The Five Stans – with Travel Directors
28 Days ex Australia including Flights
For more than 2000 years Central Asia has been the focus of ancient east-west trade routes known as the Silk Road. Our 28-day tour to this geographically diverse and historically fascinating region is perhaps one of the most magnificent tours in our repertoire. Join us for a truly memorable journey through Central Asia!
Travel Directors is an independent, boutique tour operator based in Australia, specialising in small-group escorted tours for the discerning traveller. They focus on a more intimate approach to group travel; one that is peppered with unique experiences, interaction with local people, and their trademark bespoke surprise element – all designed to create unforgettable memories.
Single Supplement from $3,650*
Departing 2 September 2018, 3 May 2019 and 1 September 2019
The Five Stans is one of our most popular and cutting-edge tours, taking in the extraordinary countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This part of the globe is home to great steppes, magical deserts, fertile valleys and some of the highest mountains in the world. The scenery is breathtaking and remarkably varied, with green/blue glacial lakes, saw-toothed mountains, red rock formations, sparkling rivers and rolling hills. These lands produced great scholars and conquerors, and were a 19th and 20th century geopolitical chess board on which the ‘Great Game’ was played out between Britain and Russia. Until recently shut off from the outside world and still shrouded in legend and mystery, the personality of each of the ‘stans’ makes an extraordinary journey into the greatest remaining story-book history in world travel today.
Tour Fitness Level: Active
Depart from your chosen Australian airport on the flight to Dubai.
In Dubai connect with your flight to Almaty.
Depart Dubai Air Astana KC 898, 13.55
Arrive Almaty 20.05
On arrival in Almaty we transfer to our hotel.
Rixos Hotel – Almaty
Situated in the shadows of the Tian Shan Mountains, Almaty is the cultural and commercial hub of Kazakhstan. Literally meaning ‘rich with apples’ the former capital is known as the ‘Garden City’ for its large areas of fragrant gardens and the majestic firs and spruce of the Tian Shan Mountains that surround it. Today we explore this beautiful city before moving high up to the outskirts to see the magnificent panorama of Almaty before us.
This morning we leave Almaty and soon begin to see the high peaks of the Tian Shan Mountains. Crossing the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border at Black River, we then follow the Chuy River, and, skirting briefly back into Kazakhstan, we reach the turnoff that will take us around the back of the mountains into the serene valley of Chon Kemin.
Ashu Guesthouse – Chon Kemin valley
This morning we explore the Chon Kemin valley, which is flanked by snow-capped mountains on both sides. The entire valley was formerly a collective farm and much of the Soviet rural atmosphere remains as we are transported back in time. During our walk we meet friendly and inquisitive locals and are also treated to a fantastic exhibition of horsemanship by the skillful Kyrgyz horsemen. In the afternoon we board a craft for two hours of exhilarating fun on the fast flowing Chon Kemin River. Passing through canyons and gorges we finally reach the basin and disembark.
After breakfast we depart for Karakol and soon begin to skirt the north shore of Issyk Kul Lake. The second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea, Issyk Kul is virtually a basin within the Tian Shan Mountains. A combination of vast depth, salinity and underground thermal activity ensures the lake never freezes. Issyk Kul is also the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca. We take a boat ride on the lake before we continue around the north shore to the Cossack outpost of Karakol.
Hotel Tagaytay – Karakol
Today we travel to nearby Jeti Oguz. Here inside the canyon there are extraordinary formations of red sandstone cliffs known as the ‘seven bulls’. We continue into the Valley of Flowers before reaching the magnificent Oguz valley glacier, and in this pristine environment we enjoy a BBQ lunch before heading back to Karakol.
After breakfast we start to explore the town of Karakol. Formerly known as Przewalski, after one of the most intrepid explorers of the 19thcentury, Karakol today is a pretty Russian town filled with quaint cottages shaded by rows of huge poplar trees. We visit the fascinating memorial of Nikolai Przewalski, which charts his various expeditions, including the one to the steppes of central Asia in which he discovered a wild horse that was subsequently named after him – Przewalski’s horse. An animal rehabilitation centre in Karakol currently has two of these very rare horses and we visit the centre before walking through Karakol itself.
