- Traveling with GEEO
- Educator Resources
- About Us
- Traveling with GEEO
- Educator Resources
- About Us
This comprehensive 23-day tour will take you through the heart of the ancient Silk Road, including Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Not only will you experience a fascinating part of the world most travelers miss, but you will also gain a better understanding of how this region contributed to the cultural, economic, religious, and political ideas of our world. A true crossroads of empires, Central Asia is a region layered by cultures of ancient civilizations, from those of the ancient Eastern Iranians and Persians to those of the Turks, Mongols, and Russians. These legacies along with influences of peoples further East (China, Japan, Korea) will be thoroughly explored in this tour. Stay at unique homestays, sleep in traditional yurts, discover the breathtaking mountain and desert scenery, and roam gorgeous buildings constructed centuries ago. Beyond the incredibly rich historical sites and architectural monuments, this adventure will enlighten your understanding of Buddhism, Christianity, and especially Islam. Most notably, it will also introduce you to the region’s greatest resource: its generous and kind people! Visit Central Asia with us, all while earning professional development credit with other educators.
This program is sponsored by the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA), University of Pittsburgh coordinating site. This study tour is open only to NCTA alumni.
To enhance the educational impact of the trip and to make explicit the East Asia connections to Central Asia and the Silk Roads, China historian Dr. David Kenley (Dakota State University) and Central Asianist David Dettmann (University of Pennsylvania) will be traveling with the group, providing historical and cultural context.
Arrive in Bishkek at any time. Due to the potential for flight delays or cancellations, we recommend that you plan to arrive at least a day in advance. This will also give you time to adjust to the time difference and overcome any jetlag. We can book extra hotel nights for you in Bishkek before and/or after the trip. If you arrive early, consider visiting the State Historical Museum to learn more about Kyrgyzstan. This marble-faced cube building, built in 1984 when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union, retains many aspects of its original purpose as a state-of-the-art Lenin Museum. Please note that check-in at the hotel is usually around 2:00-3:00 p.m. There are no planned activities until an intro meeting around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., usually in the hotel lobby. Check for a sign or ask at the reception desk about the exact time and location of the group meeting. Please make every effort to arrive in time for this meeting. If you are delayed and will arrive late, please inform us. Your tour leader will then leave you a message at the front desk informing you of where and when to meet up tomorrow. After the meeting, you might choose to get dinner at a nearby restaurant with your traveling companions and your tour leader to further get to know one another.
We start the day with a tour of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital and largest city. Bishkek is an interesting example of a czarist planned city: It is built in a grid with wide boulevards flanked by irrigation canals and large trees, buildings with marble façades, and Soviet apartment complexes. The city was founded in 1825 as the Khokand fortress of "Pishpek" as a means of controlling local caravan routes and enabling the collection of tributes from Kyrgyz tribes. The name is thought to derive from a Kyrgyz word for a churn used to make fermented mare's milk ("kumis"), the Kyrgyz national drink, although not all sources agree on this. Roughly 80 km (50 mi) from the capital city of Bishkek, we stop to see one of Kyrgyzstan's oldest sights, the Burana Tower. The Tower is a large minaret and, along with some grave markers and the remnants of a castle and mausoleums, is all that remains of the 9th-century city of Balasagun. Learn more about the ancient structure (rare in a nomadic culture) before continuing along the scenic valley towards Chong-Kemin. We continue exploring the Kyrgyz countryside today with a visit to the scenic valley of Chong-Kemin. Formed over millennia by the Chong Kemin River, the valley provides some of the most stunning scenery on our trip. Enjoy an overnight in a cozy guest house run by Ashuu villagers. Savor home-cooked food and make the most of the time to wander the village. Approximate travel time: 1.5 to 2 hrs by private vehicle
In the morning, opt for a hike to the nearby mountains or explore the famous gorges of Chong-Kemin. After lunch, enjoy the scenic drive along the Kalmak-Ashuu mountain pass to Song Kul Lake. Immerse yourself in Kyrgyz culture with an overnight stay in a traditional yurt. Experience daily nomadic life and wander the breathtaking landscape. Indulge in delicious home-cooked cuisine for dinner, then get cozy in the yurt around the stove.
