The Silk Road

From Xi’an to Xinjiang

Repertory Trip: No Future Dates Set


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 adventure with veteran Trip Leader Roger Williams, we 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. Our route embraces noted historical sites including Xi’an, home of the celebrated Terra Cotta Warriors; Dunhuang, where we explore the cliff-bound Mogao Grottoes, a priceless repository of Chinese Buddhist cave art long lost in the desert; Turpan, close to the ancient city of Gaocheng and the Bezeklik Caves, with their strikingly painted mural art; and the legendary Kashgar Sunday market. As we explore, we encounter a range of peoples, from Tibetan Buddhists to Uighur traders, and learn how their cultures and traditions are deeply tied to this mountain and desert realm. There’s no other journey in the world quite like this adventure on the storied road across the Far East.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-4
Xi’an / Longmen Grottoes

Xi’an, the cradle of Chinese history, is an ancient Silk Road metropolis that has witnessed the rise and fall of 14 imperial dynasties over two millennia. Our explorations here include the famed terra cotta warriors, an astounding army of 8,000 life-sized statues and their steeds buried underground in full regalia and arranged in battle formation. At the Shaanxi History Museum, we’ll learn about the ancient Chinese civilization and appreciate some of the museum’s very rare treasures. A side trip brings us to Luoyang, where we visit the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in China, and appreciate the precious Buddhist statues, steles, and ancient architecture from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

Days 5-9
Lanzhou / Xiahe

We visit the Shuilu'an Temple, which houses over 3700 clay Buddha sculptures, and also the Forest of Stone Steles and its finely-inscribed tablets. In Lanzhou, the provincial capital of Gansu, we visit the Gansu Provincial Museum, which features ancient treasures excavated along the Silk Road. Heading to Xiahe (9,186’), located in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, we explore Labrang Monastery and join the local people walking the pilgrimage route around the monastery before dinner at a Tibetan restaurant with local musicians. Returning to Lanzhou, we visit Binglingsi Caves, with its fascinating Buddhist statues and ancient murals set within a peaceful valley.

Days 10-12
Dunhuang / Mogao Grottoes

Set on the edge of the Takla Makan Desert, Dunhuang is a former terminus of the Silk Road. We visit magical Crescent Moon Lake, enjoy a camel ride at the lovely Mingsha Sand Dunes, a chance to watch a beautiful sunset over the desert, and explore the remote Mogao Grottoes, a World Heritage Site housing murals, Buddhist paintings, and statues. Nearby are the Yulin Caves, excavated on both cliffs along the Yulin River. Most of the Buddhist sculptures and mural paintings are works fashioned between the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

Days 13-15
Turpan / Bezeklik Caves / Tuyugou Village / Gaochang

Turpan was a center of Buddhism until the 8th century, when Islam came to this part of western China. We’ll visit the Bezeklik Caves, a cliffside complex of more than 75 rock-cut caves containing remarkable Buddhist murals dating from the 5th to 9th centuries. We also visit Tuyugou, one of the few authentic villages that maintains its old Buddhist traditions despite its conversion to Islam, and we’ll have lunch at the vineyard of a local family. Nearby is the ancient city of Gaocheng (“King’s City”), once a garrison town and later the capital of the Uighur people. We’ll explore the vast site and fragments of the ancient city walls that were built over 2,000 years ago, then visit a keraz well, an ancient irrigation system from the Han Dynasty and considered to be one of the greatest engineering projects of ancient China.

Days 16-19
Urumqi / Kashgar

At Urumqi’s Xinjiang Regional Museum, we’ll enjoy a private presentation on the region’s archaeological discoveries and view terracotta figures, pottery, porcelain, weapons, silk, scriptures, and ancient mummies. Flying to Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road marketplace where great swathes of disparate groups from all across Asia once came to trade, we explore the Abakh Khoja, a masterpiece of Uygur Islamic architecture, and visit the legendary Kashgar Sunday Market by donkey cart. We’ll have a chance to roam amid the aromas of fresh-baked breads, cumin, pepper, and grilled lamb, and watch the spirited negotiations of traders haggling over everything from camels, sheep, silk, spices, and fruits to household goods. Depart on Day 19.



Xi’an’s Terra Cotta Warriors with private museum guide, the Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang, the bazaars of Kashgar, including the legendary Sunday Market
The Silk Road oasis of Turpan, Urumqi’s excellent Xinjiang Regional Museum with a private presentation by a senior museum expert
Uighur home visit, lunch at the vineyard of a local family in Tuyugou


Length: 19 days
Cost From: TBA  
Arrive: Xi'an, China
Depart: Kashgar, China
Lodging: 18 nights hotels
Meals: All meals included except 1 dinner as indicated in the Detailed Itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

Cultural exploration and walking tours, some overland travel

Other Trips You Might be Interested in: