Last week, I completed an amazing week-long tour around Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in collaboration with G Adventures.
Let’s begin with my 2 minute recap-video from the trip!
I just finished an incredible 7-day tour with G Adventures across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and put together this video of my favorite moments!
It was honestly one of the best trips of my life — we trekked through mountains, slept in villages, wandered around the ancient cities of the Silk Road, visited markets, went in mosques, learned how to cook local food, and spent time with the lovely people.
I can sense that Central Asia is going to be the next hotspot region (like South East Asia) in terms of tourist attractions and accessibility, because the countries are safe to visit, very affordable and have an authentic culture that hasn’t been overrun by tourists. Have you ever been to Central Asia?!
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Music: Audio Autix
Posted by Drew Binsky on Friday, July 7, 2017
As many of you probably know from reading my blog, traveling on a group tour is not my normal approach. With the exception of North Korea (when a group tour was mandatory), this was actually my first time ever on a group trip!
And honestly speaking, I have nothing but great things to say about adventuring through Central Asia on a group tour. It was a nice change of pace from solo travel — to have everything organized, especially in countries where it’s not-so-easy to get around alone (without speaking Russian).
For the first time in a while, I was traveling 100% stress free.
But above all, my favorite part about traveling on a group tour was making new friends from all over the world!
We had 11 people on our trip, including our guide Nika, and we came from 7 countries and 6 continents. How awesome is that?!
We represented Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Portugal, Germany, and of course, the USA.
The tour actually is a month-long in total, stating in Almaty, Kazakhstan –> Kyrgyzstan –> Tajikistan –> and ending in Uzbekistan. But I just joined in the middle because I didn’t have enough time for a full month of travel.
Given that the trip was in June & July, the middle of summer – it was VERY HOT outside. Especially in Uzbekistan, where the average temperature was around 107F (43C) – I wasn’t prepared for the extreme heat ! But it didn’t stop us from having a great time, and I can’t wait to tell you more in the remainder of this blog post.
Here were the highlights of Tajikistan & Uzbekistan day-by-day:
Day 1 – Solo Arrival in Tajikistan
I flew into Dushanbe on my own, the capital of Tajikistan, and had an easy by myself wandering around the city.
I got a nice tour from the guy in my hotel, and made a fun video about my day, which you can watch below!
Be honest, could you tell me anything about #Tajikistan?
I couldn’t tell you much either, before arriving here yesterday… My first day wandering around Tajik’s capital city of #Dushanbe was off-beat and eye opening. I was stopped by the police TWICE for taking photos & videos (I don’t know why).. so it was a challenge to make this video! Dushanbe is a very different place than anywhere I’ve ever been (in a cool & unique way), and I’m excited to see more of it!
Keep your eyes peeled for tons of new content coming from Tajikistan & Uzbekistan with G Adventures.
Posted by Drew Binsky on Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Day 2 – Dushanbe
I met with the crew, and we had an organized tour of Dushanbe. To me, Dushanbe was quite empty and resembled Astana, Kazakhstan in regards to the downtown area, with all the monuments located side by side in an imaginary line.
But most travelers don’t come to Central Asia for city-life – they go for the nature and history, which Tajikistan has plenty of!
We ate dinner at a great local restaurant, when I was able to try the local specialty called shashlik, a tender grilled lamb kebab served on a stick. It was awesome!
By night, we stumbled upon an annual festival of peace, with live music, parades and streets flooded with happy Tajik people.
Day 3 – Head up to Northern Tajikistan
We woke up early to head to the Northern countryside. It was about a 5 hour drive in total (including stops). We had private drivers and 3 mini vans to transport us around, which were surprisingly comfortable for a long drive.
We stopped a few times on the way to admire the incredible nature. This photo was at Lake Iskandarkul, a magical wonderland with nobody around!
We also stopped before entering one of the longest (and so-called most dangerous) underground tunnels in the world! It’s 10km long and connects the cities of Dushanbe to Khujand. It’s pitch black inside and completely saturated with toxic car fumes, so if your car breaks down inside, you might not make it out alive.
By early evening, we arrived in the village and at our guesthouse. This place was absolutely magical. I never imagined Tajikistan to be so incredibly beautiful – it surely doesn’t get the same hype as a place like Patagonia, but the mountains are on par with the best I’ve ever seen.
I spent all evening playing with the local kids, who eagerly came to greet us when we arrived and were so happy to show us around (despite not speaking any English).
Day 4 – Villages of Tajikistan
I woke up early to catch the sunrise, and then joined the group for a 4 hour trek around the mountains.
