A Tailor-Made Five Stans Tour
Join us on a Silk Road odyssey along the course of the legendary Amu Darya River – the Oxus of ancient times.
For twenty-six thrilling days we’ll follow this vital waterway as it carves and weaves its way through the heartlands of the ancient Silk Road.
On this bespoke Five Stans Tour, you’ll walk among the ruins of ancient fortresses, swim in mineral lakes and explore beautiful Silk Road cities. Throw in some yurts, hot springs and 7500 metre peaks, and you’ve got a journey you’ll be dining out on for years.
An Expertly-Guided 4WD Experience
Travelling in the luxury of top-spec 4WDs, this is a rare chance to immerse yourself in the diverse cultures of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Our trip leader William Lawrence’s knowledge of this area is second to none: having spent ten years working for the UN in Tajikistan, there’s nothing he doesn’t know about the history, politics, culture, flora and fauna of these fascinating countries. From ornithology to Great Game history, William will keep you entertained and informed throughout.
If William is unavailable then we will pair you will excellent local guides in each country, each of whom will be chosen to suit your particular interests and style of travel.
|DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION||Tashkent Islam Karimov International Airport to Manas International Airport, Bishkek|
|DEPARTURE TIME||Please ensure you arrive in good time for our scheduled departure from Tashkent|
- A 4WD + driver – properly insured, prepared and maintained for our use. There will only ever be 3 guests per 4WD.
- Accommodation in a range of homestays and hotels.
- All meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some alcohol.
- Local airport transfers
- A professional guiding team including William Lawrence.
- Fresh filtered water + a Water 2 Go water filtration bottle, in order to reduce plastic waste
- All museum entry fees
- Professional route planning and logistics, backed by risk assessments, emergency procedures, satellite communications (where necessary) and medical support. We don’t take risks lightly and we plan for all eventualities, believing it is better to have prepared and not require a procedure than not to plan at all. We also carry a very well stocked First Aid and Trauma medical kit and have been First Aid and Trauma trained by the excellent team at Crux Medical.
- International Flights
- Guide gratuity
- Your personal clothing and any equipment you might need
- Extra daily costs for snacks, alcohol or souvenirs
- Your personal travel insurance including medi-evac
- Visas and other permits as required
Follow the Amu Darya River
This twenty-six-day Silk Road tour will start in Nukus, Uzbekistan and end in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. On the way you’ll pass through Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, all whilst following the course of the mighty Amu Darya River.
At times it will be roastingly hot, at others you’ll need to hunker down against mountain storms. With natural wonders hidden behind every corner, this is a trip you will never forget.
The Amu Darya – a sea to source exploration of the Silk Road
Maximum group size 9 persons.
Start Point: Home Destination: Nukus (Uzbekistan) Travel: Plane and Airport Transfer Notes: Arrival in Uzbekistan
Flights from the UK (Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, Fly Dubai via Dubai and Air Astana via Astana or Almaty) arrive in Tashkent usually in the early morning, in time for 08.00 or 09.00 onward flights to Nukus. We’ll meet you in Nukus Airport and transfer you to your hotel. This will be a gentle day of sleeping, acclimatising, eating and drinking.
Start Point: Nukus Destination: Moynaq Travel: 4WD
It’s chocks away as you hit the road and drive across the Aralkum desert to the city of Moynaq on what was once the shoreline of the Aral Sea, 200 km from Nukus. You’ll have the chance to go out onto the Aral Sea bed to see the stranded ships in the desert, as well as see where the the Amu Darya flows into the remnants of this once-mighty inland sea.
Start Point: Moynaq Destination: Khiva Travel: 4WD
It’ll be about 220 km of driving today to the ancient Silk Road city of Khiva – one of the jewels of this many-stranded route. You’ll have the time to look around the Ichan Kala, or Old City, this afternoon, after checking into our lovely hotel. Plenty more time tomorrow to see everything the city has to offer..
Start Point: Khiva Travel: Foot
No rush today – you have all day to relax into this wonderful place. There’s beautiful old mosques, walled palaces, old slave markets and history and artistry galore. Tonight, after a full day of soaking in the sights and smells of the Ichan Kala, you’ll spend another night in the same hotel.
