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China: The Silk Road - Beijing to Tashkent (27 Days)

Forbidden CityThis extraordinary journey follows the ancient silk route from its source in Xian, China, through an ever changing landscape to the fabled city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

 

We begin with a tour of Beijing before transferring to Xian by train to view the remarkable Terracotta Warriors. Along the China Silk Road we will also visit Xiahe and the enormous Tibetan monastery at Labrang, the Buddhist frescos in the Mogao Caves and the serene 'Heaven Lake' deep in the Tian Shan mountains, before flying to Kashgar in time for the famous Sunday markets. We depart China over the Torugart Pass and cross into Central Asia, visiting the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek, the tree lined streets of Tashkent and the walled city of Khiva. Continuing to Bukhara, we savor it's rich history as we stroll through the bazaars, mosques and magnificent Summer Palace before travelling to Samarkand to view the impressive domes and minarets as we wander the 'The Registan'.  WE


2017 Departure Dates - sold out

2018 Departure Dates 

31 Mar - 26 Apr 2018
14 Apr 15 - 10 May 2018
5 May -  31 May 2018 
11 Aug - 6 Sep 2018
1 Sep - 25 Sep 2018

Tour cost: $ 7,790 CAD / $ 6,287 USD per person based on twin share

Other great China group departures ask for details....

Yunnan Meli Trek - 15 days
Yunnan Explorer - 15 days
Trans Siberian Explorer - 23 days
Great wall trek - 8 days
High Road to Lhasa - 14 days


Itinerary

Day 1 ARRIVE BEIJING
Arrive into Beijing and transfer to the Group Hotel where you will meet the rest of your group. Our welcome dinner tonight in Beijing will include the famous Peking Duck. (D)

Day 2  GREAT WALL
Great WallWe 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. We return to Beijing in the evening for a traditional Peking Duck dinner. (B,D)

Day 3BEIJING
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. (B,D)

Day 4 AT LEISURE IN BEIJING. EVENING TRAIN TO XI’AN
Today has been set aside for leisure time to rest or catch up on shopping. Our guides in China will be happy to make suggestions and organize arrangements as required. In the afternoon, we transfer to the train station for our overnight journey to Xi’an. (BLD)

Day 5 XI’AN
Terra Cotta WarriorsTour of old Muslim section of Xi’an and the inner city. The old walled city of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of 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 and watching the world go by, as butchers pull their carcass-laden carts and hawkers sell their wares. Xi’an is, of course, the traditional starting point of the Silk Road. There is an option this evening to dine at a special dumpling restaurant, which is highly recommended and very unique. There is a supplement for eating at this restaurant of 90 Yuan (subject to change). Overnight at the Bell Tower Hotel. (BLD)

Day 6  IN XI’AN
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. From the Warriors we visit the Bampo Neolithic Village, the ruins of a Neolithic village, and then on to the Huang Hot Springs. This evening we have the option to attend a Tang Dynasty Dance Show – the cost of this option is 150 Yuan (subject to change) Overnight Xi’an. (BLD)

Day 7 IN XI’AN. FLIGHT TO LANZHOU TRANSFER TO LINXIA
The Big and Little Goose Pagodas in Xi’an are classic example of Chinese temple architecture. Built in 652AD and 707AD respectively, they house Buddhist scriptures brought back from India along the Silk Road. We visit the fascinating Shaanxi Provincial Museum which houses a collection devoted to the Silk Road as well as a wonderful collection of ancient books. Flight to Lanzhou and transfer to Linxia. (BLD)

Day 8 BING LING TEMPLE / XIAHE
LuoyangCamel 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 industralised city and remains a hub for travellers to this day.  (BLD)

The trip to Xiahe (2900m) passes through beautiful, mountainous scenery and fascinating microcosms of minority life in China.  Ascending further into the mountains we pass stupas identifying the beginning of the Tibetan minority area. We plan to visit a Tibetan family for afternoon tea at a village a short walk from our hotel that is set 2kms outside the main town. You may have photos from home or small gifts, which can be given to the parents (never give things direct to children as it encourages begging) for their hospitality. Overnight in the Labrang Hotel, Xiahe (pronounced Shar-Her). (BLD)

Day 9  LABRANG MONASTERY/RETURN TO LANZHOUAND OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO JIAYUGUAN
Xiahe is enchanting. The enormous Tibetan Monastery of Labrang is 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. In the afternoon, time permitting, we have the option to hire bikes and explore the valley further or you can take time out and read a book.  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. Back in Lanzhou there will be opportunities to do some shopping, and we will take a couple of rooms at a hotel for showers before we catch the overnight train to Jiayuguan. (BLD)

Day 10 IN JIAYUGUAN
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. We will visit the local museum which houses some wonderful art and then on to the Black Mountain to climb a restored section of the wall. Overnight in the Great Wall hotel, Jiayuguan. (BLD)

Day 11 TO DUNHUANG
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, is some six 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, 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 view the sun setting from the Mingsha dunes. “Mingsha Mountain” comprising of mainly drifting sands which at their highest point reach some 250 metres. They make a beautiful backdrop to Dunhuang. Overnight in the Dunhuang Hotel, Dunhuang. (BLD)

Day 12 MOGAO CAVES. TRAIN TO TURPAN
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 492 extant caves record the life of Buddha. They are one of the great sights of China. We spend the afternoon wandering around the markets and may visit the Dunhuang County Museum if desired. We travel by bus to the nearby town of Liu Yuan (two hours) and from there take the late afternoon train to Turpan. Please note, if soft-sleepers are not available, we will fly to Turpan - a small added cost. (BLD)

