Day 1: Tashkent
Arrive in Tashkent in the morning. Transfer to the hotel, free time to relax after the flight. Free for lunch. In the afternoon we start a tour of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The present Tashkent in fact is divided into two parts: the ancient city with its narrow streets, one-storied buildings and ancient monuments, and the modern well developed city with contemporary architecture which includes universities, theaters and metro. Along with the main sightseeing points we visit Hast-Imam square, the religious centre of Tashkent. It is located in the old part of the city that has survived the earthquake of 1966. There are 16th century Barak-Khan Madrasah, Tilla-sheikh Mosque, Abu-Bakra Kaffali Shashi Mausoleum and Islamic Institute of imam al-Bukhari where future imams study. There is also a library rich with eastern manuscripts. In a special room of this library there is a world known Osman (Ottoman) Koran written in the middle of the 7th century. The Koran consists of 353 huge parchment sheets with original Koran texts that had been kept in Caliph's treasuries in Medina, Damascus and Baghdad and only in the times of Timur it came to Uzbekistan. We also walk along Mahalla, the old quarter of Tashkent located near Hast-Imam. There are typical one-storied private houses, narrow streets, old channels (aryks). During the tour of Tashkent we offer to take one stop by Tashkent metro. Welcome dinner at the local restaurant. Night in a hotel in Tashkent.
Day 2: Samarkand
Take morning train to Samarkand the second largest city in Uzbekistan and probably the most magnificent. This ancient city was conquered by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Timur who made it the capital of his Empire. Arrive in Samarkand and transfer to the hotel. Lunch in a local restaurant. Visit to Gur-Emir mausoleum, tremendous family shrine of Timurids. The legend says that Timur built this mausoleum after unexpected death of his favorite grandson Muhammad Sultan whom he wanted to become the governor. While Timur had prepared a rather modest burial place for himself in his hometown Shakhrisabz. But Timur was buried in Gur-Emir too. Continue to the Registan square, one of the Great unknown wonders of the world. This wonderful architectural ensemble of 3 ancient and very beautiful Madrasahs is one of the best in Islamic world.
Day 3: Samarkand
We start the tour visiting Ulugbek's observatory. In Ulugbek times Samarkand became a scientific centre. Ulugbek was a very talented scientist, his works on Astronomy became famous all over the continent. He carried out his researches in unique Observatory he had built in Samarkand. Continue visiting Shakh-i-Zinda mausoleum complex of 14-15 century, a sacred place for Muslim people. Shakh-i-Zinda means 'Living king', the name given to the grave of Kusama ibn Abbasa, the cousin of Muhammad. We will also see tremendous Bibi Khanum mosque which bears the name of the beloved wife of Timur. Finish sightseeing at the colourful vivid bazaar of Samarkand. Free time.
Day 4: Samarkand - Bukhara
In the morning we drive ca. 4 hours to Bukhara. Bukhara is ancient and very beautiful city with many mosques and burial places of saints. The city is over 2000 years old and it has always played a big role in the history of the region. It was an important centre on the Ancient Silk Road, later it became the capital of the great Samanids Empire and in 16-17th centuries Bukhara was the centre of Sheibanid's and Ashtarhanid's empires. First we visit the summer residence of Emir of Bukhara. The palace Sitorai Mohi Hosa has a very poetic name meaning “between stars and moon”. Although this is not an ancient place, only about 100 years old, it gives good idea about everyday of life of Emirs, their relations within the family. Besides the palace itself is a very good and beautiful example of typical palaces of Emirs. Lunch in a local restaurant. Then we continue to see Samanid mausoleum, the family shrine of Samanid rulers, one of the best pieces of Central Asian architecture. Move on to Chashma Auyb, a mausoleum and a saint spring. According to the legend the spring appeared in 12 century. Saint Iov (Auyb) traveled in Bukhara region and saw people starving from thirst. He knocked by his stick and saint spring with pure water appeared on the place. The mausoleum itself was built by Khoresmian architects in the 14th century. Finish the day by visiting Bolo-Hauz Mosque, built 300 years ago by Emir's wife, this Mosque is still an acting mosque. It is possible to enter it and see the beautiful interior. The small charming minaret nearby was built later than the mosque and it is preserved in its original state since 1718. Dinner in local restaurant. Accommodation in a hotel in the old town.
Day 5: Bukhara
Full day sightseeing in Bukhara. In the morning start our walking tour in the old town of Bukhara with an opportunity to see many old madrasah, mosques, minarets and trading domes, including the famous 12th century Kalyan minaret, Chor Minor Madrasah with 4 small minarets in each corner, wonderfully decorated Ulugbek Madrassahs – the oldest Madrasah built by Ulugbek, the grandson of Timur in 1417. We will make a stop in Lyabi Hovuz, an nice calm shadowy place were local people and travellers like have a rest in a shade of trees surrounding the pond. Lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch we go to the ancient citadel, the Ark Fortress, which is called the ancient symbol of state power. There is no definite information about it's age but 1500 years ago it was already the residence of the ruler. For centuries the Ark fortress was the residence of Emir of Bukhara. Dinner in a national house.