After breakfast, we depart for Kochkor and stop at a Kyrgyz felt-making workshop. Learn about the importance of felt-making to the Kyrgyz culture and local artisans. Make your own miniature version of the precious carpet known as ala-kiyiz, and enjoy lunch in Kochkor village. Afterward, head to Tamga village situated near the Terskey Ala-Too mountain range and Lake Issyk-Kol, where you'll spend the night at a village guesthouse and get to know the local community members. Tamga village was once famous for its Soviet-era military sanatorium, where Soviet cosmonauts relaxed and recovered after space flights. The complex still exists in its original, untouched 1930's glory, with an atmosphere that would seem to bring you back in time. Approximate travel time: 4.5 hrs by private vehicle
In the morning, visit Ak-Orgo Workshop Center and enjoy an included lunch. Observe how traditional yurts are built and learn about the importance of this Kyrgyz craft. Continue to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan's fourth largest city, located on the scenic Lake Issyk-Kul. Today, we visit a fascinating museum dedicated to the Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky. The museum offers insight into his life and travels and displays some of the flora and fauna species endemic to the area. We then have a walking tour of Karakol. See the Russian Holy Trinity Orthodox Church and pagoda-style Dungan Mosque, built by Chinese Muslims in the early 20th century. Afterward, you will have free time to explore on your own. Approximate travel time: 1.5-2 hrs by private vehicle
Today we will drive through the gorgeous rolling green hills and forested mountains for a day trip Jety-Oguz Gorge where you can go for optional hiking and horseback riding. You can also relax in nature if you don't feel like being active. Return to Karakol in the afternoon for free time to explore this city. Approximate travel time: 2 hrs roundtrip by private vehicle
Cross the border into Kazakhstan embarking for Saty Village. Then get into an old Russian van and take a bumpy drive (1.5 hour round trip) into Kolsay Lake National Park. We take a short hike (1 hour round trip, downhill then back uphill) to Kaindy Lake, where we soak in the bright hues and marvel at the eerie sight of submerged trees. Spend the night in a homestay and indulge in a traditional Kazakh meal. Note: If you suffer from motion sickness, you may want to skip the rough Russian van ride and, as a result, miss the hike to Kaindy Lake—or instead, load up on Dramamine. The village is a lovely place to walk around if you skip the Kaindy Lake excursion. Approximate travel time: 4.5 hrs by private vehicle, optional 1.5 hr roundtrip Russian van
Depart for Almaty early this morning, stopping along the way to marvel at Charyn Canyon. Boasting stunning shades of red, orange, and brown, the Charyn Canyon is a natural wonder comparable in beauty to the Grand Canyon. Take in the stunning views before continuing on to the former Kazakh capital, Almaty. On arrive in Almaty, we will take a city tour. Stop by the colorful Zenkov Cathedral, constructed entirely of wood without the use of any nails. Walk through Panfilov's Park and the historical part of the city. Visit the new part of Almaty known as Independence Square, and stop by the WWII Memorial. Time permitting, opt to climb Green Hill for panoramic views, visit the local markets, or sip coffee in one of the plentiful cafés. Approximate travel time: 6.5 hrs by private vehicle
This morning we will fly to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Dushanbe is the capital and largest city of Tajikistan and is situated at the confluence of two rivers, Varzob and Kofarnihon, and surrounded by mountains. Dushanbe means "Monday" in the Tajik language. It was so named because it grew from a village that originally had a popular market on Mondays. Until 1929, the city was known in Russian as Dyushambe and, from 1929 to 1961, as Stalinabad. As of 2014, Dushanbe had a population of 778,500. Enjoy a free evening in the city. Approximate travel time: 1.5 hrs by plane.
