Along the Golden Road From Samarkand: A Journey through Central Asia. Cancelled in February 2020. The journey will be re-organised for 2021.14 - 28 April, 2020

Central Asia
Trip Dates:
14 - 28 April, 2020
Trip Price: £3230 including international flights
Single Room Supplement: £320
Trip Length: 15 days

Originally caravanserais on the Golden Trade route across Central Asia, these fabled cities developed into thriving centres of commerce and culture. Under the ferocious medieval warriors Genghis Khan and then Tamerlane and their descendants they assumed inimitable power and splendour. These great cities were once so remote behind barriers of deserts and mountains that until the demise of the Soviet Union, it was almost impossible to visit them.

The journey begins in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan and continues onto Samarkand. The city was chosen by Tamerlane as the capital of his great empire and he transformed it into the most beautiful city in Central Asia. New buildings rose out of the desert, built of mud brick and faced with ceramic tiles in every imaginable shade of blue. Explore this remarkable city of soaring minarets and domes of glistening turquoise and cobalt blue. In the 14th century Samarkand’s observatory and mosques became intellectual gathering places for astronomers, poets, theologians and architects. The city contains some of the finest examples of Islamic art and many of its architectural styles became models for the rest of the Islamic world. Continue onto Bukhara which was an important staging post on the network of caravan trails which criss-crossed Central Asia. Although famous for its rugs, it was as ‘Divine Bukhara’ with its hundreds of mosques, madrasas and minarets that the British diplomat-poet, James Elroy Flecker and the Muslim world remembers it. Crooked alleys wind irregularly between the walls of clay-built houses and the men still wear colourful striped coats, knee high leather boots and patterned turbans.

From Bukhara, the party will cross the great Karakum desert of Turkmenistan and travel to Merv. Explore the ruins of this city which until the Mongols devastated this great Islamic capital in the 13th century, was the second most important city in Islam after Baghdad. From here take a short flight to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Once a sleepy unremarkable provincial Soviet city, today Ashgabat is being transformed into a fantasy of white marble palaces, futuristic buildings, soaring apartment blocks and large fountain complexes. It is like no other city in Central Asia. Nearby is the ancient city of Nisa, seat of the Parthian Kings a their height in the 3rd century and now a UNESCO listed site. From Ashgabat fly north to Kunya Urgench which at times between the 11th and 14th centuries was the most important city in the Islamic world and is the most important archaeological site in Turkmenistan along with Merv.

The journey finishes amidst the marvellous city of Khiva, an ancient walled city. This is an open-air museum, more intact than either Samarkand or Bukhara. It is a maze of mosques, palaces, religious schools and homes, most of them enclosed within an area less than one mile square. Return to Tashkent for the direct flight back to London. 

The journey is open the Alumni of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and their family and friends. Please note that Distant Horizons has sole responsibility for the operation of this tour. The participating University has no direct control over the operation of any tours.

Maximum Party Size: 20

Trip Leader: Professor James Allan

James Allan is Professor of Eastern Art and has spent most of his career in the Ashmolean Museum, first as the curator responsible for the Islamic collection, and latterly as Keeper of Eastern Art. For two years he then ran an Interfaith Exhibition Service for the Museum. He established the first graduate degree course in Islamic art, and taught Islamic art in the Oriental Faculty until his retirement last year. He has lectured and written several books  on Islamic architecture and minor arts. His latest book is called "The art and architecture of Twelver Shi'ism: Iraq, Iran and the Indian Sub-continent".He has accompanied a previous and very successful Alumni journeys to Central Asia for the Alumni

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Along the Golden Road From Samarkand: A Journey through Central Asia. Cancelled in February 2020. The journey will be re-organised for 2021. Trip Comments:

‘I have nothing but praise for every aspect of the trip... The cities we visited were utterly fascinating, allowing us to understand much about the history of the region and to appreciate many features of its architecture. This was our first taste of the Alumni Travel Programme, and it has certainly encouraged us to consider taking part in another trip.’
‘The pre-departure information was excellent. It was wonderful to eat in restaurants and private houses rather than hotels. We felt we were meeting local people much more and seeing how they interact.’
‘I am just writing to say how delighted and impressed my wife and I were by our journey through Central Asia and Iran. We were very impressed by the evident thought which had gone into every detail, every location for meals, every picnic stop and every site visited.’
‘I would like to emphasise what a wonderful guide Fatima was. She really looked after us and her enthusiasm for her country was infectious. We really enjoyed the opportunity to eat in private homes; we were apprehensive about this but it worked out really well and we enjoyed the entertainment provided.’