Day 6: Bukhara
Free day in Bukhara.
Day 7: Bukhara - Trukmenabat - Mary
Drive about 1.5 hours to Uzbek-Turkmen border in Alat-Farap. Crossing the border. Entire procedure may take about 1.5-2.5 hours depending on the situation. Our Turkmen guide meets the group at Turkmen side of the border. Upon completing border formalities we drive about 1 hour to the town of Turkmenabat (former Chardjou) crossing Amudarya river on the way. First appeared as Amul town in 1-4 centuries, in 16-17 centuries it was known as Chardjuy. IN the beginning of the 20th century the population was mainly Russian. Nowadays it is a local administrative centre. Lunch in Turkmenabat. Continue driving for about 3.5-4 hours to Mary. Mary is rather new town, founded in 1884 by Russian General Mikhail Skobelev not far from the ancient Merv settlement. Today Mary is the centre of Mary Veyalat (region). Dinner in Mary. Overnight in a hotel in Mary.
Day 8: Merv (Mary)
Drive for about 40 minutes to visit ancient Merv, one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Consisting of a series of cities, succeeding one another as capitals of the famous oasis, Ancient Merv is the only site of its kind in Central Asia. There are many mysteries about the foundation of Merv. But it is obvious that it appeared before the 2nd century BC. Over many centuries new settlements and towns grew and developed around it's historical centre. Nowadays we can see only ruins and several buildings of what once used to be a city with 1 million inhabitants. These ruins are the traces of 5 different settlements that are now called Ancient Merv. The first one is the most ancient citadel Erk-Kala; the second is the ancient Merv – the citadel Gyaur-Kala; the third – Arabian period citadel Shaim-Kala, the fourth – the most well developed Seljuk or Old Merv with Sultan-Kala fortress in the centre. This citadel was destroyed by Mongols, and 2 centuries later the last one Abdulla Khan Kala or New Merv of the Temurids appeared. Being an architectural site as well as archaeological, Merv may offer numerous monuments, such as the oldest of still standing corrugated mud-brick “keshks” – Great and Little Kiz Kalas, magnificent Seljuk mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammad ibn Zaid, the palace and keshk in the royal Seljuk citadel of Shahriar Ark, Timurid eyvans and Arab tombs of the Profet’s companions, Askhabs, and many more. Drive back to Mary. Lunch with Turkmen family in a local village on the way. Visit to a small but impressive Regional Museum in Mary to complete our historical and cultural vision of the area. Dinner free. Overnight in a hotel in Mary.
Day 9: Mary - Mashhad
Early morning departure to the Iranian border at Sarahs. Border procedures may take about 1.5-2.5 hours. For this day we prepare lunch boxes. Iranian guide and bus meet the group at the border. Drive to Mashhad with short stop at Robat-e-Sharaf caravan-serai which is considered as one of the best samples of Seljuk architecture still preserved in a very good state. Mashhad is known as the holiest city in Iran, often called as Iranian Holy capital. It is also the administrative centre and the second largest after Tehran. The city grew around the legendary martyrdom of Imam Reza - the 8th Imam of the Shia Muslims. Visit to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, the main pilgrimage centre for all Shia pilgrims. This is a huge but calm and very beautiful complex, a nice place to wander around with many interesting sites to see. It is also beautiful at night due to wonderful lightening. Dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight in a hotel in the city centre.
Day 10: Mashhad - Shiraz
In the morning we visit Nadir Shah Museum. During the times for Nadir Shak Mashhad became the capital of his Empire and the starting point for his Indian journeys. Drive to the ancient town of Tus to see the tomb of the great Asian poet Ferdowsi (10-11 centuries), the reviver of the Persian language. Lunch in a local restaurant. Afternoon flight from Mashhad to Shiraz. Arrive in Shiraz. Shiraz used to be one of the most significant centers of the Middle Age and during the Zand dynasty it was the capital of Iran. Many scientists and artists lived and worked here and thus Shiraz was known as the city of science and art. The city is also known for its gardens. Visit Aramgah-E Saa'di and Aramgah-E Hafez with tombs of great Persian poets Hafez and Saadi. There are many places to see in Shiraz. But for Iranian people the most important place here is the tomb of Hafez Shirazi the classic of Persian poetry who lived and worked in the 14th century. Iranians have a very special attitude to this place and to his wonderful poetry. The nearby tomb of Saadi Shirazi (13th century) is also well-known and popular place. It is interesting to note that the tomb of Hafez is depicted on the Iranian passport. Dinner free.
