‘Five Stans’ Photo Cultural Expedition
with Alison Wright
Join us, camera in hand on a unique journey of photographic exploration along the ancient Silk Road trade route. Little needs to be said about the wonderous historical sites, the dramatic landscapes and welcoming people that have captivated travelers for centuries in this part of the world. Leading this expedition will be renowned ethnographic photographer, Alison Wright, who specializes in personalized photographic journeys to remote locations with an emphasis on documenting indigenous cultures and people.
Working together with Alison, we have created a specialized itinerary for intrepid travelers with an adventurous spirit. The group size is limited to 12 travelers to allow maximum flexibility for spontaneous photo opportunities. An interest in photography is recommended but any level of photographer is welcome, from owning a Smart phone to a professional camera. A great story teller, attentive teacher, Alison willingly shares her skills as a professional photographer.
Please be aware that this is an expedition tour, not a photography workshop, as we will be on the move daily, capturing as much imagery as possible, while always chasing the best light. If you are looking for an intimate travel experience and taking a deeper dive into a cultural experience, then this is an itinerary that you will definitely want to explore.
Sept. 16 - Oct. 1, 2021
$10,635 Per Person
$9,870 Per Person
$710 Per Person
$765 Per Person
INCLUSIONS & EXCLUSIONS + span>
Inclusions & Exclusions
LAND PRICE INCLUDES:
All accommodation based on double occupancy per itinerary with breakfast daily, local service charge and tax (standard hotel check-in/out times apply unless otherwise noted; Almaty (2 nights), Bishkek (2 nights), Tashkent (2 nights), Samarkand (3 nights), Bukhara (2 nights), Khiva (2 nights), Ashgabat (2 nights)
Private vehicle for one group arrival airport transfer in Almaty and one group departure airport transfer in Ashgabat (additional transfers available at additional cost)
Train transportation per itinerary by fast day trains, economy class: Tashkent-Samarkand, Samarkand-Bukhara
All sightseeing and excursions including entrance fees per itinerary
Meals as listed in itinerary, breakfast daily (except arrival and departure days)
Special cultural features as stated in itinerary
Services of a Nomadic Expeditions Tour Manager throughout the land program
Local English-speaking guides as needed
Services of professional photographer/tour leader Alison Wright throughout the land program
Bottled water with meals and on all vehicles during touring and transfers
Snacks aboard the vehicles during transfers of more than two hours in duration
All gratuities, including Nomadic Expeditions Tour Manager, local guides, drivers, hotel staff, restaurant staff
Baggage handling and gratuities at the hotels
Destination preparation information packet
LAND PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE:
International airfare between the U.S. and the start and ending cities; air taxes or fuel surcharges;
Increases in local taxes/VAT beyond current rates (please note that Uzbekistan has implemented new VAT taxes in 2019 which are included in the above land cost as of October 2019.
Internal Asia flight (cost listed separately and subject to change until ticketed);
Pre- or post-tour services; visa or passport fees; medical and trip interruption insurance; evacuation costs; food or beverages not included in group meals;
Items of a personal nature such as laundry, alcohol, telephone expense, excess baggage fees,
Alison Wright, an acclaimed photographer and visual anthropologist, travels to all regions of the globe photographing indigenous cultures and people while covering issues concerning the human condition. She is a recipient of the Dorothea Lange Award in Documentary Photography, a two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award, and an Explorers Club Fellow. She was awarded “The Most Compelling Woman in the Travel Industry, 2014” by Premier Traveler magazine and was named a National Geographic Traveler of the Year as someone who travels “with a sense of passion and purpose.”
She has published ten books including her latest, “Human Tribe,” a series of global portraits celebrating our diversity and visual tapestry of humanity. Alison has been published in numerous magazines including National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, Islands and Smithsonian.
Welcome to Almaty! Upon arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by your private guide and driver and transferred to the hotel.
