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Silk Road To Samarkand Via Kashgar


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An extraordinary journey following the ancient Silk Road from China to Uzbekistan


Arrive Beijing

If you are arriving into Beijing today you will be collected from the airport and transferred to the group hotel. 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 a group welcome dinner.Overnight: Dong Fang Hotel or similar

Visit to The Forbidden City

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. In the evening there is an option to see an acrobatic show.Overnight: Dong Fang Hotel or similar

The Great Wall & The Summer Palace

We will make an early start this morning and head north out of the city to explore the Great Wall at the Mutianyu. Whilst this section is a slightly longer drive, at around 1½hrs, than the Badaling Gate section, it is significantly less busy and therefore worth the drive. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China was built as a defence line to keep out marauding invaders, nomadic groups of the steppe from the north. The first sections were completed as far back as the 7th century BC. Since then, many successive dynasties built and maintained multiple stretches of border walls. The most currently well-known of the walls were built by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is a masterpiece of restoration, with 23 original-style Ming Dynasty watchtowers. This is the longest fully-restored Great Wall section open to visitors. On arrival, you have the option for either a gentle walk with optional cable car assistance or for those feeling more active, we can complete a 2 -3hr walk along this beautiful section of the wall. In the afternoon we’ll head back into the city to visit the Summer Palace. First built in 1750, largely destroyed in the war of 1860 and restored on its original foundations in 1886, the Summer Palace in Beijing is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value.In the evening we will be treated to a traditional Peking Duck dinner.Overnight: Dong Fang Hotel or similar

In Beijing, night train to Xi'an

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.Overnight: Sleeper train - 4 berth cabin

Xi'an City tour

Xi'an is the traditional starting point of the Silk Road, the point from where traders departed on their long cross continental voyages. The walled city of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of old meets new China. The modernised new city bustles around the quaint, winding lanes of the Old Quarter, where retired men spend their days smoking pipes playing mahjong and chess while butchers pull their carcass-laden carts and hawkers sell all manner of wares. Today, we will take in a city tour, starting on the old city wall which is the most complete ancient city wall in China. At 12m high and 15m wide, the 14km long wall is one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world and safeguarded the capital city of13 Chinese dynasties. A walk along the wall provides us with a glimpse into the ancient and modern life of the city and its inhabitants. Later we also visit the fascinating Shaanxi Provincial Museum which houses a collection devoted to the Silk Road. In the evening, there is an option to dine at a special dumpling restaurant, which is highly recommended and very unique (additional cost).Overnight: Ramada Bell Tower Hotel Xi'an or similar

Terracotta Warriors & Goose Pagoda

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 truly an extraordinary one. In the afternoon we’ll visit the Big Goose Pagoda which is a classic example of Chinese temple architecture. Originally built in 652AD during the Tang dynasty, it was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian, and its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming dynasty. One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveler Xuanzang. Today, the interior walls of the pagoda feature engraved statues of Buddha by the renowned artist Yan Liben.This evening we have the option to attend a Tang Dynasty Dance Show.Overnight: Ramada Bell Tower Hotel Xi'an or similar

Train to Lanzhou, transfer to Linxia

This morning we transfer to the station to catch the high speed 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.Overnight: He Huang Pearl Hotel or similar

Boat trip to Bing Ling Temple, transfer to Xiahe

This morning we transfer by bus and boat to Bingling Temple which are a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculpture carved into natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. After visiting these fascinating grottoes we transfer on 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 Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. On arrival in Xiahe you will likely notice the increase of altitude as the town is located at 2,900m.Overnight: Laboleng Wangfu Hotel or similar

Labrang Monastery, return to Lanzhou & night train to Jiayuguan.

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.Overnight: Sleeper train - 4 berth cabin

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. Then we're on to the Black Mountain to climb a restored section of the wall.Overnight: Jiayuguan Great Wall Hotel or similar

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 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 meter 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.Overnight: Dunhuang Hantang Grang Hotel or similar

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 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 the bullet train to Turpan (4hrs). We will be met at the station and transferred to our hotel.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.Overnight: Jinjiang Ducheng Hotel or similar

In Turpan (or Tulufun)

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.Overnight: Jinxiu Jinhua Hotel Turpanl or similar

Drive to Ürümqi

The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are picturesquely located on a cliff face overlooking a river valley. We visit them before driving on to Urumqi (approx. 3hrs). Situated at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains, Ürümqi 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. We’ll venture pout for our first exploration of Urumqi and its strong Communist architecture. Furthermore, a visit to Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi would be incomplete without a visit to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum or the “Xinjiang Museum” for short. It is by far the best museum you’ll find along the Silk Road and is home to some of the area’s most famous and controversial artefacts: the Xinjiang mummies.Overnight: Dushanzi Hotel or similar

Heaven's Lake, flight to Kashgar

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.Overnight: Kashi Tianyuan International Hotel or similar

Markets of 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. 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 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. We'll also make time today to visit a local family at their traditional home, to learn about the lifestyles of those living in this remote corner of China.Overnight: Kashi Tianyuan International Hotel or similar

