For centuries, merchants and adventurers journeyed on ancient routes through some of the most testing landscapes in the world trading silk, perfumes and spices. These ‘highways’ collectively came to be called the ‘Silk Road’, which many Golden Eagle passengers have explored with us on our traditional Silk Road tour from Beijing to Moscow. Now, we are pleased to present a brand new tour for April 2020: Republics of the Silk Road. Departing from Moscow, this fascinating rail journey will take guests through the Five Stans, the Southern Republics of the former Soviet Union – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Here are our Top 5 highlights on this exciting and exclusive rail tour.
1. THE BAIKONUR COSMODROME, SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN
The Baikonur Cosmodrome was originally constructed in the 1950s as a base for the Soviet Union’s space programme. Since then, it has become a place of historical significance. Not only was it the launch spot of Sputnik 1 in 1957, it was also the site of the launch of the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space in 1961. Gagarin was merely 27 years old at the time but triumphed with a flight lasting 108 minutes, circling Earth for one orbit before returning to the ground as a hero. Still today, his accomplishment is proudly celebrated in space museums across Russia and his remains are buried at the Kremlin in Moscow. We visit the launch station of his mission into space on our visit to Baikonur and learn more about the site’s fascinating history.
2. OSH, KYRGYZSTAN
Osh may be unfamiliar to many travellers but it should by no means be overlooked. Not only is the city home to the sacred Sulayman Mountain, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, it is one of the Silk Road’s oldest market towns. Standing at a crossroads on this ancient route, modern day Osh has been inspired by the multitude of international visitors that have passed through, influencing both the culture and the cuisine. As such, Osh is a popular destination in Kyrgyzstan for food lovers and as part of our Freedom of Choice touring, you can take part in a traditional bread making class. Bread is an important part of the local diet and across Kyrgyzstan it not only varies by its shape, but also by its taste and the unique way in which it is baked. Once made, you will enjoy your delicious creation in the local style with a traditional sour cream called ‘kaimak’.
3. MARGILAN, UZBEKISTAN
Although the term ‘Silk Road’ wasn’t coined until the 19th century, it is of course related to what was considered a precious commodity at the time when this ancient trading route was active: silk! We discover the history and meticulous process behind the production of this material in Margilan, a city renowned in Central Asia for its production of silk, which is considered by many to be the finest in the region and is in demand worldwide. Here we will visit the Yodgorlik Margilan Factory, the only one of its kind in Uzbekistan. The factory takes pride in preserving a manual, traditional method of making silk and produces 6,000 metres per month. We will discover the entire process behind the finished product, from the mulberry trees used to feed the silkworms to the hardworking staff who painstakingly hand weave the colourful ikat fabric on traditional looms.
4. DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN
Our journey through the Southern Republics of the former Soviet Union brings us to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Wandering through the city you will find a number of charming parks, museums and pastel coloured buildings. It is also home to the world’s second tallest dam, found on the Vakhsh River. During our time here, we will enjoy a guided tour of the magnificent Kohi Navruz Palace with a local expert guide, who will tell us the fascinating story of this teahouse turned palace. Each of the 12 halls within the building has been decorated with its own unique style, displaying the incredible efforts of the artists and designers who came together to create this majestic palace. After the tour, we will absorb the atmosphere and grandeur of the palace while enjoying tea and local delicacies.
5. LAKE ISSYK-KUL, KYRGYZSTAN
Our Silk Road tour brings us to Kyrgyzstan, a country boasting natural beauty in the form of awe-inspiring lakes and mountainscapes. We spend the afternoon enjoying a guided tour of the open-air Museum of Petroglyphs at Lake Issyk-Kul, a sacred site used by the Saka priests for sacrifices and other rites to the sun god. Some of the petroglyphs date as far back as the Bronze Age, with later engravings dating to the 10th century. Afterwards, we will be treated to a breathtaking flight demonstration of Eagle Hunting. This Kyrgyz tradition can be traced back 4,000 years, when the nomads began to tame birds of prey to help them survive in the vast wilderness. While hawks and falcons are traditionally used in other cultures, the Kyrgyz nomads considered the Golden Eagle to be the strongest and most powerful. Indeed, these eagles are capable of hunting foxes, wolves and have even been known to attack full grown deer. You will learn the story of eagle hunting, the characteristics of the majestic Golden Eagle and more fascinating details of this Kyrgyz nomadic tradition.
You can read the full itinerary for Republics of the Silk Road by clicking here. We hope you will join us on what promises to be a fantastic voyage!
Photo Credits: Petr Sevcovic, Vladimir Ivanov