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China - The Silk Road: From Xi'an to Kashgar

Day 1 - Xi'an
We will be met at the airport in Xi'an, the ancient capital of China and once the largest city in Asia. Today, with its old city wall and other monuments reminding us of past glory, Xi'an is the bustling capital of Shaanxi province. We will have a welcome dinner in the evening to kick off the joumey.
Day 2 - Xi'an
After breakfast we will visit the Terracotta Army, which was set to guard the tomb of Qin Shihuang, the fIrst emperor of a unifIed China. This major archaeological discovery, unearthed in 1974 by local farmers, consists of 3 vaults. The first vault, which measures 656 x 197 ft., contains a collection of more than 8,000 terracotta fIgures of warriors and horses, each differing in features and facial expressions. The second and third vaults are smaller, and contain 1,000 fIgures and 68 fIgures, respectively. Some archaeologists believe there are more vaults buried around the tomb, yet to be unearthed. In the afternoon we will visit the History Museum, which houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the Silk Road as well as other relics from the Song, Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties.
Day 3 - Dangjia Village
Today's program will focus on rural China. Leaving early in the morning, we will drive fIve hours through the countryside to Dangjia village, noted for its beautiful landscapes and rustic folklore. The village is situated in a low-lying narrow valley, a peaceful and beautiful environment. Dangjia flourished especially during the 14th and 15th centuries, at which time the local people built elegant, multi-storied residencies. More than a hundred of these residencies survive, and witness to the rich culture of the Ming and Qing dynasties. This excursion to Dangjia village will provide us with opportunity to interact with local, rural people, including a visit with a local family. Also we will spend the night in the village. (Please note the accommodations will be very basic this night-no shower or western-style toilets. But the experience will be unique).
Day 4 - Xi'an
Waking to the sounds of the village, we will explore it a while longer, and then drive back to Xi'an. The afternoon will be free for wandering among the shops and stalls of the local market in Xi'an.
Day 5 - Lanzhou and Xiahe
A morning flight (8:10-9:10 a.m.) will take us to Lanzhou, once an important garrison town and now capital of Gansu province. Here the Silk Road intersected with other major trade routes leading to various destinations in Central Asia. Our main focus for this segment ofthe trip, however, will be Xiahe, about four hours drive south of Lanzhou. On the way to Xiahe, we will stop at Linxia, a lively Islamic town that also was once an important stop on the Silk Road. The Muslim character of the town, with its large mosque in the center, contrasts with the largely Buddhist character of the area, and especially with the Tibetan Buddhist culture of Xiahe. Xiahe is in fact the largest Tibetan monastery town outside Lhasa. The atmosphere ofXiahe is enchanting, particularly during the festive season when the usually silent streets are crowded with pilgrims and Tibetan monks in their saffton robes.
Day 6 - Xiahe
We will wake up at dawn to the sound of low blowing horns echoing across the town, and start the day early with a visit to the Labrang Monastery. This is one of the six main Tibetan monasteries of the Gelupka sect. Sitting among the robed monks in the Great Hall, we will listen to the chanting of sutras, the ancient texts of Buddhist knowledge and wisdom. Then we will tour the compound, the museum, the great halls and libraries. In the afternoon we will explore the surrounding countryside.
Day 7 - Xiahe
This morning will be free for us to continue exploring on an individual basis the enchanting monastery town, and in the afternoon we will visit an exhibition of yak butter sculptures. These sculptures have an almost surreal beauty when lit under the lamps, and visitors touch the flower shelf with their foreheads to show respect for Buddha. For the evening we have arranged a lecture by a prestigious Lama from the Monastery.
Day 8 - Xiahe back to Lanzhou
Return to Lanzhou and overnight there.
Day 9 - Lanzhou to Dunhuang
From Lanzhou we fly to Dunhuang, perched on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert and another important stop on the Silk Road. After checking into our hotel, freshening up, and having lunch, we will visit Crescent Moon Lake. Here oasis meets desert in stark contrast - a spring-fed lake set amidst towering sand dunes, green oasis surrounded by an endless desert landscape. The view is spectacular.