(Kazzhol Park Hotel)
Day 2 - EXPLORING ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN
The original oasis town of Almaty was laid to waste by the Mongols in 1211 and all traces of the ancient Silk Road settlement were lost in history. Today, it is Central Asia’s largest city and is spread along the foothills of the Tien Shan range. The root of its name, “Almatu,” means “the place with apples.” Nearby, there are many varieties of wild apples and it is thought that this place was where apples were first domesticated.
Today’s tour begins with the city’s central landmark, Panfilov Park. It is a green oasis with an eternal flame honoring those who lost their lives in WWII and a monument for the 28 Kazakh soldiers who died defending Moscow. The yellow and green Orthodox Zenkov Cathedral graces the center of the park with its golden domes from the era of the Czars.
Your afternoon is spent touching the roots of Central Asian culture. Riders, horses, and trained birds of prey capture your interest. You visit a traditional falcon farm. Nomads on the Steppe have hunted with raptors since the beginning of time. There is a revival of the Falconer’s art by young people longing to preserve the tradition. This is a place where the ancient art is kept alive. Falcons are natural hunters with powerful vision that can adapt and learn to hunt in tandem with a rider on a horse. The accessory handmade hunting gear is created at the farm. There will be ample opportunities for photography of the rich subject with a discussion on non-intrusive portraits and candid shots.
Enjoy a welcome reception and dinner including a short Kazakh Folk Performance.
(Kazzhol Park Hotel; B, L, D)
Day 3 - DAY IN ALMATY FLY TO BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN
Check out of the hotel after breakfast before heading out for a day of exploration and photography before the evening flight (1 hour) to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Some 45 miles east of Almaty, alpine Issyk Lake was formed 8,000 years ago by an avalanche that blocked the Issyk River. By the 1930s, it had become a popular picnic and hiking spot for Almaty residents. In 1963, however, a huge mud flow broke through the natural dam and emptied the lake into the valley below. Today the lake has been restored, but it is half the size that it was before.
Kok-Tobe is a 3,800-foot hill on the outskirts of Almaty with an aerial tramway leading to a recreation area at the top. The view of Almaty from the Kok-Tobe Cable Line is great, and the attractions and restaurants add to the sense of release from the city. Afterwards, transfer to the airport for your evening flight to Bishkek.
After arriving in Bishkek, transfer to the hotel for check-in.
(Plaza Hotel; B, L)
Day 4 - EXPLORING BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN
On clear days the snowcapped peaks of the Ala Too mountain range dominate the skyline. Though wide boulevards have now replaced the heavily forested rest stop on the Silk Road of ancient times, the residents still take pride in the city’s trees.
View the marble exterior of the imposing neoclassical House of Parliament building – also known as Kyrgystan’s White House. Built in 1985, this presidential seven-story building was the site of the 2005 Tulip Revolution that led to the resignation of then-President Aska Akayev.
The most notable site of Bishkek is the Manas Monument Complex built to honor the main heroes of Kyrgyz epic “Manas.” The complex was built in 1981 in front of the Philharmonic building in dedication to the main heroes of the Kyrgyz epic, “Manas.” The center of the composition consists of Manas riding a horse and killing a dragon. Below Manas are his wife, Kanykei, and his sage, Bakai. Along the edges of the sculpture are busts of the great storytellers of “Manas.”
Then head to Ala Archa National park with glaciers and 50 peaks from 4,000 to 5,000 meters for more landscape photography. During the Soviet times alpinists trained in this national park, which was established 1976. A highlight is the forested gorge of the Ala Archa River.
As evening approaches we explore the Osh Bazaar and experiences the full display of spices, local crafts, dried fruit, and the bright Kyrgyz textiles. Haggling is the order of the day to settle on a price and is expected when making purchases. Excellent location for portrait photography.
(Plaza Hotel; B, L)
Day 5 - COUNTRYSIDE PHOTOGRAPHY FLY TO TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN
An hour and a half outside Bishkek is one of the few existing watchtowers on the historic Silk Road, Burana Tower. It is possible to climb the steep stairs inside the tower for the view at the top and imagine what it must have been like, a 1000 years ago. The area was important and spared by Genghis Khan in the 13th century and renamed it in Mongol as Gobalik “good city.”
