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In past centuries, the vital Silk Road used to be the link between the East and the West.
Merchant caravans carrying silk, gold, ivory, exotic animals, plants and other precious commodities used to travel from Europe via Central Asia to the heart of the Empire. The Silk Road was not only about trading goods, but also about exchanging ideas and religious beliefs. This trip will allow you to traverse the footsteps of the original route of one of the most famous travellers ever, Marco Polo.
Welcome to China! Upon arrival into Kashgar, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Kashgar is an important trading town in the far west of China, close to the borders with Pakistan and Kirgistan. It has been the epicentre of regional trade and cultural exchange for more than two millennia.
The remoteness has helped to preserve the unique character of the city. Explore the streets of the old city centre, which is unfortunately becoming smaller and smaller with the development of new housing. This small section of the ‘real’ Old Town is unlikely to survive for much longer.
Despite these changes, the spirit of Kashgar lives on. Uighur craftsmen and artisans still hammer and chisel away as they have done for centuries, traders haggle over deals in the boisterous bazaars and donkey carts still trundle their way through the narrow alleyways. Enjoy dinner tonight at a local restaurant. (D)
3 nights in Qinibagh hotel VIP Building or similar
Today you will make your way to the biggest alpine lake in the world, Karakuli Lake (approx. 200km – 4-5hr drive). Karakul means ‘black lake’, in referance to the dark colour reflected on the lakes surface when he sun is hidden by cloud. At an altitude of 3,600m, it is the highest lake of the Pamir Plateau, near the junction of the Pamir, Tianshan and Kunlun mountain ranges. The lake has two basins separated by a peninsula from the south and an island in the north. The three highest peaks visible from the lake are the Muztagh Ata (7,546m), Kongur Tagh (7,649m) and Kongur Tiube (7,530m) which remain snow-capped throughout the year. You will also have the opportunity to walk to one of the settlements on the shore of the lake and visit the Kerkezi stone houses and the people who live in these remote areas.
Return to Kashgar in the evening. (B,L)
This morning after breakfast, set out to explore the local Bazaar, the bustling meeting point for the many nomadic people who venture here to barter, buy and sell produce, animals, the necessities of daily life and everything in between.
Continue on to the centre of Kashgar, where you will discover the largest Mosque in China. Built in 1442 the Id Kah Mosque complex now occupies nearly 17,000 square metres, and is surrounded with fascinating handicraft streets.
Visit Abakh Hoja Tomb of Xiangfei, an Uygur woman who was married as a concubine to one of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. After she died her body was transferred back to Kashgar and buried in the family tomb, built in 1640 its construction is heavily influenced by Islam architecture.
In the afternoon, explore a nearby village on foot for a chance to mingle with the locals before assisting with the preparation of a traditional Uighur dinner. (B,L)
Today enjoy a free day to explore Kashgar on your own.
Late afternoon, meet you guide and transfer to the train station, take the overnight train to Kuche Y964 21:30 – 07:46+1. (B,L)
Overnight on the train in a soft sleeper or similar (shared cabin)
In the morning, you will arrive in Kuche and transfer to your hotel for a chance to refresh and enjoy breakfast at your hotel. Head out to explore Kuche, where you will go to The Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves Complex which is resulted from alien culture and traditional Chinese culture. Kumr Jiva was also born here. The Kizil Grotto, one of four major grottoes, is a key national monument, from the late 3rd century with 236 coded caves. As the earliest, biggest and the most western complex and artistic treasure in China, it contains over 10000m2 of murals inside.
The Grand Kuqa Mosque which was first built in the 16th century and reconstructed in 1931 after being damaged by fire, had significant dominance of Islam over Buddhism in Xinjiang. It is the region’s second largest mosque after the Etigar Mosque in Kashgar and has a capacity for 3,000 worshippers. Within its compound is Xinjiang’s sole religious court. Kuqa is also the site of the sacred Molanaershiding Tomb to which Xinjiang’s Muslims make regular pilgrimages. (B,L)
Overnight in Kuche Hotel or similar
In the early morning, you will go to the Subashi Ruins, which are located 23km northwest of Kuqa County, Xinjiang Province. Covering a relatively large area, divided by the Kuqa River into eastern and western areas, the eastern area is over 530 metres long and over 140 metres wide where the western area is over 680 metres long and 170 metres wide. The extent of the ruins reflects the temple’s past brilliance.
After lunch, you transfer to Korla. There is a very low speed limit in southern Xinjiang which means we must stay in Korla for one night. Diving time 7-8hrs, 300km. (B,L)
Overnight in Korla Yinxing Hotel or similar
Today you drive to Turpan (400km, 7-8hrs depending on police check points). (B,L)
3 nights Mecure Turpan Downtown Hotel or similar
Visit the ruins of the ancient city Gaochang, an oasis city built in the desert. It was a busy trading centre and a stopping point for merchant traders travelling on the Silk Road. It was destroyed in wars during the 14th century. Even though deserted since several hundred years, many buildings and streets are still visible.