Day 10 - The Mogao Caves
Today we venture across the sand dunes to one ofthe most notable archaeological discoveries in Asia-the Mogao Caves. First established in 366 AD, these cave temples continued to attract monks and pilgrims passing along the Silk Road until the 14th century. Of the thousand or so caves that once existed in this complex, 492 have survived in good shape. Only a fraction of these are open to tourists, but enough to illustrate some of the earliest Buddhist art. Here also, along with an enormous collection of ancient manuscripts and paintings, was discovered the 1000 year-old Diamond Sutra, proclaimed to be the earliest printed book in the world. After returning to Dunhuang from this fascinating excursion to the Mogao Caves, we will board an overnight soft-sleeper train for Turpan. The train will take us across the northeastern comer ofthe Taklimakan Desert.
Day 11 - Turpan
Lying 500 feet below sea level, the Turpan Basin is one of the hottest places China. But who said that all of the Silk Road was easy going? Moreover, despite its desert location, Turpan boasts fertile land. And, thanks to the karez, an ancient irrigation system, the region produces an abundance of cotton and grapes. In Turpan, we will visit the Bezelik Caves, another cluster of Buddhist cave temples. These date from the 6th through the 13th centuries, when Bezelik was an important Buddhist center, and offer rare examples of Buddhist mural art. Later in the day we will visit with local Uigher families in the grape valley.
Day 12 - Turpan to Urumqi and on to Kashgar
We begin the day with a visit to Jiaohe in the Ya'ernaizi Valley. This ancient ruined city originated some 2000 years ago and is situated on a plateau between the confluence of two rivers. Among the ruins, one recognizes temples, pagodas, streets, and in the center of the ancient city a Buddhist monastery. All of this is surrounded by desert sand dunes. It is a spectacular site. After lunch we will drive to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Urumqi is a growing metropolis inhabited mainly by Han Chinese and serves as a transport hub for travelers crossing to Tibet, Pakistan and Central Asia. If time permits, we will visit the Xinjiang Museum before boarding our flight to Kashgar.
Day 13 - Kashgar
Kashgar is situated on the eastern slopes of the treacherous Pamir Mountains. Our exploration of the Silk Road stops here, but ancient and medieval caravans following the Silk Road route had to negotiate the passes through these mountains to reach Tashkent on the other side (in present-day Uzbekistan). Kashgar and Tashkent were key trading posts, therefore, and together bridged the East and the West. There are a number of historic monuments to visit in Kashgar-the Aidkah Idgar Mosque, for example, and the Xiangfei Tomb. The Aidkah Idgar mosque is the largest and oldest mosque in Xinjiang. And the Xiangfei Tomb, one of the most revered places in Xinjiang, is reminiscent of the central Asian style of architecture so well represented in Isfahan. But it is the exotic feel of the city as a whole that makes Kashgar worth our traveling so far. Inhabited mostly by the Uygurs and dotted with Muslin architecture, Kashgar still retains the character of the Silk Road era.
Day 14 - Kashgar
Today's highlight will be Kashgar's Sunday market, supposedly the biggest in central Asia. Thousands of people gather from the far comers of the region to buy, sell, bargain and trade everything from camels to raisins, and from:farm tools to fashionable scarves. We will have the whole day to explore the many sections of the market.
Day 15 - Excursion to Upaer
What better way to gain insight into another culture than to see how they train up their children, so this morning we will visit a local kindergarten in Kashgar. Later we drive into the countryside, our destination the small town of Upaer, famous for its Monday market. Now we have reached the back side of China and it is time to begin the journey home. We return to Kashgar and prepare for an evening flight back to Urumqi.
Day 16 - Departure
Fly from Urumqi to Beijing to the United States
Itinerary at a Glance

Day 1 - Xi'an
Day 2 - Xi'an
Day 3 - Dangjia Village
Day 4 - Xi'an
Day 5 - Lanzhou and Xiahe
Day 6 - Xiahe
Day 7 - Xiahe
Day 8 - Xiahe back to Lanzhou
Day 9 - Lanzhou to Dunhuang
Day 10 - The Mogao Caves
Day 11 - Turpan
Day 12 - Turpan to Urumqi and on to Kashgar
Day 13 - Kashgar
Day 14 - Kashgar
Day 15 - Excursion to Upaer
Day 16 - Depart