• Ibisbill

    In the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan, the gem in these majestic elevations is this wonderful Ibisbill. This unmistakable wader has a decurved crimson bill with a distinctive head pattern, but still, they can be a hard find when they silently forage in shingle-bed mountain rivers. On our tours to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, they are a definite highlight for any birder.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Kyrgyzstan mountains

    This Kyrgyz herder is busy with a team of horses, a scene we come across frequently among the nomadic peoples of this region. More interesting maybe is the hat, named Kalpak the herder is wearing. In Central Asia, the hat has a sharp tapering to resemble a mountain and is used to protect from the bright sun or cold. Might you like to purchase one for home?

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • ancient places

    When strolling through Samarkand, the capital of the Timurid empire, a visit to Registan Square is an unforgettable experience. In this complex the Ulugh Beg Madrasah was built in 1417 by the grandson of Timur, a madrasah is an Arabic word for any educational institution; in most cases, they had a religious purpose. The exterior decoration is made of turquoise tiles organized into geometrical and epigraphic ornaments. A must-visit for anybody with interest in Central Asian history!

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Bearded vulture

    The Lammergeyer or Bearded Vulture is a beautiful unmistakable large raptor with a unique diet dominated by bones; they prefer older bones with high-fat content. They even have been observed consuming the pellets of Eurasian Eagle Owls to obtain the bones within. Smaller bones are swallowed as a hole while larger bones are dropped from a considerable height while flying.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Tilla kari madrasa

    The Registan square consists out of three madrasahs built at different times. The last one to be made was the Tilla Kari Madrasa, and it became the centrepiece of the square with the ceiling being laid in gold, merely being utterly enthralling. We stand in the middle of the dome and wonder into the past…

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Silk road cities

    An early morning rise sees us depart for the Registan square once more. We will focus on photographing the square using either wide-angle or zoom lenses to get the desired results and effects. When the sun shines his first rays of light over the complex, we will enjoy the best lights and no crowds.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 

KYRGYZSTAN & UZBEKISTAN: A photographic journey on the Silk Road!

Located in the heart of Central Asia, Kirgizia represents one of the most exciting mountain areas on the planet - the Central Tien-Shan Mountains. Located on the northern flanks of the Himalaya mountain range, several of its peaks tower above 7000 metres (Pobeda stands at 7439 m). This trip will cover many of the key nature reserves signature to this region and we will encounter many of the dazzling plants and animals they protect. This trip assures for incredible mountain scenery, an overwhelming array of flora & fauna, splendid birding, and large numbers of butterflies. All of this takes place in the kingdom of one of the planet’s most endangered species – Snow Leopard. Significantly, this tour offers fantastic opportunities for photography.

On this epic journey, you will have the support of an experienced wildlife and landscape photographer who will teach and guide everyone relevant to their level of expertise. Come the end of this trip, you will undoubtedly have an improved set of tools and a direct result in your pictures. In the field, your guide will coach each person on new or adapted techniques to improve his or her approach to a subject. If you are a real 'beginner', you will return home with a set of pictures you may not have dreamed of. For the more advanced photographers, we hope you will notice a broadening of your skill level. In either case, all participants will have a wonderful collection of photographs by the end of this tour!

For the non-photographers, this is a trip that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is so much to see and discover – beautiful scenery covered with gorgeous wildflowers, attractive birds, bright butterflies and exquisite dragonflies – all in combination with the backdrop of an intriguing nomad culture. An alternative program will be available to those who wish at times when any photographers require a longer session to secure that ‘perfect’ shot.

Uzbekistan is a country steeped in history. In ancient times it was a vibrant region of splendid cities and cultures based along the Great Silk Route to China – a true crossroads between east and west. The country has a wealth of fabled historical sites in Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara where ancient civilisations have travelled and fought for dominance in Central Asia over thousands of years. Superbly intact and incredibly beautiful, extravagant ancient architecture will be all around us. There is also a short-list of exceptional birds to be found. Several species at the western edge of their range in Asia such as Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Long-tailed Shrike, Rufous-naped Tit and Pied Bushchat mix with local specialities such as Pygmy Cormorant, White-tailed Lapwing, Ménétriés's Warbler, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Hume's Lark, Yellow-breasted Tit, Persian Nuthatch, Finsch's and Variable Wheatears, White-throated Robin, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Clamorous Reed-Warbler. At the top of the ‘most-wanted’ list is the enigmatic and curious Pander’s Ground Jay, readily found in the stony deserts of Kizzyl-kum.

