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Textiles & Arts: Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan

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Tour Dates:

September 6 - 29, 2024

Fly Home:

September 30, 2024

Tour Pricing:

24 Nights From $6,850

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Our 24-night textiles and arts tour of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan checks another fabulous adventure off your bucket list! The people are welcoming and generous, and the countries are modern and safe.

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan once held the most important trade centers on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that linked the Mediterranean to China. The region is home to large numbers of talented artisans creating exquisite Uzbek textiles such as hand-embroidered suzanis (embroidered panels), colorful felted carpets, and hand-dyed, handwoven ikat textiles. We will meet many of these welcoming artisans and watch them at work.

In the historic areas of Uzbekistan, stunning 15th century tiled mosques and madrasas compose UNESCO World Heritage sites. The recent, modern part of the capital of Tashkent has many sleek glass and steel buildings, sprinkled among Soviet-style apartment blocks. Cranes signaling new construction are everywhere in the flourishing city. Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek has leafy parks, spotless boulevards, and superb restaurants. In fact you’ll be impressed with the great variety of fresh and healthy foods in both countries – offering delicious dishes that would be at home anywhere.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Visit exquisite blue-tiled madrasas, mosaic-covered mosques, and fascinating museums.
  • Shop in the bustling markets and handicraft bazaars.
  • Meet silk ikat dyers and weavers, wood block printers, and embroidery and ceramic masters.
  • Savor fresh produce and delicious breads that make up the heart of Uzbekistan cuisine.
  • Walk the historical neighborhoods of ancient Samarkand and Bukhara to see UNESCO Heritage sites.

What’s Included in The Trip?

An Overview of Your Journey

From Tashkent to Bishkek

On this exciting two-country adventure we start in bustling, modern Tashkent and at the end of the tour, return home from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. When you arrive at the Tashkent airport, the driver will meet you with a sign with your name, and will take you to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Next morning after breakfast, we’ll head out to explore some of Tashkent’s most interesting sights. In Tashkent’s old city, we’ll admire historical buildings with iconic turquoise-tiled domes, such as the 16th Barak-Khan Madrasa complex. One day we’ll go underground to admire the amazing Soviet-era Metro stations, true artistic masterpieces, each with a different theme. We’ll also visit the home and studio of a famous embroiderer and see her beautiful jackets and suzanis.

We’ll be sure to see the Museum of Applied Arts which showcases some of the best historical artistic examples of the arts of Uzbekistan, in the mansion of the Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev. He built the intricately decorated mansion expressly to display his extensive collections of unique handicrafts and traditional Uzbek textiles. After the Soviet revolution, the government nationalized his cherished home and opened it to the public as a museum. Polovtsev’s rare examples of folk art such as vintage ceramics, suzanis, handmade rugs, and wood carvings are on display in the wondrous house with its colorfully decorated ceilings.

Samarkand

After our time in Tashkent, we’ll board the air-conditioned fast train to Samarkand. Seasoned travelers consider Samarkand as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, not only for the stunning historical monuments but also for the tree-shaded avenues and lovely green city parks. It was an important trade stop along the Silk Road and was at the forefront of early Islamic architecture. 

We’ll visit the mausoleums of Shah-i-Zinda, where Tamerlane built elaborate tiled mosaic tombs for his favorite wives. Skillful carpet weavers tie wool or silk knots to make exquisite rugs at the nearby Samarkand Carpet Workshop. Many travelers succumb to temptation here, as the rug quality is excellent and the prices are fair. We’ll see the Afrosiab museum, the fascinating Observatory of visionary astronomer, Ulughbek, and the towering tomb of Emir Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire. Prominent landmarks include the iconic Registan, a plaza bordered by three ornate, majolica-covered madrasas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries.

The Registan Square looks magical at night when it is lit with floodlights and we’ll be sure to stop to admire it. Modern Samarkand is a unique city with the UNESCO-designated historical monuments combined with architecture reflecting 19th and 20th c. European style. Also the influence of the Russian aesthetic sits side by side with 21st c. towering modern glass and steel buildings.

Chor Minor, all that remains of an ancient madrasa in Bukhara.
The Afrosiyob, fast train that we will ride to Samarkand.