In the morning, you are free to visit some sights around Dushanbe, including museums, monuments, and the main mosque. After lunch, we drive through the valleys and mountains of the area for an overnight in local homes in the stunningly beautiful Kŭli Iskandarkŭl region. We will take a short hike through the peaceful Fan Mountains to Iskander Darya waterfall, or Fan Niagra. The Iskander Darya river flows from the famous Iskandarkul Lake, named after Alexander the Great for his love of the place. This massive, majestic waterfall falls from a height of 38 meters. Tonight we stay at a community homestay. The views are unbelievable. Note: Today the road can be pretty bumpy. We recommend taking Dramamine or sitting at the front of the bus if you suffer from motion sickness. Approximate travel time: 6 hrs by private vehicle
After breakfast, embark on a trek alongside Sarytag and the Karakul River. Return to the homestay for lunch and spend the afternoon at leisure. Later, head to Sarytag Village to experience local living and get a better understanding of life in this remote region. After the village exploration, head back to the homestay for a delicious Tajikistan dinner.
After breakfast, we drive to the city of Istaravshan, one of the oldest cities in Tajikistan at over 2,500 years old. We stop by Mug Teppe, the ruins of a fortress stormed by Alexander the Great in 329 BCE and the Arabs in 772 AD. You will have the opportunity to enjoy an optional lunch in a local chaikhana (teahouse). After lunch, we continue to Khŭjand, Tajikistan’s second-largest city. Khŭjand was the site of Cyropolis, which was established by the Persian King Cyrus the Great. Later, Alexander the Great would build the furthest settlement in Greek civilization nearby in 329 BCE. Khŭjand would later become an important stop along the Silk Road. In the afternoon, take part in a city tour, including visits to the Historical Museum of Sughd, resembling a castle, and the Mausoleum of Sheik Muslekheddin. Approximate travel time: 3.5 hrs by private vehicle
We start the day with a visit to Panjshanbe Bozor in Khŭjand. It's the largest market in Tajikistan and a great example of a typical Central Asian market. Enjoy browsing what's for sale and opt to sample a few of the local delicacies. Back in the vehicle, we continue on to the border with Uzbekistan. With 30 million people, it is the most populous of the four countries on our itinerary. Uzbekistan is now a Republic with an elected government, though its elections are notoriously fraudulent. The most notable example is their former president Islam Karimov, who was in power from 1991 until his death in 2016. We begin our exploration of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, the capital. A bustling city of 3 million, Tashkent is a green city located in an oasis along the small Chirchik River, near the Tien Shan Mountains. Various settlements have existed on the site since antiquity. It has been called Tashkent since around the 10th century when the city was part of the Kara-Khanid Khanate. This name, Turkic in origin, means “City of Stone.” The city was sacked by Genghis Khan in 1219 and re-founded under Amir Temür in the late 1300s. It was considered the richest city in Central Asia when it came under Russian rule in 1865. The capital was moved here in 1922 from Samarkand. Very little from Tashkent’s history remains; most of the city was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1966. Volunteers came from around the Soviet Union to help rebuild afterward, and many of them chose to stay due to the warm climate and easy access to food from nearby farms. It is still very common to see bilingual signs in Tashkent, written in both Uzbek and Russian. Enjoy a short orientation walk in the evening before an optional dinner. Approximate travel time: 3 hrs by private vehicle
Today, we enjoy a free day to explore Tashkent, a city with an interesting mix of mosques, mud houses, and Soviet architecture deep in the middle of Eurasia. (You will also have some more free time in Tashkent at the end of the trip.)
