Ancient Silk Road
• Beijing • Xi'an • Dunhuang • Turpan Oasis • Kuche • Kashgar • Urumqi • Shanghai
Discover the legends, culture and natural beauty of the Silk Road, on this most remarkable of journeys. Some of the many highlights include visiting the Mongao Grottoes, riding a camel into the Singing Sand Dunes, seeing the Flaming Mountains and passing sections of the lesser-visited Han Great Wall. You will also visit Turpan Oasis - one of the lowest points on earth. The train journey begins at Liuyuan, travelling past the Tianshan (Heavenly) Mountains, then along the edge of the Taklamakan Desert - the second largest in the world after the Sahara. Drive through the Gobi Desert to the Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves, before continuing by train to Kashgar, alive with storybook scenes of merchants haggling over camels, carpets and other goods; imams on donkeys and veiled women in black robes. Fly to Urumqi, a vastly different China where you will experience a Middle Eastern bazaar, nomadic Khazakhs and local Han people. End your journey of a lifetime in the bustling city of Shanghai - symbol of 'tomorrows' China.
Day 1: Arrive Beijing Upon your arrival at Beijing airport, you will be transferred to your downtown hotel. The remainder of the day is free to spend at leisure.
Day 2: Beijing First on your tour this morning will be a visit to the Temple of Heaven, where Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties used to attend annual ceremonies of prayer for a good harvest. You might also see some of the local people doing their morning exercises in the park outside the complex (weather permitting). Afterwards continue to Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world and spiritual heart of China. Here, you'll walk through the Tiananmen Gate into the Forbidden City, which houses the Imperial palace from the Ming and Qing dynasties and is one of the grandest palace complexes that remain today. Continue to the enchanting Summer Palace, the imperial summer resort of the Qing dynasty, located on the northwestern outskirts of the City. Included in the tour will be a 15-minute boat ride on the lake set in the middle of the magnificent gardens.
Notes: The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays. Depending on your day of arrival in Beijing the order of sightseeing may need to be changed. The Summer Palace boat ride is not available when the lake is frozen, normally from 1 November to 1 April.
You will return to the hotel before being taken to Hua Jia's restaurant (or similar) for a dinner of Beijing Roast Duck, a delightful dish for which this city is famous.
Day 3: Beijing Today's full day tour starts with a 1.5 hour drive to the magnificent Great Wall, the longest wall in the world, stretching around 6,700 km and built over 2,000 years ago. Travel by cable car to the Mutianyu section of the wall, where you can walk along the ramparts and enjoy the gorgeous views as well as be amazed by the incredible construction of the wall itself.
Lunch will be provided at a restaurant nearby, before you continue to the Chang Tomb, the largest and best preserved of the 13 tombs near Beijing. The layout is identical to the tomb of the first Ming emperor in Nanjing and similar to a miniature version of the Forbidden City. Afterwards visit the Ding Tomb, the burial site of Emperor Wanli, the 13th emperor of the Ming dynasty, who ruled for 48 years until his death in 1620.
Day 4: Beijing > Xi'an Transfer to the rail station for morning departure on the fast train to Xi'an, the ancient imperial capital of Chang'an and eastern departure point of the Silk Road. On arrival you will be transferred to your hotel, located inside the old city walls, after which you'll be taken to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was built to house the sutras brought back from India by Xuanzang, a Chinese Buddhist monk famous for his travels in the early Tang dynasty. Later in the afternoon, you will be taken on a short walking tour of the Ancient City Walls, one of the oldest and best preserved walls in China, which are wide enough to carry a golf cart or rickshaw. Afterwards you will visit the Islamic Quarter, home to a sizeable community of Chinese-Muslims, and stroll along Muslim Street, a narrow bazaar-style street lined with shops selling local delicacies, snacks and souvenirs. A number of small restaurants are also located on this street, serving typical Muslim food.
Day 5: Xi'an A full day of sightseeing is arranged for you, starting with a visit to the infamous underground army of Terracotta Warriors. Six thousand intricately-carved, life-size clay statues of terracotta warriors and their horses stand in battle formation, protecting the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor in Chinese history, for over 2,200 years. Continue to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built to house the sutras brought back from India by Xuanzang, the Chinese Buddhist monk famous for his travels in the early Tang dynasty. Afterwards visit the Bell Tower, a three-storey wooden and brick structure built in 1384 and relocated in 1582 to the centre of the city. The replica "JingYun" bell hangs in the tower today, while the original, cast in the Tang dynasty, is on display in Dongting.
In the evening you will be taken to the Tang Dynasty Palace, a leading theatre and restaurant, where dinner will be served while you watch the Tang Dynasty Show, featuring cultural music and dance performances from the Tang dynasty.