Start Point: Khiva Destination: Bukhara Travel: 4WD
It’s a long drive across the barren desert today, but you’ll be skipping from one Khan’s citadel to another as the superlatives ratchet-up. Here Bokhara Burnes of the British Imperial forces from India was cruelly dispatched by the local population, and the Great Game comes alive amongst many other layers of history belonging to this incredibly beautiful city. Please note that once the high-speed rail service from Khiva to Bukhara is launched, there will also be the option to travel by train.
Start Point: Bukhara Travel: Foot
There’s so much to see in this city that you’ll have all day to soak it up. This trip is all about spending time in each place and really getting a feel from it. Bukhara wasn’t just home and last post to Burnes, but also to imperial officers Stoddart and Connolly and to the infamous ‘bug pit’ that was their final gruesome home….find out more when you are here. Artisans and architecture abound here, and you’ll have the chance to see minarets, tilework par-excellence, palaces and mausoleums. Wow.
Tonight you’ll be staying in an atmospheric hotel in the heart of the city.
Start Point: Bukhara Destination: Koyten (Turkmenistan) Travel: 4WD
After breakfast, you’ll leave Bukhara for a foray into Turkmenistan. Heading south from Bukhara, you’ll change cars at the Turkmenistan border and then head east along the course of the Amu Darya to the town of Koyten. Here you’ll spend the night at a tented encampment beside a mineral lake, replete with hot springs. By now, Bukhara will feel a long way away.
Start Point: Koyten Destination: 4WD and Foot
From the camp, you’ll head off to spend the day roving the local hills, seeing dinosaur fossils, exploring scenic gorges and ancient pilgrimage caves. After a day of exploring, you’ll spend the night at a lodge near the town of Koyten.
Start Point: Koyten Destination: Bukhara Travel: 4WD
Today you’ll follow the other, northern bank of the Amu Darya, via two mausoleums and a picnic lunch, towards the crossing back into Uzbekistan. Tonight will be spent in a different, but equally lovely, hotel in Bukhara.
Start Point: Bukhara Destination: Samarkand Travel: 4WD
Today you say goodbye to Bukhara and drive four hours south to another gem in the Silk Road crown – Samarkand. It’ll be late afternoon by the time you arrive, so you’ll have time to settle into your characterful city centre hotel before viewing the sunset at Registan Square. You’ll soon see why Lord Curzon once called this ‘the finest public square in the world’ – and that was before the ambitious Soviet programme of restoration. A sumptuous supper will await you this evening.
Start Point: Samarkand
Samarkand certainly isn’t somewhere you want to rush away from, so today you have the whole day to see the wonders of Timur’s former capital, the heartland of the ancient Silk Road. Among the things you’ll marvel at will be the stunning Shakhi Zindar necropolis, Timur’s Tomb (where the mighty conqueror was buried under the largest slab of jade on earth) and the famous Sogdian frescoes of Afrasiab. Supper will be with a local family, and will involve learning how to cook the Uzbek national dish, pilav.
Start Point: Samarkand Destination: Dushanbe (Tajikistan) Travel: 4WD
Today your route crosses the border to Tajikistan, where you’ll end the day at the 5* Serena Hotel in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. Supper will be at one of this rapidly-developing city’s best restaurants.
Start Point: Dushanbe
Today you have the whole day in Dushanbe, a very different city to those you’ve just visited in Uzbekistan. This morning will include an expert-led tour of Dushanbe’s Soviet murals, followed by a visit to the National Museum of Antiquities. This is the home of one of Tajikistan’s most cherished relics, the Sleeping Buddha, as well as many other treasures of the Silk Road. Of course, if you just want to sip gin by the rooftop pool all day, then that is entirely your choice too! Tonight you’ll be in the same hotel.
