Day 1: Arrive Beijing
Beijing is an incredible contrast of sights, sounds and smells, and a wonderful beginning to this overland journey. This evening you join your Tour Leader and fellow travellers at 5:00pm for your Welcome Meeting as detailed on your joining instructions.
Day 2: Beijing and on to Xian
So rich in history our time in Beijing is filled with unforgettable experiences. Today is no exception when we journey out to the Mutianyu section of China's Great Wall before we board the first of our Silk Road trains onto Xian.
Day 3: Xian
At the height of Silk Road prosperity Chang'an, as Xian was then known, was the glittering capital of ancient Cathay. For over 400 years the great caravans left the safety of Xian through the West Gate bound for the Taklamakan Desert, the high passes of the Tien Shan Mountains and the fabled cities of Central Asia. Today the old city walls, towers and pagodas reveal the city's long and turbulent history. Beyond the city we see the mind-boggling, entombed Terracotta Warriors. You will be astounded at the display of thousands of life-sized terracotta warriors, a hundred or so chariots plus thousands of weapons.
Day 4: Xian to Dunhuang
Heading west in the footsteps of the traders centuries before us we enter Gansu province for a stop at Dunhuang.
Days 5: Dunhuang
Known as Shazhou in ancient times, Dunhuang served as a rest stop for traders on the Silk Road and as well as a gateway through which Buddhism, Islam and Christianity entered China. At Dunhuang, we visit the incredible 'Caves of a thousand Buddhas' (Mogao Caves).
Day 6: To Liuyuan and onto Turpan
Today we travel by road to Liuyuan before rejoining the train to cross the sea of dunes to Turpan, famed for its great trestles of vines and its channels dug beneath the desert bringing water from the Tien Shan.
Day 7: Turpan
Turpan, one of the most significant hubs of trade along the northern route of the Silk Road, still reflects life as it was and the faces of the bazaar recall the four corners of Asia. Most of Turpan's attractions lie outside of the city and its grapevine-trellised pedestrian streets. While here we embark on an excursion to the fascinating Karez Irrigation System, the life source of Turpan as well as the ruins of the ancient city of Jiaohe. This is a spectacular site, and due to its remote location perched on top of a cliff, it remains mostly intact.
Day 8: Turpan to Kashgar
After breakfast we return to the station to meet our overnight train to Kashgar.
Days 9- 10: Kashgar
One of the most important Silk Road cities, Kashgar took centre stage in the 'Great Game'. We learn of the intrigue when disguised spies from British India were sent to closely monitor Muslim sentiments, and Russian intentions; both perceived threats to their Indian empire.
Today, Kashgar's Sunday Market with its incredible characters and riot of colour, is worthy of its reputation as one of Central Asia's best. Listen out for "Boish-boish" (coming through) or risk being ploughed over by a pushcart. It is a chaotic but unforgettable experience.
Day 11: Over the Irkeshtam Pass to Sary Tash
Beyond Kashgar lie the high passes of the Tien Shan Mountains, gateway to Kyrgyzstan and the fabled cities of Central Asia. We follow the Silk Road over the Irkeshtam Pass to Sary Tash where we will spend the night getting to know some of the locals in a homestay.
Day 34: Yerevan to Dilijan
Leaving Yerevan shortly after this morning's breakfast we hit the road and head north, bound for the mountain spa town of Dilijan, a region known as the Armenian Switzerland. En route we pause at the serene Lake Sevan, the world's second largest high altitude lake at 1900 metres above sea level. From here we can climb up to Sevanavank Monastery to marvel at the stunning panoramic views across the azure waters before continuing to Dilijan.
Days 35-36: Dilijan and to Tbilisi
Today we wind our way through valleys and gorges to seek out the hidden monasteries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Haghpat and Sanahin before we farewell Armenia and cross the border at Sadakhlo to Georgia, heading for Tbilisi.
Explore the stunning mountain scenery and rich history, culture and hospitality of this fascinating city. Wander the backstreets of Tbilisi's old town and along Rustaveli Avenue as you take in the city's most ambient, impressive monuments and unique architecture.
Day 37: Tbilisi to Gudauri
This morning we make our way via the Georgian Military Highway, where we can see the colourful Russia - Georgia Friendship statue, stunning panoramic views and the Gergeti Trinity Church, as we travel towards Gudauri.
Day 38: Borjomi via Gori
Leaving the mountains we head south towards Borjomi en route stopping at Gori - the birthplace of Stalin.
Relax in the beautiful spa town of Borjomi famous for its mineral springs, national parks, as well as its bottled version of the salty sparking water taken from the local volcanic springs.
Day 39: Vardzia and to Kars
This morning we head towards the Turkish border via Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia. The magnificent cave town of Vardzia is a journey highlight, where a monastery of 3,000 caves runs along a mountain cliff for some 500 metres and stretches over 19 tiers.
Day 12: Sary Tash to Osh
This morning we travel to Osh, one of the oldest recorded cities in Central Asia with over 2,500 years under its belt. Here, Chaikana's (tea-houses) offer refreshing tea, the mouthwatering smell of shashliks sizzling on street side grills fills the air, we visit a bustling bazaar and watch games of chess being played out under the filtered light of sprawling trees welcome to Osh!
Days 15-16: Tashkent and Samarkand
Although much of the Old City was lost to an earthquake Tashkent still retains some of its ancient treasures. This morning's city tour will unveil the charm and history of the city before we drive to 'Golden' Samarkand. Tamerlane set out to make Samarkand the richest city on earth at the peril of those he conquered. Today, it retains its beauty as it was intended with its imposing constructions, azure topped domes and minarets.