Enjoy a meal of traditional favorites at a local family’s home and learn about life in rural Kyrgyzstan.
Action photography opportunity this afternoon at a Nomad Festival that we have arranged for the group. Witness the vibrant display of Kyrgyz nomadic culture including authentic national costumes. The Nomad Festival includes horseback archery and hunting with eagle.
Attend a demonstration of how the Kyrgyz set up their traditional yurts, the round, collapsible homes that nomads have lived in for thousands of years. Learn how to create the traditional Kyrgyz women’s headdresses called elechek, a hat and scarf combination wound around the head in various ways, depending on the region the woman is from. Cap off today’s events with a performance of selected verses from the Epic of Manas, listed by UNESCO as a part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Return to Bishkek airport for the evening flight to Tashkent.
(Asia Tashkent Hotel; B, L)
Day 6 - EXPLORING TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel this morning before heading out on a full day of touring and photography in Tashkent.
Although it doesn’t look it today, Tashkent is one of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan. Rock paintings in the Chatkal Mountains about 50 miles away show that humans have been here since perhaps 2000 BC. In the 2nd century BC the town was known as Ming Uryuk. A major caravan crossroads, it was taken by the Arabs in 751 and by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Tamerlane feasted here in the 14th century and the Shaibanid khans in the 15th and16th. The Russian Empire arrived in 1865, and Uzbekistan was not an autonomous country again until 1991.
Explore Old Tashkent, beginning with a visit to Khast-Imam Plaza, with its 16th century Kaffal-Shoshi Mausoleum and al-Bukhari Madrassah; Chorsu Bazaar with its 16th century Kukeldash Madrassah; the recently renovated Juma Mosque on the square where executions used to be held; and Salgoh, a pedestrian street where one can shop for art and souvenirs. Dip down underground to admire the beautifully decorated Tashkent subway stations.
Stroll through a labyrinth of mud-walled houses surviving from the 19th century to Khast Imam Square, where some of Tashkent’s oldest monuments remain. The 16th century Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, the tomb of one of the first imams of the Muslim world, and Barak-Khan Madrassah, also 16th century, are flanked by the 19th century al-Bukhari Madrassah and the early 20th century Tillya Sheikh Mosque, which houses the oldest Koran in the world.
(Asia Tashkent Hotel; B, D)
Day 7 - TRAIN TO SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the railway station and take the train to Samarkand, a 2 hours, 10 minute ride.
A World Heritage Site, Samarkand is called “Crossroad of Cultures” by UNESCO. It has been visited throughout time by many of the world’s conquerors — Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane. Alexander said of Samarkand, “Everything I have heard about the beauty of the city is indeed true, except that it is much more beautiful than I imagined.” Tamerlane made it his capital city and gathered the finest architects, builders, and artisans of the time to enhance its beauty.
Gur-Emir Mausoleum is the final resting place of Tamerlane, but was originally built for his grandson after the latter’s death, at the turn of the 15th century. The interior of the mausoleum has been restored and is brilliant in gold leaf and fresh tile. The heavily gilded central dome opens over the set of tomb-markers resembling sarcophagi (the bodies are located well below, but are on site). All are marble, with the exception of Tamerlane’s which is a slab of solid jade, are reportedly from Mongolia.
Registan Square is the centerpiece of Samarkand and the most recognizable landmark for visitors. The three emblematic madrassahs frame the square, and loom over the empty space in the center. It was this central space that originally gave the place its name, for “registan” simply means “place of sand.” This sandy place was at the center of ancient Samarkand and was a public square and marketplace before the Ulug Bek, Tillya-Kori, and Shir Dor madrassahs were built. In its reconstruction, the square maintains the majesty that it has radiated through the ages.
(City Hotel; B, L)
Day 8 - IN SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN
After breakfast depart to visit and photography a traditional Uzbek village on the outskirts of town, returning to town around lunch time.
In the afternoon, visit the Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane to be the largest mosque in the Islamic world, and dedicated to the memory of his favorite wife. Architects from India and Persia were brought in to build the mosque, and it is said that 95 elephants were used to transport the marble and other building materials from India to Samarkand.
