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Hello China! Arrive Beijing and included airport transfer to our hotel.
This morning, we tour the centre of Beijing, China's magnificent capital, including the Temple of Heaven and the massive Tiananmen Square and the sprawling Forbidden City. Boasting some 9999 rooms, the city within a city was once the sole preserve of the Chinese emperors.
This afternoon, we drive beyond Beijing to Mutianyu, to walk a section of the famous Great Wall. Built in the Ming Dynasty, a 6m wide pathway makes a formidable defence, following the highest contours of a steep range of hills. Continuing on, a visit is made to the tombs of the Ming emperors, where some 13 emperors were interred. The tombs are approached via a sacred gateway and gate houses. Transfer later today to the train station for your overnight sleeper train (4 berth soft sleeper cabins) to Xi'an.
Xi’an is perhaps most famous for the discovery of Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Warriors. Discovered in 1974 by local farmers digging a well, the 2,200 year old Terracotta Warriors comprise more than 7,000 life-sized soldiers standing battle-ready in excavated pits under the cover of a modern protective hanger. No two faces are alike – each is said to be an individual portrait. Today, we visit the archaeological site of the Terracotta Warriors after being transferred from the train station.
We visit the local Muslim Quarter which is full of atmosphere and great for shopping and one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China, the Great Mosque before transferring to the train station for your overnight train to Lanzhou.
We travel 35 kilometers west of Lanzhou to visit the Bingling Temple. The Grottoes are carved into red sandstone cliffs at both edges of Dasigou Valley on the side of Jishi Mountain. We then travel onto Xiahe to overnight.
We enjoy a guided visit to the Labrang Monastery is located at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain northwest of Xiahe County in Gannan Tibetan Nationality Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. In the heart of the Tibetan, it stands by the Daxia River and faces the Dragon Mountain.
Today, we drive back to Lanzhou to take the overnight sleeper train to Jiayuguan.
Enjoy a visit to the awesome Jiayuguan Fort at Jiayuguan Pass - the farthest outpost of the Great Wall which was built here by the Ming in 1372, over 5,000km from the wall’s easternmost point at Shanhaiguan. This was literally the final defence of the Chinese empire, the spot where China ended and beyond which lay an uncharted, terrifying wilderness. Situated between striking mountain ranges, everything that travelled between the deserts of central Asia and the fertile lands of China, be it goods traders or armies had to file through the Jiayuguan Pass.
Continue to remote Dunhuang, a small and strategically important desert oasis town on the Silk Road, a stone’s throw from the end of the Great Wall. Visit Yueya Quan (Crescent Moon Lake), a small spring-fed lake surrounded by gigantic sand dunes, that has been a vital source of water here for millennia. If feeling energetic, the giant dunes can be climbed if inclined! Overnight Feitian Hotel
Visit perhaps Dunhuang’s most famous attraction, the UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves. The colourful cave paintings which were the legacy of travelling pilgrim monks, merchants and nobles form the most fascinating repository of Buddhist art in China. Catch the pubilc bus to Liuyuan and take the overnight sleeper train to Turpan.
Today, enjoy some sightseeing beyond Turpan. Located on the northern Silk Road, Turpan is a rural Uighur settlement. The Uighur descended from nomadic Siberian and Central Asian tribes who settled the region in the 9th century. Driving to Bezeklik past the Flaming Mountains which due to sun and shadow at certain times of the day seeming to flicker as though glowing poker-hot. You’ll also visit the Bezeklik Caves which are situated in a desert gorge high above the Sengim River and once formed part of a Buddhist monastery between the 6th and 14th centuries. Beyond here are the Astana tombs and the impressive ruins of Gaochang city, founded as a garrison city in the 1st century AD. Visit to Imin Ta (Imin Minaret) constructed in 1778.
Head beyond Turpan to the Jiaohe Ruins. Occupying a spectacular position on a steep plateau, the ancient street plan, thanks to the many ruins of this former garrison town, is still evident. A stop is also made at some 2,000-year-old Karez water channels, an irrigation system that many Silk Road cities and towns relied upon; the idea for which came from ancient Persia. Drive to Urumqi. Overnight Boertala Hotel
Capital of Xinjiang, a largely desert and grassland province fringed by some of the highest mountains in the world, Urumqi sits amidst beautiful scenery, with the snow-clad Tian Shan range to the city’s east. Christianity and Buddhism existed side by side until the steady rise of Islam in the 15th century. By the time of the Ming Dynasty, Muslims had flourished and integrated into Han society without loss of customs or dress. Today, there is a significant Muslim population. We enjoy an excursion to Tian Chi (Heaven Lake), located at an altitude of 2,000m among the Tian Shan Mountains, which rise to nearly 6,000m. Also visit the local Xinjiang Museum. Later, fly west to Kashgar.
Lying at the foot of the Pamir mountains in the far west of Xinjiang, Kashgar’s importance grew from its location as an oasis at the point where the northern and southern routes of the ancient Silk Road converged, forming a gateway to the mountains leading to India and Russia. From the 10th - 18th centuries Kashgar was part of the Islamic world, until the Chinese reconquered the region. See the Id Kah Mosque, Aba Khoja Mausoleum - where the local cemetery filled with distinctive mud and brick tombs is still used by the local Uighur peoples and the colourful Old Town.
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