Bishkek To Istanbul (11 Weeks)

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(£4295)


Bishkek To Istanbul (11 Weeks) Kyrgyzstan, Iran,the 'stans & Turkey
Bukhara, Bishkek
From: £4295

Discover some of the oldest cities in the world steeped in history and legend, from Troy in Turkey, Baku - the largest City on the Caspian Sea, to the legendary 'Stans'. Experience the incredibly diverse landscapes from the baron desert in Turkmenistan to the high mountain passes in Tajikistan.

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Itinerary

DAY 1-9: BISHKEK TO SEMENOVSKRE GORGE

We head northeast to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis and capital until 1997. Almaty is the largest and most ethnically and culturally diverse city in Kazakhstan. Set in the foothills of the Trans Lli Alatau mountains, the area has a ski resort (Shymbulak) at an elevation of 2,200 meters and enjoys a great amount of snow from November through to May. The city has many sights and attractions, including Ascension Cathedral in Panfilov Park; Abay Opera House; Golden Warrior Monument in the Republic Square and the giant Almaty Tower. Or for adrenaline lovers, why not ride the ‘Fast Coaster’ roller coaster, which is located on the side of a mountain and reaches speeds of 45 km per hour.

We continue east looking for amazing camping areas to explore, before crossing back into Kyrgyzstan and the area of Lake Issyk-Kul, a mountain lake in the northern Tien Shan Mountains, once used by the Soviets to test their submarine torpedoes!

The area of Altyn Arashan and its surroundings offer the outdoor lover many hiking and horse riding opportunities and we spend a few days here to take in the amazing scenery.

We visit the vast red stone cliffs in Jeti-Oguz and visit the town of Karakol with its attractive houses and tree-lined streets. Behind it are the Terskay Ala-Too Mountains, an unspoilt wilderness populated only by nomadic shepherds.

Continuing around the lake to Semenovskre Gorge the adventurous can hike through lush terrain, following the rivers that wind through the national reserve.

As we travel around Kyrgyzstan we camp, but we also may have the opportunity to use some family homestays, where we are welcomed into a local home for the night. These are subject to availability, but if we can arrange them they offer a fantastic experience, allowing us to feel part of the family for a night and make some new friends!

DAY 10-13: SEMENOVSKRE GORGE TO TASH RABAT

Travelling south and leaving behind Lake Issyk-Kul, we make our way to the isolated and breathtaking Lake Song Kol, where we stay in traditional felt Yurts. There will be the opportunity to either hike or horseback ride and explore the surrounding area. If we are lucky we may even see a game of Ulak Tartysh - a Kyrgyz version of polo.

We spend a couple of days driving south through the mountains towards the border with China. On the way, we cross vast high plains where Kyrgyz nomads, living in their traditional yurts, practice a lifestyle that has changed little over the centuries. We will stop off at Tash Rabat, an ancient Caravanserai on the old Silk Route.

DAY 14-15: TASH RABAT TO BISHKEK

We retrace some of our steps and head north to Bishkek, seeking out scenic camping spots as we go.

DAY 16-17: BISHKEK

Kyrgyzstan's leafy, relaxed capital is a largely Soviet-built city, softened somewhat by its many boulevards and tree-lined streets. We take a few days here in a comfortable, friendly hostel to recharge our batteries. We can enjoy the cafés and restaurants dotted around the city, there is no shortage of bars and nightclubs, and for those so inclined there are also a few cinemas and shopping districts.

Bishkek is also home to many museums, including the Kyrgyz State Historical Museum and Zoological Museum, which have exhibits that explain more about Kyrgyzstan political and natural history, and there are several parks and other public areas worth visiting to watch local life pass you by, the main one being Ala-Too Square, which once was dominated by a large statue of Lenin (this has now been moved to a smaller square in the city).

