Join Central Asia explorer and Trip Leader Roger Williams to discover the magic of the most far-flung destinations of “the Great Game,” as the 19th century diplomatic rivalry between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia was known. Roger is a veteran of this fabled realm and his long-time friendships here bring us fascinating cultural opportunities as we journey from western China’s Xinjiang Province to northern Pakistan's Hunza Valley, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. We begin in the former Silk Road trading post of Kashgar, with its world-famous Sunday market, then explore dazzling Hunza, known for its spectacular Karakoram Mountains and the warm hospitality of its residents. We then cross the mountains of Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan on a high, remote road amid the lakes and glaciers of the High Pamirs. One highlight along the way will be gazing into the once-forbidden Wakhan Corridor, a buffer zone between Tajikistan and Afghanistan created during the Great Game between Russia and Britain. Here the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Pamir ranges converge in spectacular fashion and we’ll meet the semi-nomadic Wakhi and Tajik people who herd their yaks beneath snow-capped 20,000-foot peaks. Come along and feast your eyes on phenomenal scenery, visit ancient sites that few travelers ever see, and meet the Uighurs, Hunzakuts, Tajiks, and Wakhis, whose rich cultures are deeply tied to this desert and mountain realm. Note: We do plan to visit the Hunza Valley, but if conditions are not right, our alternative itinerary visit brings us to the former Silk Road hubs of Turpan, Khotan, and Yarkand in China's storied Takla Makan Desert.
Each day was a new adventure. We felt as though we were totally in another world, especially in the mountain communities of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
— Carole M., Versailles, KY
Kashgar, China / Tashkurgan
Explore this famously isolated city, launching pad for many Tibet, Pamir, and Karakoram expeditions in the 18th and 19th centuries. We roam the amazing Sunday Bazaar, which still throbs in the heart of Kashgar, and other sites including the green-tiled tomb of Abakh Khodja, a powerful 7th century ruler of Kashgar. On Day 4, head to beautiful Karakul Lake then over Subashi Pass to Tashkurgan at 12,000 feet.
Khunjerab Pass / Hunza Valley
Cross the breathtaking Karakorum Mountains into northern Pakistan’s spectacular Hunza Valley, an independent princely state for some 600 years. Hunza’s main town, Karimabad, lies in the shadow majestic snow-covered Rakaposhi (25,501’). In our days here, we visit local homes, tour ancient hilltop forts, enjoy walks along the ancient hand-dug water channels that irrigate the valley’s apricot orchards, and soak up the mountain and glacier views. On Day 11, we head back to Tashkurgan, China.
Kashgar / Irkishtam Pass, Kyrgyzstan / Murghab Valley, Tajikistan
Returning to Kashgar, we then head to Kyrgyzstan, crossing Irkishtam Pass (9,679’) and contouring below the high Pamirs to Tajikistan, with vistas of Pik Lenin and the snow-capped Pamir Range. Stunning Pamir panoramas, ancient geoglyphs, and interactions with shepherds make our journey fascinating.
Khargosh Pass / Wakhan / Khorog / Kala-i-Khum
Traveling along the banks of the Oxus River, we enter the Wakhan region of Tajikistan, where the mighty peaks of the Hindu Kush come into view. The green Wakhan Corridor was created during the Great Game by the British Empire to act as a buffer against Russian ambitions in India. We meet the Wakhi and Tajik people of Wakhan and continue through Badakhshan Province to the pleasant town of Khorog and onward to teh outpost of Kala-i-Khum.
Dushanbe / Khujend / Tashkent, Uzbekistan
After visiting Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, we enter Uzbekistan and explore Tashkent before departing on Day 26.
Alternative Non-Hunza Itinerary for Days 4-12
If it does not seem wise to visit Hunza for any reason, we instead explore the oasis-cities of the southern Silk Road. We start with Turpan, home to some of the most important Buddhist cave sites in Asia, and the fascinating sites of Khotan, a magnet for Chinese traders even before the Silk Road days, and Yarkand, once an important stop for the Silk Road's cashmere trade.
Urumqi / Turpan / Bezeqlik Caves
Explore Turpan, set in the Takla Makan Desert and famed for its grapes, melons, and canteloupes. We visit the spectacular Thousand Buddhist Caves at Bezeqlik, dug out of the high cliffs about 400 AD.
Khotan / Yarkand
Khotan, still a bustling center of silk production on the edge of the Takla Makan Desert, once lay on the Jade Route between China and Mesopotamia, which eventually became the southern branch of the Silk Road. We visit silkworm production facilities and jade-carving centers then journey to Yarkand, an oasis watered by the Yarkand River and a major Silk Road center. In Yarkand's Old Town, we see Uighur craftsmen working in wood and metal andstroll the streets amid traditional food vendors. Yarkand was the capital of the Uighur kingdom in ancient times.
Kashgar / Tashkurgan
Head to Kashgar for a day to explore the markets, then journey up the Karakorum Highway to beautiful Karakul Lake, with views of Mustagh Ata (24,278'), continuing over Subashi Pass to Tashkurgan (12,000') in the high Pamirs. Return to Kashgar on Day 12 and resume original itinerary.