26 February 2017
This in-depth tour is a perfect way to experience the landscapes, history and culture of the endlessly fascinating country of China. You'll follow the route of the ancient Silk Road, along which traders travelled more than 2,000 years ago, carrying with them silk and other goods for sale, as well as spreading religious and philosophical ideas. You'll set off from Xian, at the eastern end of the Silk Road, and finish at Urumqi in north-west China; along the way you'll take in a huge range of unforgettable sights, from terracotta warriors, to religious buildings, to the Great Wall of China, as well as enjoying the stunning natural scenery and having plenty of opportunities to meet local families and learn more about their lives.
Your tour begins as you arrive in Xian, to be met and transferred to your hotel, where you'll have time to settle in before meeting your tour leader and the rest of your group for welcome drinks and a tour briefing.
This morning you'll make the short drive east to see one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century: the army of terracotta warriors. These thousands of life-sized terracotta warriors and horses – each one unique – were unearthed in 1974 after being buried 2,000 years ago to defend Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb and protect him in the afterlife. After admiring the army, you'll enjoy lunch, then head to a terracotta warrior factory to learn about how these artworks are produced – a method unchanged from Qin dynasty times. This evening you'll have the opportunity to sample Xian’s famous dumplings at a local restaurant.
Today begins with a stroll through Xian’s City Park for a spot of people-watching – you can expect to see local people enjoying tai chi, ping-pong, badminton, Chinese calligraphy and even ballroom dancing! Afterwards you'll take a tour of this culturally diverse city, to learn about its history, which dates back to 1000 BC. The city was the nation's capital at the time of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (221 BC), and was also the starting point for the Silk Road. You'll visit the 14th-century Old City Walls before continuing on to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 AD to house the Buddhist scriptures brought back from India by the travelling monk Xuan Zang. You will continue on to Xian’s Muslim Quarter to visit the Great Mosque, one of the largest in China, and to enjoy the lively street markets and local delicacies, originally brought to Xian by travellers from the Middle East and Central Asia along the Silk Road. In your free time this afternoon you may like to stroll down Calligraphy Lane or visit the impressive Shaanxi History Museum before transferring to the airport for your flight to Lanzhou.
Early this morning you'll drive out of Lanzhou, through beautiful scenery to Liujiaxia Dam, where you'll board small boats for a ride along the reservoir to the striking Bingling Si, or Thousand Buddha Caves. These caves are located in a small gorge of the Yellow River and statues were first cut into the rocks here by Silk Road travellers in 420 AD. Today there are around 800 images of Buddha and Bodhisattva, in 200 caves. You'll have time to wander through the caves before continuing through Gansu province and up, through breathtaking mountain scenery, to the Tibetan monastery town of Xiahe, at an altitude of 2,920m. Xiahe is the most important Tibetan monastery town outside of Lhasa, a colourful and fascinating place.
Today you will visit Labrang Monastery, one of the most important monasteries of the Gelukpa (the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism), founded in 1709. Before the Cultural Revolution the monastery housed over 4,000 monks, however today only about 1,200 remain. Afterwards you'll visit a local nunnery, then head into the nearby Sangke grasslands to visit the home of a local Tibetan family and learn more about Tibetan culture and hospitality over a cup of yak butter tea. You'll have some free time this afternoon to walk a circuit of the prayer wheels, interact with the monks or stroll the alleyways of the town and pick up some Tibetan jewellery, art or handicrafts. You'll also want to sample some local food, including yak dishes, momos (dumplings) and tsampa, made from barley flour and yak butter.
Today you will drive back to Lanzhou, with a stop en route near Linxia to visit a mosque and Muslim school. On arrival in Lanzhou you'll transfer to the train station for your afternoon train to Jiayuguan.