Next Stop Bukhara!

Next we’ll take a comfortable train ride to the ancient city of Bukhara, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Bukhara remains an exciting place to explore the architecture and textiles of Uzbekistan. It was a major medieval center for Islamic theology and culture. It still contains hundreds of well-preserved mosques, madrasas, bazaars and caravanserais, dating largely from the 9th to the 17th centuries. Blue-tiled mosques and textile bazaars abound in this fabulous historical city.

The age-old caravanserai and madrasas have often been converted into artists’ studios and workshops. And the huge ancient, domed bazaar here offers Uzbek textiles such as ikat clothing, carpets, suzanis, and jewelry. We’ll explore these as well as an artisan center where we can learn how some typical crafts are made.

While in Bukhara, we’ll go through the Emir’s summer palace, an ‘over-the-top’ Russian/Central Asian complex built far out of town, in 1911. The palace houses the excellent Bukhara Museum of Decorative Arts where the superb suzani collection will enthrall the embroidery lovers among us. Exquisite suzanis of different sizes and embroidery techniques cover the walls and are such a treat to be able to admire closeup. The main building with its tall ceramic fireplaces houses treasures such as royal furniture of the 19th – 20th centuries, palace artifacts from Russia, and jewelry by well-known Bukharan masters.

On to Khiva!

Onward from Bukhara to Khiva! This is a long drive, but the desert landscape is compelling: vast steppes, shepherds and their flocks, odd villages, military outposts and unusual vegetation. We’ll skirt the Kyzylkum or Red Sand Desert, to see Khiva’s wondrous architecture and carpet knotters. We’ll cross the Amu Darya River, known as the Oxus in ancient times. Ichan Kala, the walled, ancient, inner city of Khiva made an important stop on the Silk Road. It’s also the largest surviving walled city in the central part of Asia. Tiled and mosaic-encrusted treasures of Khiva’s old town include stunning palaces, mosques, minarets and pillars.

Textiles abound in Khiva. We’ll visit several grand architectural wonders with the most intricate painted ceramic tiles. There is a wonderful carpet shop in Khiva also. Hand-knotted examples in soft colors show patterns that were inspired by the designs of the tiles and doors of the city. At the end of our adventure, after seeing hundreds of gorgeous suzanis, stunning ikat jackets, and colorful yardage, we’ll drive to nearby Urgench for our flight back to Tashkent.

Zig-zag and crenallated walls of Khiva's old city glow in the sunset.
Dyed warp on the loom with flying shuttle mechanism. Margilan.

Ferghana Valley of Ikat

From Tashkent, we’ll head for the Ferghana Valley in SUVs because vans are not allowed on the mountain routes. After 4 hours, we’ll stop in Kokand, to visit the incredible Khudayarkhan Palace and the Juma mosque. 

Then we continue to Margilan, an ancient Ferghana Valley city, and home of glowing resist-warp dyed (ikat) fabrics, the most renowned of Uzbek textiles. Margilan town was well-known in antiquity for the superb quality of silk created here. We’ll meet ikat dyers and weavers who are the most skilled in Central Asia. Over the course of our days there, we’ll visit ikat masters to see thread binders, weavers, and dyers. Stunning ceramic plates and bowls will be available at the master ceramicist’s studio we’ll visit. All the pieces are intricately hand-painted with typical patterns.

 A highlight will be the Kumtepa Bazaar, one of the best places to buy inexpensive Uzbek textiles (ikat with resist-dyed warp) which are the most renowned fabrics of Uzbekistan. It’s a great local market with an area devoted to local textile crafts. Here you can buy ikat yardage to make quilts or pillows, or other textile treasures.

Later we’ll visit an ikat dyeing workshop and will see how the warp threads are bound to make the bold patterns. We’ll visit the Yodgorlik Margilan silk factory where we can see the entire process of ikat textiles from reeling the silk cocoons to the finished ikat cloth, the most renowned of Uzbek textiles.

Along the route to Ferghana, we’ll stop for lunch and to visit the bakers slapping dough rounds onto the walls of fiery domed ovens. After Fergana, we’ll drive to the border and cross into Kyrgyzstan.

