PEARLS OF TAJIKISTAN & ESSENTIAL UZBEKISTAN
11-29 AUGUST, 2021
A 19-Day Photographic Journey with Jeremy Woodhouse
Central Asia is a region filled with the romance of the Silk Road, yet despite documentaries and books about its conquerors (Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan) and explorers (Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, and Sven Hedin to name just three), to many people, this vast swathe of the world remains an enticing and mysterious blank on the map. This is part of its appeal. Lacking the mass tourism found in many parts of Asia, a journey here offers true adventure.
Join us on an unforgettable journey to the very heart of Central Asia and the Silk Road – Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Together, we will explore its most remotes villages and captivating cities and in doing so we will travel in the footsteps of some of the world’s most magnificent travellers, traders, conquerors, and explorers.
We start the journey in Tajikistan in the youngest capital in Central Asia, Dushanbe. Traveling through magnificent mountain ranges of Fann, Hissar and Zarafshan, who are all the little brothers of Pamir. As we travel through isolated communities scattered along the remotest Central Asia and beyond, we stay in welcoming homestays, immerse ourselves in a cacophony of cultures, and enjoy the unique scenery.
Then we continue our journey in Uzbekistan visiting the oasis cities of Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand – we will walk in the shadows of soaring minarets, mosaic-tiled arches, and turquoise domes. We will travel across deserts, little changed since the days of Genghis Khan, and as we go along we’ll discuss the fascinating histories of the mighty khanate states and walk through their architectural legacies. We will conclude our journey in legendary Samarkand. Then we go to the capital city – Tashkent to fly back home.
We’ll also look at where Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are today, and talk to locals about how the countries fared as part of the sprawling Soviet Union until 1991, not so very long ago.
This tour is fully immersive, so we’ll also get up close to traditional village life in mountainous Fann, talk to locals, prepare a meal with locals in a traditional house, dance with a local folklore band, and climb city walls for the best possible sunset view.
Day 1, August 11, Arrive in Dushanbe
Welcome to Tajikistan! Arrive at the airport early in the morning at 2:55. Transfer to the hotel and early check-in. You can have a rest after your long flight. We will regroup again at noon to discuss the itinerary and chance to know each other while we enjoy lunch in a local restaurant.
We start the sightseeing of the capital of Tajikistan with Navruz Palace. The building displays the best of crafts from Tajikistan in the form of plasterwork, carved wood, decoration with precious and semi-precious stones, and more. Then we drive to the local market - Mehrigon. This gives us a chance to see the different ethnic groups coming in one place, and a great opportunity for portraits. Later on, when the lights are much warmer we go to the tour of the boulevards and soviet blocks. Poets’ Union has a very interesting wall for photography. Then, we visit the statue of Ismail Samani. The large monument honors the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State, the heyday of the Tajik nation when science and arts flourished. From there we walk up to Rudaki Park, dedicated to great Persian poet Rudaki, who also lived during the Samanid time in the 9th century.
Before dinner, we will have a chance for the panoramic view of the city from above the tallest building in the capital, and then we will go to the restaurant for a welcome dinner.
Overnight: Atlas Hotel 4* B,L,D
Day 2, August 12, Dushanbe – Norak – Dangara – Hazrati Sulton – Childukhtaron (270km)
Today we will drive to Childukhtaron, a beautiful mountain range. En-route, We will see the Norak water reservoir that is called the Blue Sea. We then stop en route in Danagara - the hometown of president Rahmon, where we may see a beautiful multi-colour mosque and the 3rd-biggest chaikhana in the country/world. In the late afternoon we will arrive in Childukhtaron (‘40 girls’ in Tajik) - both a town and a name for a mountain that has many rock spires that very roughly resemble people. The local legend is that 40 virgins who fought Genghis Khan’s troops but saw defeat was inevitable, prayed that their bodies remained untouched. God willed it, and they were turned into stone pillars.
The surrounding Hazrati Sultan mountain range an amazing scenery.
