On arrival you will need to make your own way to the group hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore Beijing. There will be a group meeting this evening in the hotel foyer before we head out to a local restaurant for our first taste of Chinese cuisine.
Our hotel will be our base as we explore this fascinating city for the next four days. Beijing has been the dynastic capital since the 13th century and visiting the iconic sights located in this orderly city is like meandering through the pages of a history book.
After breakfast we visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the world's largest public square and is located only a short distance from our hotel. People flying kites, a popular pastime all over China, stand next to guards under the ever-watchful eye of Chairman Mao's portrait. Which ever way you turn there is another photo opportunity to be found in this huge open space.
From here we enter The Forbidden City through the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The Forbidden City is a masterpiece of 5000 years of Chinese civilization and still vividly displays the power and prestige of the former dynasties. Sprawling over acres, the City is a magnificent group of palaces, pavilions, courtyards and deep terracotta walls. Ornately furnished palace rooms, priceless artworks and treasures are all now open to the public after 500 years of seclusion.
After lunch we visit the Temple of Heaven (time permitting). The Temple itself is an architectural highlight however it's the crowds of people that makes this spot so interesting and memorable. Thousands of people gather here to practice ballroom dancing, Tai chi and calligraphy.
After relaxing in the late afternoon we will make our way to the famous Chinese Acrobat show. Set in an old theatre, the Acrobat show is something to see as very talented young men and women enthrall the crowd with daring feats involving bicycles, dragons, swords and double-jointed body parts!
He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man
We will make an early morning start today to explore the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section. This is approximately a 1.5 hour drive outside of Beijing, slightly further than the popular and very busy Badaling Gate section. On arrival we will have the option to complete a 2 -3 hour walk along this beautiful section of the wall. Mutianyu is renowned for its Ming Dynasty guard towers and superb views. The scene here is as one would expect of one of the world's great man made wonders, with huge steep ramparts criss crossing this mountainous area. Those deciding not to undertake the walk will be able to enjoy this section of the wall by cable car. The Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the world's most unusual and awesome sites. Commenced 2000 years ago, it was built as a defence line to keep out invaders, along the course of several thousand kilometres. The Emperor Qin Shihuang unified the various northern walls into the Great Wall we see today. We return to Beijing in the evening.
This evening we are treated to delicious Beijing duck dinner!
For those who are keen, we rise early this morning and travel to the Summer Palace. This huge area is punctuated by the picturesque Kunming Lake. Once a secluded resting place for the imperial court this collection of temples, gardens, pavilions and lakes is now one of the most visited places in all of Beijing.
This afternoon we transfer to the train station for our overnight train journey to Xian in comfortable air-conditioned sleeper cabins.
This morning we arrive in Xian, the traditional starting point of the Silk Road. The old walled city of Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of old and new China. The modernised new city bustles around the quaint, winding lanes of the Old Quarter, where old men can be seen smoking pipes and watching the world go by, as butchers pull their carcass-laden carts and hawkers sell their wares.
Following breakfast we visit the famous Terracotta Warriors. These warriors stand in their thousands outside the tomb of Qin Shihuang where they were uncovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well. Each warrior stands over 6 feet tall and has different features and characteristics. Some stand in a vanguard with crossbow and longbow bearers; others hold spears, daggers and axes at the ready. They are accompanied by dozens of horse-drawn carriages and enormous terracotta horses. The sight of the warriors arising from their muddy grave, some intact, others still submerged in the ground, is an extraordinary one.
Following breakfast we will embark on a leisurely walking tour the old City Wall and Muslim Quarter. The City wall of Xian is one of the few cities in China where the old city walls are still standing. These walls were erected during the Ming Dynasty in 1370. We explore this historic structure before venturing amongst the the small lane ways and exotic smells of the Old Muslim Quarter. This area has been home to the cities Hui Community (Chinese Muslims)for centuries. To get to know this alternate side of Chinese culture we immersed ourselves in the butcher shops, sesame seed oil factories and hidden mosques that make this area so fascinating.
This morning we fly to Xining, the major gateway to the Tibetan Plateau. It is an ancient highland city on the Yellow River which offers many scenic spots and historical sites. The city itself has a strong Islamic flavour, as it is home to many Hui people. Dongguan Mosque is the biggest mosque in Qinghai Province. It was built in 1380, boasting a history of more than 600 years. Following a city tour of Xining we travel independently on a comfortable, air-conditioned overnight train to Lhasa. The train departs at 3.05pm from Xining and arrives the following afternoon in Lhasa.
The train will arrive in Lhasa at approximately 2.35pm where you will be met at the station by our local Tibetan guide and driver. We are then transferred to our comfortable well located hotel for a hot shower and freshen up before heading out for a delicious local Tibetan dinner.
In the morning we drive up to see the ancient cave residence and meditation center of King Songtsen Gampo and a small temple where the first written letters in Tibetan are housed. Take a leisurely walk to Sera Monastery, from here visit Sera Monastery established in 1419 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa. Sera once housed nearly 5000 monks. You may be able to see monks at debate.
Time permitting we visit Drepung Monastery which once housed over 10000 monks. This was a great monastic university which had quarters for monks from Sichuan, Qinghai, Chamdo,Siberia, Ladakh and Mongolia. Four colleges taught different aspects of Buddhism. Ganden Potang, built by the 2nd Dalai Lama was used as residence for the subsequent Dalai Lamas.
In the morning we wander around Barkhor and see Jokhang temple.We visit Jokhang and the jewelled Jowo. This precious statue was brought by Princess Wenchen from Changan (Xian) on her way to Tibet to marry the great Tibetan God king, Songtsen Gampo. In the afternoon we visit the Potala.
Barkhor and the Jokhang are the spiritual center of Tibet and destination of millions of Tibetan Pilgrims. The Jokhang, built in 767AD by Tibet's first Buddhist King, Songtsen Gampo, is the heart of this Buddhist world. We will walk the kora or pilgrim route, around the Barkhor with the early morning pilgrims. After the outside kora we enter the temple and walk the nangkhor, or inside of the temple. On the roof of the Jokhang, we can take beautiful pictures of the market and pilgrims below, and the Potala on the hill across the square.
From the Jokhang, we will head to the Potala, the former winter palace of the Dalai Lama, built on the escarpments of Red Hill and rising more than 1000m above the valley floor.
After lunch, we visit the Norbulinka, once named Jewel Park and now People's Park. The Norbulinka was the former summer palace of successive Dalai Lamas from 1755 and suffered extensive damage during the cultural revolution. Much has been rebuil and it is fascinating to see how the Dalai Lama actually lived. Painted on one of the walls is a picture of the 14th Dalai Lama and his family the only one still prominent in Tibet. Later in the day we can visit the Lukhang, set in the middle of a lake. The temple is one of the gems of Lhasa, and contains artwork related to Tibetan medical practices. Farewell Dinner and night at the hotel(3950m)
Following breakfast our trip concludes. If traveling on the group flight you will be transferred to the airport for your onward international flight.