Over the Border Into Kyrgyzstan!

Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent ethnic groups, Kyrgyzstan has periodically fallen under foreign domination. It attained sovereignty as a nation-state after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ethnic Kyrgyz make up the majority of the country’s six million people, followed by significant minorities of Uzbeks and Russians.

After the modern cities and the fascinating historical sites of Uzbekistan, a visit to Kyrgyzstan is a refreshing change of pace. The few travelers that make it here love the peaceful countryside and stunning mountain views. In fact, the mountainous Tian Shan region covers 80 per cent of Kyrgyzstan. Some people still prefer to live in a felt yurt in the beautiful forests or lake country. Yet the capital, Bishkek, is modern with good restaurants and hotels, pretty parks, and a population of one million.

We’ll visit verdant and peaceful Oak Park and other historical monuments in the city. In the fabulous Kyrgyz State (Historical) Museum we’ll learn more about traditional Kyrgyz nomadic culture. There’s a full-sized typical yurt and mannequins dressed in local dress, as well as an excellent collection of felted shyrdak carpets and other woven nomadic textiles.
We’ll have several opportunities to learn about Kyrgyz felt-making, in NGO supported workshops around the country. Best known for making felted rugs, saddle blankets, and tent bands, Kyrgyz artists also create charming felt toys and clothing such as warm slippers, pretty shawls and scarves. 

In Bishkek, we’ll meet a talented felt artist, learn about her techniques and see her latest work. Then we’ll try our hand at making beautiful silk and wool felted scarves! These are gorgeous scarves you will be proud to wear at home!

We’ll also visit some women’s coops where the felting methods are different and they make varieties of home decor and accessories, such as the colorful appliqué shyrdak rugs.

Some of our Hotels…

Hotel in Tashkent

A modern and convenient hotel in the capital city, Tashkent. Rooms are comfortable with good beds and contemporary bathrooms. The breakfast buffet is excellent, with lots of choice. The rooftop terrace restaurant is very popular for dinner.

Private Home, Margilan

This comfortable two-story home stay sits at the back of a lovely garden. Cozy rooms decorated with glorious ikat fabrics are situated around a large living/dining room area. Each room has a modern bathroom attached. Breakfast is simple but plentiful and good.

Additional Details & Experiences

Bread In Uzbekistan

Bread is considered sacred by Uzbek people. The traditional round and flat bread, called non or lepeshka, is baked in a tandoor (round clay oven), after which it comes out toasted and crispy. Bread of each region has its own particular method of leavening, its own baking techniques and its own inimitable taste. For instance, delicious flaky bread – katlama non – typifies the Fergana Valley version. Some yummy breads called lepeshkas are prepared with onion baked inside the dough.

What are the traditional foods of Uzbekistan?

We’ll eat delicious food everywhere and learn about the local cuisine in at least one cooking class. Popular foods include vegetable, chicken or beef skewers, fresh salads and dishes such as pilaf or plov, with beef or lamb. Meat-filled pastries called somsas are common too. Vegetarians will have no trouble at all; many salads such as grated carrots or beets with walnuts, or tomato and cucumber are popular and found in most restaurants. A noodle soup dish called lagman (above) is popular as are lentil soup and borscht.

The Ismail Samani Mausoleum

The Samanid Mausoleum is an architectural wonder, a perfect cube of unglazed tan bricks, with decorative basket-weave patterns inside and out. It’s located in the northwestern part of Bukhara, just outside its historic center. It was built in the 9th-10th centuries AD as the resting place of the powerful and influential Islamic Samanid dynasty. The mausoleum is extremely important from an art historical perspective as it is the earliest instance of an Islamic tomb to survive in Central Asia.

Previous Adventures in Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan

Your Trip Leaders

Mirza

Mirza taught English at the Tashkent Law College before becoming a professional guide in 2006. His easy-going personality is a large part of why trips with him are so delightful! He explains just the right amount of the complicated history of his country and its architecture. He’s also friends with many of the textile and ceramic artisans and understands their working techniques, which makes those encounters more personal and interesting.