Overnight: Guesthouse B,L,D
Day 3, August 13, Childukhtaron – Kalaikhumb (250km)
Today we stop in Kulob on the way. Kulob is the third largest city in Tajikistan, nonetheless feels more like a provincial town with wide open streets lined with hollyhocks and punctuated with polished civic statues. First referred to by historians in CE 737, the city celebrated a special milestone in 2006 – namely, its 2700th birthday, and several reminders of that proud occasion still decorate the town. There are a couple of sights in and around town, including nearby Hulbuk Fortress. We continue our ride towards the south.
The highest point of the day is the Shuraba pass (1945 m) and after a drive along the Afghanistan, border starts. This part will amaze you by its unique mountains – it is already Territory of the Pamir Mountains. Over the centuries, the Pamirs have inspired the world’s greatest explorers – Marco Polo, Hsuan Tsang, Mirza Muhammad Haidar. And now We also have a chance to travel here. We will drive along the natural border – the Panj River.
Overnight: Karon Palace Hotel 4* B,L,D
Hotel KARON Palace is an oasis of comfort on a small stretch of the ancient silk road.
Day 4, August 14, Kalaikhumb – Dushanbe (285km)
Today we drive to Dushanbe through the Tavildara Pass. In the morning we will drive to Dushanbe via a mountain road. We will drive over high Khoburubot Pass (3 252) known as Western Pamir Tract. The road goes through the most picturesque river valley and amazing gorges in the terrain, where one can stop for rest and shoot photos of the mountain and rivers. On the way, we will see small villages and meet local people. Tajiks are by nature hardworking, hospitable, and kind-hearted. This nation greatly respects its traditions and folklore. This trip is attractive for the lovers of exotics, those curious about the ethnic and cultural diversity and captivated by the beauty of wild nature. On the way, you will see one of the biggest Water Power Station of Roghun.
Overnight: Hilton Dushanbe B,L,D
Day 5, August 15, Dushanbe – Maghrib – Iskandarkul Lake (240km)
Early in the morning we will drive north of Dushanbe along the scenic M34. Our first stop en-route will be the hill station of Varzob, where you will see imposing and rather kitschy brand new villas owned by the political, economic elite of the country. We'll then pass through the notorious Anzob Tunnel to reach the Yagnob valley. The Yaghnobi people are considered to be descendants of the Sogdian-speaking peoples who once inhabited most of Central Asia beyond the Amu Darya in what was ancient Sogdia; they speak the Yaghnobi language which is a direct descendant of ancient Sogdian.
We'll devote a half day to the exploration of this secretive valley. Crossing stunning landscapes of narrow gorges, barren slopes, and hanging fields, we'll travel by car up to the end of the dirt track past the mountains hamlets of Khshirtab and Farkas. We'll then start our trekking to the more remote Yaghnobi settlements located further east along ancient mule paths. Later in the afternoon we will continue on to our journey by driving to Iskandarkul Lake.
Iskanderkul is a mountain lake of glacial origin in Tajikistan's Sughd Province. It lies at an altitude of 2,195 meters (7,201 ft) on the northern slopes of the Gissar Range in the Fann Mountains. Triangular in shape, it has a surface area of 3.4 square kilometers (1.3 sq mi) and is up to 72 meters (236 ft) deep. Claimed to be one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the former Soviet Union, it is a popular tourist destination.
Overnight: Lakeside Camp, with private shower in each room B,L,D
Day 6, August 16, Iskandarkul Lake short trek – travel to Artuch (190km)
After breakfast, we take time to do some photography in a small village, meet locals and have short hike. Then we depart to Artuch village where we will arrive in Artuch later in the evening.
Overnight: Camp Cottages B,L,D
Day 7, August 17 Artuch – Seven Lakes – Panjakent (120km)
After morning departure, we will continue exploring more lakes of this magnificent ranges. Dotting the landscape of the Fann Mountains in northwest Tajikistan are the Seven Lakes, natural pools of water that have collected from the Shing River and sit as high as 2,300m above sea level. Known locally as Haft Kul or Marguzor Lakes, these bodies of water are famous for their unique qualities, such as varying sizes and the differing shades of color they reflect depending on the time of day. Yet they all possess one mutual quality - calming beauty that rewards anyone who makes the journey to see them.
