Day 1: Arrival day. This journey begins in Lanzhou. If you need advice or assistance getting to Lanzhou then please contact us. Arrival transfer: You will be met at the airport and taken to your meeting point hotel. Our representative will answer any questions that you may have and ensure that you are checked-in before leaving. Please note: You may only actually be able to check-in after the hotel's standard time. If you will arrive in the morning and want to be able to check-in immediately you should consider booking the previous night as an extra service.
After check-in you are free to do as you please. Please do look for a message from your guide about a Briefing this evening. In the evening, your guide will meet with the group and take you to dinner. After eating the guide will brief you all on some important aspects relating to your Journey. This should only take about half an hour. Meals: dinner.
Day 2: Lanzhou City Tour. A reminder that the route of your Journey has been traveled many times, in fact and fiction. We stop at several sites of interest around the city including time at the Provincial Museum with its excellent collection of artifacts. Many of the items on display will make more sense as you travel west. Later we catch the train to Zhangye. You may choose whether to take food along with you or to try the dining car. This will be our first train ride. Fear not. We will travel soft-sleeper class and this is comfortable enough. For more details see Trains in China. Meals: breakfast, lunch.
Day 3: Zhangye to Jiayuguan: Buddhist temples. We drive up into the hills to the temple of Mati Si, a delightful introduction to Buddhist Grottoes along the Silk Road. Carved out of sandstone cliffs, this complex is a testament to the religious fervor that created it, and another more recent kind that attempted to destroy all traces. You may find interest in either aspect. We return to town to explore the Dafo Si (Big Buddha Temple)complex. Some say that Kublai Khan was born here. Certainly the reclining Buddha is one of the largest you will see. After the excursions we drive to Jiayuguan, our next stop. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 4: Jiayuguan Fort marked, for a long time, the western limit of Chinese civilization. To be sent here was often a punishment. Jiayuguan was once a forbidding place; a borderland and scene of countless attacks by barbarians from the west. We explore the fortifications that eventually plugged the gap, including one end of the Great Wall (there are more than just two for this wall) and the strategically-vital fort. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 5: Wine Spring City. The city of Jiuquan lies only half an hour away by modern vehicle, though it was a full day's march in olden times. We have time to explore the park that contains the famous Wine Springs as well as some Underground Tombs outside of the city limits. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 6: Dunhuang, via Yulin Grottoes. We drive around the mountains and across the desert to Dunhuang. En-route we take a small detour to visit the grottoes at Yulin. This little-known site contains a number of very special frescoes, representing the very highest levels of artistic accomplishment, and are of considerable importance to researchers. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 7: Mogao Grottoes. The Mogao Grottoes surely need little introduction. Long considered the most important site along the Silk Road for Buddhist Art, and for the transmission of Buddhism into China, the cave complex extends for over Day 1600 meters. The caves are subject to a number of regulations ostensibly to aid their preservation. There is little or no choice as to which caves you will see on any given day. Later we visit the Crescent Lake, a unique pool in the "Singing Sands". Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 8: Dunhuang. Today can be a bit of a rest day. The more active might get up early and take a bike ride into the countryside. Later we visit sites in town including the local museum. In the evening we catch the overnight train to Turfan. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 9: Turfan, Desert Oasis. We should arrive in Turfan in time for breakfast. We have booked the previous night so that you will also be able to drop off your bags and freshen up. Turfan lies in a depression with a fortunate arrangement of rock strata such that it has always received water from the mountains surrounding it. Our interest is in the ancient sites. Today we visit the remains of Gaocheng, the ancient capital of the kingdom here, and Tuyugou, a luxuriant and interesting Uyghur town tucked away under the Flaming Mountains. On our return, we visit a museum dedicated to Journey to the West, the novel that is better known as Monkey King in the west. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 10: Another side of Turfan. We start with a visit to Jiaohe, once an important religious and military site. We return to town to see a karez (underground irrigation system), the local market and the stunning Emin Minaret. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 11: Urumqi. We drive to Urumqi which lies about 90 kilometers away. We will visit the Erdaoqiao Bazaar and the very interesting Provincial Museum. The mummies on display here were recovered from various parts of Xinjiang. All were produced by natural factors and are an amazing testament to the peoples that lived here thousands of years ago. You will not be the first to be left speechless. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 12: With the Kazakhs of the Tian Shan. We drive up into the mountains to the south-west of Urumqi to Baiyanggou (White Poplar Gully). The grassy slopes have been a summer home to Kazaks for generations. You can admire the gorgeous views from below or take a horse and ride further up. Dinner tonight is free. You may feel like a break and will already know some options nearby. Meals: breakfast, lunch.