Ulan

Ulan

After University graduation in 1998, Ulan became a professional guide in his country of Kyrgyzstan. He loves his job and is a font of knowledge about the country, its culture, and cuisine. Ulan is patient, ever-cheerful, and easy-going, and he seems to know everyone. He also speaks many useful languages like Russian, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz of course, in addition to great English. Like Mirza, Ulan is fast friends with the artisans that we’ll visit in his country. And because of their friendships, we get warm and welcoming ‘behind the scenes’ experiences everywhere we go.

Cynthia LeCount Samaké

Cynthia LeCount Samaké

Cynthia began “Behind the Scenes Adventures” to share with others the traditional textiles and festivals of far-flung countries. Since 1998 she has led small groups of textile fanatics and friends all over the world. Desiring some new locations and new types of textiles, she has branched out and found wonderful connections and many destinations for her tours. Now the repertoire includes Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, places where artisans dye and weave stunning silk ikat designs.

Check Trip Availability

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Registration Information

  • Dates: September 6 – 29, 2024
  • Fly Home Date: September 30, 2024
  • Deposit: $500
  • Tour Cost: 24 Nights From $6,850
  • Single Supplement: $775

For more information:
Phone: 707-939-8874
E-mail: info@btsadventures.com
Read: Frequently Asked Questions

Travel Plans

Most people can fly into Istanbul from their home airport, then connect with Turkish Air for the flight to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. For Americans living in cities served by Turkish, it may be less expensive to take Turkish Airlines for the whole flight itinerary. We will all fly into Tashkent (TAS) and then for convenience, fly back home departing from Bishkek (FRU)–our last stop in Kyrgyzstan.

Visas

Visa for Uzbekistan is no longer necessary if you are over 55 years old. If you are under 55 you will need to apply through the government’s website. More info once you sign up.

There is no visa required for Kyrgyzstan.

What’s Included

  • 24 nights accommodation in double rooms with private bathrooms (16 nights UZB and 8 nights KGZ)
  • Expert Uzbek English-speaking textile expert guide
  • All breakfasts in the hotels
  • 21 Lunches and 24 Dinners
    (3 lunches will be on your own)
  • Transportation by air-conditioned Minibus
  • Entrance fees to all sites and monuments
  • Flight from Urgench-Tashkent -TBA and flight from OSH to Bishkek.
  • All Tashkent airport transfers
  • Train travel between Tashkent and Samarkand, Samarkand and Bukhara. Sprinter van to Khiva
  • All train station transfers – Samarkand, Bukhara, etc.
  • 1 liter of bottled water per person per day. Most hotels offer water too.
  • Ikat textile weaving demonstration
  • Fascinating Velveteen ikat demonstration!
  • Info about foods and typical dishes to come

What’s Not Included

  • International flights to Tashkent, Uzbekistan and home from Bishkek. We will suggest some flights.
  • Visa and passport fees
  • 3 lunches/dinners (buy fruit and cheese picnic to eat at the hotel, or go out on your own)
  • Tips for guide and driver; amounts will be suggested. Tips will be collected at the beginning of the trip for your convenience, but handed to the two guides at the end of each stint. (One UZB and one KGZ)
  • Recommended travel insurance (suggestions about this later) OK to buy the kind at the end of the airline payment page, TravelGuard or Allianz.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What information will I receive after registering?

Once you sign up for a trip, we will e-mail a general itinerary, lists of Suggested Reading, what to take, cultural considerations, weather charts, etc.

How can I get a detailed itinerary for a tour?

A day-to-day itinerary will be sent once you sign up for a trip. If you need specific information about the flow of the trip and the pace of the specific activities, before committing to the trip, get in touch with your questions and we will be happy to fill you in.

What sort of clothing should I bring?

When you sign up for a tour, you’ll receive detailed lists of what to bring to your destination, as well as weather info, to more easily coordinate your wardrobe with the heat or cold.

We will also include suggestions for appropriate clothing for dressing in conservative countries. Basically, you’ll need modest clothes that cover your shoulders and legs. Being well-dressed will show the locals that we respect them and their society. We will visit private homes on several occasions when it’s important to look ‘nice.’ Uzbek women wear dresses or skirts with blouses and sweaters.

Are laundry services available?

