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  • Reviewed July 2019
    John Atherton

    Silk Road cities and sublime scenery

    Cities tend not to be high on my list of places to visit but I was surprised by the many parks and green spaces offsetting the large buildings and wide roads in all the cities visited. Of course the amazing architecture of the mosques, madrassas, minarets, mausoleums, museums and markets were impressive and interesting – with a wealth of information from both our tour leaders and local guides, all of whom spoke excellent English. The train journeys and the brief ride on the Metro in Tashkent made pleasant changes to the coach travel. Good to see family groups enjoying the warm evenings in pedestrianised streets and squares, parks, local cafes and bars, etc. No litter, no noisy groups of youths, just a nice atmosphere. Though the planned overnight train ride to Kazakhstan didn’t happen owing to international cancellation at little notice, the replacement coach was large and comfortable. In the morning traffic to Almaty many more upmarket cars were on the roads, after very few in Uzbekistan. The short drive out of Almaty with the walk up to the waterfall was a welcome change from the city streets. Then the long drive into the Kyrgyzstan countryside was literally a breath of fresh air; with the vast lake, snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, flower-strewn meadows and leisurely walks. Not forgetting the impressive golden eagle demonstration. I would have preferred more than one night at the Yurt shores of Lake Camp. A couple of days later, an afternoon swim at the “seaside” on the Issyk Kul Lake was refreshing. Inevitable long road journeys were offset by ever changing views, excellent driving, mainly good roads and frequent stops.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The Kyrgyzstan countryside and the happy atmosphere in the city pedestrian areas throughout.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Both Dillshod and Ermek were excellent, knowledgeable and considerate. Different personalities, Dillshod the more experienced.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Drink the local draught beer - it's good and inexpensive. Lots of religious buildings so long trousers/skirt and covered shoulders often expected. Most public conveniences incur a small cost for women and for men, be aware of your currency note value!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    All hotels were clean and comfortable (with good quality loo paper)!
  • Reviewed July 2019
    Sabina Latif

    Minarets, mosques, mausoleums to mountains

    This was a fantastic trip with a real mix of architecture, landscapes and cultures. Lovely tour guides and drivers to help and support. I was astonished by the sheer scale and intricacies of the buildings in Uzbekistan which contrasted with the beautiful snow capped mountains in Kyrgyzstan. My personal highlights were the overnight train and yurt camp experience!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing the sheer scale and stamina of the mosques, mausoleums and madrassahs in Uzbekistan including Registan Square.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    We had 2 group leaders, one for Uzbekistan (Dilshod) and another for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Ermeg). Both were great but in different ways. Dilshod was warm and kind and made us laugh, he was very knowledgeable. He did however give us too much information and it would be better if he slowed down and gave bite size chunks. Ermeg was so open and honest with us and shared his knowledge with us at a really good pace with the right amount of info.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    It is very hot in certain towns in June and July!... there are two hotels with pools so pack your swimming costume... you will need a torch for the yurt camp... take Tupperware or food bags as we have a lot of picnic lunches and most of the hotel breakfasts were really good buffets!
  • Reviewed July 2019
    Sarah Eddington

    Leave the West Behind

    If you want to leave the west behind until the last city on this incredible journey, then welcome to the former Soviet States that make up the silk road. This trip has everything, religion, wildlife, nomad living and amazing countryside and mountains. Forget McDonalds and Burger King, at times you won't even get social media!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    staying in a Yurt high in the mountains, seeing the nomad people living their lives as they have done for 1000's of years

    What did you think of your group leader?

    our group leader was good, and the local guides and drivers were exceptional

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Do not expect western standards, the food is basic at times as are the toilet and shower facilities. There are no home comforts which is what makes this trip what it is. Do not go expecting to get Wifi and social media, it isn't going to happen at times
  • Reviewed July 2019
    Helen Faulls