Day 13: Heavenly Lake. We head east today, to Tian Chi (the Heavenly Lake) up on the slopes of Bogda Shan. The views around this deep glacial lake are a feast for the eyes. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 14: Fly to Kuqa. We fly to Kuqa (aka Kuche), a Uyghur town below important mountain passes. We visit the site of Subashi for a reminder of the bygone glory days. We will have a Dastarkan traditional meal in the garden of a local family. This could be lunch or dinner. depending upon the flight time. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 15: Into the mountains. We take advantage of a newly opened road to go up and into the dramatic mountains to the west of Kuqa. Our target is the A-ai Grottoes, but the whole journey is one awesome spectacle. These tiny grottoes are to be found up steep steps, rising from a small, deep canyon reminiscent of Petra. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 16: Kizil and on to Aksu. We visit the grottoes at Kizil by a combination of bus and cart. The artwork here is a stunning mix of styles and one of the places where the early explorers were clearly able to identify Greek, Roman and Indian influences. On our way back we make a quick stop at an old Beacon Tower with a commanding view. Later we drive on to Aksu, another remote stop along the old Silk Road. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 17: Last leg: on to Kashgar. There will be time in the morning to take a look at this town rarely visited by foreigners. We then have a long drive over the desert all the way to Kashgar. Let yourself appreciate the power of this vast wilderness and allow your mind to drift with the sands. You can also thank modern conveniences as this would have taken many days walking. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 18: Bike Ride from Kashgar. We get the blood circulating again with a bike ride. This will take us to the Kashgar Old City and out into the countryside where we can stop at the Apak Hodja Tomb and learn about this character as well as a lady who is almost certainly not buried here. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 19: Black Lake. Karakul is located up in the mountains high above Kashgar. It is a place that is still home to Kyrgyz herders, descendants of tribes that once ranged far across Central Asia. The weather will have the most significant affect upon your impression. The lake will appear either amazingly stunning or amazingly bleak; either can be sublime. There is an opportunity to stay overnight in a yurt or guesthouse. Your guide will have more details and be able to arrange the necessary transport to get you back to Kashgar. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 20: Free day in Kashgar. This is a free day. You may choose from a number of sites in town or just outside. Those who have read of the Great Game will probably enjoy visiting the respective Russian and British Consulates: both now parts of local hotels. Meals: breakfast.
Day 21: Kashgar Sunday Market. The weekly market in Kashgar attracts locals from a wide area, and travelers from around the world. Things are slow to start but by late morning you are sure to see some serious haggling as farmers exchange various forms of livestock for hard cash. Agricultural produce is brought along in huge quantities so there is an amazing range of foodstuffs for you to try. Look out for Kebabs made from fat-tailed sheep. They may not be healthy but are certainly the local favorite. The old Bazaar in the center of town is still used for other items. This gets busy too and we will stop there for a look later. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 22: Journey's end. This Journey ends after breakfast. Check-out is usually 12:00 (noon).
Note: As the tour ends in Kashgar you may need assistance with flights or trains. Please let us know in plenty of time. The options are limited and can fill early. If you need help with onward travel plans to Central Asia then just ask. We have a number of good contacts.
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