Most hotels have a laundry service and prefer that you don’t wash clothes in the bathroom sinks. If there is no laundry service, and you don’t want to wash your jeans and wait a day or two for them to dry, asking at the hotel desk is a good place to start.

Please note that it is considered demeaning to wash someone else’s underpants, so we ask that you wash your own underpants. Hang them to dry discreetly in the bathroom.

What are the COVID requirements for returning to the US?

There are no longer any COVID 19 health restrictions related to returning to the USA as a US citizen.

Do I need any vaccinations or immunizations?

This varies with each country. Make an appointment with your travel doctor and take your tour itinerary with you. Some areas of certain countries require malaria pills and others do not; same with Yellow Fever and others such as Cholera and Typhoid. He or she will have all the latest requirements at hand.

A rural visit to a farm may require extra precautions, for example. We will send you the links to the CDC.gov information pages for your specific destination so that you can ask questions.

You should be current on all your typical childhood and international travel shots such as Polio and Tetanus. Some countries now demand proof of vaccination against COVID. Behind the Scenes Adventures requires you to have had two COVID vaccinations. We recommend you have a booster as well.

How much physical activity is involved during the trip?

Each trip has different activity levels that will be fully explained in the specific tour material. But no activities or events are mandatory, and you are always welcome to sit at the bottom of the stairs to a temple or wait in the van while others ascend or visit a particular place. Walking sticks are fine to bring if they help you. We cannot accept wheelchairs or walkers.

For most tours, you’ll need to be able to walk the distance of 4-5 city blocks on your own, with sturdy shoes.  Please note that sidewalks in many countries are full of big holes and broken cement chunks, with bits of re-bar sticking out, and you must constantly be alert to these dangers. In urban areas where distances are greater, the group will take taxis and/or get help from local assistants. If you need a personal taxi or additional special aid, that will be at your expense.

What will the weather be like?

Our Uzbekistan trips are planned for temperate weather with little or no rain, in April-May and September-October. Summer temperatures are far too hot! Average daytime temperatures are usually in the 70s and nights can be cooler, in the 50s. With global warming, it is much harder to predict but we will send Weather Charts with your pre-departure info.

Meals & Accommodations

What sort of hotels will we be staying in?

Hotels that we choose in Uzbekistan are usually in traditional style with carved wood decor, typically new and up-to-date. Our hotel in Tashkent is semi-ttraditional, with comfortable, well-lit rooms, good beds and linens. It has modern bathrooms, a good restaurant at lobby level, and an elevator. The hotel in Samarkand is more modest. The new, private, homestay in Margilan belongs to the family of the most famous ikat weavers; it’s a treat to stay there, surrounded by textiles! Before we depart, we will send you a list of all hotels with contact information in case someone at home needs to contact you.

What kind of money will we be using?

Purchases are made either in local money, Uzbek SOM for example, or in US dollars. US dollars are stable and the most widely accepted foreign currency, and they are what you should bring. Euros are also accepted. Canadian dollars are not often accepted so you are safer with US dollars. Other currencies are either not accepted, or the rates are not correctly calculated.

Bring US dollars in clean, new-ish, unmarked, unripped bills. $100 bills are fine, but you could bring about a dozen $20s also just in case you want to buy smaller items, in places that accept dollars. I will hand out currency exchange charts when we meet.Purchases are made either in local money, Uzbek SOM for example, or in US dollars. US dollars are stable and the most widely accepted foreign currency, and they are what you should bring. Euros are also accepted. Canadian dollars are not often accepted so you are safer with US dollars. Other currencies are either not accepted, or the rates are not correctly calculated. Bring US dollars in clean, new-ish, unmarked, unripped bills. $100 bills are fine, but you could bring about a dozen $20s also just in case you want to buy smaller items, in places that accept dollars. I will hand out currency exchange charts when we meet.

Do NOT count on using ATMs, although their service is much better nowadays. They exist but can be out of money, or the systems are down, etc.

Credit cards might be accepted for large purchases with a surcharge at more modern shops, but definitely will not be accepted for small items in markets, and small shops.

