Day 1: Arrive Beijing. Overnight in an airport hotel. (lunch onboard)
Day 2: Beijing--Xi'an (B/L/D)
This morning's flight takes us to the ancient city of Xi'an, the last stop on the famed trade route of the Silk Road, that ancient braid of caravan trails stretching for more than 2,500 miles from China through Central Asia to the Mediterranean. For 1,120 years, Xi'an served as the seat of twelve imperial dynasties, including the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907), a time when the Silk Road was at its height. Upon arrival, we will see Xi'an's massive city wall, which still encircles the city center, and view the Bell and Drum Towers, which date from the 14th century. Our evening exploration is of the night market in the old Muslim quarter of the city. Overnight for two nights in the Howard Johnson Plaza, located immediately outside the famous South Gate of Xi'an.
Day 3: Xi'an (B/L/D)
We begin today at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, erected in the first decade of the 8th century. Within this massive brick structure, the walls and doors are carved with vivid and exquisite figures of the Buddha, reflecting the profundity in the paintings during the Tang. Later in the day, visit the tomb of the first emperor of Qin (Qin Shihuangdi), located in the outskirts of Xi'an. Here we see one of the most astounding archaeological finds of the 20th century, the famous army of life-sized terracotta warriors and horses guarding the resting place of China's first emperor, who died in 210 BC. Dinner is on our own this evening.
Day 4: Xi'an --Dunhuang (B/L/D)
Fly to Gansu Province in northwest China, and the town of Dunhuang, a crucial junction of the Silk Road located at the edge of the Gobi desert. This area was a center for East-West cultural and trade exchanges as early as the Han and Tang dynasties, and an astonishingly rich variety of cultural relics remains. By the 4th century AD, the Silk Road had brought Dunhuang both commercial prosperity and a growing Buddhist community. We will visit the Mogao caves, one of the most perfectly preserved of the world's great religious sanctuaries and listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. The director of the Academy and her staff will open some of the caves that are closed to the public and allow us to examine up close the spectacular murals lovingly painted on the walls and ceilings, most of which date from the 7th to the 11th centuries. In addition, three tombs dating from the 5th and 6th centuries are open to visitors. Filled with one of the most extensive and exquisite collections of Buddhist paintings and sculptures in the world, every surface of the walls and ceilings is covered with decorated stucco, meant to bless those departing on the next stage of their journey or to celebrate a successful return. Overnight in the Hotel Silk Road Dunhuang for two nights.
Day 5: Dunhuang (B/L/D)
As protection from ongoing invasions by Xiongnu forces in the western region, Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (114 BC) had formidable walls and beacon towers built. Remnants still stand and we will travel to Yangguan Pass and Yumenguan Pass to see these military strongholds. Begin at Yumenguan, or Jade Gate Pass, where a new museum has been recently built that contains artifacts of the era beautifully displayed. Then it's on to Yumenguan Pass where a huge gate in the fortifications is still visible that was built when the emperor opened the areas west of the Yellow River in Gansu. This was a vital strategic point through which passed heavily-laden camel caravans transporting rich fabrics, aromatic spices, and prized jade when traveling westward from Dunhuang to follow the southern route of the Silk Road in Central Asia. This evening we will take a short drive to the edge of the Dunhuang Oasis to view the Singing Sand Dunes at sunset.
Day 6: Dunhuang--Urumqi (B/L/D)
The Silk Route was dependent for its existence and survival upon a line of oases strategically sited along the edge of the forbidding Taklamakan Desert. We will fly to Urumqi and then drive to one of these desert oases – Turpan, located almost 500 feet below sea level in the second lowest spot on earth. This sleepy desert town is shaded by poplar trees and grape arbors, populated by the Turkish-speaking Uighurs, and irrigated by a vast system of hand-dug underground channels (called karezes) that funnel the melting snow of the Heavenly Mountains into Turpan. It is this 2,000-year-old irrigation system that has kept the city alive while other desert boomtowns have withered up and died. Overnight for three nights in the simple Hotel Oasis.