Visit the Bezkelik Thousand Buddha Caves. Once an important Buddhist site with many caves covered with brightly painted murals, Bezeklik means “place of paintings” in Uighur. The caves were hewn into the cliffside, Monks used to live inside the caves and the frescoes here clearly represent the life work of generations of devotees.
You will also visit the Astana Graves. Astana was the public cemetery of the ancient Gaochang residents, both aristocrats and commoners. However, among 456 excavated tombs in Astana Tomb, no King of Gaochang has been found. The dead in Astana Tomb were placed on an earthen or wooden bed in the back of the chamber. (B,L)
Today you will continue to your trip to explore Turpan. You will visit the brilliant project – the Karez System, which is special kind of irrigation system consisting of vertical wells, underground canals, ground canals and a water logging pond. The vertically dug wells are linked together to channel the water which is collected during the summer rainy season, or melted from snowy mountains of the Tianshan range and then distributed to the farmlands in the surrounding plains.
After your Karez visit, you will head to visit the Jiaohe Ancient City which used to be the capital city of the former Cheshi State. It is renowned as the “perfect ruins of an earth building” because it has been well preserved for almost two thousand years.
To know more about Turpan’s history as well as the Silk Road, visit the Turpan Museum which is the best way to learn all about this fascinating area. It is a small museum, but has an interesting layout and modern facilities. The museum keeps more than 5,000 collections from the prehistoric era to nowadays. Its highlights are relics and artefacts which were discovered in the Turpan area. (B,L)
After breakfast, take the express train to Dunhuang , D2704 (10:18/13:57) in a second class seat. The remainder of the day is free at leisure. (B,L)
2 nights in Dunhuang Yueya Guesthouse or similar
Be prepared for another highlight of the trip – the Mogao Grottoes which contain priceless paintings, sculptures, some 50,000 Buddhist scriptures, historical documents, textiles, and other relics that first stunned the world in the early 1900s. It has some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in a period of 1,000 years.
From here you will visit Crescent Lake whcih is a crescent-shaped lake in an oasis. Just as oil and water don’t mix, so do springs and deserts. But Crescent Spring is an exception. Having been lying among these sand dunes for thousands of years, although given many surprise attacks by sandstorms, Crescent Spring still gurgles clear, and still remains worthy as the first spring in the desert. (B,L)
Today you will drive to Jiayuguan. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. (B,L)
2 nights in Jiayuguan Great Wall Hotel or similar
Jiayuguan Pass, located in the southwest part of Jiayuguan City, is 6 km from downtown. This was the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall, and also one of the main passes of the Great Wall. Among the passes on the Great Wall, Jiayuguan is the most intact surviving ancient military building.
This part of the Great wall was built by using local gravel and yellow earth, layer upon layer, and it consists of the main path, battlements and three observation posts. Its imposing appearance and manner are very much like those of Badaling Great Wall in Beijing, so it is reputed as ‘the Western Badaling Great Wall’. (B,L)
Today you continue with a visit to Jiuquan. The city’s name came from a legendary tale of the young Han general Huo Qubing, who poured a jar of precious wine into a local creek in order to share the taste with his troops, in celebration of their crushing victory against Xiongnu forces. The creek was later named Jiu Quan (“Wine Spring”), which became the name of the Han prefecture established there. It was an active military garrison during the later Han Dynasty.
The area was the frontier for much of China’s history, forming a natural passage to the Central Asian portion of the empire. The Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan is said to have been born in the Dafo Temple.
From here you will visit the Tombs with Murals of the Wei and Jin dynasties. Continue your journey to Zhangye, (approx. 4 hours driving) via Gaotai and the Linze Danxia Colourful Hills.
Zhangye Danxia is known for the unusual colours of the rocks, which are smooth, sharp and several hundred metres tall. They are the result of deposits of sandstone and other minerals that occurred over 24 million years. The result, similar to a layer cake, is connected to the action of the same tectonic plates responsible for creating parts of the Himalayan mountains. Wind, rain, and time then sculpted extraordinary shapes, including towers, pillars, and ravines, with varying colours, patterns, and sizes. (B,L)
Overnight in ZZhangye Ganzhou Hotel or similar
Visit the Giant Buddha Temple (Dafo Temple) which contains the largest reclining wooden Buddha in China, and is the reputed birthplace of Kublai Khan. In the afternoon, drive to Wuwei ( approx. 3.5 hours), historically the only route from central China to western China and the rest of Central Asia. (B,L)
Overnight in Wuwei Tianma Hotel or similar
Start your day in Wuwei with a visit to Leitai Han Tomb, named as there was a temple built to honour the Chinese god Leishen on the ten-metre high earth platform that was erected during the middle Ming Dynasty. The most important is the Bronze Galloping horse which is the symbol of China Tourism.
