AIA Tours: land

The Silk Road: Empires of Central Asia

Tour Dates: May 22 - June 7, 2022 (17 days)

Tour Leader(s): Aleksandr Naymark ,

Retrace the fabled Silk Road through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan with archaeologist Aleksandr Naymark, following in the footsteps of silk traders who left China as early as 200 B.C. in great camel caravans for the 5,000-mile trek to the Mediterranean. This was also the road of Alexander the Great and Marco Polo, extending across vast deserts, mountains, and plains. Like the adventurers and merchants who have gone before us, we can anticipate breathtaking sights and a lively exchange of ideas and cultures along our route. Minimum of just 12 guests.


  • Travel and learn with AIA lecturer and host Aleksandr Naymark, who will accompany you on daily excursions and give a series of lectures, as well as with professional local guides and a tour manager who will meticulously handle all travel arrangements.
  • Visit eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Turkmenistan’s Merv, Nisa, and Kunya Urgench; and Uzbekistan’s old Khiva (Itchan Kala), Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm (Ellik Kala), Bukhara, Shahrisabz, and Samarkand.
  • Explore the archaeological site of Anau, inhabited from the Neolithic through medieval periods; the ancient Zoroastrian center of Gonur-Depe; and Paikent, whose fortress walls date back to the 6th century B.C.
  • Discover fascinating museum collections, including Ashgabat’s National Museum of History and Ethnography, Bukhara’s Museum of National Crafts, and Samarkand’s Afrasiab History Museum.
  • Stroll through old town shops and bazaars, tour a silk carpet factory, and enjoy a costume show and performances of traditional music and dance.
  • Admire stunning religious monuments and artifacts, such as the partially-preserved Uthman Koran (written on deerskin in the 7th century), considered by Sunni Muslims to be the world’s oldest Koran.
  • Maximum of just 12 guests!

Tour Prices per person (15 nights)
Double Occupancy (8-12 participants) $8,195
Double Occupancy (5-7 participants) $8,995
Single Supplement (limited availability) $945

Single room supplement will be charged when requested or required. With fewer than 5 participants, a small group surcharge may be added.

Gonur-Depe, Turkmenistan © Vilhelm Rothe

Kaftar Khana (Pigeon House) at Merv. © Peretz Partensky

Kipchak Mosque © Jered Gorman

Ulug Bek’s Observatory, Samarkand, Uzbekistan © Igor Pingin

The city walls of Bukhara. © Operator

Samarkand © Jered Gorman

The remains of the fortress at Nisa © Bjorn Christian Torrissen


Day 1: Depart Home
Day 2: Ashgabat, TURKMENISTAN
Day 3:Ashgabat: AM at leisure, PM city tour | Welcome dinner
Day 4: Nisa | Anau | Fly to Mary
Day 5: Gonur-Depe | Mary
Day 6: Merv | Mary | Fly to Ashgabat
Day 7: – Fly to Tashauz | Kunya Urgench | Khiva, UZBEKISTAN
Day 8: Khiva walking tour
Day 9: Ellik Kala | Khiva
Day 10: Drive to Bukhara
Day 11: Bukhara walking tour
Day 12: Paikent | Bukhara
Day 13: Shahrisabz | Samarkand
Day 14: Samarkand walking tour​​​​​​​
Day 15: Samarkand: Institute of Archaeology & Afrosiab History Musuem | Drive to Tashkent
Day 16: Tashkent: City tour  | Farewell dinner​​​
Day 17: Tashkent | Fly home

View Detailed Itinerary

B= Breakfast • L= Lunch • D= Dinner

Sunday, May 22, 2022 – Depart home
Depart home on independent flights to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Monday May 23 – Ashgabat, TURKMENISTAN
Arrive late this evening at Ashgabat International Airport (ASB), where you will be met and transferred to our elegant hotel in the heart of the city. Overnight at the Oguzkent Hotel (or similar) for two nights.

