Itinerary | Tbilisi to Bishkek
Georgia – Week 1…
We start in the capital, Tbilisi. Sat on the River Mtkvari and surrounded by mountains on three sides with a combination of modern and historic architecture, this calm and photogenic city is our base for the next couple of days. Strolling the streets and people-watching in the many imperious squares of the city, with their mix of Russian, Classical and Soviet architecture, peppered with churches and cathedrals, is a pleasant way to spend a day.
Our first stop in Georgia is Telavi; vineyards and wineries. Wine has been produced in Georgia since the beginning of civilisation. Here we have the option of taking a wine tour to find out more about the history of the area, why wine production has been so important, and of course to try some ourselves.
Armenia – Week …1
Armenia, a country of just over 3 million people, the size as Belgium. In the South Caucasus; stunning mountains, rich verdant landscapes, rich and varied history, and a unique and strong sense of nationhood with an international importance that belies its small size and location, almost ‘hidden’ amongst larger neighbours in Turkey and Iran.
We head to Sevanavank, a monastery complex on the shores of Lake Sevan that dates back to the ninth century. Formerly situated on an island, following the draining of the lake as during the time of Stalin’s rule, the monastery is now sat at the end of a small peninsula and is a picturesque spot well worth a short detour.
We reach the country’s capital Yerevan. This will be our base for three nights; strolling the streets of the city’ central area the combination of Armenian and Soviet architecture shows the country’s more recent history while the nineteenth-century Blue Mosque reminds us that we are in a part of the world where Islamic influences and cultures are prevalent.
There is also the option of a day trip to view Mt Ararat a stunning snow-capped volcano to the south-west of the city. Though the volcano itself is in Turkey, we are able to see it and explore the beautiful mountainous Ararat region while still in Armenia. It is also possible to visit Yerevan’s famous brandy distillery for a tour and of course to sample the national drink.
Iran – Week 2-3
Iran; the Persia Empire is today the Islamic Republic of Iran. Though women do need a form of chador (covering) to enter Iran, it does not have to be black. A colourful scarf and trench coat are good enough……Though this country its often thought of by some westerners as an ominous anti-western state; the people are friendly; they like talking to tourists and within live many religious groups. Not everyone is actually Persian; there are; Turks, Baluchi, Arabs, Kurds, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, Nestorians and others, all living amicably. The architecture is some of the best in the world
Highlights – Esfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd, Great Salt Desert, Caravanserais, Mashed
From Armenia, we enter north western Iran to Tabriz. Wander through the bazaar the Blue Mosque and Elgoli Park.
To Qazvin with massive domed Cisterns, this once stored and cooled the city’s water. Relax in one of the subterranean bathhouses. Tehran is one our route; its big and smoggy. The best things to see here are the Treasury of the National Jewels with diamonds, the Peacock Throne and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini
Heading south, we pass through; Qom, Kasham and Abyaneh on the way to Isfahan. Here we’ll spend a few days in the old capital of Persia – beautiful mosques, squares, the stone arched Khaju Bridge with its royal pavilion in the middle, palaces with gardens and caravanserais
Further south to Shiraz; considered to be Iran’s best city with; mausoleums, the colourful covered Vakil Bazaar. Shiraz has a large Christian and Jewish population
Just outside of town are the ruins of Persepolis; the ancient capital of Persia. It was burnt to the ground by Alexander the Great – in a typical Macedonian evening of drunken debauchery. That’s how the Macedonians behaved in ancient times
The Silk Road follows in the footsteps of Marco Polo to Yazd. The fourth largest ethnic group in Iran after Muslims, Christians and Jews are the Zoroastrians – Yazd is their hometown. Here there is a Tower of Silence and a Fire Temple, which has had its fire burning for two and a half thousand years. Zoroastrians bury their dead in the ‘sky’; leaving the bodies out in their Towers of Silence to be eaten by birds. The city is built mainly from adobe mud bricks and is the best example of old Persian architecture; with wind catching towers cooling the houses and an ancient network of underground canals bringing water to the town from mountains
We cross Dasht-e-Kavir; the almost uninhabited Great Salt Desert to Kermin and visit the castles in the desert. To the north of Iran visiting the holy city of Mashed and on to Turkmenistan
CENTRAL ASIA – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan. Horses ridden by a nations of horsemen with incredible skill on the saddle – they can ride alone by the age of five.
Turkmenistan – Week 4…
The recently passed dictator had the capital city Ashgabat made in white marble. The rest of the country is a beautiful empty dessert, with nomads in their yurts.
Highlights – Ashgabat, Darvaza Gas Craters, Konye-Urgench
The economy is run off its vast reserves of oil and gas which lies beneath Central Asia’s largest desert; the Karakum or Black Desert. First stop the capital Ashgabat with enormous monuments and extravagant buildings made entirely of white marble.
We visit Darvaza Gas Craters, or the ‘Doors to Hell’, it’s a drilling operation gone wrong, which opened a massive hole in the desert; from which the natural gas came out – it was lit to get rid of the dangerous gas and it’s been burning for 40 years.
Kanye-Urgench on the northern border is a ruined town, with old monuments. Is was the scene of one of the biggest massacres in human history by Genghis Khan; this start of his killings led to the death of over 70 million people; some 17% of the world population
Uzbekistan – Week …4 – 5
The heart of the ancient Silk Road
Highlights – the beautiful cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are the main highlights not only Uzbekistan but of the whole of Central Asia.
If the roads are good we drive to the Aral Sea – though the sea shore is now dry. The Soviet Union began an intense irrigation project to boost cotton growth in the region diverting the rivers leading to the sea for irrigation. The project led to the sea losing 90% of its area original size and today as we reach where its edge formerly was, we can see rusting ships sitting on the dry sea bed.
Khiva town is one of the best preserved of the in Central Asia the Old Town is within a massive mud brick fortress. Climb the towering minarets and sit in the tranquil old mosques. We cross the desert and the Amu Darya River, (known in ancient times as the Oxus), to Bukhara. Its old centre with easy to get lost in narrow winding streets, mosques, medievel royal fortress and a bazaar complex; its a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Samarkand was once the most populous city in the world; its 2,500 years of history old rivaling Rome in importance; now its attractions are really big colourful mosques, markets and the impossibly big public square called ‘Registan’ or sandy place in Persian. This was made when public squares were for public announcements and executions. Onto the capitol Tashkent and east, transiting through Kasakhstan into Kyrgyzstan.
Kazakhstan – Week …6
One of the larger countries in Asia – it extends into Eastern Europe; the people are a mix of Mongolian and Russians. The capital Alamaty; is named after apples, which is where they first grew.
Highlights – the size of the place; the 9th largest country in the world
We cross to Kazakhstan and Aksu-Dzhabagly Nature Reserve the oldest nature reserve in Central Asia; stunning scenery of green valleys, rushing rivers and snowcapped peaks. Look out for the Himalayan brown bear.
Kyrgyzstan – Week 6…
A land of high mountain passes, grassy plains, alpine lakes & yurts, and the Celestial Mountains. The trip ends in Bishkek , Kyrgyzstan’s capital. A Soviet built city with tree lined boulevards and parks.