An 18 day tour with Christopher Gardner
A spectacular traverse of the fabled Tien Shan, which stretch for fifteen hundred kilometres from Uzbekistan to western China and encompass a rich variety of landscapes and habitats from alpine turf to steppe and pencil spruce forests. These support a tremendous diversity of flora from vast drifts of primulas and trollius to the elegant spires of foxtail lilies and fabulous alpines that encrust the slopes of high passes reaching nearly four thousand metres. Woven into this are traces of the old Silk Road, especially the magnificent architecture of Samarkand, but also the remote caravanserai and ancient petroglyphs left by the ancestors of nomadic peoples that still spent their summers herding livestock in the vast mountain wilderness.
Cultural pre-tour 27 to 31 May
Day I & II To Samarkand via Tashkent
Fly to Tashkent arriving early on 28 May. and then travel by express train to Samarkand. Then, a tour of the fantastic monuments of Samarkand, including; magnificent fluted dome of the Gur-i-Amir, the medrasa complex of the Registan, the fabulous blue-tiles of Shah-i-Zinda and the Observatory of Ulugbeg. Overnight Samarkand.
Day III Ammankutan & Shakhrisabz
To the south of Samarkand lie the granitic extension of the Hissar Range where at this season beautiful Eremurus olgae, Dianthus uzbekistanicus and Delphinium semibarbatum will be flowering. From the pass we can see the birthplace of Timur (or Tamerlane) and we'll descend to visit the impressive blue-tiled Kok Gumbaz mosque. Overnight Samarkand.
Day IV Bukhara
A morning express train will take us swiftly across the steppe to our second Silk Road city, Bukhara. On arrival we'll check in and then begin our walking tour of this compact and fascinating city. Overnight Bukhara.
Day V Bukhara & to Tashkent
We will continue our tour of the city, or having relaxed time to shop and sightsee. In the early afternoon we’ll take our fast train to Tashkent. Overnight Tashkent. We will join the main tour the following morning.
Main Tour 31 May - 17 June
Day 1 Journey to Tashkent
We will travel to Uzbekistan via Istanbul and arrive in the early hours of Day 2.
Day 2 To Ugam-Chatkal
In the morning we’ll drive up to the cooler climes of Ugam-Chatkal nature reserve. gives us the chance to explore developing meadows as well as to try and reach any late snow patches where Tulipa dubia or T. x tschimganica might still be present. However, the main beauty we hope to find is the stunning fine-lined Iris korolkovii, which grows on the ridge above our hotel amidst bright yellow Phlomoides fulgens. Overnight Beldersay.
Day 3 & 4 Ugam-Chatkal
Two day hikes into the green hills of the western Tien Shan take us into botanically rich areas. In the Chimgan Valley are the impressive spires of Eremurus robustus that burst from shrubberies of honeysuckle, flower-drenched roses and spiraea. Alongside are purple-pink Allium barsczewskii, billowing masses of Vicia cracca and abundant plumes of creamy Polygala undulatum. Upper birch groves have cerise Paeonia hybrida and rocky slopes with Dictamnus albus and Linum olgae, maybe even the odd late Tulipa dubia. Overnight Beldersay.
Day 5 To Aksu-Dzabagly, Kazakhstan
After breakfast we’ll drive to Tashkent and cross the border into neighbouring Kazakhstan. From here we transfer across the steppe peppered with Alcea nudiflora and Convolvulus pseudocantabricus to the small village of Dzabagly. Overnight Dzabagly.
Day 6 & 7 Aksu-Dzabagly Nature Reserve
Two full days will be spent exploring the flower-rich meadows and alpine slopes of this superb reserve. Near snowpatches will be Iris willmottianum and hopefully Allium karataviense, whilst on nearby rocks clings the lovely pink Primula minkwittsiae. The meadows will already be in full swing with Delphinium confusum, wine-red Aquilegia atrovinosa, Linum olgae and many bushes of Rosa fedtschenkoana, whilst rocky slopes have Dictamnus albus, blue Allium caesium and the lovely Morina kokanica. The upper meadows have drifts of orange Trollius altaicus mingled with pure white Anemone narcissiflora ssp protracta. Overnight Dzabagly.
Day 8 To Talas via Mount Manas (Kyrgyzstan)
Today we enter our third country, the mountainous Kyrgyzstan and after completing the border formalities we'll head across steppe coloured by big pink mounds of Acanthophyllum bungei. A side road climbs onto the northern flank of 4484-metre Mount Manas where we'll picnic amid rocky slopes with Campanula alberti, Eremurus fuscus and Scutellaria przewalskii. We overnight in Talas, the site of a pivotal battle in the history of the Silk Road, when the Arabs defeated the Chinese and captured their silk-making craftsmen. Overnight Talas.
Day 9 Otmok & Ala Bel Passes
Fields are coloured with yellow and red poppies and to the east the Otmok Pass has abundant alpines and herbs with Viola altaica, Trollius komarovii, Chorispora macropoda and golden Tulipa dasystemon. Incredible populations of lilac-pink Primula algida colour the high turf of the pass, where we will also find many Dracocephalum nutans, swathes of orangey Trollius altaicus, Allium fedtschenkoana and pink Pedicularis alberti. Lower areas of steppe have Scutellaria adenostegia, Phlomoides speciosa and purple Phlomides oreophila mingled with the dainty drumsticks of Polygonum nitens and rank upon rank of Eremurus fuscus. Overnight among the spruces at Chitkan.
