Tashkent to Isfahan
All content by World Expeditions
A fabled journey through Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan to Iran
Samarkand was regarded as one of the most important markets on the legendary Silk Road between China and Europe. On our overland journey from Uzbekistan to Iran we trace the western section of the Silk Road, a bustling corridor through which caravans laden with goods would pass enroute to the ancient city of Constantinople. Travelling to the renowned Central Asian cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Merv we gain a rich sense of the intricate history, before crossing the awesome expanses of both the Karakum desert and the high mountain passes that link Central Asia and Persia. Our trip co-incides with the amazing Sunday camel market at Ashgabat before taking the dramatic mountainous drive across the Kopet Dag Mountains to Iran, a land of dramatic contrasts. Ranging from snow clad mountains, deserts, oasis towns and ancient cities that reveal a deep and rich history. We diverge from the traditional Silk Road itinerary with exciting excursions to Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis, the summer capital of the vast Persian Empire, before concluding this epic journey in the vibrant city of Tehran.
- Registan Square in Samarkand
- Desert city of Bukhara
- The ruins at Persepolis
- Ancient cities of Shiraz and Isfahan
- Sightseeing in Tehran
Day 1 Arrive Tashkent
On arrival in Tashkent, you will be greeted by our representative who will transfer you to your centrally located hotel. Tashkent is a modern city of three million people and is the arts centre of the region. Museums and the opera house are perhaps its best known attractions. It has a relaxed pace and charming street side cafes. Trams amble beside green parks and the wide tree-lined roads give a sense of space.
Day 2 In Tashkent. Drive to Samarkand
This morning at 09:00 we will have a tour briefing before visiting the Tashkent underground, where each station displays a specific architectural and artistic decoration. In the afternoon we follow the Silk Road past old caravanserai to the ancient city of Samarkand. Over the centuries this road has been travelled by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane as they travelled the route to extend their knowledge and influence. We overnight in Samarkand.
Days 3-4 In Samarkand
Samarkand is a wondrous city showcasing the legacies of the great ruler Timur Lane, contemporarily referred to as Tamerlane; the most influential military leader of the middle ages. He set about making it the richest city on earth by pillaging and destroying all other cities and removing their wealth and skills to Samarkand. Covering the tomb where he lies in the city today is a large single slab of green jade, said to be the largest such stone in the world and symbolic of the extravagance of the ruler and the city he built as his capital. A visit to the tomb reveals an impressive piece of work, but his legacy, the Registan, the market place of ancient Samarkand, is his greatest achievement. It is enclosed by spectacular medressas (Islamic centres of learning) on three sides. These huge buildings with domes and minarets covered in a mosaic of azure tiles were built from the 1400s. The Registan is deserving of its title as one of the wonders of the ancient world. We will also visit the huge mosque, bazaar and observatory during our two days of exploration in and around Samarkand.
Day 5 Travel to Bukhara
Our Silk Road journey continues as we travel between Samarkand and Bukhara in our private vehicle, passing through the desert along the ancient trade route. The road trip takes about four hours which allows the afternoon to be free for exploring Bukhara or to relax at the hotel.
Days 6-7 In Bukhara
Bukhara boasts 2500 years of vibrant history. Capital of the Samanid state in the 9th and 10th Century’s, Bukhara became the centre of an intellectual, religious and commercial renaissance of Central Asia until the city succumbed in 1220 to Genghis Khan and then to Tamerlane in 1370, after which Samarkand became the regions most important city. Bukhara had a second lease of life in the 16th century when it became the capital of what we now know as Bukhara Khanate during which time it had more than 300 mosques, 100 medrasses with over 10,000 students. In 1868 it became the protectorate of the Tsar and later became incorporated into the Russian and then Soviet Empires. Over two days we’ll immerse ourselves in the tapestry of this uncomplicated city with its rich history, taking in sights such as The Ark, the former royal city and fortress that was the focus of the city for 2000 years, the Summer Palace of the last emir, mausoleums and mosques and of course the exotic bazaars and markets that make Bukhara famous amongst shoppers. It is in these enclaves where bold rugs and intricate carpets, gold and an assortment of jewelry, tapestries, musical instruments, carved boxes, hats from provinces all over Central Asia and embroidered garments provide endless interest.
Day 8 To Mary (Turkmenistan)
The road journey from Bukhara to Mary takes around 8-9 hours, depending on the border crossing times. We will have to cross the border on foot, the walk is about 2kms and is without vehicle support so please ensure you are able to carry or wheel your luggage along a dusty road. Once border formalities are complete, we will pass through the industrial city of Turkmenabat and continue on to Mary.
