When: Sep 17—Sep 30
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 splendour 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 tours to Central Asia and has developed relationships with locals who will give you insight into Uzbek life and culture.

At A Glance


  • September 17 – 30, 2023
  • 14 Days

BookPricing

Itinerary

September 17     Istanbul

After a 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.

September 18     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, 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. 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. Later, take a stroll through an Egyptian Spice Bazaar.

September 19     Tashkent

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. Enjoy a stroll through the historic Greek neighbourhood of Fener (Phanar) where its labyrinthine streets are lined with old wooden mansions, churches and synagogues that date back to the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Here, we will also visit the Orthodox Liturgy in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George, which for Orthodox believers is the equivalent of St. Peter in Rome for Catholics. Nearby is Balat, the historic Jewish Quarter that, during the Byzantine and Ottoman times, epitomized the climate of inter-religious coexistence that has always characterized this city. The last site of the day is the Steel Church of Bulgar. End your day in the air, on an evening flight to Tashkent.

September 20      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 this morning, then take an afternoon 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.

September 21     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.

September 22     Samarkand

Enjoy another day in Samarkand to explore more of the sites. Visit the Samarkand paper mill to see manual papermaking production in an ancient traditional style. Visit other sites as time permits, such as a carpet factory, Prophet Daniel’s tomb, Siab bazaar, and the Afrosiab museum and settlement.

September 23    Zerabulak

Today, drive to Zerabulak, 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.

September 24     Bukhara

Relax on the drive from Samarkand to Bukhara. Take 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.

September 25     Bukhara

Enjoy another day of exploration in Bukhara. Visit Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa, the former summer residence of Bukhara’s last emir. This is a unique site combining Oriental and Russian Architecture. Later, visit of Bakhouddin Naqshbandi ensemble, the famous Sufi shrine and Chor-Bakr Necropolis.

September 26     Khiva

Today, depart 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.

September 27     Khiva

Our day begins with a short drive to Ak Metchet, a quaint 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.

September 28     Khiva

We continue our exploration of Khiva to learn about the history of Mennonites who lived here. This evening, enjoy a cultural show at a summer palace.

September 29     Tashkent

After a flight back to Uzbekistan’s capital, freshen up, rest, walk the streets or browse local shops at your leisure. Later, learn how to make delicious Uzbek food over fire and coals at a cooking class. Get dressed up in traditional outfits (and Eastern makeup for the women) and pose for photos! Share final reflections and bid your fellow travellers farewell over your final meal together.

September 30

Depart for home.

 

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.

 

FAQs

Q: How much walking will I do on this tour?

A: This tour is rated as “Active”. Expect up to 2-3 hours of walking each day including well-paced walking tours with regular breaks. Read more about our activity levels here.

 

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.