Day 7: Urumqi--Turpan- (B/L/D)
Today's all-day exploration takes us to several memorable sites. The Astana Tombs is a Tang-era site where the royalty of the old kingdom of Gaochang were interred. Of the more than 1000 tombs, only three are open. We will walk down a steep, narrow passage, at the bottom of which lies a small chamber with perfectly preserved mummies still on display. The walls of one chamber display murals depicting Jade Man, Gold Man, Stone Man and Wooden Man, said to symbolize Confucian virtues. Our next stop is Bezeklik, one of the earliest points of arrival of Buddhism in China. The Bezeklik Thousand-Buddha Caves contain 67 caves, noted for their exquisite murals dating from the Northern and Southern dynasties (AD 317 - 589) to the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279 - 1368). Here we have arranged for a special opening of one of the caves that is closed to the public. After a short tour of the Sugong Minaret, built in the mid-eighteenth century by the chief of Turpan Prefecture as a memorial to his father, it’s on to the Tuyuq Valley caves, at the far end of the Turpan Depression, with murals that have only recently been opened to the public.
Day 8: Turpan -- Urumqi (B/L)
Start the day at the Turpan Museum, with its many artifacts from Gaochang, an ancient Uighur capital and a citadel on the Silk Road. From here we move on to Gaochang itself, its impressive ruins lying through a pass in the Flaming Mountains. Built in the first century B.C. and originally called Gaochangbi, it began as a garrison town and later became a key point along the ancient trade route, a large city built of tamped earth and adobe, defended by nine city gates. After exploring the city, we continue to the natural fortress of Jiaohe, built with rammed earth and bricks 2300 years ago. Sited on top of a high plateau formed by two rivers, the beautiful city that existed here was destroyed by Genghis Khan. The size of the existing ruins indicates its great prosperity during the Tang dynasty and its significant role in the economic development of Western and Eastern countries. Dinner is on our own.
Day 9: Urumqi-- Kucha (B/L/D)
Fly to Kucha, an oasis town lying at the foot of the Tian Shan ('"Celestial Mountains"), and an important center on the northern branch of the Silk Road. Many of the monks who introduced Buddhist teachings into China from the 3rd to the 7th century AD were from Kucha. This afternoon we will view the ruins of Subashi, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Guici, where we will see two Buddhist temples from the Sui and Tang dynasties. Overnight two nights in Hotel Kucha.
Day 10: Kucha (B/L/D)
Today is Kucha's Friday bazaar, a major market attracting Uighurs and other traders from near and far. During the 2nd century AD, Buddhism came to eastern Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang) via the Silk Road. Ancient Guici (Kucha) was a crossroads of the great cultures of India, Persia, Greece and China, and local painters selected elements of each and combined them to make a distinct Guici painting style. The area is full of Buddhist cave sites and ancient ruins. We will visit the huge Kizil Grotto Temples, containing 236 caves from the Wei and Jin Dynasties (4th-5th centuries AD), among some of the largest and the oldest in China. Kizil was actually a monastery made up of different kinds of caves, some for meditation and residence, others for religious teaching and worship, and yet others for the burial of the relics of eminent monks. Here, we have made special arrangements to open one of the caves that is closed to the public in order to see the spectacular murals. Driving back to Kucha, we will pass a beacon tower built during the Han dynasty. Our last visit for the day will be the Kucha Museum.
Day 11: Kucha-- Kashgar (B/L/D)
Today is a travel day as we journey by "soft berth" train to Kashgar. Upon arrival, there will be time to walk around the street of arts and crafts, the Kashgar City Traditional Minority Handicraft and Souvenir Shop, and the old town, with its typical Uighur-styled homes. Overnight for three nights in the Hotel Quinibagh.
