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Silk Road Railway

Departing: Istanbul, Turkey - 30 days
Countries visited: Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan & China

Can you imagine how those early Silk Road traders felt as they set off from Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), on their long journeys to the distant empire they knew as Cathay? Today, the journey is easier but just as incredible and the sights you'll experience will be equally amazing!




Days 1-12. Istanbul to Ashgabat 
Early Silk Road explorers set out from Constantinople to follow the “golden road” of trade to Central Asia and the distant empire known as Cathay. Today the journey is far more comfortable, but no shorter! Following our time in Istanbul (as Constantinople is now known) we cross the breadth of Turkey for Tehran - the capital of Iran.

Tehran is a busy, crowded metropolis and the country's most cosmopolitan city. Isfahan is next with its wondrous blue-tiled buildings and the stunning Masjed-e-Emam Mosque - one of Iran's greatest. There's time to take in the Grand Bazaar, and some of the city's atmospheric tea-houses before boarding the train for Mashhad, famous for the shrine of Emam Reza - the eighth grandson of the prophet Mohammed which is one of the Islamic world's greatest architectural wonders. 

Across the Kopet Dag Mountains we find Ashgabat - Turkmenistan's capital, a city badly damaged by an earthquake in 1948, and rebuilt in Soviet style. 

Days 13-18. Bukhara, Samarkand and the Taklamakan Desert
We see the ruins of Merv once the second city in the Islamic world before crossing the Kara Kum Desert for Uzbekistan's Bukhara - a city of grand mosques, the Ark Fortress, Samanid Mausoleum and the Kaylan minaret, the only building to survive Genghis Khan's destruction in 1220. The old town is well worth exploring, and the Chailkanas (tea-houses) inviting. 

Beyond the Kyzyl Kum Desert lies Samarkand - another gem of the Silk Road. Once the ruler Tamerlane's capital, with its centrepiece the famed Registan - a collection of ornately carved turquoise-domed buildings - three madrassas and a mosque - guaranteed to leave even the most jaded traveller gazing in awe. Onwards to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent where we have a brief opportunity to enjoy the splendour of this old Soviet city. 

Days 19-26. Kazakh Steppe and Uighur Heartland 
From Tashkent we cross the border to Kazakhstan where our train journey takes us to Almaty, passing the occasional now-derelict Silk Road town. Nestled in the foothills of the mighty Tien Shan Mountains, Almaty offers an enjoyable change from the desert landscapes of Central Asia. The long-delayed Sino-Soviet Peace Railway has finally been completed and we take full advantage of it to cross through the Dzungarian gate bound for China's Xinjing Province home to China's Muslim Uighur population. Snow-capped peaks can be seen for most of the year at the border post of Druzhba (meaning Peace), prior to the downhill run into Urumqi. We pause to explore the oasis town of Turpan, which still reflects life as it was along this part of the Silk Road. Early travellers reported that it was once two towns - the smaller of Chinese inhabitants, the larger of Turks. These days, the faces in the bazaar recall the for corners of Asia. A train takes the tour across the vast Taklamakan Desert for Xian. 

Days 27-28. Xian and to Beijing 
At the height of Silk Road prosperity Chang'an, as Xian was then known, was the glittering capital of ancient Cathay. Today the old city walls, towers, pagodas and incredible Terracotta Army reveal the city's long and turbulent history. 

Our final overnight train carries us from the most easterly gate of the Silk Road to Beijing. 

Days 29-30. Beijing - the adventure is complete
The Chinese capital brings different perspectives and aromas, most evident in the hutongs (back street lanes) of the old town with their food stalls and street vendors. Our incredible journey is capped with sightseeing including Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall. 



Group Size
15 maximum, plus Tour Leader

Hotels/Guesthouses - 21 nights (twin share) 
Bus - 1 night
Train - 7 nights (4-berth)

Breakfast (22), Dinner (1).

Travel by
Train: Comfortable 4-berth sleepers.
There are 5 rail sectors on this journey
- Isfahan to Mashhad (1 night)
- Shymkent to Almaty (1 night)
- Almaty to Urumqi (2 nights)
- Turpan to Xian (2 nights)
- Xian to Beijing (1 night)
Other: A variety of private chartered vehicles (China, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan & Iran 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.

Scheduled Sightseeing is part of the itinerary and includes all transport, entrance fees and English speaking local guide. While to numerous to detail here, extensive "Scheduled Sightseeing" is provided in the following cities: Beijing, Xian, Turpan, Almaty, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Ashghabad, Mashhad, Isfahan, Tehran, and Istanbul. Full details in the Journey Itinerary. City Exploring is further sightseeing outside the itinerary guideline but with the Tour Leader.

Required for China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey (depends on nationality). Sundowners Overland will provide all required invitation letters and full visa support, including detailed visa guidelines.