On arrival into the Chinese capital we’ll meet and drive you to the opulent Four Seasons Beijing. This evening, you’ll join your tour companions for a grand welcome dinner at the hotel.
A morning flight whisks you west to Dunhuang, an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. At the excellent Dunhuang Museum you’ll see the priceless artefacts from the powerful Western Han period and admire the scrolls from the famous Mogao Caves. After lunch you can take in Dunhuang’s vibrant central market, which specialises in fresh produce and local handicrafts.
The Mogao Caves, or the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, are the best-preserved repository of Buddhist art anywhere in the world. Your privileged visit includes special access to areas normally closed to the public. Continuing the day’s theme, you next experience the spectacular Buddhist Yulin Caves to the east, set in a cliff face above a dry river gully. These caves also feature some exceptional 11th-century murals.
Today your Silk Road journey weaves northwest of Dunhuang to the Yumen Guam, or Jade Gate Pass. This was an important strategic point on the ancient trade route, and a gateway from central China to western regions. Nearby is an amazing remnant of the Great Wall from the Han Period. It’s difficult to imagine how it was built from layers of stamped earth, sand, straw and brushwood.
On a camel train you’ll ride the towering Mingshashan Sand Dunes, an extension of the Gobi Desert which cover hundreds of square kilometres. Your new travelling companion will be a two-humped Bactrian, typical of the camels found in the colder deserts of Mongolia, northwest China and Kazakhstan. Be sure to ask your guide the Chinese for ‘stop!’. Later in the day, you’ll be taking an evening flight to Urumqi.
Travel to the oasis town of Turfan to visit the impressive ruins of Gaochang, a key garrison on the Silk Road. You’ll have time to explore its ruined temples, palaces and ramparts before heading to the nearby Flaming Mountain and 18th-century Suleiman Minaret. A local Uighur family will welcome you to a traditional lunch. They’ll then show off their ancient Kerez Irrigation System, a monumental series of ancient underground wells and channels.
A morning visit to the Xinjiang Museum is accompanied by an expert on the eerie collection of Caucasian mummies. Highlights among the other relics include evocative tomb figures, beautiful brocades and fearsome weapons. Next, you fly to Kashgar, the last great oasis town before reaching the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. There’ll be time to drop by the artistic epicentre of Handicraft Street en route to the hotel.
Before arriving at Kashgar’s Sunday bazaar you’ll visit the Afaq Khoja Mausoleum, one of Xinjiang’s finest examples of Islamic architecture. In the vibrant ancient market of Kashgar the stalls are arrayed strictly by category, despite the apparent rule of chaos! You’ll be able to haggle for souvenirs of your Silk Road journey. In the afternoon join a local Uighur family for tea and discover the remains of their ancestors’ ancient city in old Kashgar.
After breakfast, visit Opal village and the tomb of Mahmud Kashgari, a famous scholar and linguist of the 11th-century. Wander through a vibrant, traditional market, taking a break for lunch with a local folklore expert who will entertain you with stories of old Kashgar. You’ll then be free to explore the city at your leisure. Tonight’s grand farewell dinner includes home-cooked cuisine at the compound of a Uighur family.
It’s time to transfer to the airport for your departure flight. Can you really have packed so many experiences and unforgettable memories of the ancient Silk Road into just 10 days?