Tuesday, May 24 – Ashgabat: AM at leisure, PM city tour | Welcome dinner
Enjoy a leisurely morning to rest and adjust to the time difference. Gather in the early afternoon for an introductory lecture followed by a city tour of Ashgabat. The modern city of Ashgabat grew out of a village of the same name after the Russian conquest of the area. It developed around the fortress erected by military engineers and first was a typical garrison town, but being a capital of a Trans-Caspian province it quickly developed into a prosperous city. Unfortunately, little survived of it, as most of the buildings were leveled by an earthquake in 1948. It recovered in the following decades and recently has seen a boom in new construction. Underneath Ashgabat, however, are remnants of Konjikala, the ancient city destroyed by Mongols in the 13th century. Our exploration of the city includes a visit to the National Museum of History and Ethnography with its rich archaeological and anthropological collections. This evening gather for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant, featuring a musical performance. (B,D)

Wednesday, May 25 – Nisa | Anau | Fly to Mary
This morning we visit Old Nisa, the sacred fortress of Parthians and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, where excavations revealed monumental structures of the 3rd-1st centuries B.C. devoted to the Imperial Dynastic Cult. It is situated 15 miles west of Ashgabat, near the early Parthian capital of Nisa, a site now known as New Nisa as it survived as an important center until the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. On the way back to Ashgabat we see the Kipchak Mosque, a $100-million-dollar mosque that accommodates 10,000 people and is capped by a golden dome. Continue to the ruins of Anau, a site that was occupied from the Neolithic (ca. 4500 B.C.) to the medieval period (marked by the ruins of a 15th-century mosque), and where a Bronze Age proto-city (2300 B.C.) was recently discovered. Catch a short evening flight from Ashgabat to Mary. Check-in to our hotel in Mary’s center and gather for dinner this evening. Overnight at the Mary Hotel for two nights. (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 26 – Gonur-Depe | Mary
Today, make a full-day trip in 4×4 vehicles to the Bronze Age site of Gonur-Depe, which was discovered by Soviet archaeologists in the mid-20th century and is still undergoing excavation. Excavations revealed living quarters with mighty fortifications, a palace, a fire temple, and a necropolis. Return to Mary and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Friday, May 27 – Merv | Mary | Fly to Ashgabat
After an early breakfast at the hotel, take a morning excursion to the fertile oasis of Merv. Formed from the rich silt at the mouth of the Murghab River, where it soaks into the Kara Kum (Black Sands) Desert, the oasis was an early Bronze Age center. The great city of Merv served as an Achaemenid provincial center as early as the 6th century B.C. and remained a major urban center throughout the Hellenistic, Parthian, Sasanian, and early Islamic periods, losing much of its significance only after it was sacked and burned by the Mongols. The ruins of Merv were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and are famous for their wealth of archaeological materials. Afterwards, visit the Museum of History and Ethnography, housed in a 19th-century merchant’s house, with displays of artifacts from Merv and Gonur-Depe as well as from other Turkmen archaeological sites. Take an afternoon flight back to Ashgabat and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at the Oguzkent Hotel (or similar). (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 28 – Fly to Tashauz | Kunya Urgench | Khiva, UZBEKISTAN
Transfer to the airport for a morning flight to Tashauz, in northern Turkmenistan. Drive to Kunya Urgench to visit the site of the ancient capital of Khorezm, which was razed by both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. About half a mile south of the town lie the remains of the UNESCO-listed old city, including the 11th-century Kutlug-Timur Minaret, which was for many centuries the tallest in Central Asia. Also admire the domed hall of the Turabek Khanym Mausoleum, built for the daughter of one of the rulers of the Golden Horde. Continue on to the ancient Silk Road oasis of Khiva, crossing en route the Turkmen-Uzbek border, where we will change motor coach and driver. (Be prepared for lengthy administrative procedures at the border.) Arriving in Khiva, we check-in to our hotel and have dinner. Overnight at the Hotel Asia Khiva for three nights. (B,L,D)