Day 9 Visit the ancient Silk Road town of Merv, fly to Ashgabat
We commence the day with a short distance drive out of Mary to Merv, an ancient Silk Road staging post. Its origins date back more than 8000 years; the city was at its height during the 11th and 12th centuries when it was considered to be the second most important city in the Islamic world (after Baghdad), being the capital of the Seljuk Turks. Under their domination of the region stretching from Afghanistan to Egypt, the Seljuk’s created a city full of treasures and palaces, irrigation channels and fertile gardens. The Mongols all but destroyed the city under the rule of Genghis Khan in the 13th century and it lay dormant for a century. Whilst parts of the city were resettled over the next few centuries it was not until the 18th century that the dam and some of the former riches were restored. Again, this did not last long, as the Emir of Bukhara opened the dam and his army reduced the city to rubble in 1795. The remains of the city are spread over an area of 100 square kilometres, and the site contains five walled cities from different periods. We spend a few hours exploring the remains of these cities, before returning to Mary for our evening flight to Ashgabat;Turkmenistan’s modest capital.
Day 10 In Ashgabat
Today we visit the main city sights of Ashgabat including the Palace of Turkmenbashi, the National Museum which houses a rich collection of ancient artifacts from Turkmenistan, and the Archaeological site of Nissa including the remains of Old and New Nissa. The city was an important centre of the Parthian State, which existed from the 3rd century BC up to the 3rd century AD. As the archaeological research shows, the township of New Nissa was the centre of the Parthian City. It was inhabited up to the 16th - 17th centuries. Old Nissa was a royal residence of the Parthian kings with the palace and temple, the depositories and the treasury. During the archaeological excavations about 2700 texts inscribed with black paint on the clay vessels fragments were discovered. The written language used in Nissa was of the Aramaic origin, which dates back to the 2nd century BC. We also take in the sights of the Presidential Palace, Lenin Square, Ertogrul Ghazy, and Turkmenbashynyn Ruhy Metjidi which is largest mosque in Central Asia.
Day 11 Drive to Mashad
Iran, winding our way through the Kopet Dag Mountains to the border. The scenery en route is dramatic and changes frequently providing scenic splendours for the entire journey. Following potentially lengthy border formalities (border crossing is the Bajgiran check point) we will meet with our Iranian guide and change buses. All females in our group will now be required to wear a headscarf and loose clothing that covers all parts of the body in public places for the remainder of the trip, and a chador will be provided at any mosques or shrines where necessary. We continue on to Quchan which meets with National Highway 22 to Mashad. The city, whose name translates to ‘place of martyrdom’, is extremely sacred to Shiite Muslims as it was here that the descendent of Mohamed, Emam Reza, died nearly 1200 years ago.
Day 12 In Mashad then fly to Shiraz
This is the homeland of Orthodox Iranians. The Holy Shrine of Emam Reza is highly revered. For women travellers, a chador is required to visit the Holy Shrine. The chador is the all encompassing black robe, covering you from head to foot. It is possible to rent one and your guide will advise. Non-Muslims are able to visit most of the site with the exception of the actual shrine. Each year thousands of pilgrims visit to touch or kiss the cage which houses the tomb box. Due to the flights between Mashad and Shiraz being overbooked regularly, we will fly via Tehran to Shiraz and depending on flight schedules we may have some time in the afternoon for relaxing in the fabulous city of Shiraz which was once the capital of Iran, and synonymous with learning, nightingales, poetry, roses and at one time, wine. We overnight in Shiraz.
Day 13 In Shiraz
Shiraz is known as the poetic capital of Persia, because two of the greatest poets of the world, Hafez (1324-1391) and Sa'di (1209-1291), originated from this city. Simple mausoleums were constructed for them after their deaths but later became celebrated pilgrimage destinations in the 14th century when the pious and art-loving Queen Tashi Khatun erected a mosque and theological school by the tombs. They are now remarkable monuments, one dedicated to Hafez, the master of Persian lyrical poetry. The other is dedicated to Sa'di , the author of the famous Golestan and a book of sonnets called the Garden of Roses. There are many other striking Islamic buildings in Shiraz, namely the Safavid mosque but more notably the shrine of Syed Amir Ahmed, also referred to locally as the Shah Cheragh or the ‘King of Light’. This exquisite shrine boasts a dazzling interior of mirror tiles, display of fine china and glassware and exquisitely inscribed old and modern Korans. The Eram Gardens, famous for its rose garden and avenues of cypress trees is also on our schedule, time permitting.
Day 14 Visit Persepolis
We visit Persepolis in the morning when the temperature is mild and the site relatively uncrowded. A comprehensive tour is provided bringing to life the history of this magnificent ruin. Ruler of the largest empire the world had ever seen, Darius I started constructing the great metropolis to serve as a summer capital in around 512BC. Subsequent Achaemenian kings, including Xerxes I, added their own palaces over the next 150 years. Sited on a vast platform above the plains, Persepolis is not a subtle monument. The Great Porch of Xerxes, flanked by winged bulls of stone, leads you into a massive ruined complex of royal palaces, halls, courts and apartments covered with inscriptions and carvings. A stunning wall of detailed bas-reliefs represents thousands of envoys from as far away as Ethiopia and Armenia, India and Cappadocia, bearing gifts to their almighty ruler. A good three hours is needed to explore Persepolis. A short drive away is the four impressive burial tombs of Darius and his successors, Naghsh-e Rostam, which have been hewn from the rock. There is also a fire temple at the site (or so they believe) – that dates back to Achaemenian times. Returning to Shiraz, the rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
Day 15 Drive to Yazd
We embark on the 425km drive from Shiraz to Yazd, where we cross over the mountains and descend into the vast desert expanse. En route Pasargadae reveals the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid dynasty in 500 AD. We continue on to Abarku to witness traditional cisterns, ice-stories and a 4500 year old cypress tree. This is one of several trees in Iran that is sacred, and a popular pilgrimage spot where devotees fasten pieces to its branches. We continue on to Yazd to our overnight accommodation.
