The Silk Road Revisited

We operated this tour for ACE Study Tours in May 2008, they were accompanied by an experienced Sinologist and the retail price was in the region of £2700.00.

We arranged a shorter version which didn’t include Beijing or Kashgar for the students & Alumni of the Sothebys MA in East Asian Art and their course director, it operated in early March 2008. A similar programme is planned in 2009, please contact us for further details.

The Silk Road Revisited

A journey along the Ancient Silk Road – The Great Wall at Beijing – the Terracotta Army at Xi’an – the Buddhist Caves at Dunhuang – the Great Oases of the Taklamakam Desert – the Sunday Market at Kashgar

The origins of the Silk Road are to be found in the first century BC when the emperor Wu dispatched his generals to the Western regions to seek out the horses of Ferghana, to establish peace amongst the warmongering tribes of the area and ultimately secure a safe passage for itinerant merchants. The route continued to be used for international trade for more than one thousand years until bandits with tribal grievances made it unsafe and also effective maritime routes made it uneconomic. Then the once bustling cities were deserted and buried in the sands of time until the late 19th Century when a band of notorious adventurers, explorers and archaeologists exhumed the route again.

The Silk Road and its many branches were a vital source of cultural and material exchange – Buddhism found its way into China from India and the magnificent grottoes with their carved figures, which we visit, are their testament. Islam came from Persia and its influence is omnipresent in the towers and cupolas of the mosques, which dominate the market squares along our route. From Persia also came dates, pistachios, peaches, pears and the narcissus, from India came cotton, while the Chinese transported silk, green ginger, peonies, roses and paper to the west.

Practical Notes
Considerable parts of the journey are covered by surface transport – road and rail with strategic use of internal flight routes. Overnight accommodation where required on the trains will be in soft class sleepers which have four berths to one compartment. Some of the road journeys across the desert are very long – taking the best part of a day in many cases. As the itinerary includes some less frequented parts of Xinjiang, be prepared for simple standards of accommodation and we cannot always guarantee single rooms.

Please be aware that the itinerary is subject to change given local conditions which may be prevailing at the time of your visit.

Day 1

Depart from London’s Heathrow Airport on the flight to Beijing via Helsinki.

Day 2

Arrive Beijing in the morning, transfer to city centre for a short orientation tour visiting the Temple of Heaven, Tian’an men Square and the Lama Temple. Check-in to the Prime Hotel.

Day 3

Travel 45 miles north east of Beijing to the section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. This part of the Wall is generally less crowded than other parts, it is rugged and the frequency and style of the watch-towers suggest that this was strategically a very important part of the Wall.
Return to Beijing in the afternoon for dinner.

Day 4: In Beijing

Today visit the Forbidden City and the painted galleries of the Summer Palace. In the evening enjoy a typical Beijing Duck dinner.

Day 5: Beijing – Xian

In the late morning fly to Xian – the caravanserai for all those who travelled the Silk Road and which in its heyday in the Tang Dynasty was a cosmopolitan city – a role which has been revived since the discovery of the Terracotta Army. En route from the airport visit the excavations at Han Ling and there is a short city tour with a visit to the Great Mosque. Stay at Aurum International Hotel.

Day 6: Xian

Visit the Terracotta Army excavations, the Great Wild Goose Pagoda and the Forest of Steles.

Day 7: Xian – Dunhuang

Visit the History Museum before departure for the airport and the flight to Dunhuang. Dunhuang was once the point of departure for travellers heading southwards to India, and was crucial in the spread of Buddhism into China – the Grottoes of the Thousand Buddhas are judged to be amongst the finest examples of Buddhist Art in the world. If there is time on arrival, visit the Mingsha Dune and the Lake of the Crescent Moon. Overnight in Dunhuang at the Dunhuang Hotel.

Day 8: Depart Dunhuang

The day is spent visiting the Grottoes of which the earliest date from the fourth and fifth centuries. In the early evening board the overnight train, crossing from Gansu province into Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

Day 9: Arrive Turfan

Arrive at the oasis town of Turfan in the morning. During the day visit the Bezeklik Grottoes, the sandy ruins of the city of Gaochang, the traditional underwater system known as ‘karez’ which originate in the Flaming Mountains visible on the horizon and Sugong Pagoda. Spend the night in Turfan at the Oasis Hotel.

Day 10: Turfan – Korla - Kuche (800 kms)

Depart by road along the Desert Highway for the edge of the Tarim Basin. Stop at Korla, visiting the Iron Gate Pass and continue to Kuche – which was an important Buddhist Centre and was at the centre of the rivalry between the archaeologists in the early 20th Century.

Day 11: Kuche – Aksu (320 kms)

In the morning visit the Mosque and the ancient ruins of Subashi. Then drive to the Kizil Kara Buddhist Caves (70kms) and continue to Aksu, arriving in the evening. Stay at the Hongfu Hotel.

Day 12: Aksu – Khotan (Hetian) (540kms)

Cut through the desert today heading for Khotan on the southern extremes of the Taklmakam desert. Spend two nights at the Hetian Hotel.

Day 14: Khotan – Shache (310kms)

Departure for Shache – also known as Yarkand, on arrival visit the Mausoleum of the King of Yarkand. Stay at the Wanghou (Queen’s) hotel.

Day 15:Shache - Kashgar (210kms)

Drive to Kashgar, visiting Yinjisha (Yengisar) famous for its handmade knives en route. Spend two nights in Kashgar.

Day 16: Kashgar

Visit the famous Sunday market, Idkha Mosque, Abahoja tomb and the Buddhist Caves of the Three Immortals.

Day 17: Kashgar – Urumchi – Beijing

Morning flight to Urumchi and connect with same day flight to Shanghai or Beijing. Dinner in Beijing

Day 18: Beijing to UK

Morning departure for the airport and return flight to UK – arrive same day.