Turkestan and Otrar Day Tour (from Shymkent)
Turkestan, Otrar, Khoja Ahmad Yasawi Mausoleum, Arystan Bab Mausoleum
For a taste of medieval Kazakhstan, look no farther than the cities of its southern steppe, where history is vividly depicted through mausoleums, underground mosques and entire cities long vanished from the earth. Otrar, birthplace of famed medieval philosopher Al-Farabi, reached its height in the 10th-12th centuries before being ransacked by Genghis Khan’s armies. Turkestan, once known as the ‘Blessed City’, became a center of Islamic learning thanks to the influence of the 12th-century Sufi scholar Khoja Ahmed Yasawi.
Travel back in time on The Turkestan and Otrar Day Tour, a history-packed excursion to southern Kazakhstan’s greatest sites. Visit Arystan Bab Mausoleum and the ruins of Otrar, once the capital of Tamerlane’s empire and a key Silk Road trading center, before continuing to the Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum in Turkestan, whose building inspired subsequent architectural creations in Samarkand. The tour includes a private guide, driver and transportation to and from Shymkent.
Your journey will start by meeting your guide and driver at your Shymkent hotel. Head to Shauldir village in Otrar region (145km, 2hrs) for two important stops:
- Visit the nearby Arystan Bab Mausoleum (dates vary), burial place of Arystan Bab, teacher of the famed Khoja Ahmad Yasawi of Turkestan. The mud-brick structure, which also displays a handwritten Koran, attracts a constant stream of local religious pilgrims.
- Otrar archeological site, where traces of well-planned city boulevards and abodes, now long abandoned and littered with pottery shards, are outlined in the dusty landscape.
Continue on to Turkestan (75km, 1hr,15min), which replaced Otrar as the regional commercial center after the latter’s final demise. One of Kazakhstan’s most revered cities, the Hazret-Sultan Historical and Cultural Complex continues to attract visitors with a handful of significant sites:
- Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum (14th century), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the finest buildings of the Timurid Period. This towering structure contains thirty rooms that now hold a small museum, mosque, a huge bronze cauldron and the graves of Yasawi and his family.
- Hilvet Underground Mosque (c. 12th century), where Yasawi is said to have lived out his last years on earth in darkness. It now serves as a small museum, with rooms delineated for extended meditation.
- Ancient bath house, whose various chambers maintained respective warm or cool temperatures despite the lack of doors between them.
- Old city walls, garden paths and several smaller mausoleums help to complete this complex.
Relax and reflect on your experiences on the return drive to Shymkent (170 km, 2.5hrs). Drop-off at the hotel upon arrival. End of Turkestan and Otrar Day Tour.
Tour duration: approximately 10 hours
- Private, local guide;
- Entrance fees to the sights as per itinerary;
- Transportation throughout the tour.