DAY 18-22: BISHKEK TO FANN MOUNTAINS

We leave Bishkek and drive through stunning mountain views and past the turquoise waters of Toktogul Reservoir, before arriving in Osh. Osh, the second biggest and the country’s oldest, city. Make sure you visit the bazaar, which has occupied the same spot for over 2000 years and used to be a major stop along the ancient Silk Road.

We enter Uzbekistan and arrive in the Fergana Valley, known for its silk production and the area that gave the name to one of the greatest routes in history.

Continuing west we arrive at Khujand – although today the city is not one of the most picturesque, it has had an important role in the history of the Silk Road and was one of the furthest points reached by Alexander the Great. It is said in this area that he wept, saying he had no further territory to conquer. We have time to visit the Fortress and Panjshanbe Market (one of the largest covered markets in Central Asia).

We drive south into the Fann Mountains, one of Tajikistan’s great ranges (the other being the Pamirs). Peaks of over 5000 meters slip by as we head to Iskanderkul Lake at 2200 meters. It is said to be the resting place of Alexander the Greats horse, Bucephalus. The glacial lake is a stunning spot for a hike and we aim to visit Tajikistan’s highest waterfall (40 meters).

DAY 23-24: FANN MOUNTAINS TO DUSHANBE

We continue south to Dushanbe - Tajikistan’s largest city, and aptly its name means “Money” in the Tajik language. It is a big showy entry to the country, in stark contrast to the East. You’ll pass a lovely day strolling through parks, admiring the fountains and the wide boulevards punctuated with grand buildings. Visit “Flag Pole Park” or the bazaar, or make the most of being in a city with restaurants specialising in various cuisines!

DAY 25-28: DUSHANBE TO BUKHARA

From Dushanbe, we drive westwards and we re-enter Uzbekistan. In Uzbekistan, we will find well-preserved relics from the time when Asia was a centre of empire, learning, and trade along the famous silk route. Some of its cities have abundant old architecture, mosques and minarets cloaked with the mystery of the orient dating back thousands of years.

Samarkand, the second-largest city in the country. The history of Samarkand is about 2,500 years old and it's as old as Babylon or Rome. Here we have a couple of days to explore the splendid architecture such as the 15th-century Bibi-Khanum Mosque which when it was built was considered to have the largest dome in the Muslim world. Today it stands next to a noisy and colourful Oriental market. No trip here is complete without a wander around the three edifices of the Registan, once Medieval Samarkand's commercial plaza and today quite possibly the most awesome sight in Central Asia.

The Kyzylkum Desert is about 300,000 sq km and lies between the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers. This is a vast arid plain with several isolated bare mountains rising to 900 metres and we journey across it on our way to Bukhara. Time and schedules permitting, we will make the trip from Bukhara to Samarkand by train, allowing us to travel with the locals as we pass through the arid landscape.

Bukhara, our next stop, is situated on a sacred hill and was founded in the 13th century BC and it is home to over 350 mosques and some 100 Islamic colleges. The city is intrinsically linked to the history of the Silk Road and later ‘Great Game’ that played out in the nineteenth century between Russia and Great Britain. One of the most famous individuals involved in this historical period, the Englishman Alexander Burnes, was known as ‘Burnes of Bukhara’ and the books he authored based on his adventures in this part of Asia gave him celebrity status in Victorian England.

Bukhara today is an attractive city with narrow streets, green parks and gardens, and is a pleasure to wander around and there will be the opportunity for about of good-humoured haggling in the bazaar.

DAY 29-32: BUKHARA TO ARAL SEA

Continuing north, we bush camp out in the desert before reaching Khiva, another town with much historical influence, that was also on the great silk route. This, our last city stop, is one of the most noteworthy of the cities and towns of Central Asia. It is a unique monument town, completely preserved in the cultural style of the region, and is a World Heritage Site for its historical significance. It has more minarets than any other place in Asia, and the Juma Mosque, which has an amazing 218 ornate carved wooden columns, is another of the main attractions. We will spend a couple of nights here to explore the ancient madrassas, medinas, mausoleums and museums and soak up the unique atmosphere.