European birders have been enjoying these stable countries and the fantastic wildlife and history they offer ever since they gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. RBT operated its first and highly successful tour in 2007. We are sure that participants will be delighted with this extraordinary central Asian experience.

Highlights

  • Admire the breathtaking Golden Dome of the Mosque in the Registan square.
  • Follow the footstep of ancient traders on the legendary Silk Road!
  • Breath the air and leisurely stroll the streets of the ancient center of Bukhara, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Enjoy ideal conditions high op in the mountains at the shores of Lake Son Kol, ideal for night photography.
  • Good chance on Mountain, Banded and Clouded Apollo during our Macro Workshop in the Ala-Archa National Park.
  • Astonishing photographical opportunities throughout, both wildlife, landscapes and cultural.
  • Yellow-breasted Azure Tit, Ibisbill, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are just some of the myriads gorgeous birds that we come across.
  • Amazing mountain scenery which is among the finest in the Himalayas.
  • Master the disciplines of macro and landscape photography during our excellent workshops in Ala-Archa and Son Kol.
  • The tour is led by our Rubythroat photography, and widely acclaimed, specialist Ed Michels.

Itinerary

  • Flight from your home to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

  • Arrival in Bishkek. Leisurely day with an introductory meeting scheduled at 16h00.

  • Visit to Ala-Archa National Park with a scheduled Macro Photography Workshop.

  • We leave Bishkek behind us and depart for our first looks at Lake Issyk-Kol. A transfer day to Karakol with mesmerizing landscapes.

  • Full day excursion to the unique Chon Ashuu mountain pass; wildflower abundance!

  • We spend a full day photographing the intriguing red deposits of Yeti Oguz in different lights and compositions.

  • Transfer to Lake Son Kol, located on a high-grassland plateau. Again, the drive up is stunning!

  • We plan a landscape photography workshop, depending on weather conditions. On day 9 we return to Bishkek.

  • We transfer from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan by air followed by a transfer on day 11 to Samarkand.

  • In the early morning we visit the Takhtakaracha Pass and the afternoon will be devoted to imaging the glorious city of Samarkand.

  • We continue our journey along the Silk Road to Bukhara. In the afternoon we plan an excursion exploring the UNESCO city center of another ancient city.

  • Full day photographing the wonderful town of Bukhara. For those interested we plan a birding excursion to the Kyzyl-Kum Desert for Pander’s Ground Jay. On day 15 we return to Tashkent by high-speed train.

  • Our final day is a journey into the lush hills of Chimgan. Some enigmatic birds like Yellow-breasted Azure and Rufous-naped Tit occur. In the evening a large final dinner party is planned in a authentic restaurant in Tashkent.

  • Departure from Nur-Sultan Airport towards home.

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Costs: $2,500 or €2,200 excluding international flights to/from Kazakhstan

Group size: minimum 4 and maximum 10    Single supplement: $330 or €290

Deposit: $480 or €420   Leader: Ed Michels

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Spaces Available

What’s Included?

  • Expert English-speaking Rubythroat wildlife guide throughout.
  • 15 nights of comfortable accommodation
  • Full board meals in restaurants or picnic lunches in the field, depending on the itinerary. Water distributed by need.
  • Transportation from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan
  • All land transfers by comfortable Mercedes Sprinter
  • Visa support (if needed)

What’s excluded?

  • International flight to/from Kazakhstan
  • Personal expenses; laundry, telephone costs etc.
  • Alcoholic drinks.
  • Extra rooming not mentioned in the itinerary.
  • Meals on day 1.
  • Single room accommodations.
  • Travel and health insurance.