As I mentioned earlier, the Tajik nature is jaw dropping and some of the best I’ve ever witnessed. Rugged mountains, giant rock formations, canyons, fast river rapids (which looked like category 5 for rafting), suspension bridges, luscious greenery and wild cows, donkeys and horses roaming around. It felt like I was on a movie set.
The best part about the trek was stopping in a tiny village made of complete stone. All of the houses were build one-by-one with medium-size stones on a hillside, and the entire place must have had 30 people living in it.
We were welcomed into one of the homes, where the lady gave us bread, cheese and tea. We learned about their local customs, traditions and way of life.
I loved watching the local Pamir song and dance show, which was put on by a man playing a hand-made guitar with two-strings, and his second wife (it’s normal for men to have 4+ wives at the same time).
I really enjoy visiting villages because it takes me back in time and makes me appreciate the things I have in life. It’s also refreshing to see how the locals live such happy lives without any materialistic goods. No phones, TVs, cars, or Internet. Not even hot water or electricity.
We trekked back to our guesthouse and relaxed the rest of the day.
Day 5 – Drive to Khujand, Tajikistan
An early start to the day led us further up north to the second-biggest city in Tajikistan called Khujand. It was about a 6 hour drive, on a crazy road through the high mountains which reminded me exactly of “Death Road” in Bolivia! If the driver drifts 1 foot off the dirt road, then our car would go falling down 2,000 feet into the valley.
We made a few more stops in an ancient city called Istaravshan, to see the ruins of the temples and learn about the destruction of the city by Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire, and also the history during the Silk Road. I was greeted by these cute kids who speak perfect English at one of the Mosques, and they gave me a tour around!
By 3PM, we arrived in Khujand and checked into our hotel. We had organized tours of both the national Tajik museum and a city tour, when we walked all around town.
For dinner, we headed to this fantastic local restaurant for some more shaslik (lamb kebabs) and some local beer.
After dinner, we strolled around town at night and it was full of life and energy! I really enjoy how in Central Asia cities come alive when the sun goes down, because everyone is hiding in the hot sun during the day!
Day 6 – Border Crossing to Uzbekistan
In the AM, we headed to the biggest local market in town called Panjshanbe market. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me!
I love visiting markets. In my mind, it’s the best place to capture locals going about their daily lives. I can see how the people interact with each other, how they dress, what they eat, and how they negotiate. I can smell the cuisine, see the colors, and hear the action of it all.
I spent an hour walking around the market, and was able to capture some great photos and videos.
After the market, we jumped in our mini vans and headed towards the strict Tajik/Uzbek border.
When we arrived, we had to say goodbye to our local drivers and guides, and we walked 500 meters in “no mans land” from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan in the blistering hot sun of 100+ degrees F.
I was surprised how strict it was to enter Uzbekistan. Not only was the visa very hard and expensive to obtain, but the process of entering is very bureaucratic. We had to declare and tell the price of EVERY electronic item and all jewelry that we are bringing into Uzbekistan. Also, we had to write down exactly how much currency we were bringing in, and we aren’t allowed to leave the country with more than we came in with.
Anyways, we finally entered Uzbekistan and boarded our bus to the capital city of Tashkent. Our hotel, called Hotel Uzbekistan, was very Soviet-esque (as it was built during the Soviet Union), but it was in a great location in the center of town.
You can see our hotel behind this monument!
We had a night walking tour of Tashkent before heading for Karaoke in the night!
Day 7 – Tashkent & Samarkand, Uzbekistan
I actually parted ways with G on this day, but I had an extra day to spend in Uzbekistan so I wanted to make the most of it! I ambitiously took a day trip to the ancient city of Samarkand, located about 300km away from Tashkent. I woke up at 6AM, arrived there at 10AM, toured around for 4 hours and then came back to Tashkent by night.
Samarkand was magnificent, and I learned a LOT about the Silk Road and the history of Uzbekistan. Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, dating back to the 5th Century BC. It was a huge meeting place for trade on the Silk Road, and has been conquered numerous times by different world powers.
The best part about Samarkand is the architecture– with blue-tiled domes, mosques, mausoleums and citadels scattered around town. I couldn’t get enough of the details in these buildings, and all the blue tiles! I’d never seen anything like it before in my life.
Day 8 – Last day in Tashkent
I wandered around Tashkent in the morning before anyone was awake, and then headed to the airport after one of the best trips of my life. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are some of the most beautiful and humbling places I’ve been, and I can’t wait to go back to Central Asia again!
Disclosure: I was invited on this trip by G Adventures, and received financial compensation from them during the trip. As always, this post was written by me and is honest from my own personal experiences.