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Central Asia's cradle of culture for millennia, Uzbekistan's place at the heart of the ancient Silk Road has attracted architects, scientists and mathematicians for centuries, as well as marauding conquerors intent on plundering the riches within. Explore the rich and fascinating history of this welcoming country with tours of its stunning mosques, immense citadels and breath-taking mausoleums and discover the huge influence it has had on the world in everything from mathematics to military tactics.
Depart London on your scheduled, overnight flight to Tashkent
On arrival into Tashkent, you will be met by a local guide and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or explore the tree-lined streets and green spaces of Uzbekistan's cosmopolitan capital. This evening enjoy a welcome dinner.
After breakfast, enjoy a cultural tour of Tashkent starting with Hast Imam Square. Built on the tomb of known scientist, scholar and craftsman Hazrati Imam, the square is the religious centre of Tashkent and home to a number of beautiful mosques, monuments and madrasas. A madrasa is a centre of Islamic learning and there are some excellent medieval examples here such as the elegant blue-domed Barak-Khan Madrasa with its imposing, but no less elegant gateway, as well as the Muyi Muborak Madrasa with its intricately carved ceilings and ancient manuscripts, including the Osman Koran, considered to be the oldest copy of the Koran in the world. As a contrast to these 16th Century sites, you'll then visit the Chorsu Bazaar and experience the hustle and bustle of everyday Central Asian life as everything from spices, grains and fruits are sold. This is followed by a visit to the Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre built in neoclassical style by famous Russian architect Alexey Shchusey. Finally you'll pay a visit to Mustaqilik (Independence Square) home to the country's senate and government buildings, before catching a flight to Urgench for your transfer to Khiva.
An important trading post on the Silk Road for centuries due to its position halfway between China and Rome, Khiva is a colourful treat for the eyes and a UNESCO-listed treasure that feels more like an open-air museum than a functioning city. Today, you'll get the chance to wander its ancient streets and discover a millennium of history on a fascinating guided tour. Gaze up at the imposing mud-brick walls of Ichan Kala, Khiva's inner city; explore the 12th century fortress of Kuhna Ark and wonder at the intricately tiled Pahlawan Mahmud Mausoleum, built in honour of the brave Uzbek hero Pahlavan Mahmoud.
After breakfast, you'll set out by road on an epic journey across the Kyzyl Kum desert following in the footsteps of trading caravans that have been traversing this Silk Road route for hundreds of years.
One of the most ancient cities in Uzbekistan, Bukhara is over 3000 years old and dates back to nearly a thousand years before Alexander the Great's conquest of Central Asia. Like most historic cities in Uzbekistan it was an important trading post along the Silk Road, but is probably better known throughout the Islamic world as a being a great centre of learning and has even been referred to as Central Asia's holiest city. Today, you will get the opportunity to explore some of its many architectural wonders on a guided tour of the city. The formidable Ark citadel was initially built in the 5th century and was the fortified residence of the rulers of Bukhara for centuries, containing palaces, temples barracks and even a prison. It has been destroyed and subsequently rebuilt many times, including by Genghis Khan who ransacked Bukhara in 1220 AD. Your tour guide will escort you around the various minarets, mosques, madrassas and mausoleums of the city before leaving you to explore this architectural wonder at your own pace.
Today is at leisure to wander this fabulous city, exploring its bazaars, stone pools and ancient streets without a guide.
After breakfast, depart for Samarkand stopping en route at the 'green city' of Shakhrisabz. With a well-groomed, green and modern appearance it's hard to believe the city is over 2700 years old. The centre of the city has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and contains an exceptional collection of monuments, including the gleaming white Ak Saray Palace built for Amir Timur or Tamerlane, famous warrior Khan, military tactician and founder of the Timurid Empire. Born in a neighbouring village, Tamerlane turned Shakrisabz into his residence after assuming power and ordered his architects to build a series of intricate mausoleums and stunning mosques, the ruins of which can still be explored today. Leaving the Timurids 1st city behind you'll continue onwards to the 14th century capital of their empire, Samarkand.
Samarkand is the epitome of a journey along the Silk Road. The name alone conjures up romantic, almost mythical images of vast tiled squares; huge blue domes sparkling in the sun and patterned minarets reaching into the sky. A trip to Registan, the city's Timurid heart and Central Square proves this to be a reality and showcases the fine work of Tamerlane's master craftsmen and builders, acquired from throughout his sprawling empire. A wide mosaicked square is backed by three immense madrasas, beautifully adorned in intricate blues green and violet patterns, each one a monument to the city's place as the intellectual capital of the region. During the middle ages the city attracted the greatest scholars, architects and scientists around, which can be seen first hand on your visit to Ulugbek's Observatory. Grandson of Tamerlane, Ulugbek was a famous astronomer, scientist and architect whose observatory helped him to produce the most comprehensive catalogue of stars since the 2nd century and greatly advance the world's understanding of the solar system. You can pay your respects to both him and his famous conquering grandfather at the sumptuous Gur- Emir, the ornately decorated mausoleum of the royal family. Once a marvel of the east, its influence can be seen in the style of the great architectural tombs of the Mughal dynasty of North India such the Taj Mahal in Agra. Before dinner, visit the Khovrenko Winery and sample a range of Samarkand wines.
