Jiayuguan watchtower
Jiayuguan watchtower
NEW for 2019

Western China: Relics of the Silk Road


19 days From $8,770

May 24 2019

Over 2,000 years ago, merchants first began to use the great artery of the Silk Road for the flow of goods between China, the trading centers of Persia, the Middle East and Europe. Thus was born the legendary 4,000 mile trail that began its arduous journey through western China’s challenging terrain via the ‘caravan city’ oases of Dunhuang, Tupanm Urumqi, Hotan and Kashgar, to which increased wealth inevitably flowed.

Today’s western China remains far less developed than the east, from which it can still seem surprisingly remote, with languages and traditions of its own. It’s a land characterized by swathes of empty and breathtakingly beautiful terrain, with vistas ranging from infinite prairie pastures to formidable tracts like Xinjang’s Taklamakan desert, and the peaks of some of Asia’s highest mountains.

Our journey through these fascinating unfamiliar landscapes and cultures, offers the curious traveler insight into the region’s ancient civilizations on visits to haunting ancient ruins of sites like Jiaohe, the citadel of Gaochang, Buddhist and Confucian temples, Islamic mosques and cultural museums. All this is in contrast to a chance to enjoy Kashgar’s famously colorful Grand Sunday Bazaar, and Hotan’s night market with local Uyghur dancers.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Prof. Craig Benjamin

Prof. Craig Benjamin

Craig Benjamin is a Professor of History in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University, where he teaches courses in ancient Central and East Asian history, and on the Silk Roads.

Book Now $8,770
Includes deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,200

Tour highlights:

  • Explore Bezeklik’s great Cave of 1,000 Buddhas – an amazing cave grotto complex dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries
  • Wander the Mogao Cliff cave chapels near Dunhuang, a UNESCO world Heritage Site dating back to AD 366
  • Visit Jiayuguan Fort, the western starting point of the Ming Great Wall and a key pass on the ancient Silk Road
  • Discover the archaeology among the historic ruins of Jiaohe and the citadel of Goachang near Turpan
  • View the iconic Terracotta Warriors, a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Qn Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China

Tour details

Dates May 24 2019 - June 11 2019
Duration 19 days
Cost $8,770
Single supplement: $1,200
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by March 1 2019
Activity Level Challenging
Tour code A19CHW

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

May 24 2019: Itinerary

We arrive into Beijing, the Chinese capital, and transfer to our hotel. We meet up later for a first dinner together as a group.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Novotel Xinqiao, Beijing

Our first morning takes us to huge Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing and which takes its name from the massive stone Tiananmen (“Gate of Heavenly Peace”) at its northern end, once the main gate to the Forbidden City. The seat of imperial power until 1924, the original Forbidden City was built for a 15th century CE Ming Dynasty emperor - although the present structure dates from the 1700s. We can gain an understanding of its story as we see the history of every dynasty represented in palatial halls and walk through the extensive imperial gardens. Lunch is followed by a free afternoon for relaxation or independent exploration.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Novotel Xinqiao, Beijing

This morning we travel to a section of the iconic Great Wall of China at a point 50 miles from Beijing. Constructed mainly during the powerful Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Wall is now a major UNESCO World Heritage Site. After lunch we pay an afternoon visit to Beijing’s heritage-listed Summer Palace of the Qing Dynasty’s Empress Dowager Cixi. This is a superb example of Chinese landscape design where we can enjoy a short cruise on man-made Lake Kunming. There’s also an opportunity to see a jade-carving factory, demonstrating how jade ware is created.

All meals included

Hotel: Novotel Xinqiao, Beijing

Today we fly south west to Xi’an (2 hours), once the Chinese eastern “terminus” of the legendary Silk Road and a crucible of ancient cultures and religions. The city was the flourishing capital of China during the distant days of the Han and Tang dynasties, a time when the world came to China. Today’s afternoon tour includes a visit to the great wall around the inner Old City - originally begun to protect the newly-founded Tang dynasty from hostile nomads and later strengthened by a 14th century Ming emperor.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Swisstouches Hotel, Xi'an

After breakfast we visit Xi’an’s world-famous UNESCO-listed Terracotta Warriors & Horses Museum and the Terracotta Reproduction Center. The Museum’s thousands of life-size clay statues displayed in battle formations were originally crafted 2,000 years ago to guard the tomb of China’s first emperor - but were found only by chance in 1974. We continue after lunch to the Xi’an museum, home to an immense artefacts and antiques collection spanning over 130,000 pieces - with a number rated at China’s highest level of cultural importance.