On the Seven Lakes Day Tour you’ll spend a full day visiting each of the seven lakes as you enjoy the fresh mountain air and beguiling panoramic views along the way. This evening we will be in Panjakent city.
Overnight: Sugd Hotel B,L,D
Day 8, August 18, Panjakent
We spend the day in Panjakent. In the 5th century, Panjakent grew up on the fertile lands along the banks of the Zarafshan river, and the city of 5,000 quickly became one of the centers of Sogdian civilization, together with nearby Samarkand. Gold was panned here with sheep skins, and beautiful frescoes were drawn on multi-story houses. The town had several Zoroastrian temples, as well as a population of Buddhists, Manicheans and Nestorians.
Money was flowing in from the Silk Road trade; after several centuries of internal unrest, China recovered its stability and traffic picked up again in the 5th and 6th century. The Sogdians were pivotal to the Silk Road at this time, together with Bactrians and Persian Jews.
We spend the day at the market doing photography, and we will visit the local museum and stop by the bank of the river for photography. This afternoon we are planning to invite the masters of the city in one village to provide us a good understanding of the local crafts and also for photography opportunity. We will provide the safety rules of post-covid policies. This evening we will also have masterclass of local food.
Overnight: Sugd Hotel B,L,D
Day 9, August 19, Panjakent – Istaravshan – Khujand (285km)
After breakfast we will drive to the north to reach the Northern capital of Tajikistan – Khujand. En-route we will stop in Istaravshan – historically the centre of trade and craftspeople. Lunch would be arranged in the house of a local craftsperson. Istaravshan has always had a tradition of craftsmanship, especially in metalwork, ceramics and woodcarving. You can still see some of that on display today in the metal workshops around the bazaar where men are forging knives, agricultural tools, etc.
Overnight: Grand Khujand Hotel B,L,D
Day 10, August 20, Khujand City tour
Khujand may be a name unfamiliar to many, yet it’s one of Central Asia’s oldest cities, having weathered more than 2,500 years of change that saw conquest by Alexander the Great, the reign of Ismoil Somoni, an influx of travellers along the great Silk Road and the 20th century transitions to Soviet rule and independence. Today it sits as the second largest metropolis in Tajikistan, a prosperous and lively city that bridges wider Tajikistan with its Uzbek neighbours.
Take the Khujand City Tour to acquaint yourself with a city that’s bursting with energy and inundated with character, where you’ll be charmed by its welcoming atmosphere. Your tour will wind through the Khujand Fortress, a citadel and museum at the heart of the city, and continue to a sheikh’s memorial complex, a central park with historical mosaics and into one of the largest, most colorful bazaars in all Central Asia. Come explore Khujand, Tajikistan’s gem of the valley.
Overnight: Grand Khujand Hotel B,L,D
Day 11, August 21, Khujand to Tashkent (overland border crossing, some 120kms ride)
After a leisurely breakfast, we depart Khujand and drive to the border. We then drive to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. We shall be in the city centre before lunch-time. We will go to the iconic sites in the city to do photography and have a workshop in the evening. Today we explore Tashkent – the capital of Uzbekistan. For many travellers, Uzbekistan holds the heart of the Central Asian Silk Road. Tashkent – a Soviet-era showcase of orderly streets, museums, and monuments provides enough entertainment for the day. Tashkent has filled with treasures from the USSR as well as a diverse mix of inhabitants from all around the region. It also happens to be the home to the oldest Koran in the world – we would see the book and also the square made of Islamic Architecture. After lunch, we’ll explore the rich decorations in Tashkent’s famous metro system. We, then, go to the city’s Amir Temur and Independence squares. There is a chance of seeing an Opera or Ballet performance in the State Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Tashkent today, provided there is a scheduled event. We would have dinner in a local restaurant this evening.
