10 top tours for time travellers

Follow in the footsteps of great characters from history and revisit the scene of momentous events. Ian McCurrach shows you the way


1. Undercover on the Silk Route

In the mid-19th century, the remote deserts and mountains of Central Asia became the arena of an undeclared war between Tsarist Russia and the northern extent of the British Empire in India. Rudyard Kipling in Kim called this adventure the Great Game: follow in the footsteps of British intelligence officers Arthur Conolly and Charles Stoddart who engaged in cloak-and- dagger-style diplomatic intrigue through the remote emirates and khanates of the Central Asian Silk Route. Kit yourself out with undercover gear in Ashgabat's Tolkucha Bazaar and stay with remote Turkmen tribes in the Karakum Desert.

How to do it: Dragoman Overland (01728 861133; dragoman.com) offers this 29-night overland expedition from Ashgabat to Bishkek from £1,190 plus £329 for kit, including expedition truck transport, hotel, yurt and camping accommodation, and all camp meals. Excludes international flights.

2. Sheikh it like Lawrence

Lawrence of Arabia fought with Arab irregular forces from a base in Jordan's Wadi Rum during the 1916-18 Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. On this tour you will ride Arabian horses beneath the towering wind-sculpted rock formations of Jordan's Rum Massif, accompanied by Bedouin guides. You will visit the ancient city of Petra and you can contemplate Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom while riding across the inhospitable sands and valleys close to the Saudi Arabian border.

How to do it: Equine Ad- ventures (0845-130 6981; equineadventures.co.uk) offers this 10-day Wadi Rum and the Great South horseback break from £1,395 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from London, hotel and camp accommodation with most meals and expertly guided riding.

3. Himalayan quest

In 1934, mountaineers Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman discovered a hidden approach to the Nanda Devi peak in the Himalayas at 25,643ft, which Shipton successfully conquered two years later. Shipton and Tilman's explorations prepared the ground for all subsequent mountaineering expeditions. Retrace their bootprints through rich Himalayan natural history starting at the River Ganges at Rishikesh. Stride out across terraced hillsides and ridges offering panoramic views and rest on the high pastures of Bednibugyal before attempting the Kalwavinayak ridge. The group will continue into the Nandakini Valley, crossing icy rivers on precarious suspension bridges. Before dawn, take the Kuari Pass for a view of the Himalayan ranges; the immense Badrinath peaks to the north, Nanda Devi Sanctuary to the west and, during the descent, Nanda Devi itself.

How to do it: Walks Worldwide (01524 242000; walksworldwide.com) offers this 19-day guided trek from £1,595 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from London, hotels, village hut and camp accommodation, most meals plus experienced leader and local guides.

4. Cool off in the South Pole

In 1914, Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition set off to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. Disaster struck when Endurance was crushed by pack ice. The entire crew hauled three whaling boats across the frozen Weddell Sea to Elephant Island where Shackleton and five others then sailed 800 miles across the South Atlantic to South Georgia, raising the alarm. All survived. Today, board the rugged M/V Polar Star and take in the key sites of Shackelton's expedition. See where Shackleton's men were rescued after 135 days in bitter conditions. Other highlights include close-up views of icebergs and encounters with seals, humpback, minke and orca whales.

How to do it: Wildlife Worldwide (0845-130 6982; wildlifeworldwide. com) offers this 18-night voyage on the M/V Polar Star from £5,295 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from London, hotels in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, full board on the ship, excursions and expert guiding.

5. Step out with Alexander

Alexander the Great, one of the most successful military commanders in history, conquered most of the known world before his death, including Persia in 330BC. Known as Iskandar in Persian, his presence, though sometimes destructive, can still be seen today. In Hamadan, one of the oldest inhabited towns in the world, look out for the magnificent stone lion Sang-Shir built by Alexander's craftsmen to commemorate a fallen Macedonian general. Outside Shiraz, Alexander ordered the complete renovation of the tomb of Cyrus, which had been robbed and looted, saving it from destruction. Alexander's most notorious conquest was the capture of Persepolis, the capital of Persia which was founded by Darius I in 512BC. The ancient ruins, excavated in the 1950s, are a reminder of Alexander and a testament to the magnificence of the Persian Empire. For required reading, bag a copy of Mary Renault's book The Persian Boy.