All meals included

Hotel: Swisstouches Hotel, Xi'an

We take a morning flight (about 2 hours) further westwards to Jiayuguan, known as the “mouth” of China owing to its location at the Jiayu Pass, the symbolic western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall and a key waypoint on the Silk Road - whose strategic importance led to the construction of the defensive Jiayuguan Fort. We enjoy lunch on arrival and then visit the imposing Fort, a 6-acre complex whose towers, walls and military buildings are the most intact survivors of their kind among the Great Wall passes. There’s also an opportunity to view the well-presented exhibits housed within the nearby Great Wall Museum.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Plaza Holiday Inn, Jiayuguan

After breakfast we take a 12-mile drive north-east to explore one of more than a thousand remarkable Wei-Jin Tombs scattered in this desert area - dating from around 220 to 420 CE and often described as “the largest subterranean art gallery in the world”. The chambers contain amazingly fresh brick wall paintings that offer a fascinating insight into the ancient Chinese feudal society of the period. The small museum also displays interesting artefacts recovered from the site. After a stop for lunch, we make our way to Yemawan Bao Yizhi, an ancient little town with tumbledown rammed-earth walls and crumbling ruins.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Plaza Holiday Inn, Jiayuguan

Today’s route takes us north-west through desert landscapes to the city of Dunhuang, the “front door” to China during the busy heyday of the Silk Road. We break our journey to see the Yulin Grottoes, a riverside Buddhist cave temple site whose 42 caves are home to 250 statues and many well-preserved wall paintings (some showing Tibetan influence), dating from the Tang to the Yuan Dynasties. We also visit the ruined Tang Military Fortress. After reaching our Dunhuang hotel we have a rendezvous with the “nightlife landscape” of the city’s popular Shazhou night market. A “must see” for visitors, this is a great venue for enjoying the flavors of some of the region’s authentic delicacies, including yellow noodles, brewed bean jelly, Hu Lamb Pizza and apricot peel water.

All meals included

Hotel: Grand Soluxe Hotel, Dunhuang

A highlight of our journey awaits today as we travel to the Mogoa Caves, 15 miles from Dunhuang. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a complex of some 492 Buddhist cells and cave sanctuaries carved into cliffs above the Dachuan river - housing magnificent sculptures and wall murals spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art. During the Tang dynasty this was the site of 18 monasteries with more than 1,400 monks and nuns. Time permitting, we also visit the Singing Sand Dunes, where towering mountains of desert sand meet the Dunhuang oasis and the amazing Crescent Lake, a 2,000-year-old “lake out of nowhere”.

All meals included

Hotel: Grand Soluxe Hotel, Dunhuang

This morning we call at Duhuang Museum to see its interesting displays of documents and cultural relics from ancient tombs in the area - with one section devoted to artefacts recovered from Mogao Caves’ famous Library Cave. Afterwards we embark the train to the city of Turpan, situated 500 feet below sea level in neighboring Xinjiang, China’s most north-westerly province. Here we visit the excellent regional museum and 18th century Emin Minaret - at 144 feet the tallest in China.

All meals included

Hotel: Huozhou Hotel, Turpan

Our touring today begins with a morning visit to Bezeklik’s Cave of 1,000 Buddhas. Located beneath the peaks of the red sandstone Flaming Mountains, this is the site of an ancient Buddhist cave monastery, whose surviving paintings and murals include some dating back 1,300 years. We also travel to Toyuq, an oasis village of the Uyghur people and an Islamic pilgrimage center. After lunch we explore the ruins of the clifftop archaeological site of Jiaohe, said to the world’s oldest and best-preserved earthen city. Our last port of call is at nearby Gaochang, a ruined oasis settlement on the rim of the Taklamakan Desert that was once a fortress city for army garrisons of the Han and Tang Dynasties - and capital of the Turpan region for over a thousand years.