Road conditions permitting, we will then drive to the edge of where the Aral Sea used to lie. In the 1960s the Soviet Union began an intense irrigation project to boost cotton growth in the region using the then vast sea as its source. The project led to the sea shrinking to just 10% of its original size and today as we reach where its edge formerly was, we can see ships sitting incongruously in the middle of what is now a huge desert where we camp for the night.

DAY 33-35: ARAL SEA TO ASHGABAT

We cross the border into Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most secretive and mysterious countries largely cut off from the outside world. Most of Turkmenistan is covered by the vast Kara-Kum (Black Sand) desert and conditions can be challenging with hot weather and some poor roads to travel along, but it is all worth it with some memorable stops along the way and also the opportunity to travel through this rarely-visited country.

Our first stop is Kunye Urgench, a UNESCO World Heritage site and ancient stop on the Silk Road; now largely abandoned we can bush camp near the site. It is said that the 60-metre high Kutlug-Timur minaret so impressed Genghis Khan that he specifically ordered for it not to be destroyed when his Mongol hordes invaded the area in the thirteenth century, so we can see it for ourselves today!

Continuing south through the desert our next stop is one of Central Asia’s most curious and impressive sights, the Darvaza Gas Crater. Also known as the ‘Door to Hell’ or ‘Gates of Hell’, this remarkable sight is the result of a Soviet-era gas exploration accident, when the ground beneath a drilling rig gave way and to prevent poisonous gas leaking out it was decided to burn it off. Originally engineers believed it would all be burned in a few days, but that was in 1971 and the field is still burning to this day. The result is a sight quite like no other as we can peer down into the crater and see the fire, and feel the intense heat coming from the flames. Road conditions permitting we will get to the crater in the truck and bush camp nearby in the remote desert.

Leaving Darvaza we then have around a half-day drive to reach Turkmenistan’s unique and bizarre capital city Ashgabat where we check into a hotel to wash off the sand from the desert and enjoy a well-earned bed for the night.

DAY 36: ASHGABAT

We have some free time and enjoy a city tour of Ashgabat. Turkmenistan’s capital, founded in the 1880s by the Russian Tsarist government, sits between the foothills of the Koptedag mountains to the south, and the vast Karakum Desert to the north. The city was almost destroyed following an earthquake in 1948 and rebuilt in the Soviet-style. Following independence in 1991, the city has been transformed into a futuristic, and in many ways bizarre collection of unique structures and wide streets lined with marble. For many travellers, Ashgabat is one of the most mystifying and unusual cities they will ever experience.

On the city tour, we visit Independence Park, the Ertogrul Gazi Mosque, the Arch of Neutrality, the Turkmenbashi Mosque Mausoleum and many other sites throughout the city. There are plenty of fantastic photo opportunities, and we will have the chance to explore some of the markets and meet the locals.

DAY 37-39: ASHGABAT TO TURKMENBASHI

As we leave Ashgabat, we will be collected by off-road jeeps and head off for our desert adventure. This will be a truly unique experience as we get to visit the Yangikala Canyons via the Balkan Mountains, then on past the white cliffs of Koymat, and along the banks of the dried-up Uzboy River before reaching the desert settlement of Melegoch. We will pass several traditional villages on the way before setting up camp near the dunes of Melegoch. Much of this trip will be off the road, and remote and will truly be a new experience on our way to the port of Turkmenbashi.

DAY 40-42: TURKMENBASHI TO BAKU

Whilst we are in Turkmenbashi we will need to complete all of our border formalities before we take the ferry across the Caspian Sea to our next country, Azerbaijan.

DAY 43-47: BAKU TO SHEKI

Our ferry will arrive at the port of Baku. Baku has an amazing blend of the old city and the ultra-modern and I am sure it will be a fascinating and enjoyable addition to the itinerary and a destination that is not yet on the tourist route.

