara and Khiva, so the next part of the journey needs to be done by road-- a seven-hour ride. Its remoteness makes this desert khanate little-visited by the majority of tourists.

From Urgench near Khiva, a flight back to Tashkent brings your journey to an end.

Key information

Destinations Central Asia
Activity Nature & Wildlife, National Parks, Culture, Archaeology, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History
Physical Level Mild

Suggested itinerary

Start in Osh

Start in Osh

Day 1 in Osh

Starting in air hub Bishkek, make your way down to Osh; either with a short, spectacular flight, or by car (a 12-hour drive). From Osh, jump into the car for the Pamir Highway. Tour operators generally budget between six and ten days for this mother of all road trips.

From Osh, the road starts to rise immediately, to climax at the Kyzyl-Art pass at a breath-taking 4,280m (14,000 ft). Get an early night’s sleep at Karakul Lake, which was formed by a meteor impact 25 million years ago. It is now a peaceful bird sanctuary, except for the summer weekend when kite-surfers descend to test their gear and skills in the highest (and coldest) sailing regatta in the world.

Follow The Pamir Highway

Follow The Pamir Highway

Day 2–5 in The Pamir Highway

Over the next days, you glide from amongst the Kyrgyz semi-nomads tending their flocks, into the life of the pastoral farmers of the valleys, still using oxen to thresh their wheat.

Accompanying you for the ride is a incredible scenery of the Pamir mountains.

The Wakhan Valley is the cultural highlight of the trip. It marks the border with Afghanistan, where you can wave and shout to the locals on the other side, still living 50 years further in the past. The Wakhan also holds most of the historical treasures. Persian-style boundless hospitality and invitations for tea are freely dispersed along the way.

Relax at Khorog

Relax at Khorog

Day 6 in Khorog

On finally reaching Khorog, check into a stylish lodge to unwind from the bumpy ride. Here, car-sick passengers can take a flight to Dushanbe, while the rest will continue over land, with a stop at the hot springs of Bibi Fatimah.

Explore Dushanbe

Explore Dushanbe

Day 7–8 in Dushanbe

Dushanbe is an NGO capital, and a number of excellent hotels have cropped up to support the consultant industry. Highlights include the National Museum of Tajikistan, Rudaki Park and the Haji Yaqub Mosque.

Travel to Uzbekistan

Travel to Uzbekistan

Day 9–11 in Khujand

From Dushanbe there are several connections to Uzbekistan. The easiest and most convenient option connects directly to Samarkand via ancient Penjikent, former capital of the Samanid dynasty. At the time of writing, this border is sadly still closed.

The most popular alternative goes up to Khujand, a more prosperous town that feels decidedly un-Tajik, where the pace and determined stride of locals presages Uzbekistan.

On the way, Iskanderkul is a lake whose beauty calls for hyperbole unfit for a travel guide. The Fann mountains that lay in waiting behind hold more such pearls, but visiting usually falls outside of the itineraries of tour operators--visiting the Pamirs makes for an already long trip.

Khujand is an interesting destination in its own right, with a marvellous bazaar and the Palace of Arbob as its main attractions.

Explore Tashkent

Explore Tashkent

Day 12 in Tashkent

Most tours will take a full day to explore the city: on one hand, the Brutalist architecture, on the other hand, the remaining Islamic monuments. The Tashkent mosque holds one of the world’s oldest Korans, brought home as a souvenir by Emperor Timur when he came back from conquering Iraq.

Explore Samarkand

Explore Samarkand

Day 13–14 in Samarkand

A rebuilt 14th-century city, Samarkand in Uzbekistan is a striking place to visit with mosques covered in ceramic tiles and sand coloured buildings.

One of the major stops along the Silk Road, Samarkand is divided into the old city and the new city with the majority of historical monuments located in the old city.

The Registan is just one of the highlights, a large, open square (the name means “sandy place”) where people gathered, heard royal proclamations and watched executions. The buildings are covered in ceramic tiles and date back to the 15th century, restored in the 20th, they are among the finest examples of Islamic architecture anywhere.

Other sights include the Bibi Khanum Mausoleum, Ulughbek Observatory and a number of mosques and madrasas including the Ulughbek and the Shirdar Madrasas. The Shah-i Zinde is one of the key sights in Samarkand, which is a complex made up of mausoleums and mosques that houses the most important Muslim shrines that gives the complex its name, ‘the tomb of the living king’ - thought to be the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas.