This morning, we drive to Samarkand, the second-largest city in Uzbekistan, with a population of just over 500,000 people. Samarkand is known for its position on the Silk Road. Extending 4,000 miles (6,437 km), the Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade which was carried out along its length and began during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). One of the oldest cities in the world, Samarkand remains one of the most attractive in Central Asia despite a turbulent history of war and earthquakes. The city blossomed under Amir Timur (known in the West as "Tamerlane"), a tyrannical 14th-century ruler. A lover of art, Timur was responsible for the colorful domes and exquisite minarets that now form the city's evocative skyline. While Samarkand fell into disrepair during its Soviet days, restoration is slowly progressing. Approximate travel time: 4.5 hrs by private vehicle
This morning, we take a tour of the city, including a visit to the Registan, Samarkand’s most famous monument complex. It is a public square surrounded by three historic madrassas or schools (all now souvenir and craft shops). Sons of wealthy families from all over Central Asia attended the madrassas, and their training could last 10 to 20 years. Registan means “place of sand,” a reference to the square itself, which traditionally was a marketplace. Now it’s a stage used for musical performances during the summer. Following the tour, you are free to check out the Guri Amir Mausoleum, Tomb of the Prophet Daniel, and the Registan minarets on your own. We recommend visiting the Gur-e Amir, the tomb of Amir Timur. Timur lived between 1336-1405 and was the founder of the Timurid dynasty. He was the grandfather of Ulugh Beg and great-great-great-grandfather of Babur Beg, who went on to found the Mughal Empire that ruled South Asia for four centuries. During his lifetime, Timur was one of the most powerful rulers in the Muslim world, and his armies were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. The mausoleum was actually built for Timur’s grandson and heir apparent, Muhammad Sultan, who died before him. Timur had requested to be buried in his hometown of Shahrisabz, about 50 km away. He died during the very cold and snowy winter of 1406, and because the roads were not passable, he was buried here instead. An unfinished mausoleum still exists in Shahrisabz. Use some free time to wander the bazaar or visit more sights such as the amazing Shaki Zinda Necropolis complex.
Today we drive to Nurota where we visit the remains of a military fortress of Alexander the Great and Holy Chashma (Spring) of Nurota. Also known as Naruta or Nur, as it was once called, Nurota was founded by Alexander the Great in 327 BCE. We visit the ruins of Alexander’s military fortress and the Chasma Spring, which today is a popular pilgrimage destination. It is believed to have been discovered by a local farmer who had a vision of Imam Ali, the fourth khalifa and the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, striking a rock and causing water to flow. The waters of the spring are believed to have healing powers. Proceed to the nearby Aidarkul Lake and opt for a swim before continuing on for an overnight stay in a local yurt camp. Enjoy an authentic Uzbekistan dinner and an evening Kazakh singing show. Approximate travel time: 4.5 hrs by private vehicle
Today, we drive across the desert to the ancient city of Bukhara, one of the most famous destinations on the Ancient Silk Road and Uzbekistan’s third-largest city (at around 300,000 people). During the 9th and 10th centuries, Bukhara was the intellectual center of the Islamic world with numerous mosques and madrassas. The old city has been restored, and there are a number of shopping districts with cafés and markets. People come from all over Bukhara to stroll in the evening and eat around the Lyab-i Hauz, a delightful pool of water surrounded by ancient mulberry trees and a commercial center for the modern city. Bukhara was also once home to a large community of Jews, most of whom emigrated to Israel and the west after the breakup of the Soviet Union. A small number, however, remained, as do a handful of synagogues, one of which is located just down a small alley from Lyab-i Hauz. Approximate travel time: 4 hrs by private vehicle
This morning, we have an included city tour with a local guide to visit the Samanid Mausoleum, the Ark Citadel, and the Poi-i-Kalon complex. Walk around beautifully restored mosques, madrassas, and covered markets that make up the Old City. The center of Bukhara’s old city is the Bukhara Ark with its impressive walls. “Ark” is a word from old Persian meaning “fortress.” The Ark was the citadel, where the rulers and military lived, and was even more fortified than the rest of the city. The throne room contains an interesting innovation: once a month, the Amir received people from the community who were allowed to criticize his rule. A wall was built just inside the entrance to the throne room so that people could speak their mind and leave without being identified (or punished) by the Amir and his courtiers for saying something that they didn’t like. The Ark fell out of use after it was aerially bombarded by Russian forces in 1920. When Bukhara was seized by the Bolsheviks, the Amir fled into exile, and the area became part of the Tatarstan Soviet Socialist Republic. Following the Ark, we visit the impressive Kalyan Minaret, a part of the Po-i-Kalyan mosque complex. The madrassa, located across a square from the mosque, is still in use today. We finish the tour exploring the artisan shops and wandering the narrow, twisting streets and alleyways of the Old City. A center for pottery, cloth, and Turkmen carpets, the old city is centered around Lyab-i Hauz, where you can sit at café tables and let the evening drift by. There is also the option to take in a local puppet show held in an old caravanserai or indulge in a Turkish bath. Some other optional activities include: Hammam (Bathhouse) Visit There are a few hammam choices in the city that are often gender-specific. Depending on the day of the week and when you want to go, your tour leader can advise you on some options. Carpet Museum Dating from the 9th century, the Magok-i Attar Mosque (Museum of Carpets) in Bukhara is the oldest surviving mosque in Central Asia. According to legend, the mosque survived the Mongols by being buried by locals in the sand. Indeed, only the top of the mosque was visible when the digging began in the 1930s. It also boasts an illustrious history of sacredness: remains of a Zoroastrian temple and a Buddhist temple have been found beneath it, and Jews once used it in the evenings. It was once used for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian services, demonstrating the diversity and open-mindedness of this intriguing city. Today, the Magok-i Attari Mosque (Museum of Carpets) offers information about the art of carpet making and some fine examples to boot. Jewish Area and Synagogue Visit Bukhara has a fascinating Jewish history, with Bukharan Jews speaking a Turkic-Persian dialect with a Hebrew script. The city once was home to 40,000 Jews and now has a community of about 25-30 families. The synagogue is well worth a visit and houses a Torah that is roughly 1,000 years old.
