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Great Rail Explorer

Departing: Beijing, China - 34 days
Countries visited: China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan

From Beijing it's just over 12,000 kilometres to St. Petersburg. Along the way, walk on China's Great Wall, enjoy Almaty in the shadow of the mighty Tien Shan Mountains and follow the great Silk Road to the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.

  

 

Itinerary

Beijing, Gobi Desert and Mongolia
In Beijing you can use your free time to walk through the hutongs to see a traditional lifestyle which is fast disappearing. There's Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven; as well as the Great Wall beyond the capital which we will visit on your first full day. 

Board the Trans Mongolian Express, after views of northern China, the train changes bogies at Erlian to cater for the wider rail gauge used in Mongolia and Russia. We travel through vast expanses of the Gobi Desert and visit Kharkhorin National Park with its majestic Buddhist temple Erdene Zuu before venturing to Ulaanbaatar. Observe nomadic herdsmen tend their animals in much the same way that their forefathers did in days of Genghis Khan. In Ulaanbaatar, see its Buddhist Monastery and admire the views from the Zaisan Memorial.


Siberia and the Kazakh Steppe
Our train continues to Irkutsk. This city has a colourful history dating from early times as a frontier outpost where Mongolian and Chinese traders bartered with local Buryats, and Russians over tea and furs. Later Russians and Poles were exiled here and did much to refine the city. We join the Trans Siberian Railway and skirt massive Lake Baikal en route to Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia and junction for the Trans Siberian and Turkestan railway lines. After time in Novosibirsk, travel via the Turkestan Siberia Railway through the spectacular mountains and the Dzungarian Gate, into Kazakhstan for Almaty, situated on the plains at the crossroads of Central Asia. Today modern skyscrapers, glitzy shopping malls, mosques, Soviet-style official buildings and traditional Russian Orthodox churches vie for attention with the Islamic-inspired Kok Tobe communications tower, and the majestic snow covered Tien Shan Mountains in the background. An overnight train brings us to Tashkent. 


Uzbekistan's magical Samarkand and Bukhara
While Tashkent may well be Uzbekistan's thriving capital, its Samarkand and Bukhara that overland travellers want to see above almost anything else. The beautiful Turkic-style architecture in Samarkand's Registan Square is unsurpassed, but other magnificent turquoise-domed mosques and holy places are serious contenders. Bukhara adds even more mosques, and a delightful old town so typical of both cities. And, the Kaylan Minaret has a few interesting stories to tell as well. Later, we travel back to Tashkent to change trains for Moscow. 


Across Russia - Moscow and St. Petersburg await...
It's 3,800 kilometres across the Kazakh steppe past vast cotton crops, deserts and grasslands to Moscow's Kazan station. Moscow is an exciting city, which has shed is dour, secretive and suspicious past. Today, stores with expensive designer-label goods and prestige cars are everywhere. Take time to see Red Square with St. Basil's Cathedral, the GUM Department Store and the Kremlin just steps away. 

An overnight train is a convenient way to reach St. Petersburg, resplendent with wide boulevards and attractive canals. Be sure to see St. Issac's Cathedral, lavishly decorated palaces from opulent tsarist times and wonderful museums - allow plenty of time for the Hermitage. It's a perfect end to the journey of a lifetime! 

 

Essentials

Group Size
15 maximum, plus Tour Leader

Accommodation
Hotels/Guesthouses - 19 nights (twin share)
Ger - 2 nights (shared)
Train - 12 nights (4-berth)

Meals
Many breakfasts (21) are included. Refer to the Journey Itinerary for more details. 

Travel by
Train: Comfortable 4-berth sleepers for overnight sectors.
There are 10 rail sectors on this journey
- Beijing to Ulaanbaatar (1 night)
- Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk (2 nights)
- Irkutsk to Novosibirsk (1 night)
- Novosibirsk to Almaty (2 nights)
- Almaty to Shymkent (1 night)
- Tashkent to Samarkand (Day train)
- Samarkand to Bukhara (Day train)
- Bukhara to Tashkent (1 night)
- Tashkent to Moscow (3 nights)
- Moscow to St. Petersburg (1 night)
Other: A variety of private chartered and public vehicles are used on the non-rail overland sectors. For 'Scheduled Sightseeing' we generally use small minibuses, and for 'City Exploring' we use local taxis, public transport and go on foot.

Sightseeing
Scheduled Sightseeing is part of the itinerary and includes all transport, entrance fees and English speaking local guide. While too numerous to detail here, extensive "Scheduled Sightseeing" is provided in the following cities: Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Kharkhorin, Khustai National Park, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Almaty, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Moscow & St. Petersburg. Full details are in the Journey Itinerary. City Exploring is further sightseeing outside the itinerary guideline but with the Tour Leader.

Visas
Required for China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan & Russia. Sundowners Overland will provide all required invitation letters and full visa support, including detailed visa guidelines.