Overnight: City Palace Hotel 4* B,L,D
We set out the day early to catch our flight to Urgench at 7:25, and after arriving in Urgench we are met by our driver and comfortable transport to drive to Khiva. Today Khiva is the most architecturally intact and tightly packed of Central Asia’s Silk Road cities. It’s intense blue-and-green tilework ranks as some of the most luxurious of Uzbekistan. It also has the feel of a movie set or open-air museum city. We explore the highlights of the inner fortress – Ichan Kala and then have time for our own to wander around this fabled town. Make sure you join the tour manager for the sunset walk where you may have the chance of going on the walls, to see the town during dusk, then we walk do dinner with the group.
Overnight: Zarafshan Boutique Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 13: August 23, Khiva City Tour
Though much smaller than the Silk Road cities we are about to visit, the old capital of Khiva Khanate is home to a true architectural spectacle – Ichan Kala. It is the biggest surviving walled city in Uzbekistan with many labyrinth-like alleyways, mosques, madrassas, and bazaars. We will spend the day discovering this Silk Road stop and have the opportunity of walking on the fortified city walls for seeing the sunset from atop. For dinner and lunch, we stop in cafes to taste the authentic local dishes.
Overnight: Zarafshan Boutique Hotel (B,L,D)
Known as the Sacred city, Bukhara is one of the oldest Silk Road stops of Central Asia. The heart of the ancient Bukhara is Ark – the Royal Citadel. Although it was burned during the Bolshevik’s siege of the town in 1920’s travelers get to know the history from here, and so do we by visiting it. We explore the old quarter of Bukhara, to learn about the Trading Domes and Jewish Quarter. We enjoy our meal in a local restaurant to wrap up the day.
O/N Bibikhanum Hotel 3* (B,L,D)
Situated in Samarkand, Bibikhanum Hotel has a bar and a terrace. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and room service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. Rooms include a patio with a garden view. The rooms at the hotel are fitted with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a private bathroom with a hairdryer and a shower. The units at Bibikhanum Hotel have air conditioning and a desk. A continental breakfast is available each morning at the accommodation. The area is popular for cycling, and bike hire is available at Bibikhanum Hotel.
Day 17: August 27 - Samarkand City Tour
Thought to be over 2,770 years old, Samarkand was once a Sogdian trading center along the Silk Road connecting Asia and Europe. We will spend the day tracing Samarkand’s extraordinary ancient history and architecture, from mosques to mausoleums to Bazaars. Registan – the central square rounded by three glorious medieval madrassas (universities). Also, navigate the street of blue-tiled mausoleums of Shahi Zinda necropolis, which is also a great location for people watching and photography. After lunch, spend time in Bazaar or walk in the colonial quarter of the city parks and see stark Soviet buildings. This evening, we visit the local family house to prepare food with the family and enjoy the delightful dinnertime.
Day 18, August 28, Samarkand – Tashkent by train
Morning train back to Tashkent and take your time to close down the trip with a final walk and then meeting with your tour manager. We will weave through Chorsu Bazaar offering good raging from crafts to dried fruits to spices and taste anything that looks tempting. This is a great Bazar for portrait photography about the region, as people are never shy to pose for a photo. After more than three weeks of adventure, packed with stories and full of new experiences we get ready to fly back home. A better-known traveller on these Silk Road some 700 years ago—Ibn Batuta said, traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. We will have final dinner together and conclude the trip with a celebration.
Arrival & Departure
Arrival & Meeting Place
Arrive Dushanbe from Dubai
Depart Tashkent for Dubai on the 4AM flight
In order to submit an eVisa application, it is first necessary to meet the Tajikistan visa requirements:
- Have a travel document (passport) valid for at least 6 months from the intended date of entry to Tajikistan
- Supply a current email address at which to receive updates and notifications regarding the visa application
- Provide valid credit or debit card details to pay the eVisa fee.
Additional visa requirements for Tajikistan for supporting documents may apply depending on the applicant’s nationality.
When completing the application, it is necessary to indicate your nearest consulate or embassy of Tajikistan, as at the moment it may be necessary to attend an interview before a visa can be approved.
Once approved, the visa can be collected from the same Tajik consulate, or alternatively, on arrival at Dushanbe Airport.