    The Silk Road

    How special it was to be in the heart of Asia; a world we hear so little of but which is so steeped in history and the cross roads for so many different nationalities. The home of such legendary figure as Timur and Ginghis Khan. The trip explores the wealth of mosques, madrassas, mausoleums, minarets in Uzbekistan and after a brief visit to Kazakhstan (during a curfew due to demonstrations after elections) we journeyed to Kyrgyzstan. Although a poor country it is endowed with the most stunning mountain ranges and the world’s second biggest alpine lake. The elegance of Uzbeki women and the imposing use of space around all the official buildings in the major towns, as well as the spring flowers in the meadows, the bedding roses at Issy Kol and the vastness of the landscape are abiding memories. The brief stroll In the mountains was another rushed lost opportunity. I question the night in the yurt. It was just uncomfortable camping and again no interaction with the hosts. I did laugh at a few hip replacements, pacemakers, westerners’ long legs sprawled across the floor trying to eat. A full day’s walking in the mountains would have been more rewarding. Also scrambling in to a rather apologetic waterfall was also a waste of time. The itinerary was far too tight. Long days were spent in the coach and on a train. We would leave early and not arrive in the next hotel until early evening. Most of the hotels were in the suburbs and combined with the lack of time we had no opportunity to interact with a local people. The area has a wealth of talent in embroidery, weaving, silk work, felt work, and other handicrafts which we had no opportunity to explore in a leisurely manner. This was a huge disappointment both for our own shopping and also the lack of opportunity to support the women who do most of this work. My head is still out there and my reading about the area will continue. I will be back.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Just being in Samarkand and Bukhara.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    We had two guides. One for Uzbekistan, one for the rest of the trip. Very different but both brilliant, knowledgeable, kind and thoughtful. Ermek from Kyrgyzstan is a very exceptional young man. I would also like to give a mention to Maxime our driver for the second half of the trip He was kind, thoughtful, mucked in as part of the team and certainly knew how to drive with the utmost consideration for both his passengers and the bus on some appalling roads. In spite of no English.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Yes! We arrived at 3 am and left at 3 am. This is no way to begin and end hard travel. Book your own flights and allow at least an extra day at the start to acclimatise. Take a fold up nylon shopping bag to avoid endless plastic when buying lunches etc. I was horrified to see plastic bags dumped by Morrison’s had turned up in a Bishkek store.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Exodus needs to work more closely with its subcontractors to develop a better itinerary. Less driving, more time to explore and interact with locals. More picnics, lunches too long and heavy. More time to explore crafts. People do not need to take plastic bottles from the hotels all the time! Water is provided
  • Reviewed June 2019
    Mike Frampton

    The Five Stans - A journey through history and the Central Asian Republice

    A great holiday with plenty of superb sites and stunning scenery. One reason for calling this the Silk Road was that silk was used to pay people. It started with the Chinese needing horses to fight the nomads from the north. By 53BC, Rome was spending half its silver production on silk and other products from the Silk Roads. Rome also had to introduce modesty legislation because of the number of people wearing only silk. Whilst Julius Caesar was invading Britain in 53BC, his friend Marcus Crassus was leading another Roman army to defeat by Persia, in an empire that stretched from modern day Iran to Afghanistan and north to Merv. 10,000 Roman captives were sold at the Merv slave market to the Chinese, to fight on their northern border against marauding nomadic tribes. The ruins of three cities can be seen at Merv, in southern modern day Turkmenistan. The first was built by Cyrus the Great when he created the first Persian Empire. Next to it is the remains of the city built by Alexander the Great and next to that the remains of the city built after the Arab invasion, which was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan 1221 AD, with up to a million people being massacred. Alexander is a hero in Turkmen, after he freed them from Persian rule. In Uzbekistan, Timor is the hero, as he rose from hired sword to ruler of a vast empire, stretching from the Chinese border to Egypt, destroying many armies on the way. He made Samarqand his capital and made it one of the greatest cities. In Tajikistan, it is Cyrus the Great who is remembered, partly because he was murdered there. In Osh, Kyrgyzstan, it is Babur, great great grandson of Timor and founder of the Indian Mughal dynasty who is remembered. Although it is Manus who is the local hero.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Too many. Merv, Bukhara, Samarqand to name three cities. The snow capped mountains, throwing snowballs and sweltering in the heat all on the same day, magnificent lakes, watching flocks of goats and sheep being moved to the high pastures and seeing the yurts of the shepherds. One surprise was the large number of roses and other plants we saw in the first three countries visited.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Very good. Unusually we had both a western leader for the whole trip, as well as local guides for each of the countries visited.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    You may only spend one day in Kazakhstan, but a day time flight home, clouds permitting, gives you the opportunity to see the steppes and the salt pans of this vast country from the air, either through the window (book seat early) or as an alternative to a movie, using the plane's downward looking camera (which is an option in the My Flight screen). On arrival at Ashgabat airport, you have to take your invitation letter to the Visa desk before going to through passport control. The visa fee is also variable, partly depending on the exchange rate. We also found the fee charged to individuals varied from a low of $99 each to a high of about $130 each. Beware of each fresh fruit and salad, it is usually washed in local tap water, which can cause problems. Our costs per person were around: Turkmenistan - 200 Turkmen Manat for food and photo fees (June 2019 rate 4.42TMT = £1) Uzbekistan - 800,000 Uzbek Som for food and photo fees (10,700UZS = £1). Spending in the markets, pottery, silk and carpet shops is extra. Tajikistan - 380 Tajiki Somoni for food (11.93TJS = £1) Kyrgyzstan - 2,000 Kyrgyzi Som for food plus 500KGS for optional Arslanbob jeep tour (88.24KGS = £1) Kazakhstan - 15,000 Kazakh Tenge for food and market visit (481.79KZT =£1) Istanbul/other airport stop overs - don't forget this. Visa fees and tips are extra. Istanbul
  • Reviewed June 2019
    Ann Burnett