Enjoy a full day's travel through the Kyzyl Kum desert to reach UNESCO-listed Khiva. In the 17th century, the town of Khiva hosted the most famous slave market on the Silk Road. It is estimated that about one million Persians and an unknown number of Russian people were transported to Khiva to be sold. In the 19th century, Khiva was the center of the mighty Khiva Khanate. Today, it's one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the region. You can clearly see the Itchan Qala, the walled inner town of Khiva. The outer town is Dichan Qala. Inside the walled town are many monuments including the Djuma mosque, madrassas, and mausoleum. The city is restored as a living museum with cafes, tea houses, craftsman workshops, and shops. At night, the streets are lit with colored spotlights while families stroll through the narrow alleys and children play football (soccer), sometimes enlisting tourists in their matches. Get to know the place on a late afternoon orientation walk. Approximate travel time: 8 hrs by private vehicle
Explore the old town, which is still surrounded by city walls, bargain with locals in the market, and see the town from the top of the Friday Mosque's minaret. Don't forget to have a look at the amazing tiles in the yards of Tash Khauli Khan's Palace. Experience the sand-colored brick structures populating the inner walls of the Ichon-Qala, wander through the madrassas, clamber up minarets, and explore the dark dungeons Khiva was infamous for back in the 10th century. We have a guided tour of the city, followed by free time to experience the amazing local life. Browse the shops, wander the lanes, examine handmade silk rugs, sit in a cafe drinking tea, or enjoy a cold beer in this ancient historical town.
Fly to Tashkent. Our group will have a city tour. The first visit will be the Khast Imam Complex, which is one of the few “old” sites remaining in the city. The highlight of the complex is the Samarkand Kufic Qur’an, housed in a special building in the complex. The Kufic Qur'an was originally housed in Samarkand and, at the order of Vladimir Lenin in 1923, was brought to Tashkent. It is believed to be one of the two remaining copies of the original seven copies of the Qur’an written at the order of the third khalifa ‘Uthman (Osman in Turkish) in 651 AD. This was the first time that the verses were compiled into a written volume, 19 years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death. According to tradition, seven copies were made and disseminated to the kingdoms that had accepted Islam by that time. The other original volume is housed at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. If time permits, we will then visit the Chorsu Bazaar to do some end-of-the-trip shopping. Approximate travel time: 1 hr by plane
There are no planned activities today, so you may depart Tashkent at any time. If you wish to extend your stay in Tashkent, consider booking post-tour accommodation with us. Please note that check-out time from the hotel is usually mid-morning, but luggage storage services are available at the reception desk. Want more adventure? Book two or more GEEO programs in the same school year and receive a discount! GEEO will give you 10% off of the lesser value program(s) (up to 3 programs per year). If you would like to extend your time abroad but don't see another GEEO program that interests you, let us know. We can work with you to find a trip from our tour operator’s much larger catalog. Their tours are open to the general public and not designed specifically for educators, but we can still offer you and your travel companions a discounted educator price on any additional tours that you book.