MAIN FOCUS:

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PHOTOGRAPHY

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BIRDS

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LANDSCAPES

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CULTURE

 

MENU:

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CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE

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RUSSIAN CUISINE

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EUROPEAN CUISINE

 

WEATHER:

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SUNNY

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DRIZZLE

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15-35 °C

 

 

SPECIES:

135-180

 

DIFFICULTY:

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EASY

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ACCOMMODATION:

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COMFORTABLE

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Extended Tour Program

September 18-19, Day 1-2: Arrival in Bishkek.

Clients depart from home towards the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. Clients need to be in the hotel in Bishkek before 1600, August 31. An introductory meeting with your leader is scheduled for this time. The introduction will give your leader the chance to introduce you with your fellow participants, provide the latest information on this trip and tell you more about the daily routines. A presentation on macro photography follows the meeting. All will take place in our hotel in Bishkek. For those wishing to arrive earlier, please contact the RBT office which will gladly help with any additional hotel bookings. 

NIGHTS: Day 1, en route.
NIGHTS: Day 2, Comfortable tourist hotel, Bishkek.

macro photographymicro photography

September 20, Day 3: Ala Archa; macro photography worhkshop.

After an early morning departure, we will make our way to the splendid Ala-Archa National Park, located only 40 km south of Bishkek. Upon arrival we will begin an informative field workshop in macro photography. The verdant valley of Ala-Archa abounds in meadows, and brooks harbouring a great diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects. This diversity and abundance will allow for great opportunities to experiment with macro photography. Our workshop the previous evening is the perfect preface to aspects of depth of field, perspectives and equipment that we will be focusing on today. In this spectacular park, large coniferous trees provide suitable habitat for Greenish Warbler, Hume's Warbler, Rufous-naped Tit and Azure Tits. Along the wild running river, we will search for the most beautiful songster of the region, the Blue Whistling Thrush! Some of the notable butterflies here include Mountain, Banded, and Clouded Apollo – three of the seven species of apollo we can encounter in the park. In the evening, we return to our comfortable tourist hotel and discuss our results while enjoying a cold drink and a lovely dinner.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Bishkek

September 21, Day 4: Bishkek to Karakol.

We start our venture with a long drive eastwards to the largest city in eastern Kyrgyzstan, located close to the border with China. We will arrive in this former Russian military outpost, now called Karakol, in the early evening. During the drive  we will have our first looks over the Issyk Kol Lake. Issyk Kol is the second largest saline lake in the world and is set against a backdrop of beautiful snowcapped mountains. The lake never freezes, hence its name 'hot lake' in the Kyrgyz language. Before reaching the Issyk Kol, we will stop amongst a range of fascinating dry mountains. This is a perfect opportunity for some landscape photography as the mountains contrast dramatically with the lush corridor of vegetation along a fast-flowing river nearby. Also en route, in Balykchy, we will encounter local salespeople selling dried fish, typically showcased on rustic wooden racks. Our accommodation in Karakol is a fantastic guesthouse which will be our home for three nights.

NIGHT: Greenyard Guesthouse, Karakol.

September 22, Day 5: Chon Ashuu.

Today we ascend to great heights with an excursion to the Chon Ashuu Pass – the highest pass we visit during this tour of Kyrgyzstan. At a dizzying 3822 metres, we will leave the tree line behind us and search for a unique set of flora and fauna. On the drive up we pass through meadows full of Veratrum lobelianum, blue Polemonium caucasicum, purple-blue Campanula glomerata, and wine-red Aquilegia atrovinosa. A nearby whitewater river holds both White-bellied and Brown Dipper. Overhead, Lammergeyers may be observed patrolling, while the lush meadows below are home to one of the strangest waders in the world; the elusive Ibisbill. As we ascend further, Papaver croceum and Geranium collinum become increasingly abundant. Eversmann ́s Redstart together with Himalayan- and Brown Accentor are quite common up here while the gorgeous White-browed Tit Warbler may need some more time to find, as is the case with his colourful friend the Güldenstädt's Redstart! Along with the spectacular wildlife, the landscape here is for sure the star of the day! In the evening we will return to our lovely guesthouse in Karakol, where another flavorful dinner awaits.

NIGHT: Greenyard Guesthouse, Karakol.

September 23, Day 6: Yeti Oguz.