Sunday, May 29 – Khiva walking tour
Spend the day exploring Khiva on foot. Today the living city is part museum town, part re-creation of life hundreds of years ago. Khiva’s Old Town (Itchan Kala), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been extensively preserved and restored, and highlights of our walking tour include Tash Hauli Palace, once the home of the khan and his four legal wives; the 9th-century Juma (Friday) Mosque, with an unusual wooden ceiling and 115 carved wood columns; and the Kunya Ark (Old Fortress), originally built in the 12th century as the khan’s fortress and residence. The evening is at leisure, and our local guide will offer suggestions for dinner. (B,L)

Monday, May 30 –  Ellik Kala | Khiva
Set out today on a survey of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm. Drive into the desert surrounding Khiva to visit some of these ancient citadels in the region called Ellik Kala (Fifty Citadels). This chain of adobe fortresses guarded palaces, homes, warehouses, and sanctuaries dating from 2,000 years ago through medieval times. Return to Khiva where the balance of the day is at leisure. (B,L)

Tuesday, May 31 – Drive to Bukhara
Depart this morning for Bukhara, driving (approximately six hours) across long stretches of the Kyzyl Kum (Red Sands) Desert, once crossed by Silk Road camel caravans and comprised of dunes and saxaul thickets. Stop en route to view the Amu Darya River, which loosely parallels the Uzbek-Turkmen border, and have a boxed lunch. Arrive in Bukhara and check-in to our hotel, located in the old town. This evening we gather and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Overnight at the Devon Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, June 1 – Bukhara walking tour
Spend the day exploring the old town of Bukhara: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Central Asia’s most ancient living city, and an excellent place to explore on foot. Begin at Labi-Hauz Plaza, at the center of the old town, and visit the nearby 16th-century Kukeldash Madrassah, the largest Koranic school in Central Asia. Continue on to Poi Kalon, also known as the Bukhara Forum, whose assembly includes the famous 12th-century Kalon Minaret, 15th-century Juma Mosque, and the Mir-i-Arab and Alim-Khan Madrassahs, surrounding an open plaza teeming with merchants and local vendors. Near the Kalon Mosque is the Ark Citadel, the original fortress of Bukhara, dating back to the 3rd century B.C. The current structure has been built and rebuilt on the same site throughout its history. Also visit the early 10th-century Ismail Samani Mausoleum, a world famous jewel of early Islamic architecture. Dinner will be at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Thursday, June 2 – Paikent | Bukhara
This morning we travel through Bukhara Oasis to the site of the ancient city of Paikent (Baykand), originally a fortress on the road from Iran to Bukhara, which in the 5th-8th centuries developed into a major emporium – a Sogdian city of merchants, a self-governed republic of fabled wealth. The city’s currently standing walls and towers date back to the 6th century, while excavations revealed a temple of the 3rd-7th centuries, city quarters of the 6th-11th centuries, the only known pharmacy building of the 8th century, and caravan sarays of the 9th century. Tour the small museum with one of the archaeologists working at the site (schedule permitting). Afterwards, drive a short distance outside of the city to visit the Summer Palace of the last Emir of Bukhara. Called “the Palace of Moon and Stars,” the Summer Palace is something of a showpiece, as it was a refuge for emirs from the city. Explore its Museum of National Crafts and admire the vivid suzani, or embroidered coverlets, for which Uzbekistan is known. Return to central Bukhara for lunch at a local restaurant and some time at leisure. This evening, attend a costume show in the teahouse of a local madrassah, with a traditional dinner afterward. (B,L,D)