Drive to Naryn via Torugart Pass

We may have to say goodbye to some of the people in our group today as they will remain in China. This morning we will make an early start for the 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 approx. 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 guide for the crossing of the pass and the border formalities. The eight hour drive from here to Naryn is spectacular as we are in the Tian Shan mountains and on one of the world's most remote high altitude roads. We will spend the night in a guesthouse which is basic but clean and comfortable. Please note that accommodation is very limited in Naryn and that the guesthouse is located within the town and not in a rural setting. Note: from our experience this day will be long and at times uncomfortable. We may arrive in Naryn anywhere between 8-12pm. Having your sense of humour and a flexible attitude is the order of the day, as is your spirit of adventure. Taking snacks in your daypack and perhaps a set of cards is recommended.Overnight: Khan Tengri or similar

Drive to Lake Issyk-Kul

Today we drive to Lake Issyk-Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in South America. Measuring 182 km long by 58 km wide, the lake appeared as a result of volcanic activity. It is heated from below by thermal springs and never freezes even in the depths of winter. In the summer the water temperature reaches 25-28 degrees centigrade (warmer than the air) and you can swim in the lake enclosed on all sides by the snowy peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains. Extremely deep and pleasantly warm, over the centuries the lake has been something of an oasis in this inhospitable mountain environment. With diverse flora and fauna Issyk-Kul Lake and the surrounding environments are rightly considered to be one of Central Asia's most remarkable locations.Overnight: Traditional yurt camp

Drive to Bishkek

Today we drive further through spectacular mountain scenery where the peaks are like knife edges, to the quaint town of Bishkek.Overnight: Plaza Hotel Bishkek or similar

Visit Ala Archa National Park, flight to Tashkent

Weather permitting, this morning we drive to the Ala-Archa National Park, where we can see magnificent scenery as we walk through the national park and enjoy a picnic-lunch. Later today we fly to Tashkent.Overnight: City Palace Hotel or similar

Morning flight to Urgench, transfer to Khiva

This morning we board a morning flight to Urgench, so we can enjoy a full day of sightseeing in 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 afternoon exploring the World Heritage Itchan - Kala (the walled inner town of the city) and the Pakhlavan Makhmud complex.Overnight: Malika Khiva Hotel or similar

In Khiva

We continue our exploration of the maze of mosques, tombs, alley ways, palaces, fortresses and medressas (Muslim centers of learning). This afternoon there is time to relax, shop or simply wander the streets and observe the local way of life.Overnight: Malika Khiva Hotel or similar

Train to Bukhara

This morning, following breakfast, we depart Khiva. We'll board the train bound for Central Asia’s holiest city, Bukhara. This journey across the desert will take around 5hrs, but we will be in the comfort of the air conditioned train. Upon arrival in Bukhara, we transfer to our hotel to relax and refresh. In the afternoon we'll venture out for our first exploration of the city centre, an architectural preserve, full of medressas and minarets, an expansive royal fortress and the remnants of a once-vast market complex. Overnight: Kavsar Boutique Hotel or similar

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. Today we have a full day tour of the mosques, medressas and fortress of the old city. We will visit The Ark, the former Royal City and City Fortress that was the focus of the city for 2000 years, as well as Samanid's Mausoleum.Overnight: Kavsar Boutique Hotel or similar

Train to Samarkand

This morning we visit the Sitora-i Mokhi Khosa: the Summer Palace of Bukharan Emirs. The summer palace consists of 3 buildings, set in rose gardens and surrounded by courtyards, a Persian-influenced style that harks back to Timurid days. Located in the outskirts of the city, the Summer Palace of the last emirs of Bukhara is a fascinating place to dive into the lifestyle of the court in a time of great upheaval. After lunch, we'll board the train for the short, 1½hr journey to the most famous of Central Asia's Silk Road Cities, Samarkand. Overnight: Hotel City Samarkand or similar

In Samarkand

Today we'll 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 skilled traders to Samarkand. We will also visit Ulugbek observatory. We also take in the sights of the Registan complex, the remarkable market place of ancient Samarkand. It is enclosed by spectacular medressas 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 visit another highlight of Samarkand - the huge Bibi-Khonum mosque. Tonight is the final night of our trip and therefore the perfect opportunity for one final dinner together to relive our epic journey.Overnight: Hotel City Samarkand or similar

Train to Tashkent, city tour, trip concludes

We have a very early start today, to catch the morning train from Samarkand to Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. The journey north will take around 2½hrs. Upon arrival, we'll begin our sightseeing tour of Tashkent. Tashkent is a modern city of three million people but has a relaxed pace, and charming street side cafes. We start with a visit to the Old Town, including Osman's Koran - an essential part of Muslim historical and cultural heritage. Time permitting we will also visit the Courage Monument, Amir Temur Square - the city’s oldest square, and the Museum of Applied Art. In the evening, depending on your onward journey plans, you will be taken either to the airport or to the group hotel, and the trip concludes.Note: there is no accommodation included tonight. If you would like to extend your stay in Tashkent, please ask your World Expedition's Adventure Travel Consultant for accommodation options.

Additional Information

This 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 visiting all the sights 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's 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 Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the tree lined streets of Tashkent and the walled city of Khiva. Continuing to Bukhara, we savour its rich history as we stroll through the bazaars, mosques and magnificent Summer Palace before travelling to Samarkand to view the impressive domes and minarets of The Registan - a collection of madrasahs, and one of the most impressive sights in Central Asia.

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