How to do it: Steppes Travel (01285 651010; steppestravel.co.uk) offers this 11-day Highlights of Iran tour from £2,750 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from London, internal flights and transport, English-speaking guide, entrance fees, all accommodation and meals.

6. A pilgrim's progress

Since the ninth century, pilgrims from across Europe have flocked to north-western Spain to follow the trail between Burgos and the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, home of the tomb of St James, as relics of the saints were believed to hold great powers. On this group tour you can make this holy hike passing through rich pastureland in Castilla y Leon and high plateaux in Castilian Meseta. Along the way, admire the medieval Castilian cities Leon and Astorga, before entering Galicia. You will explore the former Roman gold-mining sites before climbing up to the Pedrafita do Cebreiro pass. The view of the cathedral of Santiago from the Monte de Gozo, has inspired pilgrims for centuries.

How to do it: Explore (0870-333 4001; explore.co.uk) offers this 11-night walking tour from £984 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, 11 nights b&b, all transportation and the services of a tour guide.

7. Saddle up in the Rockies

Follow the trail of the First Nations' people on horseback through the Rocky Mountain wilderness of Alberta. After orientation at the Lazy M Ranch and a night at the Cut Off Creek base camp, this riding tour heads out through the Clearwater Valley, crossing the Clearwater river several times before reaching the Out Post camp. From here, spend the rest of the trip following the trails of the people of the First Nations. Described as a wilderness state, the Clearwater Valley is of national significance in terms of Canada's history. There is evidence that Beaver Indians, as well as the Cree and Chipewyan, inhabited these areas. The Chipewyan were nomadic caribou hunters. The Cree, Canada's largest native group, with 200,000 registered members, still inhabit territory from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic. Riders can expect to spend five to seven hours a day exploring these trails through the Rocky Mountain countryside.

How to do it: Ranch Rider (01509 618811; ranchrider.com) offers this six-night fully inclusive Rocky Mountain escorted break from £1,629 per person, based on two sharing, all meals, flights and riding.

8. Take stock on the cattle route

The Canning Drovers Stock Route is the longest heritage trail in Australia and the most remote in the world - almost 1,250 miles of hard driving. It was created as a stock route to bring cattle from the Kimberleys in South Australia to Western Australia in 1906, and pioneers dug a series of 51 wellsso animals would be able to make the journey without dying of thirst. The route has survived as one of the best off-road drives offering superb outback scenery, served up as the pioneers would have found it. Previously out of bounds for 4x4 hire vehicles, it now gives adventurous travellers the opportunity to explore this extreme location in convoy, in the comfort of a 4x4, with guide and on-the-spot advice on coping with the terrain including gravel roads, sand dunes and creek beds.

How to do it: Travelmood (0870-066 4556; travel mood.com) offers this 13-day Britz Xtreme trip from £2,309 per person, based on two sharing, plus return flights from London, hire of a Britz 4x4 Adventurer, guides, mechanical support, satellite phone, tyre repair, gas barbecue, camping, national park fees and all fees and permits for Aboriginal land.

The best for rebels

Che Guevara landed in Cuba in 1956 with Fidel Castro to overthrow Batista's military dictatorship. Revisit their sites of struggle on an 18-night self-drive tour. Start at Playa las Colorados then head for Santa Clara (above), scene of the final battle, via the Sierra Maestra and Escambray mountains.Back in Havana visit the former presidential palace. Trips Worldwide (0117-311 4400; tripsworldwide.co.uk) is offering this road trip from £1,665 per person, including return flights from London, b&b, car rental and visa.

The best for gold-diggers

Travel from Seattle to Vancouver and Whitehorse in the Yukon on the Goldrush Trail. You can still cash in your chips at Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall, thenhead into Alaska in the shadow of Mount McKinley, North America's highest peak.TrekAmerica (0870-444 8735; trekamerica .co.uk) offers this 26-day adventure tour from £1,287 per person, based on two sharing, includingcamping accommodation, four-day cruise and national parks fees. The price excludes international flights, which can be arranged.

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