For 2,000 years, the Silk Road was the principal artery for caravans traveling between China and Europe laden with textiles, spices, gold—and ideas, philosophies, and religions. On this fabled road, follow the footsteps of Marco Polo from ancient Xi’an, cradle of Chinese history, to fabled Kashgar in China’s wild west, a vital hub when silk caravans passed this way a millennium ago. As you explore, you encounter a range of peoples, from Uighur traders to Kazakh nomads, and learn how their cultures and traditions are deeply tied to this desert and mountain realm. You also visit a dazzling array of epic archaeological sites, from the famed tomb of the Terra Cotta Warriors to the cliff-bound Mogao Grottoes, a priceless repository of Chinese Buddhist cave art long lost in the desert. There’s no other journey in the world quite like this adventure on the storied road across the Far East.
Beijing / Xi’an / Terra Cotta Warriors / Dunhuang
After meeting in Beijing, we fly to Xi’an, cradle of Chinese history. We visit the world-renowned Tomb of the Terra Cotta Warriors, with a special private entrance to the tomb’s lower terrace where only select visitors can go. Already 2,200 years old when it was accidently discovered in 1974, this World Heritage-listed tomb holds the 8,000 “buried warriors” of China’s first emperor, each life-sized figure unique. We also walk along Xi’an’s city walls, the most complete that survive in China, visit the Shaanxi History Museum, with its dazzling collection of artifacts from the Shang Dynasty (1750-1122 BC) to the Tang Dynasty (3rd century AD), and walk around the Muslim quarter. Late on Day 3, we fly to Dunhuang, a former terminal of the Silk Road set on the edge of the Takla Makan Desert.
Dunhuang / Mogao Grottoes / Yangguan / Turpan
From Dunhuang, we head out to explore the remote Mogao Grottoes, where spectacular cliff caves are adorned with Buddhist paintings and sculptures from the 5th to 13th centuries, and take a sunset camel ride at the Mingsha Sand Dunes. In nearby Yangguan, we visit the small but interesting new Yangguan Museum, then enjoy the hospitality of a local Dunhuang family, relaxing in the family courtyard under the shade of a grape arbor, and sampling a delicious lunch cooked with fresh country ingredients. We also explore the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, located in a peaceful river canyon lush with willow groves. An overnight train ride brings us to Turpan.
Turpan / Jiaohe / Gaochan / Urumqi
We visit the ancient city of Jiaohe, now a ruined fortress atop a 90-foot cliff on a high plateau, the Keraz Well, an ancient irrigation system from the Han Dynasty, and Gaochan (“King’s City”), set below a pass in the Flaming Mountains. In Urumqi, we visit the Xinjiang Regional Museum, with its archaeological treasures from the Silk Road and Xinjiang’s minority cultures.
Urumqi / Heavenly Lake / Kashgar
Heading to Heavenly Lake in the Tian Shan Mountains, we enjoy a two-hour hike in the Bogda Shan range to a grazing area where Kazakh nomads live in yurts. After a kebab-style lunch with the Kazakhs, we head back to Urumqi for the evening flight to Kashgar.
Kashgar / Sunday Market
A desert outpost with an end-of-the-world feeling, the Silk Road outpost of Kashgar is in the farthest reaches of western China. We visit the legendary Sunday Market, one of Asia’s greatest gatherings of traders, enjoying aromas of fresh-baked breads, cumin, pepper, and grilled lamb, and watch the spirited negotiations of traders bargaining over everything from camels to spices.
Urumqi / Beijing
We fly back to Urumqi and connect with a flight to Beijing for overnight. Depart Beijing on Day 12.