Day 11: Shiraz
Full day sightseeing in Shiraz. We start the day by visiting Bagh-E Eram Garden (the Garden of Paradise). It dates from the time of Qajars, when Mohammad Gholi Khan Ilkhani ordered its construction. This is one of the most beautiful gardens in Shiraz and is very popular among local people who come for a rest in the shade of trees. There is also a 19th century palace build for the money of Nasir al Mulk. It's facade is decorated with tiles depicting scenes from the poetry of Hafiz and Saadi. Further on we explore the “Arg” citadel, the fortress of Karim Khan period built in late 18 century. Although it is called Arg (means the fortress), it has never been a fortress. First used as a governor's residence it was later turned into a prison, and for the last 30 years there is a museum. Lunch in a small traditional restaurant. Wander though old bazaar (marketplace) of Vakil which is unique in Iran for its size, solidity and beautiful brickwork. Later on we visit Narenjestan (the “Orange Garden”) Museum, built in the 1870-s by Mirza Ebrahim Khan. Narenjestan preserves a sense of the privilege and refinement enjoyed by upper-class Iranian families in the 19th century. And it is a very good example of typical in inner garden in a rich citizen's home. Besides the garden itself there are some living premises and rooms fro guests. Finish the day looking at Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, a rather small mosque built in late 19th century. This stunningly beautiful mosque is completely decorated with tiles with tiny vivid details and ornaments. Nice colourful stained-glass windows add to the beauty of the place. The other strange thing about the mosque is the use of red and pink colours on its ever glazing tiles, something that one can never see in other historic mosques. Free for dinner.
Day 12: Persepolis (Shiraz)
Drive about 50 km to the northeast of Shiraz to get to Persepolis, the centre of the great Persian Empire. Being the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenids and the showpiece of Achaemenian art, Persepolis (“Capital of Persia” in Greek) is a historic treasure. Construction began by Darius the Great and was completed by his son Kserks. Unfortunately in 313 BC Persepolis was ruined by Alexander the Great. But what is left from once a great centre is very impressive. The most magnificent site is the Apadana, the palace of Daruis the Great, which could house up to 10 000 people. Only the basement of Apadana made of solid rock is 4 meters high. And 70 huge columns were built to hold the massive roof. Tahara palace used to be a sort of summer residence. Hadish palace was constructed by a special order of Atakserks the 3rd. Lunch in a local restaurant not far from Persepolis. After lunch we visit Naqsh-E Rajab to see Sassanian cliff bas-reliefs. The most interesting is the carving of the high priest, Kartier, Mobad-e-Mobadan (Priest of Priests) under three Sassanian emperors: Shapur, Bahram Bahram II and I. Continue to see Naqsh-E Rostam (means literally “the carving of Rustam”) burial place for kings dating back from the 5th and 4th centuries BC. There are tombs of Darius I the Great, Kserks, Artakserks and Darius II. Drive back to Shiraz. Free for dinner. Overnight in a hotel.
Day 13: Shiraz (Nomads)
This day drive to the outskirts of Shiraz to see nomads. The day will be flexible, depending on the situation and pre-arrangements. There are several groups of nomads around Shiraz, and they are continuously moving from site to site. In spring they have their camps in the area of Firuzabad and Sarvestan, and in summer they move higher in the mountains. It is possible to see real nomadic people, their way of life.
Day 14: Shiraz - Pasargadae - Yazd
Morning drive to Yazd. First we stop in Pasargadae, the first capital of Achaemenians. Cyrus the Great had started the construction of the city in 546 BC, but he died before it was finished. The great city was known for its 4-levels gardens, palaces, Toll-E Takht fortress. After the death of Cyrys his mausoleum was built here too. After Darius the First founded Persepolis and moved the capital there, Pasargadae started to decline and finally was abandoned. A short tour of the town includes Cyrus mausoleum and ruins of two palaces. Drive on to a small desert town of Abarquh. There we have a look at old traditional ice-houses people used in the deserts before the refrigerators were invented. Another interesting point if the old huge massive cypress tree. As cypress trees are holy trees in Iran, this is a special place for local people. Lunch in Abarquh. Continue driving. Late afternoon arrival in Yazd, the capital of Iranian Zoroastrians. Visit the Towers of Silence, special burial places of Zoroastrians. Dinner in Yazd. Overnight in a hotel.
Day 15: Yazd
Sightseeing in Yazd. The town is very nice and calm, it's a pleasure to walk along the old town with twisting narrow streets. We visit Ateshkadeh Fire Temple (Zoroastrian), the 800 year old Masjed-i Jame' Mosque (Friday mosque) with the tallest minarets in Iran. And see Amir Chakhmaq Complex of the 14th century, famous for its wonderful portal ornament. There is a very nice viewpoint in the upper sections of the complex with picturesque view of the old town. Yazd is very famous for its windcatchers (“badgir” in Persian) which are seen all over the town. These are special towers where wind is used for the natural ventilation to cool down the air inside the building. Lunch in a local restaurant. Afternoon free.