Browse the animated Siab Bazaar, just across the street from the Bibi Khanum Mosque. Vividly dressed women oversee neat stacks of brilliant produce and burlap sacks of nuts and spices. Uzbek and Tajik men in black and white skullcaps, called doppi, sell cabbage rolls and shashlik. For a pittance, an entrepreneur with a brazier of special incense will cleanse you of all bad luck.
The row of tombs and mausoleums collectively called Shah-i-Zinda, or “place of a living king,” stretches between the present and the past. At its front is living Samarkand, and at its back are the dusty slopes at the edge of ancient Afrosiab. Even on hot summer days the mausoleums remain shady and cool and seem to lure the traveler to approach the oldest tomb at the far end. Behind the complex and set into the hill lies an active cemetery with grave sites dating back as far as the 9th century and as recently as the present day.
(City Hotel; B, L)
Day 9 - EXCURSION TO PENJIKENT, TAJIKISTAN
After an early breakfast drive (1.5 hrs) to cross the border into Tajiskistan.
The road from Samarkand to Penjikent follows the Zerafshan River across the border with Tajikistan, where the valley begins to narrow near the dry foothills of the Pamir Mountains. Modern Penjikent, an isolated city of 130,000, is most famous for its past. On a ledge above the new town are the ruins of what was an important Sogdian trade center. Called Bunjikath, meaning “five villages,” the town was built in the 5th century AD, and survived for three hundred years until the Arabs burned it during their 8th century invasion.
Discovered in 1933, the early medieval site includes the remains of the shakhristan or town center and the frescoed foundations of the houses of wealthy merchants. The finest frescoes, sculptures, and pottery were claimed by Tashkent and St. Petersburg museums, however. Two Zoroastrian temples demonstrate the importance of the old city.
Visit the site of an archaeological dig at Old Penjikent where excavations began 50 years ago. Tour the remains of Shakristan, two Zoroastrian temples, the citadel, and the houses of wealthy families. Visit the Rudaki Museum of History and Regional Studies, named after the celebrated founder of Tajik and Persian poetry.
After walking through the local Penjikent bazaar, mingling with shoppers and admiring the array of fruits, vegetables, nuts and everyday necessities we drive back to back to Samarkand (1.5 hours).
(City Hotel; B, L)
Day 10 - TRAIN TO BUKHARA, UZBEKISTAN
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before we transfer to the railway station and take the train to Bukhara, a 1 hour, 50 minute ride.
An oasis in the desert, UNESCO-listed Bukhara, offers cool shade and rest to the modern traveler as it did to the camel caravans that plied the Silk Road hundreds of years ago. Bukhara is as old as Samarkand and has preserved its ancient architecture and design to an arguably larger extent than that city. The Old Town in Bukhara has a unified feel that is drawn together by a central reflecting pool and plaza, by commonality in the structure of the domed bazaars, and by the major monuments surrounding the Old Town: the Kalon Assembly, the Zindan Prison, and the Ark Citadel.
Bukhara was the site of one of the best-known episodes (to westerners) in Central Asian history: the 19th century capture and ultimate execution of two British spies posing as explorers. They were involved in what was then known as the Great Game between Russia and England for control over Central Asia and access to India. The last emir of Bukhara was a notoriously brutal and crafty leader and kept the men imprisoned for great lengths before their public execution. The city was also an important merchant center of Sephardic Jewry. The term “Bukharan Jews” refers to a large community of Jews originally from Persia who lived in the lands formerly ruled by the emir of Bukhara.
In the afternoon go on a walking photo safari around the old town. Photograph the early 19th century Chor Minar Madrassah, whose four slender, blue-topped minarets give it its name. Visit Khanaka of Nadir Divan-Begi, the first component of the Labi-Hauz ensemble, built even before the reflecting pool. Two phoenixes spread their wings on each side of a shining sun on the archway that leads into the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrassah. Seated on the east side of the Labi-Hauz pool, the 1622 madrassah was originally built as a caravanserai. At its opening, Bukhara’s leader, Imamkulikhan, dedicated it to the “greater glory of Allah,” and Nadir Divan-Begi quickly had it converted to a madrassah, adding student rooms and the portal with its phoenixes. In the evenings, a performance of Uzbek folk music and dances takes place in the courtyard of the former madrassah.
