DAY 1, XI'AN TO DUNHUANG (BY AIR)
The tour starts at 5pm at the Xi'an Airport where you
will receive the tickets for the 2-hour flight from
Xi'an to Dunhuang. You will then depart at 7:30pm
on flight ZH9881 scheduled to arrive at 9:30pm in
Dunhuang, where you will be transferred to a 4-star hotel.
You will be notified if there is any change in the flight schedule.
DAY 2, DUNHUANG
The morning will be dedicated to a visit of the world famous
Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The caves were
constantly built through eleven dynasties, that is to say
over 1000 years. Nowadays there are 492 well preserved caves
containing 45,000 square meters of murals and over 2000
painted clay statues, representing the finest examples of Buddhist art.
In the afternoon there will be an excursion to the Gobi
Desert, the largest desert in Asia and the fourth largest
in the world. Because of its northern location and its altitude
of nearly 3000 feet, the Gobi is considered a "cold" desert;
in fact, its temperature can change by as much as 58 degrees
Fahrenheit during a 24 hour period. This desert is the main
source of many important fossil finds, such as the first dinosaur
eggs. Included in the tour is a camel ride through towering yellow
sand dunes, a picture-book desert scenery like no other over the entire
length of the Silk Road. There will also be a visit to the small and mysterious
DAY 3, DUNHUANG TO URUMQI (BY AIR)
After a morning at leisure in Dunhuang you will board a flight to
Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Region, where you will lodge
at the 5-star Hoi Tak Hotel.
DAY 4, URUMQI TO TURPAN (BY BUS - 200 km / 124 miles)
After breakfast you will visit the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum with a guide-interpreter. The Museum is the largest in the region, and possesses a collection of over 40,000 cultural relics and specimens, which include Ancient Historical and Cultural Relics of Xinjiang, Ethnic Customs of Xinjiang, Ancient Corpses in Xinjiang (mummies) and Revolutionary Historical Material of Xinjiang.
Before leaving for Turpan there will be a lunch at the typical Uygur Korgan Restaurant, where authentic and tasty Uygur food is served.
After lunch a bus will take you to the interesting town of Turpan, a 2½ to 3-hour drive. In Turpan participants will lodge in a 5-star hotel due to open at the beginning of 2008.
DAY 5, TURPAN
The entire day will be dedicated to exploring the marvelous city of Turban, where Eastern and Western culture blend perfectly. Due to its situation 260 feet below sea level, Turpan is the hottest and driest place in China. The abundant sunshine gives grapes and melons the ideal conditions to grow and acquire a high sugar content.
The morning tour will include the impressive ruins of the Ancient City of Gaochang, where traces of Buddhist paintings can still be seen, the Astana tombs, some of which contain paintings, murals and well preserved mummies, the Flaming Mountains, red sandstone hills that appear engulfed by tongues of fire when the sun beats hard upon them, and the Bazelik Thousand Buddha Caves situated at a gorgeous site high above a river gorge.
The afternoon program will include the ruins of the Ancient City of Jiaohe, a city without walls, being protected by the natural fortification of precipitous cliffs, the karez irrigation system, an ingenious anti-drought invention consisting of an extensive system of wells connected by a network of underground channels, and, finally, the huge Emin Minaret, a masterpiece of Uygur architecture, consisting of sun-dried bricks tapering skyward in geometrical and floral patterns.
DAY 6, TURPAN TO URUMQI (BY BUS - 200 km / 124 miles), URUMQI TO KASHGAR (BY AIR)
After breakfast there will be an early departure by bus for Urumqi, a 2½ to 3-hour ride. After lunch at another typical restaurant in Urumqi, the bus will take you to the Urumqi airport for the 1½ hour flight to Kashgar. On arrival in Kashgar at about 5:30pm, you will be transferred to the 4-star Middle-West Asia International Hotel for a 3-night stay.
DAY 7, KASHGAR TO KARAKULI LAKE TO KASHGAR (BY BUS - 400 km / 248 miles)
There will be an all-day excursion to the pristine Karakuli Lake, considered the most beautiful lake in China. At an elevation of over 10,700 feet this lake is set against the backdrop of Mount Muztagata; its color changes according to light changes, from dark green to blue, orange or black. Yaks and camels graze on the rich pasturage of the windswept Pamir plateau where the Karakuli Lake sits. The plateau is home to a nomadic branch of the Kirghis people who live in yurts covered with thick felts of goat or camel hair. A Kirghis family will host a picnic lunch for the group.
DAY 8, KASHGAR (or KASHI) (altitude 4,442 feet)
Situated west of the Taklamakan Desert at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range, Kashgar was a major stop along the Silk Road. With a population of over 3 million, Kashgar is the largest oasis city in Chinese Central Asia. The town is a vibrant Islamic center owing to the fact that 90% of its population is Uygur.
