Uzbekistan, the heart of Central Asia, where ancient cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva once hosted Silk Road caravans, and today maintained medieval setting, transporting travelers back in time. Another tour highlight is the “disappearing” Aral Sea, which downsized from the world’s fourth largest salt lake to a mere shadow of its old-self. As water receded, lake turned into desert, lined with abandoned fishing boats known as the “Cemetery of Ships”.
Morning depart from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, take Uzbekistan Airways to Tashkent, arrive in late afternoon, transfer to hotel. Tashkent means “stone city” in local language. Its history dated back to 2 century BC, an important stop along the ancient Silk Road. But most of its historical monuments were destroyed in the 1966 earthquake. Today, Tashkent is a city reborn under Soviet-style modern city planning blueprint.
Catch an early domestic flight to Nukus, upon arrival visit Savitskiv Art Museum, which houses local folk arts and Russian avant-garde collection, including many banned works from once persecuted Soviet artists. Later, travel to the outskirts of Nukus and visit Mizdakhan Necropolis, an ancient burial site dated back to the 7th century. Late afternoon, visit local bazaar in Nukus to shop for dried food and drinks for next day’s Aral Sea excursion.
After breakfast, journey to Aral Sea; once the world’s fourth largest saline lake, bordering Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its former self since 1960s, following massive irrigation works for crops cultivation. En-route visit Moynaq, once a prosperous fishing port; now the water has disappeared, fishing boats lined the sandy ground. The Cemetery of Ships is a cruel reminder of man-made natural disaster. Arrive at Aral Sea shore by sunset, set up tents, make open fire to cook dinner.
Admire sunrise by the Aral Sea, stroll along its shore, or dip into the water. After breakfast, pack up tents and clean cooking utensil, then drive back to Nukus, on the way admire barren but colorful steppes, marshes, and salt plain. En-route visit Sudochye Lake, once part of the Aral Sea basin but today turned into a freshwater lake and bird-watching destination. Afternoon arrive back in Nukus, check into hotel, get a good scrub down.
After breakfast, drive to Khiva, en-route visit Chilpik Kala, or Tower of Silence, once used by Zoroastrians for exposure burial, where remains of deceased were left under the sun for scavenging birds. Continue driving south, visit Ayaz-Kala and Tuprak-Kala on the way, both castles are ruins of ancient Khorezm Kingdom influenced by Persian culture. Evening arrive in Khiva, one of the 3 major ancient Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan.
Khiva Old City is surrounded by ancient walls, full of historical monuments, labyrinths of cobblestone alleyways, and no car allowed within the walls. It is like stepping back in time, a living open-air museum. Morning visit the gems of Islamic architecture, such as minarets, mosques, and madrassa. Afternoon free and easy, could go shopping for local handicrafts, or strolling in the narrow alleyways lined with old residential homes, or visit the bazaar outside the walls to sample local snacks. Late afternoon, climb up to the city walls to admire the Old City from above, and for superb sunset view.
Drive to another ancient Silk Road city Bukhara. On the way passing desert, oases, and endless cotton fields, cultivation of cotton is one of the contributors to the shrinking of Aral Sea. The journey also offers view of Amu Darya River, its total length measuring more than 2400km, traces its origin in the Pamir ranges, flows through 5 Central Asian countries, and drained into Aral Sea. Late afternoon arrive in Bukhara, free and easy; suggest to visit hundreds years old Hammam Bozori Kord (optional) for traditional bath and massage.
Bukhara Old City is a UNESCO heritage site, its history traces back to the 4th century, it has witnessed the rise and fall of various empires; today most of the historical sites remained are of Islamic culture influences. Morning visit monuments built between the 9th and 18th centuries, including royalty mausoleum, mosques, minarets, madrassa, and citadel. Afternoon free & easy; Bukhara has many traditional crafts workshops and stores, teahouses, hammam, and bazaar, ideal for leisurely stroll.
Drive to Kyzyl Kum Desert, following the footsteps of ancient Silk Road caravans. On the way passing Nurata, visit the Great Castles built by Alexander the Great in 4th century. Today, the ancient fortress is in ruins but offer great panoramic view of the surroundings. Late afternoon arrive at desert yurt camp, camel riding around camp site. At night, admire a blanket of stars above.
Transfer from yurt camp to Aydarkul Lake located in the middle of the desert; admire desert fauna and flora on the way. Upon arrival at lakeshore, enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and picnic lunch. The turquoise blue water surrounded by sandy ground appears like a mirage, it is an accidental man-made lake resulted from irrigation project during the Soviet era. Later, drive to Samarkand, a UNESCO heritage site, once a prosperous ancient Silk Road city, its name means “fertile land”.
For ages, great powers had fought over Samarkand, including Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and later in the 14th century, Tamerlane made it the capital of Timurid Empire, and it became the Islamic world’s cultural, arts, and education centre. The heart of Old City is Registan Square, a group of grand buildings comprising several madrassas and mosques. Nearby is ancient covered bazaar, now turned into galleries, restaurants, and shops.
After breakfast, about 4 hours train to Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. Upon arrival, visit the Independence Square and Amir Timur Square. Later, visit Tashkent metro stations built during Soviet era and admire the lavish decorations. Late afternoon visit the old city quarter and its bustling Chorsu bazaar. For last night in Uzbekistan, one may check out the night life scene in town.
Early morning transfer to airport; board a morning flight to Kuala Lumpur, arrival in evening. End of tour.
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