This morning, you'll visit the Koni Ghil Paper Mill renowned for making paper of such exquisite quality that only sultans, emirs and viziers could afford it. This 'royal' paper has been exported along the Silk Road for centuries and many 9th and 10th century Arabic and Persian manuscripts were written on it. After this you'll explore one of the treasures of Samarkand, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque built in the late 14th century as a tribute to Tamerlane's wife as well as his victory in Delhi. It is one of the best-known architectural wonders of Central Asia. You'll have a chance to do some shopping at the local Siyab bazaar, before having the rest of the day at leisure to explore this UNESCO listed city at your own pace. This evening you will have the chance to experience a little modern Uzbek culture by enjoying dinner with a local family who will provide a master class in cooking Pilav, a famous rice based dish in Uzbekistan
After breakfast, you'll start your journey back to Tashkent. Stopping along the way in Jizzakh to visit Sufi Centre 'Nursafardiyya'. Nursafardiyya comprises a fascinating blend of divine medicine, philosophy, meditation, calligraphy, martial arts and poetry, with the view that through these spiritual practices comes self-improvement and happiness. In the afternoon you will arrive back in Tashkent where your afternoon is at leisure. Tonight enjoy a festive farewell dinner to round off this unforgettable trip.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, before transferring to the airport for your return flight to London.
British citizens currently need a tourist visa to enter Uzbekistan and should be obtained before you travel. We work closely with The Travel Visa Company who will be able to arrange your visa for you on your behalf. Please call them on 01270 250 590 and quote Mercury Holidays. The cost of the visa is approximately £115.00. When calling the Travel Visa Company they will advise you of the most up to date fees. The visas take around 20 working days to issue. You cannot apply for an Uzbekistan Visa more than 3 months in advance. We recommend that you apply for your visa 8 weeks before travel, however, please be aware that your passport will be required for the application so make sure that you will not need it during this time. Visa requirements are subject to change and obtaining a visa is the responsibility of the traveller and not Mercury Holidays. We recommend you check with your destinations' Tourist Board or Embassy prior to departure for the most up to date guidelines regarding these.
Don't overstay your visa, even for a very short period. Any traveller found to have overstayed will face a large fine and possibly deportation. It is not always easy or possible to extend your visa if you wish to remain in the country for longer than you had originally intended. If you are travelling overland, make sure you arrive at your intended border crossing in good time before your visa expires.
If booking more than 10 weeks before departure a deposit of £250pp will need to be paid at the time of booking with the full amount payable at 10 weeks prior to departure. The deposit applies to adults and children. If you are within 10 weeks of travel then the full balance of the holiday will be payable.
It is your responsibility to check any health and vaccination requirements applicable to your booked arrangements. We can only provide general information about this. Health and hygiene facilities and disease risks vary from country to country. You should take health advice about your own needs as early as possible and in good time before your departure. Sources of information include; www.fco.gov.uk, www.travelhealthpro.org.uk/, www.hpa.org.uk, your General Practitioner or a specialist clinic.
This tour is accessible to most people with an average level of fitness and normal mobility. It involves moderate days of walking on uneven paths and small hills, and getting on and off coaches. This tour is not suitable for anyone with walking difficulties.
The minimum number of passengers on your tour will be 10 and the maximum number of passengers will be 35. If in the unlikely event your tour does not reach the minimum passenger numbers, then you may be asked to change to a different date. A full refund will be made available to you should this alternative not be suitable.
This is an escorted tour, meaning the you will have the services of an English speaking guide during each excursion ensuring that you have first-hand knowledge at all times.
The currency in Uzbekistan is the (Uzbek Soum). We recommend that you take new US Dollar or new British Pound Sterling notes with you in small domination as change is hard to find especially for GBP.
You will need to take some extra money with you to cover any meals where these are not mentioned on your itinerary and personal purchases, such as souvenirs, drinks and snacks. Approximately (£400-500) per person should be sufficient for the duration of your tour. Please also bear in mind that there will be several shopping opportunities throughout your tour. ATMs are sparse in Uzbekistan. Tipping is at your discretion, however we would recommend approximately $4 per day for guide and $2 per day for each driver. Tips are accepted in the local currency, however it is asked that if you do not tip in the local currency that you only pay with notes, as coins cannot be exchanged.
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