If you are arriving into Beijing on Day 1, there will be one group transfer arranged from the airport to the joining hotel. We will do our best to ensure any wait time at the airport is minimised. If you are not arriving on Day 1, or are arriving outside of a reasonable timeframe of the group transfer (9am-5pm) and would like to arrange a private transfer from the airport, please ask our staff for current prices. This evening you will meet with the rest of the group in the hotel lobby for a trip briefing (your guide will advise you of the meeting time) before you head out for dinner.
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 for a traditional Peking Duck dinner.
This morning we visit the beautiful Forbidden City, which is a masterpiece of 5000 years of Chinese civilisation 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. Time permitting we will also visit the Summer Palace. In the evening there is an option to see an acrobatic show.
This morning has been set aside for leisure time to rest or catch up on shopping. Our local guides will be happy to make suggestions and organise arrangements as required. In the afternoon, we transfer to the train station for our overnight journey to Xi'an.
Xi'an is the traditional starting point of the Silk Road. Today the old walled city of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of the old and new China. The modernized new city bustles around the quaint, winding lanes of the Old Quarter, where old men can be seen smoking pipes as butchers pull their carcass-laden carts and hawkers sell their wares. We will tour the city wall and visit the Big Goose Pagoda which is a classic example of Chinese temple architecture. Built in 652AD it houses Buddhist scriptures brought back from India along the Silk Road. We also visit the fascinating Shaanxi Provincial Museum which houses a collection devoted to the Silk Road. There is also an option this evening to dine at a special dumpling restaurant, which is highly recommended and very unique.
The thousands of Terracotta Warriors who stand outside the tomb of Qin Shihuang, were uncovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well. Each warrior stands over six feet tall and has individual 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. This evening we have the option to attend a Tang Dynasty Dance Show.
This morning we transfer to the station to catch the bullet train to Lanzhou. Camel caravans traversed the rugged and barren Province of Gansu, as they threaded their way along the Silk Road. The capital Lanzhou is one of the oasis towns the caravans stopped in along the way. It has since become an industrialised city and remains a hub for travellers to this day. On arrival we enjoy a simple noodle lunch before a visit to the Gansu Provincial Museum. Home to the "Cultural Relics of the Silk Road" exhibition, it has some beautiful artifacts and a skeleton of a giant mammoth. From Lanzhou we ascend out of the city smog and into the clean mountain air, passing through beautiful, mountainous scenery and fascinating microcosms of minority life in China as we head towards Linxia, one of the main religious, cultural and commercial centers of China's Muslim community.
This morning we transfer by bus and boat to Bingling Temple which are a series of grotts filled with Buddhist sculpture carved into natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River.
After visiting these fascinating grotts we transfer to the remote town of Xiahe (pronounced Shar-her), which takes approximately 1.5 hours. As we ascend further into the mountains we pass stupas identifying the beginning of the Tibetan minority area. On arrival in Xiahe you may notice the increase of altitude as the town is located at 2900m. In the afternoon, time permitting, we have the option to hire bikes and explore the valley further or you can explore the town by foot.
From Urumqi we drive to one of the most impressive sights in China - Tianchi, or Heaven's Lake. Set amid the Tian Shan Mountains below the imposing Bogda Peak (5445m). The deep blue lake is framed by fir trees and mountain peaks, and it is sprinkled with yurts and Kazak nomad summer camps. We return to Urumqi in the late afternoon and take an evening flight to Kashgar.
The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are picturesquely located on a cliff face overlooking a river valley. We visit them before driving on to Urumqi (3 hours).
Situated at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains, Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. With the opening of the Silk Route, Urumqi became a junction for cultural exchange between the east and west. Today it is an interesting insight into Communist architecture.