Heading north we visit the mud volcanoes of Qobustan and then visit the picturesque ancient village of Lahichwith its copper beaters and ancient crafts and the 18th Century UNESCO town of Sheki.

DAY 48-49: SHEKI TO TATEV

We cross the border into Georgia and then Armenia as we head south to Tatev, and at 5.7km long, the longest cable tramway in the world the "Wings of Tatev" that whisks you up into the mountains where there are lots of additional activities to take part in.

DAY 50-53: TATEV TO DILIJAN

From Tatev we head north to Yerevan where we can spend a couple of days to enjoy its many things to do. On departure, we visit the Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple before making our way to high altitude Lake Sevan with the possibility to visit the Hayravank Monastery that overlooks the lake and then on to the ancient town of Dilijan, famous for its hiking, food and arts.

DAY 54-58: DILIJAN TO TBILISI

We cross the border to the ever-popular Telavi, the principal town of the Kakheti region, famous for its vineyards and wineries. Wine has been produced in Georgia since 4000BC and the industry has played a small but significant role in the country’s history ever since, as winemaking (and its consumption) has enjoyed an important role in Georgian culture and society. Here we have the option of taking a wine tour to find out more about the history of the area, why wine production has been so important, and of course to try some ourselves!

Telavi itself is a fascinating and relaxing place to spend a couple of nights with many good restaurants and cafes, and not far from the town there are other sites well worth a visit, such as the monastery of Akhali Shuamta, and the small village of Ikalta and its Church of the Transfiguration which dates from the 8th Century BC.

After our time in Telavi, we continue to Tbilisi with its cobblestoned old town, delicious food and welcoming atmosphere.

DAY 59-60: TBILISI

The Old Town of Tbilisi has much to offer. Here you can take a stroll along narrow cobbled streets, past traditional old houses with carved wooden balconies, relax in the warm waters of the historic sulphur baths and visit some of the city’s key historical sites; Metekhi Church, Narikala Fortress, Sioni Cathedral and Anchiskhati Church.

DAY 61-66: TBILISI TO BATUMI

Leaving Tbilisi we visit Gori the birthplace of Georgia’s most infamous son, Josef Stalin and we have time to visit the museum dedicated to him which is built alongside the house in which he was born, which still stands today. Here you will find many items from Stalin’s reign, and also his bullet-proof train carriage, in which he travelled across the Soviet Union.

There may also be the chance to stop at Uplistsikhe, an ancient cave city built into the mountains not far from Tbilisi. Dating from the early Iron Age, this historic site says much about Georgia’s long and often turbulent past at the crossroads of several might empires throughout the centuries.

Our next stop is Kutaisi¸ the country’s second-largest city and home to a buzzing fruit and vegetable market where you can barter for goods with the local traders. Kutaisi offers a glimpse of what modern-day life in urban Georgia is like, and the real joy of the city is found in simply wandering the streets and observing the locals go about their routine. This is also an opportunity to top up on some food and drink supplies before we head into the foothills of the Caucasus and some more remote areas in the next few days.

We spend the next two days exploring the Svaneti region. This mountainous area is beautiful and untamed, and offer fantastic hiking options with the mighty Caucasus mountain range as a stunning backdrop. Using our overland truck as our base we will bush camp and spend some time travelling around, including a visit to Mestia, a pretty small town that forms the centre of the region. Weather and climate can be unpredictable so this part of the trip is kept quite loose to allow for itinerary changes, depending on what is our best option at the time, but with the truck carrying all of our camping and cooking gear we are free to travel almost anywhere!

Returning to civilisation we reach the port city of Batumi. Here we spend a couple of nights checking out the city with its modern and often bizarre architecture and enjoy our first taste of Georgia’s famously warm hospitality. A walk along the waterfront promenade is always popular, especially at night when the buildings are lit up in bright neon colours.