Friday, June 3 –  Shahrisabz | Samarkand
Depart Bukhara this morning and drive to Samarkand, stopping along the way in Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane. In Shahrisabz we have lunch and see the ruins of the gigantic, 14th-century Aq Saray (White Palace), one of Tamerlane’s most ambitious projects and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Dorut Siadat (“Seat of Might and Power”), built by Ulug Bek as a mausoleum for his favorite son; and Kok Gumbaz (“Blue Dome”), a 15th-century mosque that was recently restored for the city’s 2,700th anniversary. Continue on to Samarkand and visit the Afghan-Uzbek Silk Carpet Factory, where we learn about the process of dying and weaving the carpets. This evening, check-in to our hotel and get settled before gathering for dinner. Overnight at the Hotel DiliMah Premium Luxury for two nights. (B,L,D)

Saturday, June 4 – Samarkand walking tour
Set out this morning to explore perhaps the most well-known of Silk Road towns: Samarkand, capital of Sogdiana from the 6th century B.C. Tamerlane made it his capital city and gathered the finest architects, builders, and artisans of the time to enhance its beauty. Modern Samarkand is built on the ruins of ancient Afrasiab. We visit Registan Square, Samarkand’s centerpiece and most recognizable landmark, framed by three emblematic madrassahs (Ulug Bek, Tillya-Kori, and Shir Dor). In its reconstruction, the square maintains the majesty that it radiated through the ages. Not far away is the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of Tamerlane. It was originally built for his grandson, after the latter’s death at the turn of the 15th century. Wander the magnificent row of tombs and mausoleums collectively called Shah-i-Zinda (“place of a living king”) cascading from the high side of Afrasiab, the site of pre-Islamic Samarkand, to the edge of the medieval and modern city. Pay a visit to the remains of Ulug Bek’s Observatory, one of the most advanced in the medieval world; and stop at the early 15th-century Bibi Khanum Mosque, built to be the largest mosque in the Islamic world. This evening we attend a performance by a local dance troupe before dining at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Sunday, June 5 – Samarkand: Institute of Archaeology & Afrasiab History Museum | Drive to Tashkent
Check out of our hotel this morning and pay a visit to the Institute of Archaeology to meet with a local archaeologist (schedule permitting). Afterwards, drive to the Afrasiab Archaeological Museum, located on the site of the ancient city where excavations have continued for the last 150 years. The gem of the Museum’s collection are famous Sogdian frescoes discovered in the remnants of a 7th-century palace, depicting the arrival of foreign embassies (from as far away as Korea, for example) to the court of Samarkand in A.D. 658. Drive to Tashkent, arriving in time for dinner. Overnight at the Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace for two nights. (B,L,D)

Monday, June 6 – Tashkent: City tour | Farewell dinner
Spend the morning exploring highlights of Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital city. It emerged as a city in the 6th century and from the early Islamic times served as the principal center of the large, fertile oasis of Chach and a major trade city on the Silk Road. Today it is a mixture of wide, tree-lined boulevards with modern architecture, 20th-century Soviet buildings, some colonial structures, and traces of the old city with mud-walled houses, narrow winding lanes, mosques, and madrassahs. Start at the Museum of the History of the People of Uzbekistan, founded in 1876, which features a rich archaeological exhibit with mural paintings and clay sculpture, Sogdian ossuaries, and medieval ceramics. Then we drive past Independence Square on the way to Old Town Tashkent. Stroll through a labyrinth of 19th-century, mud-walled houses to Hast Imam Square, where can be found some of the city’s oldest monuments, including the 16th-century Qaffal Shashi Mausoleum and Baraq-Khan Madrassah, plus the early 20th-century Tilla Sheikh Mosque, which houses the Uthman Koran, considered by Sunni Muslims to be the world’s oldest Koran. Continue on to the 16th-century Kukeldash Madrassah, part of an ensemble that marked the center of the old town. After lunch enjoy some time at leisure before gathering for a festive farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, June 7 – Tashkent | Fly home
Take an early morning transfer to Tashkent International Airport (TAS) for flights homeward. (B)


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