Day 13 IN TURPAN (OR TULUFAN)
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 oasis town of Turpan is broad and flat. Low slung mud brick houses and open channels from which the Uighur draw their water have changed little in centuries. 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. We visit the mazes of grapevines and mudbrick buildings used for drying, before heading to the ruins of Gaochang. Once a major staging post on the Silk Road, Gaochang was the capital of the Uighur in the 9th century. The city walls, moat and the monastery are still preserved. Constructed over 2000 years ago, the Karez Underground Irrigation Channels 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. Overnight in the Turpan Hotel, Turpan. (BLD)

Day 14 DRIVE TO URUMQI
The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are picturesquely located on a cliff face overlooking a river valley. We visit them before moving on to the Atsana Tombs. The tombs contain portraits of the dead of Gaochang painted on the walls and birds. Two well-preserved corpses are housed in another. In the afternoon we drive to Urumqi (four hours). Overnight Urumqi. (BLD)

Day 15 IN URUMQI. EVENING FLIGHT TO KASHGAR
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. One of the most impressive sights in China is certainly Tianchi, or Heaven’s Lake. Set amid the Tian Shan Mountains below the imposing Bogda Peak (5445m), the lake is 1980 metres above sea-level. The deep blue lake is framed by fir trees and mountain peaks, but, more interestingly, it is sprinkled with yurts and Kazak nomad summer camps. We return to Urumqi and take an evening flight to Kashgar. Overnight Kashgar. (BLD)

Day 16  SUNDAY MARKET IN KASHGAR
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. On Sundays traders come from all over to sell their livestock, amongst thousands of different types of produce. 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 dressed in their Sunday best (waistcoats and all), 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 produce is 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. We plan to stay at the Seaman Hotel which is the old Russian Embassy and home to the Great Game players.(BLD)

Day 17  – Drive to Naryn via TorugartPass
We make an early start for the potentially long day of travel ahead. Our bus will make the 63km journey to the new border post in about 2 hours. On arrival we must change to another bus for the 104kms to the old border post, which should take 2.5 hours. Actual timings are dependent on weather conditions and the border staffs’ ability to process our departure from China and arrival into Kyrgyzstan. From the old border post we change vehicles again, and are met by our Kyrgyz operator for the crossing of the pass and the border formalities. The three hour drive from here to Naryn is spectacular as we are in the Tian Shan mountains and on one of the worlds most remote high altitude roads. We will spend the night in a yurt, which is basic but clean and comfortable. (BLD)

Day 18  – Drive to Bishkek
Today we drive further through spectacular mountain scenery where the peaks are like knife edges, to the quaint town of Bishkek. The journey can take up to seven hours. (BLD)

Day 19 In Bishkek/ Ala Archa National Park
This morning is spent wandering the Osh Bazaar with its amazing array of local food and imported goods. It is also possible to buy local handicrafts. In town we will take in a visit to the History Museum and, time permitting, Frunze’s House and Museum. Also visit Ala Archa National Park.  (BLD)

Day 20 - Fly to Tashkent
This morning has been set aside for leisure time. In the afternoon we will return to the airport for our flight to Tashkent.  (BLD)

Day 21 – Fly to Urgench and drive to  Khiva
Flight to Urgench and drive to Khiva. (B,L,D)

Day 22 – Fly to Urgench and drive to  Khiva
The ancient walled city of Khiva is a stunning monument to the rich history of the region. Slave caravans, wild tribesmen and a harsh and unrelenting desert are all part of its tumultuous history. We spend the day exploring the mazes of mosques, tombs, alley ways, palaces and medressas. Overnight Khiva. (BLD)

Day 23 – Travel to Bukhara
We travel to Bukhara by coach (8 hours) through the desert, along ancient trading routes and spend the afternoon exploring ancient Bukhara. Overnight Bukhara. (BLD)

Day 24 – In Bukhara
Bukhara is an ancient city boasting 2500 years of vibrant history. It has been a centre of world learning, succumbed to Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane, and after the Silk Road waned, was a capital for despot Bukhara emirs. Before lunch we have a half day tour of the bazaars, mosque and medressas of the old city. After lunch we will visit The Ark, the former royal city and fortress that was the focus of the city for 2000 years, and then visit the former Summer Palace of the last emir. Overnight Bukhara. (BLD)

Day 25 – To Samarkand
Morning at leisure. In the afternoon we follow the old Silk Road past old caravanserai from Bukhara to the ancient city of Samarkand. Over the centuries this road has been travelled by Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane on their incredible journeys. Overnight Samarkand. (BLD)

Day 26  – In Samarkand
We commence our sightseeing with the tomb of Tamerlane who made Samarkand his capital. He set about making it the richest city on earth by pillaging and destroying all other cities and removing their wealth and skills to Samarkand. His tomb is impressive, but his legacy, the Registan, the market place of ancient Samarkand, is remarkable. It is enclosed by spectacular medressas (Islamic centres of learning) on three sides. These huge buildings with domes and minarets covered in a mosaic of azure tiles were built from the 1400s. The Registan is one of the wonders of the ancient world. We will also visit the huge mosque, bazaar and observatory. Overnight Samarkand.  (BLD)

Day 27  – To Tashkent
After a four hour drive by bus we will arrive in Tashkent. Subject to timetables we may have an opportunity to visit the Tashkent Circus (if it is in town) or take in an opera. Tashkent is a modern city of three million people and is the arts centre of the region. Museums and the opera house are perhaps its best known attractions. It has a relaxed pace and charming street side cafes. Trams amble beside green parks and the wide tree-lined roads give a sense of space. (BL)

Nights in Tashkent can be added on for $ 60 per person per night in twin share.

Please note: the itinerary described in these notes is intended as a guide only. In the event of weather changes, logistical problems or other unforeseen problems we may make changes to itinerary. The itinerary also allows us flexibility and the opportunity to interact with the local people.