    Inexperienced guide

    I have had to give this trip a 2 star because of the guide, although I take no pleasure in doing this. He was inexperienced and quite unfriendly at times. This was my 6th Exodus trip and this was my worst ever guide by a long way. See group leader section.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I absolutely loved swimming in Aidarkul Lake and the desert scenery on the way to and from the yurt. I also loved Samarkand and particularly Shah-i-Zinda.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our group leader Shakh appeared to be inexperienced, he lacked friendliness at times and he showed a complete lack of interest in the fact that I was very badly ill twice. I had arrived a few days earlier (as a solo female traveller) and the day before I met the group I suffered sickness and diarhoea. On first meeting Shakh at the group meeting I mentioned this to him and I could not believe the almost complete lack of interest. In fact, I thought this so unusual, that I repeated myself in case he had not heard. We later went on our tour of Tashkent and I very nearly fainted (as I had not eaten due to the bug). Again Shakh was barely interested, pointed to a door where I could reach the outside and left me to it. Only when the other members of the group asked me if I was OK did Shakh very briefly check on me. A few days after that the bug returned and I was up all night with the worst illness I have ever encountered. The next day I again mentioned this to the guide and he was still uninterested (and no offers of pharmacy stops were made). Other problems with Shakh were:- not having sufficient water for our group in the first few days of the trip (at the desert fortresses we had run out of water completely in the heat and we also run out of water in the morning at Khiva). In fact, at the desert fortresses, I asked Shakh where the water was and he snapped back that he had not picked up the 10 litre bottle yet. As we had driven from the airport at Nukus there had been plenty of opportunity to pick up water. After that I no longer trusted Shakh to provide water and just bought my own to make sure I always had a supply. I have been on 5 other Exodus trips and on all those trips the guide has eaten with the group and the guides have been good/fantastic. This guide did not eat with us on the first night in Tashkent nor the first night in Samarkand and on around 4 or 5 other occasions. He was not always very friendly or smiley, which I think is the requirement of a guide. In fact one time we passed him in the street during our free time and he did not even smile or acknowledge us. The restaurant chosen for our final lunch in Samarkand was appalling in terms of service and again Shakh sat at a neighbouring table. Some of our food took an hour and a quarter or more to arrive and no complaints were made by him, to my knowledge. Then when the bill came the prices had changed markedly, for example the soup price had increased by over 50% and all the other prices had changed. This situation was awful and was handled very badly by the guide. The coach was not always asked to collect us, e.g from right outside the airport, so we were left with quite long distances to drag our cases. This was not really a problem for me as I had a rucksack (albeit a heavy one) but some of the other travellers were in their 70's and I am sure they would have benefited from being picked up. Shakh gave out his mobile number in case of emergency, with instructions NOT to ring him at night. Whilst I am sure most people would not ring the guide at night, emergencies can of course happen at night. On a more positive note Shakh was very knowledgeable about the history and geography of Uzbekistan and I very much enjoyed his commentaries, especially when he told us about his wedding. He also improved as the 11 days progressed (except for the final lunch incident). However I think being completely uninterested in the health of your travellers is completely unacceptable.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Sadly a number of people in our group were ill. Take plenty of rehydration salts. The bread is at least delicious, so you can survive on that! Do get out for a walk in the area around the yurt. I had a couple of little walks and it was so peaceful and the wildlife great.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The itinerary is great for this trip with a lovely combination of nature and cities. I would however definitely check on who is the guide.
  • Reviewed June 2019
    George Garland

    Fascinating Place

    The names of Samarkand and Bukhara have conjured dreams since my school days many years ago and I never thought I would have a chance to see them. The fall of the USSR and now visa-free travel has left this land of desert fortresses, caravan stops and the beautiful buildings covered in ornate blue tiles within reach. The land of Tamerlane, the vastness of the central Asian steppes and the magical cross-roads of civilisations and learning need to be seen to be believed.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Arriving in Khiva and seeing the Silk Road monuments for the first time.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Shah is a young man fairly new to the industry. He is very knowledgeable but lacks some of the finesse and inter-personal skills that come with experience.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Uzbekistan is far easier to enjoy than imagined. Outside Tashkent English is widely spoken, particularly in the tourist industry and amongst the young. With a stay up to 15 days now visa free for tourists from a large range of countries including the UK this is the time to travel before too many people start making their plans and prices start rising.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The final 24 hours was wasted time which was a pity. The hotel in Tashkent was near the airport but 7 or 8 kilometers from the centre. There is no direct public transport between the two and with no Uzbek or Russian language skills travel could have been fraught, particularly as the return journey would be time critical. It would be far better to secure an hotel close to the city centre for the one night.
  • Reviewed June 2019
    H B