Day 6: Xi'an > Dunhuang After breakfast, you will visit the Shaanxi History Museum, one of the largest and most comprehensive museums in China, opened in 1991 and exhibiting over 3,000 unearthed historical relics, a mere fraction of their entire collection of over 370,000 items. Afterwards, you will board an afternoon flight to Dunhuang, a city that lies in the heart of the Old Silk Road. On arrival, you will be taken to your hotel for an evening at leisure.
Note: The Shaanxi History Museum is closed on Mondays. Depending on your day of arrival in Xi'an, the order of sightseeing may need to be changed.
Day 7: Dunhuang Lying in an oasis near the edges of the Gobi and Taklmakan Deserts, Dunhuang is strategically positioned at the crossroads of two major routes of the ancient Silk Road. It was one of the first trading cities encountered by merchants arriving in China from the west. Today's tour will take you to the Mongao Grottoes, a collection of neary 500 caves to the south of the city, constructed over the course of a millennium, from the 4th to the 14th centuries. The caves hold the world's richest treasure house of Buddhist sutras, murals and sculptures. Afterwards, you continue to Crescent Moon Lake, which lies among the dunes at the foot of Mingsha Shan, which translates to 'Singing Sand Mountain', so called from the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes. The crescent moon-shaped lake stretches 118m from west to east and only 25m from south to north. You will have the opportunity to ride a camel in the area afterwards.
Day 8: Dunhuang > Liuyuan > Turpan In the morning, you will be taken to visit of The White Horse Pagoda, which was constructed in 386 AD to commemorate Tianliu, the white horse of a Buddhist monk named Kumarajiva, who carried Buddhist scriptures from the Kingdom of Kucha to Dunhuang. Later, you will drive from Dunhuang to Liuyuan train station to board a high-speed train to Turpan.
Day 9: Turpan Turpan, meaning "lowest place" in the Uyghur language, is located approximately 150km southeast of Urumqi in the Turpan Basis. At an elevation of 30m above sea level, it is one of the lowest elevations in the world. The city has a rich history dating back some 6,000 years and was an important point along the Silk Road.
A full day of sightseeing is arranged for today, which starts with a visit to the Gaochang Ruins. Meaning "The King City", Gaochang was founded in the 7th century during the Tang dynasty and became the Uyghur capital in 850 AD. After more than 2,000 years of exposure to the elements, only the earthen walls of the city remain in good condition (once 12m thick) as well as a large Buddhist monastery in the southwest, but the ruins offer much insight into this once prosperous, cosmopolitan city along the Silk Road. Gaochang lies at the foot of the Flaming Mountains, your next stop. Stretching over 100km long and 10km wide, the mountains are so named because, under the relentless heat of the midday sun, they radiate a fierce heat and appear to be on fire. Surface temperatures here can reach over 70 C in the height of summer. You continue with a visit to the Grape Valley, which, in contrast to the Flaming Mountains, is refreshingly cool and vibrant with its vineyards and orchards. Famous for its raisin production, around 13 different varieties of grape are cultivated and over 300 tons of raisins are produced here annually. As well as being shown the production process, you will be able to simply sit and relax under the cool canopies of vines, tasting the grapes. Afterwards you continue to a Karez Irrigation site, one of three major ancient irrigation projects. The Karez irrigation system was developed as a method to bring the melted snow waters of the Tian Shan to the city through a series of wells dug into underground channels around 2,000 years ago.
Rounding off the day, you will be taken to a music and dance folkloric performance in the evening.
Day 10: Turpan > Urumqi In the morning you will be taken to the Emin Minaret, which, at 44 metres, is the tallest minaret in China. Built in 1777 in honour of the heroic Turpan general, Emin Khoja, his son, Suleiman, built the minaret to show gratitude to the Qinq Empire, which had conquered the largely muslim region by defeating the Dzungar Mongols. Afterwards you will visit a local village before driving to the ruins of Jiaohe City, the capital of the former Gushi Kingdom that was first built in 60 BC. It is the largest and most well-preserved ancient city built from earth, with houses dug downward from the earth. After the various reigns of the Turpan, Hui and Mongols, residents fled the city continuously until, in the early 14th century, the city was completely abandoned. However, owing to the arid climate of its remote location, Jiaohe remains intact. At the end of the tour you will continue by road to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. On arrival, you will be taken to your hotel with the remainder of the day free at leisure.
Day 11: Urumqi Urumqi was a major hub on the Silk Road during the Tang dynasty and a leading cultural and commercial centre during the Qing dynasty. It also has the largest population in the western interior of China and Central Asia and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is the most remote city from any sea in the world.