(Devon Begi Hotel; B, L)
Day 11 - EXPLORING BUKHARA, UZBEKISTAN
A full day to further explore and photograph this important town on the Silk Road.
In a clearing in a tree-filled park, a small plaza is marked with a single building, the Ismael Samani Mausoleum. It is the 10th century resting place of Ismael Samani, founder of the Persian Samanid Dynasty, and was buried under centuries of sand and not discovered until the 20th century. Though small, it is detailed in a fashion not seen in many other Bukharan monuments. More than sixteen styles of brickwork adorn the face of this cubic memorial, and their elaborate pleats and layering are still fresh today. From inside, the transition from square walls to circular roof, created using bricks of identical size and shape, testifies to the engineering powers of the designers.
The Chashma Ayub Mausoleum is not a true mausoleum, but a qadamdjoy, or site visited by a holy person. The Koranic prophet, Ayub – the Biblical prophet, Job – reportedly struck the ground with his staff here and water immediately bubbled up from a spring. The oldest part of this multi-domed building was probably built in the 12th century. Under its many roofs are the sacred spring and the Water Supply History Museum of Bukhara.
Photograph the serene Bolo Hauz Mosque across from the Ark. Called the forty-pillar mosque because of the reflection of its colonnades in the pool, the mosque was founded by 18th century emir, Shah Murad.
The Ark Citadel is the original fortress of Bukhara and likely dates back two thousand years or more. The current structure has been built and rebuilt on the same site throughout its history, and has preserved something of the form, purpose, and function of the first Ark. Like the medieval castle complexes of Europe, the Bukhara Ark served the Emirs of Bukhara as a residence, audience hall, as protection from neighboring enemies, and for more mundane purposes such as a trade center and a police station.
Just behind the Ark Citadel is the infamous Zindan Prison and the even more infamous “bug pit” or “black hole,” the cell where two of Britain’s finest Great Game players were imprisoned before their execution.
(Devon Begi Hotel; B, L, D)
Day 12 - DRIVE TO KHIVA, UZBEKISTAN
This morning, head for the last great city on the Uzbek itinerary, Khiva. The drive today traverses long stretches of the Kyzyl Kum, or Red Sand Desert. This is the same route taken by loaded Silk Road camel caravans and was once plagued by brigands on-hand to plunder their riches. Stop en route to take a look at the Amu Darya River, once called the Oxus, and loosely parallels the Uzbek-Turkmen border. You will have the opportunity to stop and take photos in the desert along the way.
Arrive in Khiva in time for dinner and a performance of traditional Khorezmian music with the folklore group Khalfi. Brilliant costumes, historic songs and traditional instruments are featured in this program of local music and dance.
(Asia Khiva Hotel; B, L, D)
Day 13 - IN KHIVA, UZBEKISTAN
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel this morning before meeting up for a full day of touring and photographing Khiva on foot.
Legend says that the ancient Silk Road oasis of Khiva was founded at the place where Shem, son of Noah, discovered water in the desert. The city got its name from Shem’s joyful shout, “Hey va!” at the discovery. Today the living city is part museum town and part recreation of life hundreds of years ago. Archaeologists have found traces of human habitation around Khiva dating from the 5th century BC. For hundreds of years, it was a stop on the old Silk Road and a fortress town, but it was not until the 16th century that Khiva became the capital of the Khorezm Khanate. The khanate ruled the surrounding area for over 300 years.
Photograph Khiva’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that has been extensively preserved and restored and exists today much as it did hundreds of years ago. Approaching the old town, modern-day visitor see the same sight as Silk Road caravans did, the dun-colored city walls, the main gate opening on a dusty stone thoroughfare, merchants hawking their wares from each side, and the distinctive minarets watching over the whole scene. The largest of the existing buildings inside the walled Old City is the Tash Hauli Palace, the home of the Khan and his four legal wives. The intricate blue and white tilework in the open-air throne room offsets the airy space set aside by the carved wooden columns.