The first visit of the day will be at the Abakh Hoja Tomb situated in magnificent blue and white buildings topped with a green dome and small minarets, reminiscent of the Central Asia artistic style of Samarkand. The tomb is the holiest place in Xinjiang; it contains a number of tombs covered in colored cloth, including the magnificent tomb of Xiangfei, the grand-daughter of Abakh Hoja, whose name means "Fragrant Concubine." A tour of the busy Grand Bazaar and the Old Town will follow. After lunch there will be a visit of the Idkah Mosque, the largest mosque in China and the religious center of Kashgar. The large prayer hall of the mosque is supported by 140 carved wooden pillars. The call to prayer booming from the mosque can be heard throughout the city center, a rare thing in Socialist China. At the end of the day participants will explore the handicraft street of the city.
DAY 9, KASHGAR TO KHOTAN (BY BUS - 520 km / 323 miles)
In the long, unavoidable drive from Kashgar to Khotan there will be two stops totaling about two hours. The actual driving time is approximately 6 to 7 hours. The main stop will be in Yarkant (also known as Shache), an important trade center that Marco Polo visited twice. The stop in Yarkant will include a lunch, as well as a visit to the Mosque and the Mausoleum with the tombs of the Yarkant Kings. You will arrive in Khotan at approximately 7pm.
Lodging in Khotan will be at the best 3-star hotel. There are no 4 or 5 star hotels in Khotan. However, a new hotel is said to open in May 2008. We will change the reservation to this new hotel, if the hotel is in the 4 or 5-star category.
DAY 10, KHOTAN (HOTAN - HEITAN) (altitude 4,298 feet)
Khotan, once the center of a Buddhist empire, is the second largest desert city in China. Situated at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, the city is dissected by two tributaries of the Hotan River. The name "Khotan" translates as "City of Jade," referring to the precious stones and nephrite that were extracted from its rivers and traded on the "jade route" between China and Mesopotamia since the third millennium B.C. The "jade route" eventually became the southern branch of the Silk Road. Khotan is presently one of very few places where one can find black and white jade, as well as the green nephritic quality jade.
In the morning you will visit jade, silk and carpets factories.
The afternoon visit of the world famous Khotan Sunday Market will be the highlight of the day. This is the busiest and the most colorful Asian open-air market; it is also the least changed for centuries. Thousands of people of many ethnicities, often more than 100,000, converge on this market every Sunday to sell produce, spices, nuts, Kashgari (nan) bread, rock sugar, melons, grapes, tea, dried fruits, colorful rugs, silk and cotton textiles, jade and precious stones, Uygur-style hats, knitted sweaters, hand made embroideries, knives, etc. Delicious dishes, snacks and sweet fruit can be tested. Of interest are the wooden section and the scrap metal section of the bazaar. Stunning is the animal section where all kinds of animals, such as camels, horses, sheep and cashmere goats, go on sale. One can also observe outdoor dental work performed in alleys, as well the brushing of snake oil over painful areas of the body by improvised doctors. The market is a photographer's paradise. Most locals do not mind having their portrait/pictures taken. Particularly good subjects are children and very old men; some in the latter category may well be over 100 years of age, as Khotan is one of the four big longevity areas in the world, as published by the International Medical Science Institute in 1985.
DAY 11, KHOTAN tour and shopping) or RAWAK STUPA ("PAGODA")
There will be a half-day tour of Khotan and some of the nearby tourist attractions. The rest of the day will be at leisure or dedicated to shopping for locally made items, such jade, especially the rare white, black and green nephritic varieties, Atlas Silk fabrics, renowned for their multiple and resplendent colors, carpets and rugs, famous for their exquisite craftsmanship and brilliant artistic style, etc.
OPTIONAL, EXCURSION to the RAWAK STUPA (PAGODA)
(BY JEEP - 180 km / 120 miles + ON CAMEL - 4 km / 2 ½ miles)
The jeep drive in the Taklamakan Desert is bumpy and adventurous, but quite interesting. For the last few kilometers camels are rented and included in the optional package. Yuan 100 will be asked to take pictures of the Rawak Stupa (Pagoda). This large historical monument is the most conspicuous and probably the best preserved among the many ruins of old Buddhist temples and stupas in the Khotan area.
DAY 12, KHOTAN TO AKSU (BY BUS - 640 Km - 397 miles)
On this day you will cross, south to north, the entire Taklamakan Desert, the "Desert of No Return" in the Uygur language.
Fortunately there is a brand new, excellent road between Khotan and Aksu, which was completed in July 2007. Thus, the long ride in the desert is smooth and quite comfortable. The first 2/3 of the road (between Khotan and Alar) is mostly straight, with minimal traffic and no gas stations. This stretch of road offers the best views of the desert, worth at least three stops for pictures. Alongside the road the Chinese have fastened strong reed stalks into the dunes, in checkerboard fashion, to prevent the road from being buried by sand during the sand-storms. They have also run irrigation hoses along the roadside and planted trees to keep the desert sands from the road. The last 1/3 of the road (between Alar and Aksu) has some traffic, few gas stations, and great views of cotton fields.
