Upon arrival at Almaty Airport you will be met and transferred to the centrally-located Inter-Continental Hotel (or similar), where we stay for one night.
Today we will take a tour of Almaty including a visit to Panfilov Park, located in the heart of the city, and home to the Zenkov Cathedral, a 19th century Russian Orthodox Church made entirely of wood.
Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan and we spend time touring this modern Soviet-style city which was rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1966. Our tour of the city includes the Old Town, where traditional homes and religious buildings line the narrow streets and here in a small library we’ll be privileged to see one of Islam’s most sacred relics – the world’s oldest Koran. This is followed by a visit to the Railway Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts.
Just the mention of Samarkand instantly conjures up evocative images of the Silk Road, more so than any other town. Founded in the 6th century BC, Samarkand’s stunning architecture hints at its former status as one of the most important cities in Asia and is particularly noted for its architectural remains from the 14th to the 17th century, when it flourished as the fabled capital of the Mongol empire of Timur and his successors.
Today we will visit some of its most significant sites including Registan Square, the refined elegance of the beautifully proportioned Bibi Khanum Mosque and the Ulag Beg observatory, one of the earliest Islamic astronomical observatories built in 1428. Before dinner we will return to the now illuminated and awe-inspiring Registan Square.
Bukhara is quite simply outstanding. Like Khiva, UNESCO sponsored the renovation of much of the city for its 2,500th anniversary in 1999. The most enjoyable aspect of this city is to just immerse oneself in the atmosphere of this unique and ancient city and re-live some of its fascinating history at the crossroads of Asia. The main highlight of this wonderful tour is a visit to The Ark, a fortified residence of the Emirs of Bukhara – the despotic and ruthless leaders who ruled until Soviet times. We then travel out of the city to experience the Emir’s enchantingly named, ‘Palace of the Moon and Stars’.
Our train travels towards Urgench, from where we transfer to the ancient city of Khiva, founded 2,500 years ago. As one of the Silk Road’s most important trading posts and now a World Heritage Site, it lies at the crossroads of the routes between Mongolia, Russia, China and Persia. A truly magnificent sight to behold, it rises out of the desert to reveal a wealth of impressive architecture. Stepping back in time, we discover its impressive mosques, bazaars and minarets within Khiva’s ancient walls.
The Golden Eagle makes a brief scheduled stop at Ichoguz, where we have the option to leave the train and make a short journey to Darvaza’s famous burning gas crater, a spectacular sight best seen at night. Located in the middle of the Kara Kum desert where the area is rich in natural gas, the 70 metre-wide crater is known by the locals as the ‘Door to Hell’ and has been burning for over 40 years. A unique experience that is not to be missed.
The capital of Turkmenistan is known as the ‘Las Vegas of the Kara Kum’. Situated between the Kara Kum desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range, Ashgabat is a relatively modern city built upon the ruins of the Silk Road city of Konjikala and the Soviet city built after the devastating earthquake of 1948.
The city’s extravagant fountains, golden domes and towering modern buildings appear strangely incongruous in this desert setting. Highlights on our visit include a trip to the National Museum and Kipchak Mosque. Stay overnight in the luxury five-star Yyldyz Hotel (or similar).
Today, we arrive at the border town of Sarakhs and it is here we make the important changes to the wheel sets for the Golden Eagle as we prepare to cross into and onto the standard gauge tracks of Iran.
Whilst we are in Sarakhs we make a short visit to the excavation site of the old Sarakhs Citadel and Masoleum of Abul Fazl before continuing by coach and cross the border into Iran for a one-night stay in Mashhad.
Yazd is thought to be one of the oldest cities in the world and a centre of Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith founded in Iran 3,500 years ago. Our tour takes in the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, Amir Chakhmagh Square and the 14th century Friday Mosque, home to one of Persia’s finest and exquisite mosaics.
The 20,000 square metre Rayen Castle is situated beneath the snow-capped Mount Hezar in the Province of Kerman. A huge medieval mud brick citadel, it was considered second only to Bam before the 2003 earthquake. Rayen displays all the architectural elements of a deserted citadel (it was inhabited until 150 years ago) and is extremely well preserved. It is considered one of the most interesting sites in Iran.
We continue by road to Mahan where we visit the sanctuary and tomb of the famous, Soufi, Shah Nematollah Vali, dating back to the Mongol Era. We also visit the Prince’s Garden dating back to the late 19th century, which is a Qajar period house and garden where we will take lunch.
After lunch we continue back to Kerman. The city has a mud-brick core centred around the historic and very lively bazaar. We’ll visit the Hamam Ganj Ali Khan complex, from the 17th century, where wonderful frescoes adorn the walls and wax dummies illustrate the workings of a traditional bathhouse.
Today we will drive to the Shahdad Desert to see the cherished Kalouts, which are beautiful, ever-changing sand formations carved by the wind, making an excellent opportunity for photographs.
This enchanting city, which served as Persia’s capital from 1598 to 1722, is 2,500 years old and one of the oldest in Iran. As a crossroad of international trade and diplomacy, Isfahan has a rich mix of languages, religions and customs.
The city is famous for its silver filigree and metal work, array of great historical monuments, and its life-giving river, the Zayandeh-Rood, which has given the city its beauty. Isfahan is packed with some of Iran’s best sights and today we spend a whole day in the city, visiting the Chehel Sotoon Palace and the Vank Church in the Armenian Quarter.
Following a traditional Iranian lunch, we move on to Naghshe Jahan Square, a World Heritage Site and the second largest man-made square in the world, where the Ali Qapou Palace and Shah and Sheikh Lutfullah Mosques can be found. Here, the time is yours to enjoy the huge square and pick up a bargain at the handicraft Bazaar of Qaisarieh.
Following breakfast on board we stop at Sadat Shaha, for the home of Persepolis, another World Heritage Site. Perhaps Iran’s most important archaeological site, this ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire dates back to the 6th century. Even now, the ruins are extremely impressive. We also view the Necropolis (Naghshe Rustam). After lunch we continue by bus to Shiraz.
Shiraz has many strings to its bow: poetry, literature, wine, flowers and amazing gardens and fruit trees. A visit to the Hafez Tomb and the Vakil Citadel are the highlights of our afternoon tour.
After breakfast we reach our final destination, Tehran, and disembark the Golden Eagle and transfer to the Espinas International Hotel for a two night stay.
Our first port of call on our city tour of Tehran is the Crown Jewels Museum in the Central Bank of Iran Building, with its vast array of crown jewels used by the Qajar and Pahlavid royalty and the legendary Peacock Throne. Also we visit the Golestan Palace with its renovated Versailles-inspired mirror-encrusted Marble Throne Hall used for the coronation of the last Shah. Most of the remaining brick and tile buildings date back to the 19th century Qajar dynasty.
On our final evening we will enjoy a farewell dinner and take the opportunity to reflect on our pioneering journey along the Silk Road to the heart of Persia.
Following breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport for onward departures.