Washington, DC, July 10, 2006 – Long before the term "global economy" came into use, the borderless world was a reality thanks to caravans that moved spices, silk, gold and tea in an undulating, arduous course threading from the Far East to Arabia and into North Africa. Today, travelers with anything but commerce on their minds can retrace the steps of early traders, bartering ideas and ideals instead of goods, and dispensing with camels for plush adventures by private jet on Smithsonian Journeys' "Great Trade Routes" expedition, October 10 – 27, 2006.
In tracing ancient routes for modern explorers, Smithsonian Journeys knits together experiences in the bustling ports and cultural centers of Marrakech, Tripoli, Sabratha, Leptis Magna, Petra, Dubai, Agra, Udaipur and Kashgar. That's seven countries in 18 days with no flight more than four hours long. Participants enjoy the custom comforts of a Boeing 757 specially outfitted for only 88 passengers (about one-third its usual passenger capacity), a crew of 17, private chef and expedition physician. Dr. Helen Philon's professional, academic and personal credentials make her the ideal Study Leader for this journey. The Greek-born Philon is former curator of the Islamic Department at Athen's Benaki Museum and has been a member of archaeological excavations throughout Iran. Her husband served as Greek Ambassador to the U.S. (1998 – 2002) and India (1989 – 1993), and she holds a doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies from the University of London. Joining Philon are archaeologist Ian Tattersall, Earth scientist Wayne Ranney and a handpicked team of local guides whose expertise brings each leg of the journey along the early commercial trading routes to life, showing how the seeds of globalization first stirred in traditional marketplaces.
"Many of the locales and regions explored in our 'Great Trade Routes' itinerary top the 'places to visit' dream lists of the most savvy travelers," said Amy Kotkin, director of Smithsonian Journeys. "What we offer is the ideal means to encounter, experience and gain inside access to these astonishing sites and far-flung destinations as part of a single, well organized 18-day itinerary – all within an eminently doable timeframe and with virtually no hassle."
Moderns Embarking on an Ancient Trail
Embarking from the Four Seasons Hotel in London, the first leg of this epic journey is bound for the oasis of Marrakech (flight time: 3 hrs, 20 min). In the heart of this Moroccan city surrounded by 12th century walls lies the medina: a maze of small alleys and vibrant bazaars where colorful scenes of performing artisans, snake charmers and storytellers unfold around Jemaa el-Fna square. This UNESCO World Heritage site also boasts traditional riads, or houses built around courtyards planted with gardens. Visit Palace of Dar Si Said, the tombs of Saadian kings and Koutoubia Mosque, before venturing to rural villages in the Ourika Valley, where Berber communities thrive in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains.
Opening its doors to American travelers only as recently as 2004, Libya (flight time: 3 hrs) boasts some of the Mediterranean's most remarkable historic sites showing Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Turkish influences. Admire classical statues and relics in Tripoli's Old Town and exquisite mosaics in Sabratha, another UNESCO site. At Leptis Magna, excavated in the 1920s, one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world retains many signs of its heyday at the magnificent amphitheatre ruins and Hadrianic Baths.
Few archaeological sites impart such wonder as Petra (flight time: 3 hrs), the Jordanian city in stone founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Nabataeans. Sitting at the crossroads of Egypt, Arabia and Mesopotamia, its sandstone cliff buildings and temples were once a magnet for traveling merchants from all corners of the globe. For a broader appreciation of Jordan's biblical landscapes, hop on a jeep safari and ride the dunes to Wadi Rum, keeping a keen eye for traces of early civilizations that dot the desert landscape.
Between Mesopotamia and the Indus valley, a small fishing village grew into an important port city, famous for its date cultivation, pearl diving and the largest souks of the Persian Gulf. Today, Dubai (flight time: 3hrs, 40 min) as easily summons images of shimmering skyscrapers as it does beautiful minarets. Accept the gracious hospitality of a local Arab villager for a day by learning to cook classic delicacies; be a guest in a local Dubai home; observe how a traditional dhow is constructed; or test your luck on the race track, betting on your favorite Arabian horse.
Just over three hours away, the Emperor Shah Jahan built one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces: the Taj Mahal in Agra (flight time: 3 hrs, 5 min). This monument to eternal love – an Indian emperor's for a Persian princess – took 22 years to build at the height of the Mogul empire in the 17th century.
Little has changed in Kashgar (flight time: 2 hrs, 40 min) since Marco Polo walked the Silk Road. Every week, merchants make their way on foot, on bicycles or by horseback from China, central Asia, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, gathering in this old-world Chinese market to bargain and exchange goods as they have for centuries.
Returning to India's Udaipur (flight time: 3 hrs, 10 min), wrap yourself in the sari of this lakeside city, with its fragrant gardens and marble palaces. For an inside peek at the life of a maharaja, board the Royal Barge for a sunset cocktail cruise, followed by a private banquet at the City Palace with the Raj. The opulence of Rajasthani is even clearer by daylight on a visit to the impressive Jain temple complex, in the remote Ranakpur valley. Built in 1439, this is one of the five most important pilgrimage sites of Jainism. Its 1,444 amber columns are intricately carved with nymphs playing the flute in various dance postures at a height of 45 feet – and no two columns are alike!
Last stop is fittingly Istanbul (flight time: 3 hrs, 55 min to Tehran for refueling; 3 hrs, 15 min to Turkey), a city that sits astride two continents and is an amalgam of East and West. "Must do" activities include the 6th century Hagai Sophia, once the world's most renowned Byzantine cathedral; Topkapi Palace, the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire for almost four hundred years; and the frescoes and mosaics of the Byzantine monument at St. Savior in Chora. Explore the Basilica cistern, whose early plumbing technology displays underground chambers for storing water, and the remains of the Hippodrome, the heart of Constantinople’s political and sporting life.
Smithsonian Journeys' "Great Trade Routes" private jet tour is available for $36,950 per person, based on double occupancy, and includes: roundtrip private jet travel from London, luxury accommodations, meals, ground transportation, excursions and activities, welcome reception, services of Study Leader and team of experts, on-board physician, baggage handling, gratuities and emergency evacuation insurance.
Smithsonian Journeys, the travel program of the renowned Smithsonian Institution, is the largest museum-based travel program in the world, and is unflinchingly dedicated to the life-enriching experiences of educational travel. Every year more than 250 inspiring itineraries to all seven continents are led by eminent Study Leaders, a Smithsonian Journeys hallmark. For more information, contact toll-free 1-877 EDU-TOUR (877-338-8687) or visit www.smithsonianjourneys.org.
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