Visit Wenmiao, the local Confucius Temple, before driving to Lanzhou in the afternoon (approx. 5 hrs). Lanzhou is situated on the upper reaches of the Yellow River where it emerges from the mountains. (B,L)
2 nights in Ruida Hotel or similar
Visit the Gansu Provincial Museum in the morning. The museum has an excellent selection of exhibits relating to Gansu and the Silk Road. In the afternoon, take the sheepskin raft on the Yellow River with stops at Zhongshan Bridge and Waterwheel Exhibition Park. (B,L)
Drive to Linxia (150 km, approx. 5 hrs) which is home to the Hui ethnic group. For centuries, Hezhou/Linxia has been one of the main religious, cultural, and commercial centres of China’s Muslim community, earning itself the nickname of “the little Mecca of China.”
Visit Linxia Dagongbei The Great Gongbei, an Islamic shrine complex centered on a grave of a Sufi master. The grave itself is usually topped with a dome; Nanguan Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the Lingxia.
Continue your journey to Xiahe this afternoon. Xiahe is home to the famed Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The town is populated largely by ethnic Tibetans, as well as some Hui and Han Chinese. The area is highly rural and pastoral where you will see yaks grazing and other pastorals animals. (B,L)
2 nights Xiahe Baoma Guest house or similar
Today enjoy a full day excursion to Labrang Monastery and Sangke Grassland.
The Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery boasts tens of thousands of statues of Buddha made of gold, silver, copper, and aluminium. There are statues with ivory, sandalwood, jade, crystal and clay as the basic materials. These Buddha statues are all lifelike with kind-looking faces. In addition, the monastery possesses many Buddha hats and many Buddhist treasures adorned with pearls, jadeite, agate and diamonds. (B,L)
Today you will drive back to Lanzhou with a visit en-route to Bingling Temple Grottoes by boat. Bingling Temple is a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculptures carved into the natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. It lies just north of where the Yellow River empties into the Liujiaxia Reservoir.
From the boat, you can see the Jishi Hill where the caves are excavated. Upon arrival in Lanzhou, you will be transferred to the train station for your high-speed train to Xi’an D 2667 20:00-23:08 (1st class seat). (B,L)
2 nights Xi’an Zuoyouke Theme Hotel or similar
Upon arrival in Xi’an, you will be met and transferred to your hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, take a walk along the ancient city walls which is not only the most complete city walls that has survived in China, but also one of the largest ancient military defence systems in the world. You also have an opportunity to ride a bicycle (not included) around the city walls if you wish.
This afternoon, walk through the lively Muslim Quarter to visit the Grand Mosque. The 60,000 strong Muslim community that lives and works today in Xian traces its history back to Arab and Persian merchants who, after travelling the Silk Road, became permanent residents here for 13 dynasties. Enjoy watching a puppet show in the Muslim Quarter.
For dinner this evening, enjoy a dumpling banquet, where you’ll taste dumplings of many different shapes, sizes and flavours. (B,L,D)
Today enjoy the last highlight of Xian: the Terracotta Warriors & Horses where you will see the life-sized defending army to the first emperor of China, Qinshihuang. Discovered by local farmer in Lintong, it is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.
This evening, board an overnight train to Beijing. (B,L)
Upon arrival in Beijing, you will be met and transferred to your hotel for breakfast. The day starts from the centre of Beijing – Tian’anmen Square with a walk to the Forbidden City. This was once the Chinese Imperial Palace and has a history of almost five hundred years. It is said to be the world’s largest existing palace complex with 999.5 rooms. Whilst walking in the city, you can retrace the Chinese history from Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.
Experience Beijing and its food in a more modest way by walking through the Hutongs, the narrow alleys in old Beijing, on a “Hutong foodie walk.” This will include traditional local dishes from other parts of China. Start at the centre of Beijing at the Bell Tower to taste Beijinger’s traditional dishes before walking through the market and enjoying lunch at an authentic Uighur restaurant. Finish at Houhai Lake where you will have free time to explore. (B,L)
2 nights in Beijing Dongfang Hotel or similar
In June 1644 the Ming Dynasty fell after ruling China for 276 years and so too ended the national strategy of building long defensive structures. The ramparts were left to the ravages of nature, man and time. The elements changed such structures into a wilderness Great Wall (Wild Wall), overgrown and crumbling from century to century since the 1500s. Today you will hike along the unrestored structures of the wall. Through crumbling watch towers, uneven steps and with not another tourist in sight, truly allowing you to appreciate the Great Wall for what it was and what it is today. (B,L)
This morning is yours at leisure until it is time for you to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. For those looking to extend their time, why not continue on Marco Polo’s route and add on an extension to Xanadu? (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.