Start Point: Dushanbe Destination: Local Conservation Camp Travel: 4WD
After an excellent breakfast at the hotel, you’ll hop in your 4WD and head south-east into the mountains. You’ll end the day at a wonderful hunting and conservation camp near the Afghan border, where you’ll have a chance to meet some of the local rangers and hear the innspring story of snow leopard conservation here.
Start Point: Local Conservation Camp Destination: Kala-i-Kumb Travel: Foot and 4WD
You’ll start your day with a chance to enjoy a short hike from the camp in the company of local rangers. Here lurk wild boar, brown bear, snow leopard and not only the largest species of sheep, but also one of the largest goat species, in the world. Not to mention the birdlife. Keep those eyes peeled on your walk. You’ll enjoy a picnic lunch before heading to the border town of Kala-i-Khub, where we’ll spend the night at a very comfortable guest house overlooking our river, by now known as the Pyanj. There will also be a chance to visit a very special site – a ruined hilltop Zoroastrian fortress currently being excavated, which was quite possibly the birthplace of polo….
Start Point: Kala-i-Kumb Destination: Khorog Travel: 4WD
A bumpy ride south today, following the Pyanj river as it bores, rolls, twists and boils its way through this beautiful landscape between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Khorog is the regional capital and you’ll spend the night here, restocking on fresh produce from the busy bazaar before heading south again tomorrow. This may be the only time you get to experience a rather tasty north Indian curry in Tajikistan!
Start Point: Khorog Destination: Ishkashim Travel: 4WD
From Khorog the road winds upwards into the wild and beautiful Wakhan Valley, a momentously beautiful slither of wilderness on the border with Afghanistan. Prepare to be staggered by the scale and beauty of the mountains here. If they’re open, you’ll make a stop at a ruby mine near Ishkashim. One of the British Monarch’s crown jewels was mined from near here, and Balash rubies are still produced hereabouts.
Onward with the Pyanj on your right, the valley opens out as you get your first view of the mighty Hindu Kush range to the outh. As you turn east into the Wakhan valley, the river flattens into this broad and historically important valley separating Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Countless explorers and playes have come this way; Wood, Moorcroft, Bailey, Vine, Younghusband, Cuzrzon, Yanov, Bekovich-Cherkassi, Byron, Arnold and more. You’ll spend the night at a local homestay before our border crossing tomorrow.
Start Point: Ishkashim Destination: Wakhan Travel: 4WD
Your day begins with yet another of those colourful passport stamps. To Afghanistan this time, and a quick vehicle changeover for our time travelling along the Wakhan. Your new Afghan guides will take you towards the Wakhjir Glacier, east along the Wakhan valley. We don’t know how far we’ll get as the true source of the Oxus/Amu Darya/Pyanj/Wakhan River is a considerable hike past the settlements of Bozai Gumbez and Sarhad. You’ll be staying with locals tonight, probably in their yurts. It’ll be cold at night but the views and – hopefully – stars in this valley will be worth any hardships.
Start Point: Wakhan Destination: Ishkashim Travel: 4WD
After getting as far as you can towards the true source of our river, you’ll return to Ishkashim in Tajikistan for hearty meal and rest. Time permitting, there are a few sites around Ishkashim worth visiting including one ancient kala, or fortress, overlooking the river to the east of the town.
Start Point: Ishkashim Destination: Hissor Travel: 4WD
The distance to travel today is relatively short, but there is loads to see and do. Possibly the finest hot springs in this region are located right next to one of the most imposing 2,000 year old fortresses, with a view over Tajikistan, Afghanistan and onto the mountain peaks of Pakistan. Stunning. You’ll take in an ancient Buddhist stupa, the museum of Sufi Mubarak and have the chance to hike to see some 10,000 year old petroglyphs. A comfortable and welcoming homestay provides your rest stop for tonight.
Start Point: Hissor Destination: Yurt Camp Travel: 4WD
Today you leave the main stream of the Wakhan behind you and follow the tributary Pamir River up onto the high plateau via the Karghush Pass. At 4200 m, you are gaining significant altitude now. You’ll have a picnic lunch overlooking a cobalt-blue lake at 4000 m before continuing to a private yurt camp on the Alichur Plateau, surrounded by mountains and looking at times like the surface of Mars. You’ll have the chance to meet the herders, see how they care for their yaks and get a proper insight into how they live their lives in this tough environment. It gets below -50 C (-58 F) in winter here, where wolves and snow leopards prowl in search of their prey.