This morning we drive around the south shore of Issyk Kul Lake. Although still ringed by the snow-capped mountains of Tian Shan, the south part of the lake is a very different landscape and at times the road skirts the very shoreline of the lake itself. Late afternoon we arrive in Bishkek and check into our hotel.
Hyatt Hotel – Bishkek
After breakfast we commence a walking tour of the city seeing some of Bishkek’s interesting sights including Ala Too Square, the State History Museum, Oak and Victory Parks. The afternoon is at leisure giving you the chance to explore more of this czarist planned city is laid on a grid with wide boulevards flanked by irrigation canals and large trees, making it a very pleasant walk. In the afternoon we head back to Almaty.
Rixos Hotel – Almaty, Kazakhstan
After breakfast we transfer to Almaty airport for our flight to Dushanbe.
Depart Almaty Air Astana KC 131, 10.40
Arrive Dushanbe 11.30
Tajikistan, like Turkmenistan, can be considered one of the last unexplored frontiers in the world. Totally unspoilt by tourism, this delightful country is home to a warm and open-hearted populace. Upon arrival we head 30km out of Dushanbe to the fortress town of Hissar which lies on a wide mountain-fringed plain. Due to its strategic location and commanding views along the valley, the fortress was attacked numerous times in its long history, by such notables as Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan and Tamerlane. In more recent times it was a stronghold of the Islamic guerrilla fighters known as Basmachi. The Basmachi fought a guerrilla war against Soviet rule in central Asia from 1917 until 1924, when the Red Army eventually besieged the fortress. Later we return to Dushanbe.
Serena Hotel – Dushanbe
Dushanbe’s original settlement dates back more than three thousand years, but the last decade has seen a huge transformation. Modern Dushanbe is a veritable ‘garden city’, with its wide boulevards and sleepy back streets lined with towering plantain and poplar. Many large parks are scattered throughout the city, watered by a network of canals and channels. On our arrival we explore the city.
This morning we board 4WD vehicles and drive high up into the Fann Mountains, following the Varzob River through some of Dushanbe’s most affluent neighbourhoods before ascending into stunning landscapes. We then enter the Anzob tunnel, an extraordinary 5.5km tube through the mountains which leads us towards Iskander Kul Lake. Skirting the lake we come to Sary Tag village, located beneath rugged mountain peaks punctuated by glaciers, and perched amongst some of the most beautiful vistas in the world. After lunch with a local family we walk along the Karakol river gorge back to Iskander Kul Lake where we check into our chalets that are located on the edge of the lake itself.
Iskander Kul Turbaza- Iskander Kul Lake
After breakfast we take a short walk along the river to a beautiful waterfall that tumbles into a ravine soon after the river leaves Iskander Kul Lake. We then drive north through spectacular landscapes, climbing high above the Zerafshan valley. The road then plunges into the Shahrston tunnel. Built by the Chinese and opened only in November 2012, this 5km tunnel is one of the greatest engineering feats in the world. Shortly afterwards we descend to the edge of the fertile Fergana valley which is lined with orchards and cotton fields, as we continue on to Khujand.
Khujand Deluxe Hotel – Khujand
Khujand is Tajikistan’s second largest city. It was founded 2,300 years ago and was the easternmost outpost of Alexander the Great. This morning we immerse ourselves in the labyrinth of the Khujand bazaar. In the afternoon we make the short journey to the Tajik-Uzbek border at Oybek. After customs and immigration formalities we make the two hour journey to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.
City Palace – Tashkent
Today we explore Tashkent, renowned for its fountains, parks and tree-lined streets. In 2007, Tashkent was named the cultural capital of the Islamic world as the city is home to numerous historic mosques and Islamic locations of interest. Tashkent also houses the earliest written Koran which has been in the city since 1924.
After breakfast we transfer to the railway station and board the new high-speed train, the Afrosiab, which gets us to Samarkand in two hours and ten minutes.
Depart Tashkent, 08.00
Arrive Samarkand 10.10
Perhaps no name is more evocative of the Silk Road than Samarkand. This fabled city has fired the imagination of writers and poets from all over the world. On our arrival we explore the old town which is full of Uzbeks, Georgians, Tajiks and Russians, as well as many other central Asian nationalities.