You'll arrive in Jiayuguan early this morning and transfer to your hotel. An ancient Han Chinese outpost, Jiayuguan was an important town on the Silk Road as its strategic positioning in the Hexi corridor meant it could control all traffic moving between Central Asia and China. This morning you'll visit the impressive Jiayuguan Pass Fort, built in the early years of the Ming Dynasty and once the western boundary of the Chinese empire. You'll climb the battlements to take in the views of the surrounding plains and desert. You'll also visit the Great Wall Museum, before heading to the western remnants of the Great Wall.
This morning you'll set out on a full day's drive, through desert and lush green fields, to the small town of Dunhuang, once a major outpost for the caravans travelling across the desert. Here you'll head out to Crescent Moon Lake, just south of the town, to marvel at the amazing Mingsha sand dunes. You'll take a camel ride to the dunes, where you have the choice of a fast toboggan ride or a more sedate stroll around the lake. You may also like to climb the dunes to enjoy the spectacular views over the oasis town and the surrounding desert. This evening you may wish to visit the night market to enjoy the delicious local food.
This morning you'll visit the Mogao Caves, home to the most impressive and best-preserved examples of Buddhist cave art anywhere in China. It is believed that the first caves were dug out in 366 AD by a passing monk, Lie Zun. Over the next 1,000 years his work was expanded upon as the region became a centre for Buddhist worship and the caves were used for storing Buddhist documents and artworks. Later you'll head to the railway station for your 4 hour journey to Turpan.
After breakfast at your hotel you'll visit the ancient ruins of Jiaohe, the capital of one of the 36 western kingdoms during the Han dynasty. You'll stop at the Karez Museum to learn more about the amazing 2,000 year-old local irrigation system. You'll then join a local family in their home for lunch, before heading to the Turpan bazaar to browse the stalls of clothing, exotic fruits and vegetables and fresh naan breads. Tonight you may like to visit the night markets or a local restaurant to try some local food.
This morning you'll head into the "Flaming Mountains", the stunning red sandstone hills made famous by the classic novel Journey to the West. Here you will visit the ruins of Gaochang, another important stop along the Silk Road. Next you'll visit Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, located at a breathtaking site overlooking a high gorge. On your way back into Turpan, you'll stop at the beautiful Emin Minaret. You'll have some free time this afternoon to stroll through People’s Square, return to the bazaar or visit the Turpan Museum.
Today you'll drive through the Gobi desert to the modern industrial city of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang province. Here you'll visit the Xinjiang Provincial Museum to see the artefacts and ancient mummies discovered in tombs around Xinjiang province. In the afternoon you will visit Erdao Qiao Market, where you may like to sample some local foods. This evening you'll transfer to the airport for your flight to Kashgar.
This morning you'll begin exploring Kashgar with a visit to the peaceful Abakh Hoja Tomb, which resembles a miniature Taj Mahal, before heading to Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, which can attract as many as 10,000 worshippers for Friday prayers. You'll have time to explore the peaceful grounds of the mosque before you head into the old city for a fascinating walking tour through the alleyways to watch coppersmiths, boot-makers and bakers at work and learn about age-old local crafts, including the making of musical instruments, baby cradles and wooden chests. This evening you have the option to attend a traditional Uighur show and meal at a nearby restaurant.
You'll start today with a visit to the organised chaos of the local animal market, where you'll see sheep, goats, camels, cows, donkeys and horses for sale. After lunch, you'll head to the bazaar, a great place to haggle for souvenirs including pashminas, fabrics and silk carpets. You'll have some free time this afternoon before you head into Old Kashgar, after which you'll continue to the airport for your return flight to Urumqi.
Today you'll enjoy a day trip out of Urumqi to visit the beautiful Tianchi Lake ("Heavenly Lake"), a deep blue is surrounded by lush rolling hills, with a spectacular backdrop of the ice-capped Tianshan Mountain Range. The lake area and surrounding forest are dotted with traditional yurts belonging to Kazak people. There'll be time for a walk here to enjoy the beautiful scenery, or you may like to take a boat cruise. This evening, you'll enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate the end of your journey along the Silk Road.
Your adventure comes to an end today as you transfer to the airport for your onward journey.
Standard fr £3910pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated