Tracing the Ancient Silk Route

Xian to Kashgar via Lanzhou, Xiahe, Jiayuguan, the Western Desert, and Dunhuang
Overview

overview

This classic adventure takes you along the legendary Silk Road through China, the route that linked Asia to Europe through much of history,  the route of camel caravans a thousand years ago. Experience the layers of civilization as you engage 21st century China and the cultures, sights, smells, flavors, and sounds of an earlier era.  See the famous Terra-cotta Warriors of Xian and travel across the vast deserts of Western China, with a detour to amazing Xiahe, a place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Lamaism, and other renowned Buddhist sites. Savor such treasures as the superb Buddhist paintings at Dunhuang, and learn about ethnic groups such as the Mongols and the Turkish-speaking Uighurs of Central Asia. Explore the remote oasis towns of Kashgar. A local guide will stay with you throughout the adventure to assist with the challenges of local train travel and language barriers.

itinerary

itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive Xian
    Consider arriving a few days early in Beijing to see the Great Wall and other sights

    On arrival in Xian, you will be met by your English-speaking guide and assisted with the transfer to your centrally located hotel. The rest of the day will be free to relax and recover from the long flight. If you've never been to China before, consider spending a few days in one or more of the exciting cities of Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong prior to Xian or at the end of your trip.

    Meals
    None
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 2: Explore Xian
    Statue of Xuanzang in the foregound of the Wild Goose Pagoda

    In the 10th century, Xian was thought to be the greatest city on earth and you will visit its ancient sites including the Bell and Drum Towers, the Wild Goose Pagoda, which was built by Emperor Gao Zong in memory of his deceased mother, and the Ancient City Walls, built on the foundations of the walls of the Tang Forbidden City.  You'll have some time in the afternoon to relax before heading out to a local restaurant for a traditional Xian dumpling dinner.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 3: Terracotta Warriors
    Marvel at Xian's terracotta warriors

    Xian is best known for its renowned terracotta warriors. These entombed statues are considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the century. Over 6,000 of them were individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expression. They stand in battle formation, facing east to protect the tomb of China's first Emperor, the great Qin Shihuang. Afterwards, visit the Shanxi Museum, which holds the world's greatest repository of Tang Dynasty ceramics, paintings, and imperial artifacts. In the evening, there will be a dinner and concert from the restored Tang Dynasty featuring court music and dance.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 4: Buddhist Center of Langzhou / Xiahe
    Bingling Monastery

    A morning flight takes you to Langzhou, the capital of Gansu province. From here, you travel to Bingling Temple to view some fascinating Buddhist caves that date back to the third century. Your journey continues on to Xiahe, a major center for Tibetan Lamaism (approx. 185 mi/5 hrs). You spend two nights in this amazingly remote town, set in a beautiful mountain valley.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 5: Sangki Grasslands / Bajiao Ancient Village
    Bajiao Ancient Village

    Today you travel about nine miles outside of Xiahe to the Sangki Grasslands to see the yak herds. This vast expanse of grassy plains covers about 40 square miles with only about 4,000 Tibetan nomads occupying the grasslands. You will find them grazing their yak herds, and you may even have the chance to ride one of their horses. You also visit the ancient town of Bajiao (Bajiao Cheng), a walled village that was originally built around 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty (50 mi/1.5 hrs). As you approach Bajiao, you will see the amazing White Rock Cliffs. At the foot of these cliffs, there is a small monastery and monk village.  Return to your hotel in Xiahe.

    Meals
    Breakfast, lunch, dinner
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 6: Xiahe / Lanzhou / Train to Jiayuguan
    Visit the beautiful Labrang Monastery

    Today you will visit the Labrang Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in China. It also serves as an important Tibetan Buddhism School. The monastery even contains thousands of Buddha statues, all made of various metals, ivory, sandalwood, jade, and crystal. Return to Lanzhou where you board an overnight sleeper train bound for Jiayuguan.

    Meals
    Breakfast, lunch, dinner
    Lodging
    Overnight train
    Show on a map
  • Day 7: Jiayuguan / Dunhuang: Desert Meets Town
    Visit the lively market in the oasis town of Dunhuang

    Upon entering the Hexi corridor, you travel on a strip of desert surrounded by mountains on both sides. You arrive in the early morning (ETA 7:30 am) at Jiayuguan (Jiayu Pass), the traditional last outpost on the edge of the ancient Han Chinese Empire and you will be met and transferred to a hotel to freshen up. Afterwards, visit Jiayuguan Fort, which actually marks the end of the Great Wall. The heavily industrialized modern town stands in stark contrast to the desert scenery. You also visit the Hanging Wall (another section of the Great Wall) before driving across the desert landscape to the oasis of Dunhuang (237 mi/5 hrs), another important stop on the Silk Road.

    Meals
    Breakfast, lunch, dinner
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 8: Dunhuang
    Enjoy a camel ride through the desert

    After a night in Dunhuang, experience the sunrise over desert sand dunes and see Crescent Lake. You will even have the option of riding a camel across the desert. Overnight in Dunhuang.

    Meals
    Breakfast, lunch
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 9: Dunhuan / Train to Turpan
    Explore the Mogao Caves

    After a night in Dunhuang, visit the nearby Mogao Caves, which house some of the best Buddhist murals in the world. The first of the caves were carved out and painted in 366 AD, but they had been largely forgotten until a Taoist monk stumbled upon them in 1907. Currently there are more than 492 caves, most containing murals and colored statues. The murals depict numerous personages such as the 'Flying Apsaras,' the goddesses of fragrance and music often depicted dancing and playing a musical instrument. After Mogao, you drive to Lieyuan and transfer to another overnight train to Turpan (ETD 10:10 pm).