We start our day with a short drive towards the site of Yeti Oguz. The name is derived from the rock formation’s resemblance to seven bulls, and a legend about a khan's (a Central Asian Lord) unfaithful wife! This unique geological formation of sheer cliffs is composed of tertiary red conglomerates. The rock formation is a well-known landmark in Kyrgyzstan and is a national symbol. On the nearby meadows, we find stands of Dictamnus albus, Codonopsis clematidea as well as Leontipodium fedtschenkoana and Polygala hybrid. Further into the park, we will observe Central Asian Marbled Whites fluttering by, and Blue-capped Redstarts actively foraging, along with Greenish Warblers. We will drag ourselves away, before a final night in our comfortable guesthouse.

NIGHT: Greenyard guesthouse, Karakol.

mountain landscape photosmicrophotography

September 24, Day 7: Karakol to Son Kol.

We will have a final short exploration of Karakol before farewelling our hosts and moving on to another gorgeous Central Asian lake – Son Kol. On our way to Son Kol, we will visit the exceptional Fairy Tale Canyon which is comprised of convoluted multi-coloured clay hills and inclined strata. The birdlife here is abundant with 'phoenicuroides’ Black Redstart, Mongolian Desert Finch and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush just some of the species we might come across. The country around Son Kol is heaven on earth, but the drive up to this high grassland plateau (at an altitude of 3016 m), is perhaps just as special! The alpine grasslands are home to Steppe Horned Larks and the more common Eurasian Skylark. Some of the rocky formations here hold good numbers of cute White-winged Snowfinch, while both Yellow-billed and Red-billed Choughs patrol overhead. In the late afternoon we arrive at the lake where we overnight in a traditional yurt. These felt made tents have been the portable dwellings of Central Asian nomads since Genghis Khan's armies roamed the steppes. 

NIGHT: Son Kol Yurt Camp.

September 25, Day 8: Son Kol; landscape photography workshop.

We wake up today surrounded by birds and gorgeous flowering plants in one of the most intriguing landscapes of Central Asia, or Asia for that matter. Here, large numbers of ‘calcarata' Citrine Wagtails (a black-backed form of this stunning looking bird) forage between grazing yaks. Today we have planned a day-long workshop with landscape photography the topic. As with the earlier macro seminar, we start the evening before with a presentation on the subject – informative for beginners and professionals alike. We will place ourselves at a stunning vista with beautiful scenery just before sunrise. Your guide is there to assist everyone with their camera settings, the use of gradient filters, and different approaches to produce that desired shot! After this early morning exercise, we will get some breakfast and return to the fields to shoot more pictures of the stunning scenery. The surroundings give us so many opportunities to improve our skills and go home with a set of brilliant images of Kyrgyzstan.

NIGHT: Son Kol Yurt Camp.

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September 26, Day 9: Son Kol to Bishkek.

Today is primarily a transfer day back to the capital Bishkek, re-tracing our steps from Son Kol. During the drive we will familiarize ourselves once more with the common lowland species such as Rose-coloured Starling, European Roller and Lesser Grey Shrike. We will arrive in Bishkek in time for a refreshing dip in the pool after the drive. We prepare for our flight to Uzbekistan the following day.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Bishkek.

September 25, Day 10: Bishkek to Tashkent.

Depending on the available flight schedule, we depart from Bishkek Manas Airport for the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. In the afternoon, we can explore the city with a local guide followed by a traditional shashlik dinner in one of the many excellent restaurants of this social city.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Tashkent.

September 26, Day 11: Drive from Tashkent to Samarkand.

After a hearty breakfast, we will head for Samarkand. En route we will hopefully come across the localised Variable Wheatear at a stake out, with the bonus addition of a nesting colony of White Storks. We should arrive in Samarkand with time for some preliminary exploration of this fabulous city.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Samarkand.

September 27, Day 12: Samarkand.