All meals included

Hotel: Huozhou Hotel, Turpan

We start our day at the Turpan Karez Paradise, a museum featuring the water management of a city that for 2,000 years survived in the desert of Taklamakan through a Karez (meaning “well”) water system. We then resume our travels with a 2-hour afternoon journey to Urumqui, the most northerly point of our journey. We take a tour of this rapidly-expanding hub city and visit the Confucian Temple, the only Qing-era temple complex in Xinjiang Province.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Ürümqi

This morning we visit the city’s impressive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional Museum, home to 50,000 cultural items discovered in the region, including a number illustrating the lifestyles and customs of Xinjiang’s 12 ethnic minorities. After breaking for lunch we walk in beautiful Shuimogou Park, notable for its stunning water features, and wander through the Erdaoqiao Grand Bazaar, an ideal opportunity to pick up regional products and souvenirs.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Ürümqi

A late-morning flight of under 2 hours takes us south to the modern oasis city of Hotan, edged by the sands of the Taklamakan Desert. With a colorful history and culture, this former “silk capital” was once an important junction linking the southern Silk Road trade route with India. Time permitting, our local touring this afternoon includes the Tomb of Imam Asim, the pilgrimage site of an 11th century Muslim missionary; the Buddhist ruin of the Rawaq Pagoda and the White Jade River, source of Hotan’s much-prized jade. Come the evening, there’s a chance to enjoy the lively atmosphere of the night market on the main square.

All meals included

Hotel: West Lake International Hotel, Hotan

Hotan’s nearby desert surroundings are dotted with evidence of long-abandoned communities. This morning we drive out to the especially interesting and wind-eroded Melikawat ruins, a Tang Dynasty settlement that still contains the remains of its walls, glass and pottery kilns. Returning to Hotan, we visit the city’s cultural museum, whose collection includes two mummified corpses with Eurasian faces, believed to be over 1,500 years old. There’s time afterwards to look in at either a silk or carpet workshop before our short evening flight to Kashgar.

 

All meals included

Hotel: Luxemon Qinibagh Hotel, Kashgar

One of China’s westernmost cities, modern-day Kashgar is an energy-charged cultural crossroads where traders still cross the borders with the former Soviet Republics and Pakistan to sell their goods in the local markets. Today’s ‘new’ Old Town, replacing much of the crumbling original, still has much charm and interest, infused with the local Uyghur culture. Our morning program here takes us to the 7-acre site of the beautiful Afaq Khoja Mausoleum, built in the 17th and 18th centuries by regional rulers. Afterwards we wander among the Old Town’s many winding alleyways and attractive buildings, ending with a visit to the graceful Heytgah Mosque, the largest mosque in Xinjiang and for nearly 600 years Kashgar’s spiritual and physical heart.

All meals included

Hotel: Luxemon Qinibagh Hotel, Kashgar

Our days begins with a drive to the Three Immortals Buddhist Caves and view them from across the river. With a history that can be traced back to the Han Dynasty, these are among the earliest Buddhist caves in western China, even older than Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves. After lunch, we visit Kashgar’s famed Grand Sunday Bazaar (one of China’s largest and most colorful markets) and the livestock market. We also travel out to the remote Shipton’s Arch - probably the world's tallest natural rock arch - as tall as the Empire State Building and named after its first Western discoverer. At the end of a fascinating day we enjoy dinner as a group - in the style of a banquet, emphasizing the local flavors of the region.

All meals included

Hotel: Luxemon Qinibagh Hotel, Kashgar

We leave Kashgar for the 7-hour flight back to Beijing. The last day of our tour ends with a final farewell dinner together.

All meals included

Hotel: Novotel Xinqiao, Beijing

We transfer to the airport for our flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

May 24 2019: Additional Info

May 24 2019: Accommodation

Located in the bustling Chongwenmen business district of the Chinese capital, Novotel Beijing Xinqiao is a four-star hotel with elegant surroundings and complete facilities. The hotel has a great location, close to several famous attractions; such as Tiananmen Square - the heart of Beijing, the world's largest city center square and the Palace Museum - the Ming and Qing dynasties, the unparalleled masterpieces of ancient architecture, the world's largest The most complete structure of ancient buildings with wooden structures. Tourist shopping malls such as Wangfujing Pedestrian Street are also just a few minutes walk away. 

Around the hotel, visitors can always feel the rich historical atmosphere and cultural atmosphere. The interior of the hotel is modern and comfortable. The rooms are full of humanity and are spacious and bright, with a view of the natural beauty and the human landscape. The unique feature of this 4-star hotel is the hotel room and spa area with hot spring water. 