    Meals
    Breakfast, lunch
    Lodging
    Overnight train
    Show on a map
  • Day 10: Turpan
    Turpan street shaded by trellised grapevines

    After arriving at the train station (ETA 5:30 am), you drive for about 50 minutes to the delightful oasis town of Turpan, where you will be transferred to your hotel to check in and freshen up. After breakfast, you will visit Astana Tombs (40 mins away), which are located in the Gobi Desert. These tombs feature thousands of historical relics that were unearthed, such as mummies, writings, paintings, earthen figurines, stone wares, and much more. The tour continues in Tuyoq Village and Tuyugou Canyon (1.5 hrs away). Tuyoq is a traditional village of vineyards, orchards, narrow streets, and irrigation channels tumbling between ancient mudbrick houses and shady trees against the backdrop of the red Flaming Mountains. 

    Meals
    Breakfast, lunch
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 11: Turpan
    See the temple ruins at Jiaohe

    Visit the Karez Wells, an irrigation system of wells connected by underground channels. The wells are considered to be one of the three great, ancient projects in China.  The famous fruit and vineyards of these hot, dry desert communities owe their existence to the Karez Wells. These systems are still maintained and functioning today. A small museum provides an insight into their intriguing history and construction, and takes you below ground for a first-hand view.

    Afterwards, visit the Ruins of the Ancient City of Jiaohe, built by the ancient Cheshi people between 221 BC and 220 AD. Located in the Yarnaz Valley, about five miles west of Turpan, it was excavated and constucted from the yellow-gray parched ground of a narrow 100 foot hight, one mile long island that sits in between the Jiahoe River. This is a great vantage point for seeing the surrounding desert and mountain landscape.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 12: Urumqi / Kashgar
    Learn about the ancient Xinjiang Mummies

    Today you head out to the capital city of Urumqi, a multi-national province with many languages, customs and colorful ethnic traditions (about two-hour drive). The city is China's gateway to central Asia, with air links to all the former Soviet states, and is widely regarded as "the city farthest from the ocean". Visit Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum where you will see the preserved bodies and garments of nearly a dozen people discovered in tombs throughout Xinjiang. The 4,000-year-old "Loulan Beauty" is the most popular exhibit. Afterwards, catch a flight across the Taklimakan Desert to Kashgar, the "crown jewel" of the Silk Road. Situated at an altitude of 4,228 feet at the end of the spectacular Karakoram Highway, the city is still an important trading center.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 13: Markets and Mosques
    Browse the boisterous animal market

    Kashgar is a fascinating place to with many different cultures and you will have a chance to learn about the local way of life at the colorful and lively market at a village just outside Kashgar. In the afternoon, return to Kashgar where you enjoy a guided tour to Id Kah Mosque, built in 1442 and famous for its yellow walls and Central Asian architecture.

    If you are taking the Tashkurgan Extension, you will depart from the group and drive to Tashkurgan Stone City.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 14: Kashgar / Urumqi
    Try some delicious, traditional food at the local market

    Visit the old quarter of Kashgar and the local market. In the afternoon, take a flight back to Urumqi, where an overnight is necessary due to flight schedules.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Centrally located hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 15: Urumqi / Onward

    Your morning is free until you are transferred to the airport for your flight back home.

    Meals
    Breakfast
    Lodging
    None
Price and Date Details

Price and Date Details

Sep 7-21, 2015
Or Privately on Request
Land Cost:
$3,950
- $4,750
Group size 2-3: $4750 *Group size 4-5: $4450 *Group size 6-12: $3950 Flights within China add $850 (estimated) *Group sizes 4-12 includes escort guide
Single Supplement:
$650
Does not include single cabins on trains
Need to Know

Need to Know

Group sizes 4-12 will include an English-speaking guide througout the entire trip. Group sizes 2-3 will have local English-speaking guides at each location.

Duration:
15 days
The number of days, or duration, in a destination corresponds with the itinerary as published. This is the time period covered by the land cost. The total number of days includes the time required to travel between the USA and the destination country.
Comfort Level:
2
Local 4 * hotels or best available; Ask us about private cabins on the trains
Group Size:
2-12
The stated range indicates minimum required for guaranteed departure and maximum accepted on the scheduled dates. Exceptions can often be made for private departures.
Activity Level:
3
Local 4 * hotels or best available; Ask us about private cabins on the trains

Resources

Trip Extensions

Trip Extensions

Beijing Essence Tour

Duration: 5 days

This extension takes you on an exploration of all the major sites in and around Beijing. Visit the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Temple of Heaven, all fine examples of exceptional Chinese architecture. See one of the 7 Wonders of the World at th... read more

Tashkurgan I Karakul Lake

Duration: 5 days

Travel to China's far western border and learn more aboutt he Tajik culture by adding an excursion to Tashkurgan Stone ity and Karakul Lake. Stay in a Yurt, enjoy breakfast with a local family and marvel at the incredible mountain scenery including M... read more

Shanghai Excursion

Duration: 3 days

Shanghai is the largest city in China with over 24 million people and the largest city proper in the world.  This is an exciting way to begin or end your China adventure. A highlight will be an exciting high-speed bullet train ride from Beijing.

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