    Excellent and varied whistle-stop tour of Central Asia

    Great two weeks in Central Asia. The first week was in Uzbekistan and more focused on the history of the Silk Road and the gorgeous architecture in the three cities of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara whilst during the second half in Almaty and Kyrgyzstan we learnt more about traditional & modern culture, history from different eras and got a taste of the alpine climates in the gorges and beautiful Issyk-Kol lake

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Hard to say given that we saw so much and there was so much variety! Watching a golden eagle train for the hunting season was pretty spectacular. Also we were in Bukhara during the annual Silk and Spice Festival so the city was heaving with Uzbek people and tourists alike experiencing national music, fashion, dance and goods sold all over the streets - it was an incredibly fortuitous addition to an already fascinating place

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Two great group leaders in Dilshod and Ermek; as other people have commented they are quite different personalities but they both made me feel relaxed and well supported throughout the trip with their welcoming and helpful attitudes, conscientiousness and knowledge. Ermek's thoughtful reflections about Kyrgyz culture and Dilshod's tales of growing up in Uzbekistan as a former Soviet state were both very engaging. I don't know how they keep up the energy to help us have such a good time for weeks on end!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Most of the hotels didn't have lifts; the hotel staff and tour guides were very happy to help with carrying luggage but we also needed to load the trains with our suitcases ourselves so it would be worth making sure you're able to lift your luggage without too much difficulty. Furthermore most of the souvenir opportunities were in Uzbekistan so this means anything you buy (that you haven't shipped home) you'll need to carry for the remainder of your trip. Don't think you need to bother with bringing a whole loo roll as the toilet paper at its worst felt like bandage wrap but certainly wasn't rough! Tissues may be more worthwhile as not all public loos had toilet paper. Also be aware that almost all the public toilets had only squat loos, and these weren't always in good condition. You will need clothes for both warm and cold weather as well as rain - I brought something for all these weathers and ended up wearing everything in my suitcase!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    A few suggestions: 1 - given that people might want to do souvenir shopping, and that there are more opportunities for this in Uzbekistan (with the trip being more focused on Silk Road centre points during this part of the tour) maybe it might be worth doing Uzbekistan second rather than 1st to save the carrying the gifts around for the remaining two weeks? 2 - a free day during the trip might be nice if possible to allow people to choose their own activities to do or rest; perhaps this could be in Almaty or Cholpon-Ata? While the hike to Bear Waterfall and Issyk Lake were enjoyable activities I think this is the day I would replace with a free day 3 - the trip notes were slightly outdated; I know our guide has submitted an updated version so think it will be helpful for prospective travellers once this has been filtered down to the website to guide people's expectations further 4 - in both parts of the trip the lunches were sit-down meals; apart from the fact these were normally proper meals (which didn't really feel like we needed) they did take up at least 1.5 hours from the afternoon. I wonder whether it would be better to do more packed lunches and then a group meal in the evening? As per a lot of the other reviews I would say you aren't doing this holiday for Kazakhstan; but I did like Almaty and certainly enjoyed the overnight sleeper train to get there from Tashkent All in all though I had an absolutely fantastic time and I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone wanting a taste of the Silk Road and/or an introduction to Central Asia
  • Reviewed May 2019
    Paul Grundy

    Uzbekistan Uncovered

    A good overview of the country taking in the historic and architectural highlights of Uzbekistan. Transport was Good although it was evident that the train journey was more often than not unavailable. On a personal note, I felt that the group size (16) was too large.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The city of Khiva was the highlight for me. Still relatively unaffected by mass tourism and the locals were pleasant (as they were throughout) and interested to learn about their visitors.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Excellent, well informed and concerned for the welfare of the group.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Go now before mass tourism makes its mark.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The trip notes seemed ‘generic’ and need updating
  • Reviewed May 2019
    Gary Lavin

    Sucessful and Safe

    It was a marvellous trip. Each day was filled with new wonders and excitement. Plenty of wow moments. A visit that was completely safe and rewarding

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The city of Samarkand was full of wonder and genuine WOW moments

    What did you think of your group leader?

    A fantastic and informative tour leader. Very informative and knowledgeable. Exodus are lucky to have him.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Do not miss out. Uzbekistan is a hidden jewel

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Uzbekistan is a very safe place to visit and Uzbeks are genuine, friendly and helpful
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