Paper-making is a craft that gets little attention among the splendour of Uzbekistan’s other artistic endeavors, but Samarkand’s paper museum is trying to change that. The museum traces down the history of paper from China to the Middle East and Europe, and shows the process as it is still being used today.

Drinkers, on the other hand, will enjoy a visit to the Hovrenko wine factory to hear the story of viticulture in a Muslim country.

History and shopping in Bukhara

History and shopping in Bukhara

Day 15–17 in Bukhara

Bukhara is over 2,000 years old, built on the site of a former Buddhist monastery, it has hundreds of minarets, mosques and madrassas with key sites being the Kalyan minaret, that's tower is a prominent landmark of the city, the Ismail Samani mausoleum and Bolo Haouz Mosque, one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city.

It is a great place to stock up on souvenirs, from hand-painted ceramics to silk scarfs for the relatives. But remember, Uzbeks are a trader nation: if you haven’t bargained, you have been fooled!

Bukhara has the best sleeping options in all of Central Asia: top-notch service combined with historic authenticity at boutique hotels like Komil or Amulet represent Uzbekistan at its finest. Al fresco dining under centuries-old plane trees in one of the restaurants surrounding the Lyabi Haus quarter is a must.

The city is connected to Samarkand and Tashkent by high-speed rail making it easy to reach for tourists.

Museums in Khiva

Museums in Khiva

Day 18–20 in Khiva

The walled city of Khiva is made up of mud-brick buildings and has over 50 historic monuments meaning you will need a few days to explore the city. Its remoteness makes this desert khanate little-visited by the majority of tourists. Khiva is a picture postcard place, unique in the Islamic world for its intact historic center.

The unfinished Kalta Minor Minaret is a squat blue tower in the centre of the town, decorated with blue ceramic tiles, a staple of the city, and connected to the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa. Other sites include the Juma Mosque featuring ornately carved wooden pillars, the Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum with its tiled dome and the Islam Khodja Complex.

Those with more appetite for the unusual can take a side trip to the remains of the Aral Sea. Rusty boats lie stranded in the desert with no shore in sight. The man-made catastrophe of the vanished Aral Sea is a reminder of the ongoing destruction of human habitat for economic gain.

Fly from Urgench

Fly from Urgench

Day 21 in Tashkent

From Urgench near Khiva, a flight back to Tashkent brings your journey to an end.

Where to stay

City Palace Hotel Tashkent

City Palace Hotel Tashkent features an outdoor pool, indoor pool, and free WiFi.

A minibar, seating area, and refrigerator are provided in each room as well as a satellite TV. City Palace Hotel Tashkent extras include an electric kettle, towels, and linen.

A restaurant is on site, and luggage storage is offered at reception for added convenience. Free parking is provided.

Atlas Hotel Dushanbe

Nestled in the heart of Dushanbe, the hotel is connected to all the city’s business and top tourist destinations. The atmosphere in the hotel is warm and welcoming with an air of elegance and charm. Supermarkets are accessible to the hotel. Banks and foreign exchange facilities are within reach. The 24-hour staff will get you anything and everything you need, be it chocolates with your coffee or ticket for Opera ballet.

Hotel Kazzhol Almaty

A modern hotel, 25-minutes from Almaty International Airport, offering free Wi-Fi, indoor swimming pool, spa and traditional Kazakhstani cuisine.

All air-conditioned rooms at the Hotel Kazzhol Almaty feature satellite TV, minibar, safe and balcony, offering views of the city. Some rooms offer a flat-screen TV and bathrobes. Room service is also available.

A buffet breakfast is served in the Kazzhol’s elegant breakfast room every morning. The hotel restaurant also serves a variety of traditional food from the Almaty region. All meals are cooked with the eco produce.

Guests at the Hotel Kazzhol Almaty can enjoy use of the hotel’s massage and beauty salon. The Kazzhol also offers concierge, laundry and airport shuttle services.

The Plaza Hotel Bishkek

The Plaza Hotel Bishkek is the embodiment of aristocratic elegance and modern multi-functionality. Nine floors of luxury and impeccable style will make you feel part of the High Society.

Features a spa area with an indoor swimming pool, a well-equipped gym and Finnish sauna.

Superior

Wyndham Tashkent

A modern, 4* hotel with comfortable rooms, excellent service and convenient location.

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