Wood carving is a traditional specialty of Khiva and more wooden columns are found at the Dzhuma Mosque. The mosque is partially below ground level and the 115 carved columns that support the wooden ceiling create a forest-like effect around two square light wells. The Kunya Ark was originally built in the 12th century as the khan’s fortress and residence, and encompassed numerous small courtyards surrounded by administrative buildings, sleeping quarters, kitchens, guardhouse, stables, parade area and weapons strongholds. Much of it was lost when Persia invaded the Khivan Khanate in the 18th century, but what remains, including the mosque, harem, and throne room are beautifully decorated with ceramic tiles and majolica.
There are several places that offer aerial views of the city from a 3rd or 4th story balcony. The unique minarets with their blue-green tiles stand over the domes, mud-brick walls, and maintain the quiet feel of this museum town.
(Asia Khiva Hotel; B, L)
Day 14 - DRIVE TO DASHOGUZ, TURKMENISTAN FLY TO ASHGABAT
northwestern Turkmenistan known as the gateway to the ruins of Kunya-Urgench, an old Silk Road oasis. The city’s name means Stone Spring, and it was a transfer point on the old Silk Road because of its sturdy well.
Kunya-Urgench is an agricultural center of about 30,000 near the Uzbek border. It is the site of the ancient capital of Khorezm, which was razed by both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. About half a mile south of the town lie the remains of the UNESCO-listed old city, including the 11th century Kutlug-Timur Minaret, ringed with 18 bands of decorative mud brick and blue majolica tiles. The minaret was for many years the tallest in Central Asia. About 1,000 feet from the minaret is the domed hall of the Turabek Khanym Mausoleum. Notable for the interlocking design of its remarkably preserved ceiling, the mausoleum was built for the daughter of one of the leaders of the Golden Horde.
Early evening, fly to Ashgabat and transfer to your hotel.
(Ak Altyn Plaza Hotel; B, L, D)
DAY 15 - EXPLORING ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN
Enjoy the last full day of photography. The beautiful Kopet-Dag Mountains rise up around Nisa, a site 15 miles outside of Ashgabat that was once a major center of the ancient Parthian Kingdom. More than two thousand years ago the Parthian Empire spread out from Nisa and took its place among such kingdoms as the Achaemenid under Cyrus the Great and the Macedonian under Alexander the Great. Though Nisa was ruled by a succession of dynasties, it remained an important center in the ancient world until the 13th century when the Mongols sacked it. Today, archaeological work continues at Nisa, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, originally built the 250 foot Arch of Neutrality on which a 40-foot golden statue of himself revolved to continuously face the sun. In 2011, the current president, Berdimuhamedov, moved it to the Berzengi Settlement and renamed it the “Monument” of Neutrality rather than the “Arch.” Today, it includes the Museum of Neutrality as well as a transparent elevator. Wander the fountain-cooled Independence Park, planned in 1993. A huge green space in the center of the city, the park is lined with monuments and statues.
Admire and photograph the grand golden domes and marble exterior of the Presidential Palace which houses the official residence and working offices for Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Completed in 2011, the lavish building cost an estimated $350 million to construct and contains several enormous halls equipped with state-of-the-art televisions and broadcasting technology to host foreign delegations and high-level state events.
Venture outside the city to visit a horse-breeding farm devoted to the renowned Akhal-Teke horse, arguably the oldest cultured breed of horse in the world. The owner accompanies you on the tour to talk about the workings of the farm and about the breed. These elegant horses have long, slender necks, small heads, long legs, and narrow chests. They are said to have leant their genes to both the Arabian horse and the American Quarter Horse.
Tonight, see a different side of Turkmenistan’s capital city. Ashgabat is awash in lights at night with hundreds of marble buildings, fountains, and boulevards illuminated in a bright rainbow of neon green, purple, blue, red, and white.
(Ak Altyn Plaza Hotel; B, L)
DAY 16 - DEPARTURE
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport for your international flight back to the USA.