Today many wonders are in store for us, with a day based in and around the ancient city of Samarkand. We will commence with an early morning drive out of town to the rocky, bush-covered hills of the Takhtakaracha Pass. Lying between Samarkand and Zarafshan, the conqueror Tamerlane roamed here in centuries past. High on the wanted list will be White-throated Robin along with Eastern Orphean Warbler and the obscure Hume's Lark. Also found here are Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Turkestan and Yellow-breasted Tits, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher and White-capped Bunting. Back in time for lunch, we will wander from our hotel into the quiet and confined ancient section of the city to explore its historical treasures. The massive Bibi Khanum Mosque (once the largest in Central Asia), The Registan, Timur's Mausoleum, the Street of Tombs and the local bazaar present a stunning and memorable "visual overload" of elaborate and exquisitely tiled, painted and carved buildings.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Samarkand.

September 28, Day 13: Samarkand to Bukhara.

We can opt for an early start to nearby wetlands on the outskirts of Samarkand for such specialties as White-crowned Penduline Tit, or spend more time immersing ourselves in the historical delights of Samarkand. Later in the morning, we continue our journey along the Silk Road to Bukhara (also known locally as Buxora). Formerly one of the most important trading cities anywhere in Central Asia, Bukhara boasts a vibrant and colourful history with an overwhelming number of historical sites of interest. The turquoise-blue domes and towering minarets of Bukhara provide a magnificent backdrop to our stay here. At the same time, the bustling markets and covered bazaars are a great place to barter for a vast range of inexpensive souvenirs such as jewellery, spices and the famous Bukhara rugs. We have allocated plenty of time to explore this beautiful city.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Bukhara.

September 29, Day 14: Bukhara.

"So much to do – so little time"! We will have an early start to spend much of the morning exploring close-by wetlands which surround the oasis city of Bukhara. These oases can be extremely attractive to a wealth of water and marsh-loving species and we expect to see plenty of Pygmy Cormorants, Dalmatian Pelicans and Glossy Ibis. An abundance of herons and egrets, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater plus perhaps scarcer finds such as Marbled Duck, while elegant White-tailed Lapwings are easily found. The extensive reed beds, marshy and dry scrub cover is home to many additional smaller species of interest: Menetries's Warbler, Clamorous and Eurasian Reed Warblers, Rufous-tailed Bush-Robin, Pied Bushchat and Long-tailed Shrike (the latter two at the western limits of their Asiatic range). Returning to the city by late morning, we will be able to spend more time exploring the historical delights of Bukhara. The Ark (the fortified citadel of the Emir within the immense city walls), the Bolo-Hauz Mosque, the 10th century Ismail Samani Mausoleum and the Char Minar with its four elaborately tiled minarets.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Bukhara.

Uzbekistan SamarkandRegistan square samarkand

September 30, Day 15: Bukhara to Tashkent.

Today's birding will be perhaps one of the most memorable. A very early start is necessary to reach the Kizil-kum desert, where we aim to arrive just after dawn. This extraordinary region is home to one of the most sought-after of all the birds that occur in Central Asia - the legendary Turkestan (Pander's) Ground Jay. They are best located in the cool of the early morning when they are regularly found along the roadside. We will return to Bukhara for lunch, followed by further opportunities to take in some last sights including the historic town centre, with its surrounding old madrassahs, the Kalyan Minaretm – a 50 metre tall tower built in the 12th century, and also the Miri-Arab Madrasa and Trade Domes. In the evening we will board a bullet-train from Bukhara arriving back in Tashkent in time for dinner.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Tashkent.

 

October 01, Day 16: Chimgan Hills.

We plan to spend our final day in the Chimgan Hills. These lush green hills will provide a perfect ending to our fantastic trip to Central Asia. Even on our last day we still will be able to show you some gorgeous little gems. Yellow-breasted, Azure and Rufous-naped Tit are the main attractions for this region, and we will do our best to show you these delightful birds. Overhead we may see both European and Oriental Honey-buzzards. After a lovely final day, we return to Tashkent for a grand final dinner.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Tashkent.

October 02, Day 17: Depart Tashkent.

After a splendid holiday in Central Asia, it is time to depart home. We say our goodbyes at the Astana Airport from where everybody flies home.

** The tour schedule depends closely on internal flights, which may change from the itinerary listed. If so, the itinerary will be altered, with all of the unique regions still being visited.