An approved Tajik visa can be presented to officials on arrival at Tajikistan passport control to gain entry to the country.
At the moment, it is not possible to extend a Tajikistan tourist visa. However, a Tajikistan business visa may be extended at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dushanbe.
Entry and Exit Requirements:
- Are U.S. citizens permitted to enter? Yes
- U.S. citizens are required to obtain a Tajik visa prior to entering Tajikistan.
- In addition to receiving a visa, U.S. citizens seeking to enter Tajikistan via land border must obtain permission from the Republican COVID-19 Task Force in advance. Please contact the nearest Embassy of Tajikistan for more information.
- Due to COVID-19 restrictions, land borders may be inaccessible to travelers without notice.
- Is a negative COVID-19 test (PCR and/or serology) required for entry? Yes
- All travelers must show results from a negative COVID-19 PCR test issued within 72 hours of arrival. Test results are verified before passengers are allowed to board flights to Dushanbe and again upon arrival in Dushanbe.
- Are health screening procedures in place at airports and other ports of entry? Yes
- All travelers may be subject to PCR testing at the airport upon arrival. Travelers will provide contact information and be allowed to leave the airport. If the result is positive for COVID-19, travelers may be transferred to a government quarantine facility.
- Travelers will not be permitted to leave the country if their visas have expired. Please check your travel documents to ensure that your U.S. passport and Tajik visa are valid. For questions regarding Tajik visas and visa extensions, please contact the Main Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 227-6363 or 227-3838 located on 34 Pushkin Street, Dushanbe.
In order to successfully apply for and obtain an Uzbekistan eVisa, foreign nationals must meet certain requirements. Firstly, applicants are required to be citizens of an eligible country, as described in the Uzbekistan visa policy. When completing the Uzbekistan eVisa application form, international travelers must provide the following items:
- Valid passport issued by an eligible country
- Digital copy of the passport data page
- Digital copy of a passport-sized photograph
- Active email address to receive the approved eVisa
- Method of payment (credit or debit card)
Travelers are advised to apply for an Uzbekistan eVisa a minimum of 3 days before they intend to travel to the country.
The approved eVisa for Uzbekistan is sent to the email address provided in the application. The traveler should print it and present it at border control when arriving in the country.
The passport used to complete the application must be presented when entering Uzbekistan.
If this passport is lost, stolen, damaged, or made invalid in any other way, the individual must apply for a new Uzbekistan eVisa with their new passport.
Covid Update for Uzbekistan
Last update: 18 March, 2021
All passengers must obtain a medical certificate either in English or Russian with a negative coronavirus PCR test result issued a maximum of 72 hours before departure (with the exception of children under 2 years old).
Average Weather in August
Tour cost: $7,200
Max Group Size: 8
(for a group of 6-7 there will be a $600 supplement)
Dushanbe - Tashkent International Flight worth $190 USD p/p
Tajik Visa: $55 & Pamir Special Permit: $20 (your tour operator will take care of the arrangements).
TOTAL EXTRAS: $265
Tour Price Includes
- Accommodation as listed
- Comfortable transport from start to finish
- English Speaking Tour Manager from start to finish
- Tajik Speaking Guide from Tajikistan
- 48 meals (19 breakfast, 13 lunches 16 dinners)
- Special photography opportunities as shown in the program
- Domestic flight in uzbekistan
- Three high speed train journeys
- Drinking water thoughout the trip
- Snacks for the long rides
- Folklore with traditional costumes in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan
- Private access to the minarets, rooftops for photography
- Photography persmission in all sites as we visit in Uzbekistan/Tajikistan
- Visa support for Tajikistan and Oficial Paper to travel to Pamir
Tour Price Excludes
- Incoming and outgoing international flights
- Tips for drivers and tour managers,
- Tajiks Visa worth $55USD and Pamir Special Permit $20USD
- Personal Expenses (such as alcohol drink, laundry)
- Dushanbe - Tashkent International Flight worth $190USDp/p (business class could be upgraded for additional $250USD)
Paying by check
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