Offering a sun terrace and barbeque facilities, Swisstouches Hotel Xi'an is conveniently set in Xi'an, 4.3 miles from Drum Tower. Free WiFi is provided throughout the entire property. Free public parking is also possible.

Spacious and elegant, the modern guest rooms here feature a flat-screen TV with satellite and cable channels, a working desk and a well-stocked minibar. Guests can relax on the sofa and enjoy the city and garden view in the room. A dining area with a dining table is available for use. You can also find an electric kettle, a tea/coffee maker and wine glasses in the room. Each en suite bathroom comes with bathrobes, a hairdryer, slippers and free toiletries.

A buffet style breakfast is served at the hotel. The on-site restaurant offers authentic Chinese and international cuisines as well. Guests can also enjoy the relaxing and refreshing drinks at the bar on site. 

Situated along South Wenhua Road, Plaza Holiday Inn Jiayuguan is a good choice for both holiday seekers and business travelers. Apart from well-appointed guestrooms, the hotel provides free WiFi as well. For guests in need, parking space is offered at an extra cost.

The rooms are furnished with classic, tasteful decor and come with air conditioning, a cable TV, a kettle and a refrigerator. There is a private bathroom, equipped with a standing shower.

Jiayuguan Railway Station lays 8 minutes' drive away. It takes 25 minutes by car to Jiayuguan Airport.

Built in 2008, Dunhuang Grand Soluxe Hotel is a distinct addition to Dunhuang and a smart choice for travelers. Set 12km from the excitement of the city, this 5-star hotel commands an excellent location and provides access to the city's biggest attractions. For those of you who want to venture out, Xuanquanzhi Ruins, West Lake Nature Reserve of Dunhuang, Playing Pipa Statue are just some of the attractions available to visitors.

The facilities and services provided by Dunhuang Grand Soluxe Hotel ensure a pleasant stay for guests. Guests of the hotel can enjoy on-site features like 24-hour room service, 24-hour front desk, facilities for disabled guests, express check-in/check-out, luggage storage. 

In addition, all guestrooms feature a variety of comforts. Many rooms even provide television LCD/plasma screen, slippers, towels, non smoking rooms, air conditioning to please the most discerning guest. Besides, the hotel's host of recreational offerings ensures you have plenty to do during your stay. With an ideal location and facilities to match, Dunhuang Grand Soluxe Hotel hits the spot in many ways.

Located at the south side of Shuiyun Square in downtown Turpan, the Huozhou Hotel is surrounded by an artificial lake. The hotel is in a good location for restaurants and it is only a short walk to the bazaar. 

This Turpan hotel features deluxe rooms and executive suites, all of which are equipped with TVs having channels speaking minority language, air conditioners and in-room safes.

Located in the Hongguang Hill CBD, adjacent to the Xinjiang International Convention and Exhibition Center, Hilton Urumqi welcomes guests with restaurants and bar. Meeting spaces are offered for business needs.

The well-known breathtaking scenic Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) is about 28 miles away.

Each room is equipped with a flat-screen TV. Certain units include a seating area where you can relax. You will find a kettle in the room. Every room has a private bathroom. For your comfort, you will find bath robes and slippers. Hilton Urumqi features free WiFi throughout the property.

You will find a 24-hour front desk at the property where luggage storage and currency exchange are possible upon request. The hotel also offers car hire and laundry service.

West Lake International Hotel offers air-conditioned accommodation in Hotan. This 4-star hotel offers a business center and room service. The property features services including meeting and banquet facilities and evening entertainment.

At the hotel, each room includes a desk. The private bathroom is fitted with a hair dryer. All units feature a flat-screen TV with cable channels.

The wellness area at Xihu Yindu International Hotel is comprised of a sauna and a hammam.

A 14-minute drive to Kashgar Railway Station, Luxemon Qinibagh Hotel Kashgar Prefecture offers accommodation in Kashgar.

You will find a coffee machine and a telephone in the guestroom. The private bathroom comes with shower and slippers.

There is a business center, an outdoor pool and a nightclub at the property. For guests' convenience, luggage storage, dry cleaning and currency exchange services are available here. 

May 24 2019: Enquiries

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