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Best of the 'Stans and Silk Road adventures

Uncover Central Asia's past and present

Since the collapse of the USSR, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are emerging one by one as promising destinations for off-the-beaten track adventures, and World Expeditions offers more Central Asia and Silk Road tours than ever before. These five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, collectively known as the ‘Five Stans’, are one of the most diverse parts of the world, entwined with history and legacies that forged their civilisation as we know it today.

Central Asia consists of a spectacular sweep of mountains, deserts, valleys and steppe; from ancient towns to oases of modern cities. The entanglement of ancient trade routes, popularly known as the Silk Road, were corridors for cultural, economic, intellectual and religious exchange that became the rich tapestry which connected the Orient to the Mediterranean, and the past to the present.

Weave your way through these historic trails on the Silk Road – including Tashkent's famous museums of Tashkent, the fabled city of Samarkand, Merv's sprawling archaeological site, the magnificent Summer Palace of Bukhara and Kashgar's colourful markets. Or, trek or bike deep in the mysterious lands of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, complete with high mountain sceneries and alpine meadows, few have traversed.

Trace the fabled Silk Road towns

Follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great as he swept across Central Asia. Visit the Silk Road oases of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara and marvel at Registan Square, the ‘jewel in Central Asia’s crown’. Discover the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia and witness of some of the oldest towns in the world with ancient mosques and citadels, colourful bazaars and highly-adorned mausoleums, while the spectacular landscapes of Tajikistan include highlights such as the stunning Iskander-Kul lake in the little visited Fann Mountains.

You can also start your ancient Silk Road journey from its source in Xi'an, China. Visit the enormous Tibetan monastery at Labrang, the Buddhist frescos in the Mogao Caves and the serene 'Heaven Lake' deep in the Tian Shan mountains before making your way to Kashgar, Tashkent, Khiva and Samarkand.

Ornate interior at Bukhara's Bolo Hauz Mosque |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

Western China & Rainbow Mountains

This short 6-day adventure in a remote part of far western China is packed full with places of historical significance. We take you to hike on a part of the Great Wall that appears to be overhanging from a cliff - it was once a strong military defense system. We explore what is known as the world's largest underground art gallery at the Wei Jin Tombs and enjoy a traditional dinner in a yurt. But there is more to discover along this part of the Silk Road. For example, you'll be mesmerized by the rock formations of soaring towers and vertical cliffs as we hike through Binggou Danxia (pictured) and of course the colourful Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye Danxia!

Hike the trails winding through the Binggou Danxia Geopark

From Uzbekistan to Iran

Traces the western section of the legendary Silk Route through an ever-changing landscape to the heart of Central Asia and gain a rich sense of the region’s intricate history. Travel overland from Tashkent to Samarkand; through to Bukhara, which boasts 2,500 years of vibrant history; then explore the ancient Silk Road town of Merv. Attend the Sunday camel market at Ashgabat and as you enter Iran, diverge from the traditional Silk Road route with visits to Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis (the summer capital of the vast Persian Empire), before concluding your journey in capital Tehran. It's widely considered as one of the most epic journeys on earth.

Local man in Isfahan, Iran |  <i>Bec Leorke </i>

Trek in Tajikistan

Tajikistan is a part of the world undeservedly forgotten and rarely visited by outsiders. See the colourful panorama of the so-called ‘Siama crown’, representing four mountain peaks in one crown, marvel at the impossibly beautiful Bolshoe Allo Lake and witness the ‘garden of stones’ at the Zindon Gorge. From there, travel in the spectacular Pamir Mountains, often referred to as the ‘Roof of the World’; cross lakes, pass villages that are dotted around these remote parts and stop by the Garm Chashma hot springs. If you have a month to spare and are up for a challenge, venture on an exploratory trek through the mountain fortresses of Gissar, Fann and Pamir.

Trekking amongst the high peaks of the Pamirs Fann Mountains |  <i>Chris Buykx</i>

Kyrgyzstan & the Tian Shan Mountains

Despite its mystique, landlocked Kyrgyzstan only gets a few thousands of visitors every year. This trip takes you trekking in the little-known Heavenly (Tian Shan) Mountains, which cover 80 percent of the country, giving Kyrgyzstan the nickname ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’. Explore the lonely beauty of Son Kul and Issyk Kul lakes, situated on a treeless mountain plateau, and learn more about a nation whose lives are shaped by sheer peaks, swift horses and majestic glaciers.

The road between Naryn and Bishkek winds its way through spectacular valleys |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan by Bike

Are you looking for an exhilarating mountain biking adventure with a twist? On this trip you will enjoy two days of heli-biking as you cycle across the grasslands of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, once part of the Silk Road, dotted with nomads and yurts. The helicopter will drop you off at altitudes of 3,500m for an unforgettable yet daunting descent (1,300m!) on switchback trails and forest dirt roads back to your base at the remote Karkara Valley  complete with a traditional sauna and a bar.

Dropped at the lofty height of 3500m for the descent back to camp in Kazakhstan

Pamir mountains trek with Silk Road highlights

Joining in the ‘Stone City’ of Tashkent, this trip sees you trekking off the beaten track on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border: through the Pamir-Alay Mountains, over the Alayski Range and on to the Base Camp of the mighty Peak Lenin before taking in some of the Silk Road’s most famous highlights, such as the largest – and most crowded – outdoor market in Central Asia, which has been operating since the Great Silk Road period.

Base Camp Lenin Peak

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