The province of Xinjiang lies at the heart of the Eurasian continent. Skirting the hostile Gobi Desert it is a region of endless grassland, the Taklamakan Desert, snow peaked mountains, lakes, and primitive forests. We enter the Turpan basin, home of the Uighur (pronounced "Wee Ger") people. The town of Turpan is broad and flat with low slung mud brick houses and open channels from which the Uighur draw their water. The slow pace and vast expanses of the surrounding desert and sky make Turpan a wonderful place for relaxation. Grape Valley is a small oasis of vineyards in the desert that we visit with its mazes of grapevines and mud brick buildings used for drying, before heading to Atsana Tombs and the ruins of Jiaohe. The tombs contain portraits of the dead of Gaochang painted on the walls with two well-preserved corpses housed in another. A visit to the Karez Underground Irrigation Channels are also a must. Constructed over 2000 years ago, the Karez are one of ancient China's most remarkable public works. The 1000 wells that make up the system have been sunk to collect ground water from the melting snow of the Bogdashan Mountains. The water passes from the wells through underground channels to irrigate farms in the valley below, and is fed entirely by gravity.
Within Xiahe is the enormous Tibetan Monastery of Labrang, an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhist monks and is second only in size to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Tibetan nomads dressed in their finest traditional clothing mingle with monks in bright pink robes and lamas in deep burnished saffron robes. Monks can be seen debating and deep in preparations for religious ceremonies, practicing ritual music and meditation. The Lamasery, built in 1709, has more than 10,000 rooms, where over 3,000 lamas were once accommodated. It has a collection of books exceeding 65,000 volumes. Watch out for the huge pot in the Lamasery yard in which four oxen can be cooked together.
This afternoon we transfer back to Lanzhou before we catch the overnight train to Jiayuguan. Our return journey is just as impressive as mountains give way to fields of wheat and orchards bursting with fruit. Depending on the season, we may stop at one of the many roadside stalls selling local fruit and nuts.
We leave the Great Wall and follow the snaking Silk Road into the desert through the Hexi (pronounced "Hersh") Corridor. The drive from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang, another of the Silk Road's oasis towns, takes around five hours with the geographic boundaries of the Gobi Desert to the north and the Qilin Mountains to the south defining the Hexi Corridor. On the drive we will pass many beacon towers which were used to send messages along the Silk Road. Oasis meets desert at the Crescent Moon Spring, a lake miraculously lying in the midst of the Singing Sand Mountains. Despite the constantly shifting sands, the 100 metre lake has never been filled. The view from the top of the dunes is magnificent. We might be lucky enough to view a sunset from the Mingsha dunes, the tallest of which, Mingsha Mountain, is 250m high. The dunes make a beautiful backdrop to the city of Dunhuang.
Jiayuguan is the western most point of the Great Wall. Built during the Ming dynasty, the wall is guarded by the famous Jaiyu Fort, known as "the most Impregnable Pass Under Heaven". It was the last major stronghold of the empire to the west and remains an impressive and formidable sight. Then on to the Black Mountain to climb a restored section of the wall.
Kashgar is a bustling market town which is prominent on the silk route, and is at the junction between the two main north/south arteries. Being populated by an overwhelming majority of Uygur people (93%), it seems on arrival that you have left China. This impression is quickly reversed on viewing the massive monument of Mao near the Idkah Square. Our time in Kashgar is spent predominantly at the markets where we can watch the traders selling their sheep which were brought from miles away on their donkey cart. We will also wander through the different sections of the market, where hats, spices, kitchenware, carpets, musical instruments richly decorated, clothing and tailors, and almost any other products are sold. The Fragrant Concubines tomb will be visited in the afternoon together with the Idkah Mosque. Kashgar was the centre of the Great Game staged between Britain and Russia in their attempts to secure the Central Asian states. Tonight is our final night together, a perfect opportunity to have a group dinner and celebrate our amazing journey across the Chinese Silk Road.
Dunhuang is home to China's most magnificent Buddhist grottos. The grottos are set amidst mountainous towering sand dunes. The Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddhist Grottos, are 1,000 metres long, and are filled with superb Buddhist art, dating from 366AD. Over 45,000 square metres of frescos in the nearly 500 caves record the life of the Buddha. They are one of the great sights of China. In the afternoon, transfer to Liuyan to board on the bullet train to Turpan. After spending 4 hours' on the train, we will arrive into the north train station of Turpan which locates in the center of Turpan city. We will be met and transferred to our hotel for the night.
Please note: At Dunhuang Station all passengers and luggage are required to pass through a security check at the station entrance. Blades including pocket knives (Swiss Army style) and all products in pressurised containers (hairspray, deodorants etc) are banned and will be confiscated.
What a wonderful adventure we've had! Our trip concludes today in Kashgar.