When: Sep 19—Oct 02
Tour Leaders:
Activity Level:

Silk Road Odyssey: The Trek to Central Asia

In 1880-1881, five wagon trains of Mennonites left European Russia and headed east to Central Asia along the famous Silk Road. Seeking freedom from conscription and new economic opportunities, this group went east instead of west to North America as 18,000 did a decade earlier. In the last decade, new details of the Great Trek have emerged in the remarkable Silk Road cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. Amidst the splendor of the Islamic architecture and often mountainous landscape, the Mennonite Great Trek story will emerge through journals and letters of trekkers, archival documents, and current reflections. Tour leader John Sharp is a retired college history and Bible professor whose passion for and knowledge of the Mennonite Great Trek along the Silk Road will give you valuable insight into this chapter of Mennonite history. John has led several five tours to Central Asia and has forged relationships with locals in Central Asia who will give you insight into Uzbek life and culture.

At A Glance

  • September 19 – October 2, 2021
  • 14 Days



Sunday, September 19   Istanbul

After a long day of travelling, arrive in Istanbul and make your way to the hotel. Take part in a tour orientation to get to know your tour leader and travel companions.

Monday, September 20      Istanbul

Built under the direction of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and dedicated in 537 C.E., Hagia Sophia’s cathedral is an architectural gem featuring great marble pillars, a main dome, and stunning windows. Across the way, the still-functioning Blue Mosque gets its name from the blue tiles that cover the interior walls. See the ancient underground Basilica cistern. Later today, see the traditional Christian and Jewish quarters of the city and if time permits, visit the Bulgarian steel church—built entirely out of cast iron. While on a Bosphorus cruise, see some of the iconic sites of Istanbul, including the Golden Horn, a horn-shaped estuary that links the Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara.

Tuesday, September 21    Istanbul

Continue touring houses of worship, as you visit the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent—one of the most beautiful and majestic of the Imperial mosques. Newly renovated, it features a great dome, gorgeous stained glass and ornately carved wooden doors. Visit the Kariye Museum. Take a stroll through an Egyptian Spice Bazaar. End your day in the air, on an evening flight to Tashkent.

Wednesday, September 22      Tashkent

Arrive in Tashkent, the ancient capital of Uzbekistan, where Mennonites migrating from Russia on the “Great Trek” spent the winter of 1880-81. Rest in the morning, then take an afternoon city tour for a glimpse of this city’s modern sites and hear about its 2,000-year-old history. Catch glimpses of Independence Square and view an ancient Quran in the Hazrati Imam mosque. John will read from historic “trekker” journals and talk about the Mennonite experience. During dinner in a Krgiz dzurta, (a traditional yurt), we will enjoy traditional cuisine, interfaith dialogue and explore Uzbek cultures and worldviews.

Thursday, September 23     Samarkand

Today, we travel through the Zarafshan Valley to the Silk Road to Samarkand, one of the oldest cities in the world, known as the Pearl of the East. Marvel at the city’s famous madrasahs, minarets, and, of course, the celebrated Mausoleum of Tamerlane which is richly decorated with carved wood and mosaics. See the Ulugbek Observatory, an important research site built in the 1420s, which helped ancient astronomers predict eclipses and calculate the length of a stellar year to be 365 days, 6 hours, and 10 minutes. View the Registan, a former public square dominated by three distinctive Islamic madrasahs. Evening engagements may include a conversation on intersections of faith traditions with local people of faith.

Friday, September 24     Samarkand

Enjoy another day in Samarkand to explore more of the sites. Visit the Samarkand paper mill to see a manual production of papermaking. It is an ancient traditional style of papermaking based on old Samarkand technologies.  Visit other sites as time permits.

Saturday, September 25    Zirabuloq

Today, drive to Zirabuloq, where Mennonites spent nine months debating their final destination and leadership and interacting with Muslim villagers. Visit the Kyk-Ota Mosque, shared with Mennonites. Here Mennonites worshipped, baptized, married, and held funerals. Enjoy a local celebration featuring traditional foods and games.

Sunday, September 26     Bukhara

Begin the day with a walking tour of the city, founded in 500 BCE. It was once the centre of trade, scholarship, culture, and faith. During the golden age of the Samanids in the 9th and 10th centuries CE, Bukhara became the intellectual centre of the Islamic world. See well-known sites like the Ismail Samani Mausoleum in Samani Park, and the Chashma-Ayub Mausoleum. Walk to the Ark, a massive fortress that contains a small town. See the Kalan Minaret, as well as ancient madrassahs and mosques. Once inside, visit the Juma Mosque and the Reception and Coronation Court where Mennonites petitioned the Khan for permission to settle in his territory. Experience the first shopping malls of the Silk Road, the multi-domed markets along the route where merchants led their camels. Spices, silk scarves, carpets, woodcarvings and jewelry are available to purchase in these ancient domes. For dinner, savour authentic Uzbek cuisine and then enjoy a cultural show in an ancient caravanserai.

Monday, September 27     Bukhara

Enjoy another day of exploration in Bukhara. After a day of exploration, relax at the Folklore show in the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah.

Tuesday, September 28     Khiva

Continue the exploration of this ancient city. In the afternoon, we will leave this ancient city for another one, Khiva. We travel through the Kyzylkum (Red Sand) Desert to the ancient walled city of Khiva – one of the most remote cities along the Silk Road. From the comfort of our coach, we will learn about the struggles that the Mennonite trekkers endured as they crossed this harsh landscape. In Khiva, learn about and discuss significant contributions made by Muslim scholars such as Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā Al-Khwārizmi, a Persian intellectual born around 780 who is credited as the founder of algebra.

Wednesday, September 29     Khiva

Our day begins with a short drive to Ak Metchet, a quiet village where Mennonite families were invited to settle after enduring raids by the Turkoman tribes. We’ll hear villagers recall the devastating Mennonite deportation from Ak Metchet to Tajikistan in 1935 and the women’s heroic resistance. Return to Khiva this afternoon, and visit the Itchan-Kala Museum, which features the history of Mennonites in this city. At Nurullabai Palace, view beautiful artifacts created by Mennonite craftsmen for the Khan (king) of Khiva.

Thursday, September 30     Khiva

We continue our exploration of Khiva and visit with scholars to learn about the writing of a history of Mennonite who lived here, the first by an Uzbek. We will meet Mr. Karimov who had prepared an exhibit on German-speaking Mennonites who brought culture and agricultural expertise to this region—but because of the government’s fear of religious extremism, it never opened to the public. With a new government in place, the Ichan Kala exhibit on the Akmetchet Mennonites was opened for the first time in 2019 and we will have special opportunity to visit it. In the evening we’ll have time for interfaith and intercultural conversations.

Friday, October 1     Tashkent

After a flight back to Uzbekistan’s capital, freshen up, rest, walk the streets or browse local shops at your leisure. Then, return to the hotel for a final meal together. Share memories and reflections from the trip and say farewell.

Saturday, October 2

Depart for home cities.


WATCH a presentation from our virtual museum and archive tour with tour leader John E. Sharp about the Mennonite migration from Russia to Central Asia.

LEARN MORE about historical heritage in Uzbekistan and see more of modern Uzbekistan.


Check the pricing page for what is included and excluded in the tour fare.

For further information, please contact us. We would be happy to be of assistance.

Click here for a printable PDF of the tour itinerary and costs (currently not available).