DAY 67-78: BATUMI TO ISTANBUL

Leaving Georgia, we have some long drives to reach our next destination as we crossing rural Turkey. We head towards the Black Sea before following the coast west. This captures the essence of an overland adventure expedition, as we stop for bush camps in the evening and can watch as the stunning and varied scenery of this rarely-vested part of the country rolls past, stopping off to meet locals and buy food and drinks as we go.

We arrive in Cappadoccia, where we stay for a few nights. Here, over the centuries, houses, churches, fortresses and even underground cities have been carved into this eerily eroded volcanic rock. The Goreme Valley provides us with an astonishing setting in which to spend a few days investigating the region. Why not take in the scenery from the skies in a Hot Air Balloon flight (optional). We will take you to one of the underground cities where you can explore alone or with a guide this ancient and mysterious area!

After a few days in Goreme, we continue west towards Pamukkale where we will spend a night and there is the opportunity to swim in warm, mineral-rich waters. We then travel further west and finally reach the Aegean Sea in Selcuk where we will spend a couple of nights. Here we find Ephesus. Built by the Greeks a thousand years before Christ and then rebuilt by the Romans, this immense ancient city boasts an amphitheatre that can seat 24000 and a harbour with no water - still in good condition after all these years.

Turning north drive through olive groves and rural settlements to Gallipoli and the Straits of the Dardanelles. In World War I, on this blustery and exposed peninsula, ANZAC and British Forces struggled unsuccessfully for nine horrendous months to dislodge Turkish troops from the hills above the beaches. It is a moving experience to visit the war graves and battlegrounds where so much suffering and unnecessary loss of life took place. We camp overnight here before arriving in the city where East meets West, the huge metropolis of Istanbul.

We arrive in Istanbul, where we have a free day to explore, but with so much to see and do you will almost definitely want to stay a bit longer! An urban area of nearly 15 million, and one of the world’s liveliest cities, it is a place full of history and rich in culture. You can choose to spend visiting one of the many famous sights such as the iconic Hagia Sophia and stunning Blue Mosque, or strolling around the Grand Bazaar on the lookout for some bargains. During the evening be sure to try some of the wonderful local cuisines, such as authentic kebabs, baklava or any of the many other treats on offer.

DAY 79: ISTANBUL

Your trip ends after breakfast.

Experience

Enjoy the stunning mountain scenery and alpine lakes throughout Kyrgyzstan
Overnight stay in a Traditional yurt at Lake Song Kol
Visit the ancient caravanserai, Tash Rabat
Wander through the oldest bazaar in Central Asia in the city of Osh
Take in the incredible landscapes with forever changing colours as the sun moves through Tajikistan
Explore the ancient medressas, mausoleums and mosques of Bukhara and Samarkand
See ships marooned in the desert at the Aral Sea
Camping 'under the stars' in the barren Kara-Kum Desert
Feel the intense heat coming from the Darwaza Gas Crater
Experience the dese

Included

  • Accommodation - approx. 60% camping & 40% simple hostels/hotels/homestay
  • Tash Rabat Caravanserai
  • Yurt Stay at Lake Song Kol
  • Turkmenistan Letter of Introduction support and fees
  • Darvaza Gas Crater
  • Ashgabat city tour
  • 4X4 Desert Safari in Turkmenistan
  • Caspian Ferry
  • Gallipoli Tour
  • Meals - approx 50%
  • All Transport on Oasis Expedition Truck
  • Camping and Cooking equipment
  • Services of Oasis Crew

Not included

  • Visas
  • Local Payment (see tour notes & options)
  • Optional Excursions as listed in the Pre-Departure Information
  • Flights
  • Airport Taxes & Transfers
  • Travel Insurance
  • Meals - approx. 50%
  • Drinks
  • Tips
Bishkek To Istanbul (11 Weeks) Kyrgyzstan, Iran,the 'stans & Turkey
Next Booking: August 24, 2024
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