It’s easy! BRING plenty of CASH dollars, and just take home what you don’t spend. You will keep your US bills in your secret waist pouch or your wallet. You can lock extra money inside your suitcase in the hotel also; we know and trust the hotels where we stay.

How do I change money to buy textiles and other items if I need local money?

We will go as a group to a currency exchange place when we arrive in each country, to change our clean, new-ish, unmarked, unripped US dollar bills into SOM or other local currency. Some places that we shop will accept dollars or credit cards but since there is a high fee for them, merchants greatly prefer cash – dollars or local money.

How much money should I bring for the trip?

Since your trip fee includes all the necessities, you will need spending money only for alcoholic drinks, guide and driver tips, and textiles and souvenirs that you decide to buy.

There are many exciting and beautiful textiles, yardage, and fashionable clothes to take home with you! Bring as much cash as you can afford to spend, or that you’ve budgeted for, and plan on using a credit card for any large unplanned purchases like rugs or vintage suzanis. You can always return to the US with any extra, un-spent dollars.

What sort of food will we be eating?

Uzbek food is fresh and delicious. There is an excellent variety of salads without lettuce, including grated carrots, beets, and other fresh choices. Chicken or beef kebabs are popular and delicious. There are some good hot and cold soups, such as a cold yogurt and cucumber version, so refreshing in warmer months. Lagman is a delicious thick noodle soup with bits of beef.

Other popular dishes are samosas, meat or vegetable-filled pies baked in a round tandoor oven, and the Uzbek national dish called Plov. Typical blue-collar lunch plov mixtures served from huge cauldrons are greasy but other healthier and delicious plov versions include lots of yellow and orange carrots, garbanzos, and raisins. Uzbekistan is famous for fresh-baked bread and bakeries. Every meal starts with fresh bread, sometimes with grilled onions incorporated (my favorite!).

Will I be able to accommodate my dietary needs?

If you have any special dietary, health, or nutrition issues, restrictions, etc, there is no guarantee that Behind the Scenes Adventures will be able to accommodate your special diets in foreign countries. Please contact us before departure, and bring sufficient alternative foods. Travelers with severe peanut allergies cannot be accepted. Vegan diets are possible but with much less variety than at home. Vegetarian diets are often fairly easy to accommodate, but also with less variety than what is available at home.

Flights & Travel

Will I need a visa for connecting countries?

It is very rare to need a visa for a connection if you stay in the Transit area. This will be regulated by the connecting country and the airline will send information as to this requirement.

Will I be met at the airport?

Yes! Cynthia, an assistant or a driver will meet you with a sign with your name and/or Behind the Scenes Adventures. They will have your flight schedule and know you will need time to pick up your luggage. Wait for them in the terminal, right outside the Arrivals area, and don’t go with any other drivers that don’t have your name on a placard.

What are the requirements for my passport to be valid?

Your passport needs to have one blank page for your visa, although, with an E-Visa, you will have just a piece of paper to show, and don’t need room for anything except Immigration stamps in your passport.

What is the best airline to fly to the country?

You will need to get to Istanbul, Turkey, then connect to Tashkent. There are non-stop flights to Istanbul’s fabulous new airport from SFO and LAX, and perhaps other major cities. Try to get a non-stop flight; it’s much easier not to have to change planes. Some flights connect in Istanbul for an hour or two, then continue directly to Tashkent – easy!

I found good deals on Expedia.com with Turkish Airlines which is very good; they are a partner of United. Turkish and United are the airlines I always use but from your home airport, there may be other deals with other airlines such as Delta and Air France, etc.

What will we use for transportation?

We use a Mercedes Sprinter for most interior transportation. It is high-topped and spacious, and our luggage is stored in the back, or on top if we amass extra bags along the way. (This is another reason we must start with a luggage limit.)

With a small group, we may use a Chevrolet SUV (made in Uzbekistan!) for the whole trip. Vans and buses are not allowed on the route from Tashkent to Ferghana Valley, so we will go in Chevy SUVs. And we will take the modern high-speed train, from Tashkent to Samarkand and on to Bukhara.

We may also fly on one interior/domestic flight from Urgench (Khiva) back to Tashkent, on Turkish Airlines or Uzbek Airways. If not we will use the van on this route also.