A full day of visits have been arranged for today, starting with a city tour that takes in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum. The museum houses an excellent collection of artifacts and relics of more than 12 minority groups from all of the major archaeological sites in Xinjiang, while the main exhibits are those of the preserved mummies and garments of nearly a dozen people found in tombs throughout Xinjiang. The most well-known of these is a 4,000 year-old mummy called "Loulan Beauty", a woman of European descent who is proof that Urumqi was an important stop on the Silk Road. She was so named because of her exceedingly well-preserved facial features. You will also visit the Erdaoqiao Grand Bazaar, the largest bazaar in the world by scale, where you'll find a bustling Uyghur market offering everything from garments and carpets to musical instruments, jewellery and food, as well as impromptu singing and dancing performances. Moving out of the city, you will be taken to the Heavenly Lake, located in the Heavenly (Tian Shan) Mountain range 120km northeast of Urumqi. The lake lies 1,980 meters above sea level, and is surrounded by lush forest and snow-capped mountains in the background. Enjoy a walk while taking in the spectacular views.
Day 12: Urumqi After breakfast you will drive to the Southern Pastures, located at the southern end of the Heavenly Mountain range. The Baiyang Valley is one of the valleys in the extremely large pastures, where you'll find fountains, waterfalls, and thick forests of cypress and pine trees. Kazakh nomadic ranchers have lived in these areas for many generations and, in summer, tend to their herds of cows and sheep on the grassy slopes of the mountain.
Day 13: Urumqi > Kashgar This morning you will take a morning flight from Urumqi to Kashgar, which lies near the Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikstan borders, in the westernmost corner of China's Xinjiang province. Known mostly as an isolated oasis and trading centre on the Silk Road, Kashgar was strategically important for over 2,000 years as it formed a major hub for the northern and southern Silk Routes that crossed here.
After checking in to your hotel, you will be taken on an afternoon of sightseeing. First will be a visit to the Xiangfei Tomb, which served as the family tomb of Abakh Khoja, a powerful 17th century Kashgar ruler who was revered as a prophet, second only to Mohammed. Also buried here is Iparhan, Abakh Khoja's granddaughter, who, it is said, was forced to marry the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty. After her death in the Forbidden City, her body was carried on a three-year journey to the Xiangfei Tomb. Afterwards you willl drive to the centre of the city to visit the Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China and the religious centre of Kashgar. The ornate structure was originally built in 1442 in an exquisite Islamic style, as opposed to the Chinese-style mosques found elsewhere. You continue to Kashgar's Ancient Town, a mud-brick labyrinth of lanes with hundreds-of-years-old homes that were built in a combined Islamic and Uyghur style. This is the perfect place to experience Uyghur customs and culture, and see traditional trades still being plied today.
Day 14: Kashgar > Shanghai This morning you will visit the vibrant and extremely active Sunday Bazaar, which, although open every day, it is at its busiest with all section open on Sundays. The Bazaar is known as one of the largest and most colourful in the region, with items such as silk, carpets, and copper teapots being sold alongside a wide variety of livestock, fruit and vegetables brought by thousands of farmers from the surrounding lands. Afterwards depart for your flight to Shanghai, where on arrival you will be transferred to your hotel.
Day 15: Shanghai A full day of visits have been arranged for today, including the Jade Buddha Temple, an active temple with 70 resident monks that is mostly known for its sitting Jade Buddha and a reclining Jade Buddha. This will be followed by a stroll through Yu Garden to enjoy a beautiful landscape of pagodas, pavilions, rockeries, fountains, ancient trees and precious flowers. Outside Yu Garden, get a taste of Shanghai's local life in the bustling Yuyuan Market.
Day 16: Shanghai Today's visits will include an audio-guided tour of the Shanghai Museum, often ranked as China's best museum, with a fine collection of over 120,000 pieces of Chinese artifacts. Afterwards, walk down the Bund along the Huangpu River, where trading houses and banks were headquartered in the 1920's and 1930's, and then enjoy a bird's eye view of modern Shanghai from the Shanghai World Financial Centre. Running off the Bund is Nanjing Road, the main shopping street of Shanghai and one of the busiest in the world, where you will have the chance to wander and explore some of the many shops located along its 5.5 km length.
Note: The Shanghai Museum is closed on Mondays. Depending on your day of arrival in Shanghai, the order of sightseeing may need to be changed.
Day 17: Shanghai Today is free for you to spend at leisure until your transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
• Tailor-made journey with local English speaking guides • Transfers and transport by car • 15 nights' accommodation in a combination of 3 & 4 star hotels • 16 Breakfasts, 15 Lunches & 5 Dinners • 2 nights sleeper accommodation in shared 4 berth compartments on the overnight train Liuyuan > Turpan & Turpan > Kuche • Flights Beijing > Xi'an > Dunhuang & Kashgar > Urumqi > Shanghai • Personal meet & greet on arrival • Sightseeing and entrance fees
Pricing (per person) $NZD
Booking conditions NOTE: Itinerary is available in the reverse direction.
It is important you are in Kashgar on a Sunday for the famous market. Therefore ideally the itinerary should start in Beijing on a Monday. The itinerary may be modified if you start on another day.
NOTE: Itinerary is available in the reverse direction. It is important you are in Kashgar on a Sunday for the famous market. Therefore ideally the itinerary should start in Beijing on a Monday. The itinerary may be modified if you start on another day.