In Aksu you will overnight at the 4-star Guoji International Hotel.
DAY 13, AKSU TO KIZIL THOUSAND BUDDHAS CAVES TO KUCHE
(BY BUS - 262 km / 163 miles)
During the bus drive from Aksu to Kuche there will be a long stop for lunch and sightseeing at the Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves. The caves sit among the cliffs of the Mingutag Mountains on the northern bank of the Muzat River. They are the earliest major Buddhist cave complex in China, dating from the 3rd to the 8th century AD. The nearly 300 caves of Kizil represent the largest collection of cave-chapel art along the Silk Road, the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang being the first. The paintings represent mostly Buddha's Jataka stories and Nidana stories; the style of the artwork is mostly Indian/Gandharan and Iranian, rather than Chinese. Six caves have well preserved wall paintings, most of them painted with warm colors such as light yellow, grey, red and reddish-brown. Many of the murals, about 470 square meters, were chipped off and "stolen." 328 square meters were taken during four German expeditions between 1903 and 1913; these are on display at the Museum für Indisce Kunst in Berlin Dahlem. The remaining 142 square meters were taken mostly by Russians and Japanese archeologists.
It takes 1½ hour of driving to reach Kuche from Kizil, due to major road construction. In Kuche you will lodge for 3 nights at the 4-star Kuche International Hotel.
DAY 14, KUCHE (KUQA)
The whole day will be dedicated to the main tourist attractions of Kuche, a city well known for its lamb-skin products as well as the variety and quality of its food produce, especially the small-sized white apricots and the chicken-heart shaped grapes.
In the morning we will visit the extensive ruins of the Ancient City of Subashi where the street plan can be identified and some of the 20-foot high walls are still standing. Next we will visit the 13-meter high Kezikalahan War-Signaling Station, the best preserved signaling station, dating back to the Han Dynasty. In ancient times, when strange troops were seen, a signal fire was lit on top of one tower; the signal was repeated by the next tower, and the warning quickly reached the troops stationed in Urumqi and Kashgar. A short stroll in the Market will follow.
In the afternoon we will visit the imposing Kucha Mosque, a delightfully neat building with a green-tiled dome and two tall minarets on its façade. Built in 1923, the mosque is wholly arabesque in design. The large prayer hall, with its carved ceiling and multicolored pillars, is used for major Muslim festivals. Later in the day we will visit the home of a local Uygur woman.
DAY 15, KUCHE (KUQA)
The morning will be spent at the Kuche Friday Bazaar, where up to 30,000 people converge on the alleys and streets of both old and new towns to buy and sell all kinds of goods, from wares to herbal medicines, dried fish, embroidered caps, jewelry, wool for carpets, silk and silk garments, goats, sheep, etc. The afternoon will be at leisure.
DAY 16, KUCHE TO URUMQI (BY AIR OR BY BUS AND AIR)
On this day we will fly directly to Urumqi if there is a direct flight. Otherwise, we will have to go by bus to the town of Kurle which has direct flights to Urumqi every day of the week.
In either case we will arrive at Urumqi in late afternoon, in time for a visit to a local Kazak family and/or the International Grand Bazaar at the Er Dao Qiad market. Lodging for the last two nights will be at the 5-star Hoi Tak Hotel.
DAY 17, URUMQI TO TIAN CHI LAKE IN THE HEAVENLY VALLEY TO URUMQI
(BY BUS - 120 km / 75 miles)
On this last day of the tour there will be an all day excursion to the beautiful Tian Chi Lake, known as the "Pearl of the Tianshan Mountains," an excursion that many consider a must on any trip to the Xinjian Region. The drive up to the lake, 6035 feet above sea level, is exceedingly picturesque.
The lake is shaped like a half moon; its waters are in some places 320 feet deep. The lake is surrounded by alpine meadows and snow-capped mountains which are densely covered in green grass, pagoda-shaped pine, cypress and dragon sprouce. South-east of the lake the 18,950 high Mount Bogda ("The Holy Mountain" in Mongolian language) glitters in the distance with its silvery crown of snow while the waters of the lake down below gleam vivid blue. The effect of this combination is a splendid, breath-taking scenery. In this mountainous area Kazakh families pitch their yurts and graze their herds of horses, sheep and cattle. Among these surroundings you will enjoy a picnic lunch with a Kazak family.
Upon returning to Urumqi get ready for a sumptuous farewell banquet in one of the dining halls of the Hoi Tak Hotel.
You will be driven to the Urumqi Airport, where the services of the tour will terminate. From Urumqi you may fly either to Xi'an or to Beijing.