Hotel Grand Samarkand – Samarkand
This city of fables and legends is perhaps the most exotic on the Silk Road. Known as the ‘Rome of the Orient’, Samarkand was already a flourishing city when Rome and Babylon were founded. The great Tamerlane was determined to make the city the most beautiful and magnificent in the world and today the city is an enduring reminder of his legacy. Today’s highlights include breathtaking Registan Square, where the finest collection of buildings in Asia dominates the most public place in Samarkand. Intricate tile-work and fluted cobalt tile domes provide a spectacular vista. In a wonderful day of sightseeing we also visit Tamerlane’s mausoleum, the observatory of Ulugbek and the Shahi-Zinda Necropolis.
This morning we make our way to Bukhara. On arrival we visit the Fayzulla Khodjaev house in the old section of the city. The house belonged to Fayzulla Khojaev’s father, Ubaydullokhoja, a rich merchant who traded in karakul pelt in Russia, Germany and other countries. Fayzulla Khodjaev’s house is a wonderful example of 19th century residential architecture.
Minorai-Kalon Hotel – Bukhara
Today we explore Bukhara where, a thousand years ago, a thriving slave trade was conducted. This city is a treasure chest of ancient monuments. We see the Ark Fortress, the crumbling city wall and the superb Samanid Mausoleum, which dates back to the 9th century. We walk through the narrow streets of the old city to the splendid covered bazaar, where we enjoy meeting the colourful locals.
Surrounded by the vast expanse of the Kyzyl Kum Desert, Bukhara still retains the atmosphere of an ancient Silk Road city. Today we further explore this amazing settlement, strolling through its warren of narrow medieval streets to discover historic sites such as the 16th century trading domes, the beautifully decorated Bolo Hauz and Kalyon mosques, and the Labi Hauz pond, where old men in traditional dress while away the afternoon drinking tea and playing chess.
Early this morning we begin our 450-km drive across the Kyzyl Kum Desert the Khiva. The city of Khiva has retained its exotic image of a medieval oriental town thanks to the older part of the city, known as Ichan-Kala. All of Khiva’s famous architectural monuments are located here. Among them are the Kunya-Ark Citadel and the Tosh-Khovli Palace, residence of the Khan, which has been preserved intact along with its ornate gates. The silhouettes of Ichan-Kala’s towering minarets, hemmed in by flat-roofed houses, and surrounded by the powerful clay walls of the fortress, give a clear idea of a typical Central Asian feudal city.
Orient Star – Khiva
Today we drive to the Uzbek–Turkmen border at Shavat. After crossing the border we continue to Dashoguz where we visit the fort and have lunch. In the afternoon we depart for Darvaza, transferring to 4WD vehicles for the final leg of the journey to the one of the most extraordinary sights in the world: the Darvaza gas crater. The Derweze area is rich in natural gas, and, whilst drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a cavern filled with gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of 80 metres. To avoid poisonous gas discharge it was decided the best solution was to burn it off. Geologists had believed at the time that the fire would burn all of the gas in a matter of days. More than 45 years later the crater still burns! Locals call it “The Door to Hell”.
After breakfast we drive to Ashgabat and on arrival, check into the hotel. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
Grand Turkmen Hotel – Ashgabat
Today we visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Nissa. This was the capital of the Parthian Empire and existed more than 2000 years ago. Then continue to a farm where we have lunch with the locals. In the afternoon we visit the Turkmenbashi Mausoleum.
After breakfast we embark on a city tour of Ashgabat. After lunch we explore more of the gleaming golden-domed capital, often described as the North Korea of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is a ’stan’ like no other. Late evening we transfer to the airport for our homeward flight.
Depart Ashgabat Fly Dubai FZ 732, 04.20
Arrive Dubai 06.00
On arrival in Dubai we connect with our flight to Australia.
Today we arrive in Australia and connect to our preferred capital city.
All flights between Australia and Kazakhstan/Turkmenistan and Australia (inc. domestic from your preferred capital city)
All internal flights
All ticketable air taxes (may be subject to change)
All accommodation (twin share)
All local transportation
All meals as specified
Expert local tour guides
Travel Directors’ Tour leader throughout
All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
Visas and courier fees
All tips and gratuities
*Terms and conditions: Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final tour costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $3,000 paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.