Day 12: Kashgar (B/L/D)
Kashga's Sunday bazaar is well known as one of the great markets of Central Asia. A cacophony of sounds, sights, and smells awaits us in this ancient marketplace. Here colorful Uighurs hawk their wares in an exotic scene of handicrafts, fabrics and rugs, and food and spices. Leaving the bazaar in the early afternoon, we will drive to Upal to see the tomb of Mahmud Kashgari. Born into an aristocratic family of the Karakhnid Dynasty in the eleventh century, and an outstanding Uighur scholar and linguist, Mahmud compiled the first Turkish dictionary. His tomb is highly respected by the Uighur people and the entire Turkish world; over the centuries, Islamic scholars have contributed thousands of books and manuscripts, turning the site into a remarkable library. Three striking monuments still await us. First, the stunning Afaq Khoja Tomb, a complex of buildings covered with elegant glazed tiles in beautiful patterns built about 1640 by the descendants of a famous missionary of Islam. Their own heirs would one day become loyal subjects of the Manchu emperors of Qing China. Second, we visit the 15th century Id Kah Mosque, in typical Uighur architectural style, located in the center of Kashgar and considered the biggest mosque in China. Third, we will tour the Mol Pagoda, one of the earliest Buddhist religious buildings in China. Time permitting, we will also visit the Kashgar Silk Road Museum to view artifacts such as 4000 year-old bronzes and 3000 year-old wooden tomb figures.
Day 13: Karakul Lake(B/L/D)
Our all day drive through breathtaking scenery takes us to Karakul Lake, a glorious highland lake in the shadow of the Pamirs, the gateway to the Ferghana Valley (in modern Uzbekistan) and the rest of Central Asia. Here we are likely to observe nomadic Kirghiz families as well as a range of flora and fauna distinct from those of the oases towns far below.
Day 14: Kashgar (B/L/D)
Today's long drive takes us to Khotan. Along the way, we will stop in the oasis town of Yarkand, once an important stop on the caravan route from India that rivaled Kashgar in importance. Here, we will visit the tomb of a Yarkand king and the old bazaar. We then continue on to Khotan. On the southern part of the Silk Road, Khotan was an early center for the spread of Buddhism from India into China. It fell to the Arabs in the 8th century, and grew wealthy on the proceeds of the caravan trade that traveled the route between China and the West until conquered by Genghis Khan in the early 13th century. Overnight tonight in the Hotel Khotan.
Day 15:Kashgar --Urumqi(B/L)
Today's trip will be a highlight as we travel deep into the endless desert. First, travel by 4-wheel drive jeeps to the edge of the cultivated area, and then take a two-mile camel ride to Rawak, the ruins of the earliest pagoda of China. As we travel through the glorious desert on the back of our two-humped dromedary, we will gain a momentary glimpse of the ancient caravan journeys. An evening flight will take us to Urumqi where we will stay at Hotel Hoi Tak. Dinner is on our own.
Day 16: Urumqi(B/L)
This morning we will visit the Xinjian Regional Museum to view the fine collection of relics from Astana. Then it's on to the newly opened Sild Road Museum and the city's bookstore, displaying books of the area in English. Afternoon visit to Urumqui's bazaar. Dinner is on our own.
Day 17: Urumqi. (B/L/D)
Today, we will experience a complete change of scenery as we ascend to Lake Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) in the foothills of the Tian shan. We'll observe herds of sheep and horses pastured here by nomadic Kirghiz and Kazakh herdsmen and their families, who dwell in nearby yurts. A cruise on the sapphire-blue Heavenly Lake, rimmed by snow-capped mountains, will be followed by an al fresco dinner before we return to Urumqi.
Day 18:Urumqi-- Beijing(B/L/D)
Fly to Beijing. Lunch today at one of the new and stylish restaurants offering fine traditional Shanghai-style cuisine. Learn why gourmets the world over are beginning to call Beijing a destination. The afternoon is free for visiting museums, parks, shops, and galleries, and to sample some of Beijing’s varied nightlife. Gather this evening for our final dinner party within a traditional four-sided courtyard house, where a descendant of the Manchu imperial clan will prepare a feast for us that is truly fit for royalty. Overnight for two nights at the Lusong Yuan, formerly the residence of Manchu nobles and today converted to a charming, friendly hotel with corridors winding around unexpected and intimate courtyards. This simple but comfortable establishment, located on a narrow hutong in the heart of the city, captures the ambience of old Beijing.
A morning stroll takes us through the lanes and small streets of the hutongs in northwest Beijing, culminating in a typical noodle and dumpling lunch in one of the small restaurants nearby. The afternoon is free.
Day 20:Exzit Beijing-(B)
Transfer to Beijing International Airport for return flight to
PRIVATE TOURS OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES: The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be onsite when our groups arrive due to other commitments, or that the date or time of our visit to their project must changed.
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