Day 16: Yazd - Meybod -Nain - Isfahan
Drive to Isfahan. First we stop in Meybod, nowadays the capital of Meybod County. This ancient city dates back to pre-Islamic times. During Mozaffari period Meybod was the capital of Iran. Actually Mozaffari originate from Meybod as their first king was born there. We also see the Narin Qal'eh (Castle), the mud-brick citadel which is over 2000 years old and dates back to Sasanids period. This 40-meters high construction overlooks Meybod from a natural hill. There is a caravan-serai where the ancient water system “qanat” is preserved. There it is possible to see how fresh water is delivered from the mountains to distantly located desert settlements. Qanat technology appeared somewhere on the Iranian territory approximately in the 1 century BC. Drive another 100 km to Nain. There is the oldest mosque in Iran, Jame mosque dating back to the 8th century. Some scientist claim that the basement of the mosque was used as a Fire temple before the mosque was built. Nain is also a world-famous carpet centre. Lunch in Nain. Arrive in Isfahan in the evening. Isfahan was founded in the old times functioning as a headquarter for the armies. It flourished at Safavid era (16th century AD), becoming a famous trade centre of that time. It has been noted for its gorgeous gardens and palaces that the people have called it "half the world". Accommodation at the hotel. Dinner in the city centre and nice evening walk along Imam square. The square is very beautiful in the evening lights.
Day 17: Isfahan
Full day sightseeing in Isfahan, the city of palaces, mosques and oriental bazaars. We start the day by looking at the old bridges of Sio Se Pol and Khajou. Each bridge coincides with a straight avenue running through the city from north to south. Sio Se Pol, the bridge of 33 arches is the longest one in Isfahan and is 295 meters long. In 1650 shah Abbas the 2nd ordered to build a new bridge Khajou which would have seen nowhere else in the world. And up to nowadays Khajou bridge is unique. This stone arched bridge serves as a dam as well as a cool place for rest on hot sunny days. There are 2 levels: the lower level is for the pedestrians and the upper level is for the carriages. Already in the 17th century this bridge was called the most beautiful bridge in the world. Nowadays it is especially beautiful at night with its wonderful lightening reflecting in the river. Continue sightseeing looking into Armenian quarter and see Armenian Vank Cathedral and museum. Further on see Jameh (Friday) Mosque. The Friday Mosque is the most ancient and in some ways the most interesting building in the city. It was built late in the 11th and early 12th century as a focus for the town. It is a landmark in the evolution of Iranian sacred architecture as every century left its impact. Further on we see one of the secret wonders of Isfahan, the Minar Jomban (“Shaking Minarets”) of the 14th century Al Abdulah Mausoleum. It is still unknown how these brick Minarets keep shaking but never fall. Tourists from all over Iran come to see this wonder. Lunch in the city center. After lunch see Imam Square with Imam Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, the latter is often called women mosque. Continue to Chehel Sutoon (“forty columns”) Palace. There are 20 wonderfully carved wooden columns, and looking in the pond it is possible to see the other 20. The paintings of the Chehel Sutoon Palace have been created in Iranian and European styles and date back to shah Abbas times. During the tour we will also look into one of the carpet shops, as there are dozens of such shops in Isfahan offering carpets of all kinds.
Day 18: Isfahan
Free time in Isfahan. There will be an opportunity to wander along the ancient Isfahan bazaar (marketplace) which is the most famous bazaar in Iran and look into numerous small shops all round Imam Square.
Day 19: Tehran
Morning flight to Tehran, one of the largest Asian cities, the capital of Iran, its economic and industrial centre. After Mongols burned down Ray, the capital of Persia at the time, people started to move to the small village of Tehran located nearby. The town flourished during Kajar dynasty and since 1795 Tehran has been the capital of Iran. Compared to the places we visited before it is very huge, chaotic, with lots of traffic. Tour of the city including Saad-Abad Parks and Palaces complex, one of the most impressive palace complexes of Tehran and the former residence of Reza Pehlevi shah who lived there in 1920-s. In 1970-s his son Mohammed Reza-shah moved to Saad-Abad. The Complex was built in the beginning of the 20th century and consists of several palaces. Some of them are now used as museums. The palace of Shah's Mother is closed for the visitors and is used as a residence for heads of foreign countries visiting Iran officially visits. Continue sightseeing at National Museum. The museum was opened in 1937 and till 2003 had the most precious archaeological collection in the world. There are 2 buildings of the museum, one is dedicated to pre-Isalmic period, another to Islamic period. We have a look only at Pre-Islamic one, and the other is closed for visitors. Lunch in local restaurant. Free time.
Day 20: Departure
Transfer to the airport. Departure.