Day 16 In Yazd
Yazd is situated at an oasis where the Dasht-e Kavir Desert and the Dasht-e Lut Deserts meet, and is circled by a mountain range, the tallest being 4075m. During its long history, Yazd adapted to the desert surrounds gracing the city with great Islamic architecture and culture, despite it being a full Zoroastrian society. When exploring the city one gains a sense that time has stopped as there are plenty of old traditions and buildings that retain the character of the bygone era. The chimney like structures on the roofs of Yazdies’ houses is just one example; in fact they are not chimneys but the ancient ventilation systems. They gather even the faintest breezes of the desert and channel them into the building below. Yazd is famous for its handicrafts and in the markets there will be plenty of opportunity to shop for rugs, small but intricate carpets, Kilim, Termeh (a lovely hand-made silk tapestry) pottery and ceramics. Yazd is the holiest city for Zoroastrians who travel from all over the world to see the sacred fire in Yazd that has been burning without interruption for 1500 years. In the outlying southern suburbs of town are the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, where the bodies of believers were once left to the vultures after death.
Days 17-18 In Isfahan
Morning drive to Isfahan (300km), considered to be one of the finest cities in the Islamic world. Our sightseeing will include visits to the Shaking Minarets and the ancient bridges over the Zayande River, some dating back to the 12th century. Many of the bridges have teahouses beneath them and tend to be the Iranian equivalent of the local pub (strictly tea of course). A visit to Isfahan would not be complete without going to Imam Khomeini Square. It is surrounded by two mosques, a palace and the entrance to the Bazaar. In the middle of the square is a lake with a fountain and still in place are polo goal posts at either end. The Masjed-e Imam (or Imam Khomeini Mosque) is the most exquisite example of Mosaic tile work and the most stunning building in Iran. It is completely covered inside and out with the pale blue tiles for which Isfahan is famous. Other sights we plan to visit include Chehel Sotun Museum & Park – this was built in the 17th Century as a reception hall, and has lovely columns made of plane tree with a 110m pool in the front. The Vank Cathedral – built in the 17th century, has an interesting museum attached, and shows the history of the Armenians in the area. Finally, our evenings may be spent at the Abbassi Hotel - a great place to sip on a Farsi Cola and watch the world go by. Alternatively, we may stroll along the banks of the Zayande River, stopping at the many tea houses along the way. Overnight in Isfahan.
Day 19 Morning in Isfahan then fly to Tehran
There is a full morning of free time in Isfahan. Afternoon fly to Tehran and overnight
Day 20 In Tehran
There are many great museums in Tehran. This morning we plan to head to the National Jewels Museum (please note this is only open on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesdays) which will shock you with its ostentatious display of precious jewels, many of which are the largest of their kind, namely the Darya-ye-Nur which at 182 carats is the largest uncut diamond in the world. We will also view the jewelled globe which is covered in 51,363 precious stones. We will spend time visiting the Carpet Museum, which will illustrate the history of Iran, its poets and its myths and the National Museum (or Archaeological Museum) which begins with exhibits dating back to the 5th and 4th Millennium BC and provides a fascinating insight into Persian History. Later in the afternoon, we plan to visit Darband, a delightful mountain area in North Tehran. Darband is accessed by chairlift, by foot or by donkey and time permitting you can climb further up to the flanks of Mount Tochal (3933m). The view, whilst often quite hazy, will nevertheless show the vastness of the Tehran sprawl and the culinary delights waiting at the many cafes will make the hike up well worth it. *Please note that our itinerary in Tehran will depend on current opening times (and days) of the museums and therefore the order of sights and the sights visited may vary accordingly.
Day 21 Trip concludes in Tehran
Trip concludes after breakfast.
- 20 breakfasts, 12 lunches, 2 dinners
- English speaking tour guide in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran and local city guides
- All internal airfares valued at US$210
- 3 to 5 star hotels on a twinshare basis or best available hotels in more remote towns
- Internal transport by private bus, jeep or car
- Arrival transfer on Day 1 only
- Local sightseeing, including entrance fees to monuments
- Emergency medical kit
- Assistance in arranging visas
- 21 day trip
- 20 nights hotel/guesthouse
Trip Main Activities
- Adventure Touring
- Day walking
Group Size Min
Group Size Max
Specialist gear required include walking boots and day pack (a comprehensive gear list is provided in the pre-departure information provided on booking).
What You Carry
You will be required to carry all your luggage between hotels and transportation. On sightseeing days you will be required to carry a day pack with your camera, water proof clothing and any other personal items you may require during the day.