Start Point: Yurt Camp Destination: Kyzylrabot Travel: 4WD
Up over the Southern Alichur range this morning and back towards one of the key tributary sources of the Amu Darya – Lake Zorkul. Once called Lake Victoria by the British officer who ‘found’ it, it was for a long time a strong contender for the source of the Amu Darya. It is in a beautiful location and – conditions permitting – you’ll have a chance to get to it before lunch at a local hunting and conservation camp overlooking the Afghan Little Pamir range. More hot springs here before we push on to spend the night at a homestay in the remote hamlet of Kyzylrabot. In the crux between China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, very few visitors make it our here.
Start Point: Kyzylrabot Destination: Murghab Travel: 4WD
You’ll follow a remote valley north along the Chinese border today, visiting a ruined Soviet observatory and a meteor crater on the way. You’ll also follow another of the contenders for the source of ‘our’ river – the Ak Su, which becomes the Murghab and in turn the Bartang River – a very large contributor to the flow of the Pyanj way back at the confluence in Rushan. It is spellbindingly beautiful up here and we’ll tell you all about the changes that are happening right here, right now. It’s a fascinating place! You’ll end the day with a good meal at a cosy homestay in Murghab, the regional administrative headquarters. On a clear day you’ll be able to see into China and across to the Mustagh Ata massif – a 7546 m conical snowcap towering just over the Chinese border.
Start Point: Murghab Destination: Osh (Kyrgyzstan)
Now away from the river and its tributaries, you’ll cross the highest pass of the old Soviet Union (Ak Baital at 4655 m) and drive around the gorgeous blue lake of Karakul – at 3900 m this is higher than Lake Titicaca and sits within a huge meteor impact crater than must have shaken the world on formation. You’ll then leave Tajikistan via the Kyzyl Art pass and drop down – through the border formalities – into the verdant landscape of Kyrgyzstan. Immediately you’ll see a difference with horses roaming everywhere and yurts peppered across the plains with smoke trailing from their roofs. Soon you hit quality tarmac and speed over the last of two passes to reach Osh in early evening. Our splendid hotel will feel like the lap of luxury.
Start Point: Osh Destination: Toktogul Travel: 4WD
This morning you’ll have a little time to explore this 3,000 year old city and its teeming bazaars. Then you’ll hop in the cars and head north into the many ranges that criss-cross Kyrgyzstan. On the way, you’ll skirt the edges of the world’s largest walnut forest before finishing the day at Lake Toktogul, nestled among the mountains.
Start Point: Toktogul Destination: Bishkek Travel: 4WD
Back onto the epic road north as it twists and turns through tunnels and over high passes, passing nomadic encampments in high pastures and crossing through two national parks as we approach Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. This relaxed, tree-filled city with its backdrop of the Ala-Too range is a fitting place to end our trail. We’ll arrange a final meal to celebrate the end of a fantastic expedition together.
Start Point: Bishkek Destination: Home Travel: Airport Transfer
We will get you to the airport in good time for your flight home today. You’ll fly away with wonderful memories of these countries and their peoples.
Where will we be staying?
On this expedition, we’ll be staying in some excellent hotels in Bukhara, Samarkand, Dushanbe, Osh and Bishkek, guest houses or basic hotels in other towns, and in mountain homestays with local families. The homestay concept is widely accepted throughout Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – particularly the former – so these nights are often highly enjoyable glimpses into local customs and lifestyles. We also stay in yurts in a couple of locations on this trip.
What will the weather be like?
A very difficult question to answer when traversing the fourth highest mountain range on earth and crossing some of the emptiest deserts before we get there! But, you can expect some hot days lower in the valleys and off the high plateaus – temperatures could be in 25 degrees or higher. At altitude, we have experienced every season in the course of a single day – warm sunshine followed by winds and rain, hail or snow on the passes and perhaps down to 0 degrees for a short period of time. In general, the rule of thumb is to expect warm days and cooler nights when we are out of the lowland areas. In early October, snows are possible in the Pamirs, but our drivers and cars are well-prepared for this.