In Samarkand, Tamerlane's turquoise-spangled capital, we explore its fabulous monuments. Central Asia's most spectacular architectural ensemble, the Registan, plus many other highlights including the Shah-i-Zinda Complex, Bibi Khanym Mosque and the Ulug Bek Observatory.
Day 14: Fergana and to Tashkent
Continuing our journey we make our way on to the Uzbek Capital of Tashkent stopping en route at the potter's town of Rishton, and one of the country's most ancient cities, Kokand before boarding our train.
Day 13: Osh to the Fergana Valley
Leaving Kyrgyzstan at Dostuk we travel into Uzbekistan and to the rarely visited oasis of Fergana Valley where we visit the silk weaving town of Margilan with its large bazaar.
Days 31-33: Goris and to Yerevan
Crammed between the Caspian and Black Sea is an incredible treasure trove of early Christian monuments set amongst spectacular mountain scenery. En route to Yerevan we stop to admire some of the region's surrounding treasures including Noravank and Tatev Monasteries as well as the breathtaking view over biblical Mt Ararat (weather permitting), the reputed resting place of Noah's Ark. Whilst in Yerevan we enjoy the tree-lined boulevards, cafes, museums and a taste of the city's well-known brandy at the Brandy Factory. Beyond the city we explore the beautiful Echmiadzin Cathedral, the birthplace of Christianity.
Days 17-19: Bukhara via Shakhrisabz
A spectacular drive through the Zerafshan Mountains takes us to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane. Beside the ruined entrance towers of his Ak-Serai Palace, the pretty market town offers a relaxed atmosphere with traditional homes, teahouses and mosques.
Continuing across the Kyzyl Kum Desert we find the mud-brick monuments of Bukhara, arriving late afternoon. Once known as 'holy' Bukhara, it was historically home to more than 2000 mosques. Today Bukhara's monuments are some of the oldest on the Silk Road; the Ark Fortress, Samanid Mausoleum and the Kaylan Minaret one of Central Asia's tallest and so impressive that even Genghis Khan ordered it be spared from destruction during the Mongol invasions.
Take your time here to explore the Old Town and enjoy some of the many chaikhanas (tea-houses) in Lyabi-Hauz, one of the most peaceful and interesting people-watching places in town.
Day 30: Tabriz and to Goris
Early this morning we set off by road towards the Armenian border and onto the town of Goris. The Caucasus region was at the crossroads of trade and conquest today it is renowned for its hospitality, fine wines, spas and incredible mountain scenery.
Day 20: Mary via Merv
Beyond Uzbekistan we cross the Kara Kum Desert to the oasis city of Mary and the ruins of Merv - one of the greatest of all the ancient Silk Road cities.
Day 28: Tehran and to Tabriz
Northwards we spend time in the bustling capital of Tehran - a busy, crowded metropolis which boasts some excellent museums, many housed in former palaces. While some may tell you that this city is lacking in charm, its vibrant, dynamic culture and fast paced lifestyle makes everyday in Tehran an adventure!
Following a day to explore the museums and sights of this expanding city we take the train to the influential city of Tabriz.
Day 27: Isfahan and to Tehran
The morning is yours to soak in the incredible ambience of Isfahan before we make our way to Iran's capital, Tehran.
Days 25-26: Isfahan
After our morning arrival to Isfahan we visit the stunning Masjed-e Imam Mosque, one of Iran's great architectural ensembles, with time to explore the Grand Bazaar, discover some of the city's renowned tea-houses and taste some of Iran's tastiest nougat, an Isfahan specialty.
Day 24: Mashhad and to Isfahan
Best known for its incredible shrine complex of Emam Reza, the eighth grandson of the prophet Mohammed, this is one of the great architectural wonders of the Islamic world and is said to receive more than five million pilgrims a year. Witnessing the respect and emotion present is a moving experience, even for non-Muslims.
We join our overnight train to the beautiful city of Isfahan with its blue tiled buildings and covered bazaar.
Day 23: Ashgabat to Mashhad
This morning we venture into the Kopet Dag Mountains and across the border to the most holy of Iran's cities, Mashhad.
Days 21 - 22: Ashgabat
On our arrival to Ashgabat, a flat, sometimes dusty city twinkling with unique architecture, we will visit Arkadash Stud Farm for an up close experience with pure bred Akhal-Tekke horses, whose beauty, endurance and intelligence have captivated kings and generals since the hey-day of the Silk Road.
The following evening we go beyond the city limits to witness the "Door to Hell'. The Darvaza gas crater has been burning for almost 40 years and was created when Soviet geologists started to drill at the site where they tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. Fearing that the hole would release toxic gas they decided to burn it off with the hope the fire would use all the fuel in a few days, today it is still burning and is quite a sight to encounter.
Day 40: To Istanbul via Ankara
Early morning we depart Kars and start to travel towards Ankara where we will arrive the next morning. Late morning the following day you travel by road from Ankara to Istanbul.
Note: There is track work being done on the railway line between Kars and Ankara. Some travel (around 70kms) will be via shuttle bus until further notice.
Day 29: Arrive Tabriz
Welcome to the historic, sprawling city of Tabriz! Situated at the crossroads of Persia and the Caucasus this is a classic stop along the Silk Road. We visit the 15th century Blue Mosque, one of the most glorious buildings of its era and the fascinating rock-hewn village of Kandovan.
Days 41-42: Istanbul
Adorned with treasure from all periods of human history, Istanbul is not only one of the world's most fascinating places it is also one of its most mesmerising. We spend our last morning of this epic journey exploring Istanbul's must-see sights in Sultanahmet before we say farewell to our fellow travellers and our journey comes to an end.