Day 10 To Kochkor
Recrossing the Ala Bel Pass and more of it's floral magnificence, we then traverse extensive pastureland to the high Tor-Ashu Pass, where the slopes are clothed in deep pink Paeonia hybrida (depending on the season) and an assortment of tall herbs. Crossing the grassy steppe we pass numerous photogenic yurts and herds of horses before we enter rugged gorges with spectacular scree slopes and coloured rocks, which the lovely Chesneya ferganica calls home. There are some impressive old graveyards, abundant Iris halophila, Clematis songaricus and the curious deep-red Lindelofia stylosa alongside stands of Ligularia grandifolia and fields of Thermopsis turkestanica. Overnight Kochkor.
Day 11 Song-Kul
Surrounding the huge expanse of Song-Kul are alpine areas rich in flowers. Below the pass the incomparable Trollius lilacinus flowers near snow patch with Tulipa heterophylla, T. dasystemon and deep purple Allium atrosanguineum, whereas rocks overlooking the limpid waters of the lake are encrusted with saxifrages, androsaces and dracocephalums. Descending from the lakeland plateau we find Primula brotheri, Doronicum turkestanicum and Corydalis gortschakovii. Overnight Naryn.
Day 12 Tash Rabat
A classic remnant of the old Silk Road the restored caravanserai at Tash Rabat embodies the harsh realities of travel along the road. Nearby cliffs have the refined beauty of Paraquilegia caespitosa and Cortusa brotheri, whilst hidden waterfalls have tumbling masses of Clematis alpina subsp. sibirica and Ligularia narynensis. Overnight Naryn.
Day 13 To Tamga
A delightful little valley full of Dactylorhiza umbrosa, Codonopsis clematidea and Primula matthioli amongst other things interrupts the drive to the immense Issyk-Kul, the lake at the heart of the Kyrgyzstan. Peculiar dark brown parasitic Cynomorium songaricum burst from the bare ground among a host of new steppe flowers at the colourful Fairytale Canyon, a complex of red, orange and yellow rocks and clays. Overnight Tamga.
Day 14 Barskoon
A high, wide and wild plateau lies between mountain ridges, where drifts of Trollius lilacinus and golden Ranunculus albertii colour the wet turf and clumps of Allium semenovii nestle near the many alpine tarns. Heavy screes have countless Callianthemum alatavicum, and the localised gem Desideria flabellata whose lilac-pink flowers appear with intense magenta Primula nivalis. Overnight Karakol.
Day 15 Chonashu Pass
A diverse botanical mixture sees first tall meadows with Aconitum leucostomum, Polemonium caucasicum, Codonopsis clematidea, Veratrum lobelianum and wine-red Aquilegia atrovinosa before we climb to the high pass with screes peppered with Chorispora bungeana, Aster alpinus, androsaces, saxifrages, and Corydalis fedtschenkoana. Views from the pass are spectacular. Overnight Karakol.
Day 16 East of Issyk-Kul
Travelling east towards Kazakhstan the steppe changes character with new species appearing. Rock bluffs have the impressive Allium carolinianum, fimbriate Dianthus crinitus, delphiniums, ligularias and the flat lands where the two countries meet have lush meadows thronging with Dactylorhiza umbrosa and louseworts. Overnight Karakol.
Day 17 Journey to Bishkek
We follow the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul stopping to look at the petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata and the Burana Tower as well as fine displays of Alcea nudiflora. Overnight Bishkek.
Day 18 Flights home
A mixture of landscapes, flora and culture.
Day 17 Charyn Canyon
In complete contrast to the green mountains we head down to the rich orange hues of the impressive Charyn Canyon and we will have ample time to explore the convoluted conglomerate cliffs with tufts of Echinops nanus. Overnight Charyn Canyon. before continuing across the expansive steppe and past a large tract of ancient ash forest and we will visit the grove of thousand year-old tree that lines the Ily River. Overnight Altin-Emel
Day 18 Temirlik & Singing Dune
Continuing across the expansive steppes we reach tract of ancient ash forest, a habitat that was once far more widespread in the region in wetter times. Here we will visit the grove of thousand year-old tree that lines the Ily River. Reaching Altin-Emel in the afternoon we will have time to visit the famous singing dune that rises abruptly from the semi-desert steppe. Overnight Altin-Emel
Day 19 Altin-Emel National Park
Flowers take a back seat today for the truly extraordinary landscapes of this spectacular park where instead we enjoy richly-hued eroded hills, canyons and semi-desert environment. Overnight Altin-Emel.
Day 20 Tamlyk Tas
An early departure sees us crossing the Altin-Emel mountains and flower-lined roadsides with swathes of purple Salvia deserta. Diverting from the main road we head across undulating steppe to the remarkable petroglyphs from various cultures that are carved on the rocks at Tamlyk Tas. Overnight Almaty.
Day 21 Flights home