What kit do I need to bring?
We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful.
How much are flights?
This is a moving feast! It depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. From London, the cheapest flights to/from Tashkent, Bishkek or Dushanbe might be via Moscow, Astana, Istanbul or Dubai. We use Turkish Airlines via Istanbul because they are good, cost-effective connections. Costs are usually around the £550 mark, return. Again, we’ll send you an information pack containing all the information you need when you confirm the trip with us.
What will the food be like?
Varied; the ‘stans are a region known for meaty delicacies so you can expect tasty shashlik almost anywhere if this is your thing. The Pamir area is not particularly agriculturally inclined, mostly due to the precipitous nature of the topography, and often poor soils. But many of our homestay hosts pride themselves on making good meals for their guests, so we will be well looked-after. If you are a vegetarian, food can be a little dull (lots of bread, potatoes and eggs with salads) but perfectly acceptable. For meat-eaters, pilaf (plov) is the staple dish. Usually rice and meat in one dish and often very tasty. Freshly made non (bread) is available almost everywhere and can be delicious. You’ll also encounter the ubiquitous shashlik meat skewers, manti meat dumplings and all sorts of wonderful fresh fruit. We try to ensure we have some treat foods in the vehicles for picnics, so you’ll always have back-up noodles, soups and cheese/mayo/mustard with bread as well as chocolates and cereal bars. In general we think food is a core part of any cultural experience and there are a good number of local dishes to try on our route.
Will I have to share a room?
This depends on the size of your group. If there are more than four of you, you may have to share rooms in a few of the more remote mountain homestays.
Will I be affected by altitude?
Altitude can affect different people in different ways. It can also affect the same person in different ways from trip to trip. We will be spending quite a number of days above 3000 metres, and up on the Alichur and Murghab plateaus, often above 4000 metres. We also cross some high passes, with the Ak Baital being 4700m (over 15,000 ft). If you feel that you might suffer from altitude sickness, or have history of it, you should consider discussing this with your doctor prior to booking and travel. Diamox and other similar prescription drugs are available to ease symptoms, but the key way to address any onset of altitude sickness is to descend. Luckily, from anywhere particularly high, descent is possible rapidly thanks to our vehicles. Our route is also planned to gain altitude in the smallest increments possible to aid acclimatisation. Simple precautions and awareness go a long way.
Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions?
Yes. We are members of TRIP – the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention Group – and perform detailed country risk assessments prior to departure, in line with the ISO 31000 international standard for risk assessment. We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit, in addition to making use of the Australian Smart Traveller assessment tool, and the US State Department’s OSAC service. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition and are expedition first aid trained by Crux Medical. For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be. And we always carry a satellite phone. We really don’t mess around when it comes to safety.
Is this for me?
Although this is an extremely enlivening way to spend a month of your life, it’s also potentially dangerous. Travelling by 4WD is an inherently risky activity and to compound this, you will be travelling on dirt tracks in a very remote part of the world.
Not only could you be hurt, maimed or even killed but in the event of an accident it could take hours (a day even) for the emergency services to reach you. Thanks to the altitude in places, it will also be physically tiring. We aren’t telling you this to scare you off – but we also want to manage expectations.
Furthermore, Central Asia can be very tough to travel and in most places the tourism industry is in its infancy. This is why we – and hopefully you – like it so much. There’ll be no wi-fi or mobile reception for much of the trip and fluffy towels and Egyptian cotton sheets will be a rarity. The roads are bumpy, the food isn’t exactly cordon bleu, some days will be very tiring, it’s possible you’ll feel the effects of altitude and you’ll be lucky if your stomach doesn’t have at least one minor revolt.
Have we put you off yet? Hopefully not….
If however, you want a proper, epic experience that you’ll remember forever, then you are in luck – this is a real humdinger of a trip.