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September 26 - October 13, 2009


Flight: Cathay Pacific departs LAX in the late evening of September 26.  We cross the International Dateline to arrive in Hong Kong early on the morning of the 28th.  A connecting flight takes us on to Xian.  

Xian: Once China's capital, Xian is the starting or ending point for caravans that braved the perils of the Silk Road.  Tour highlights include the well preserved Xian City Wall constructed in 1370s, the tomb of Qin Shihuang with its extensive army of terra cotta warriors and horses, and the provincial museum that records the incomparable Tang Dynasty and the long history of this region.  Two treats include a feast of dumplings and a show that presents the costumes of the Tang Dynasty. 2 nights

Jiayuguan: The Jade Gate is the western terminus of the Great Wall and the historic boundary for China.  It is the jumping off place for travelers who faced the desert where it was said, "He who enters will not come out."  A coin might be tossed at the stone wall of the fortress to help make their go-no-go decision.  Our visit includes Jiayuguan Pass Town and the First Beacon Tower of Greatwall. 1 night

Dunhuang: After a morning of touring in Jiayuguan, the caravan moves on in our chartered bus to the juncture of the northern and southern trade routes.  We take the southern route to an oasis that epitomizes our vision of the Silk Road.  With the rising Mingsha Dune spread before us, we ride a camel to the nearby tea house at Crescent Moon Lake.  Alternative transportation is available to accommodate anyone who wants the view but not the camel.  A wooden ladder placed in the dune sand hill allows us to climb to the top and enjoy a sled ride down.  Now we know we are in the desert!  On the cultural side, we enter the famous Mogao Grottoes, tagged an Art Gallery in the Desert, to see well preserved Buddhist cave art.  An inspired monk dug the first cave in AD 366 and others followed for 11 centuries, creating one thousand caves of which 492 remain.  Most of the art was commissioned by wealthy local leaders or by members of caravans to paint elaborate scenes on the dry clay walls. 1 night

Turpan: We travel back to the northern route and take an overnight train to Turpan.  This was an important oasis that thrived due to the ancient Persian irrigation system, or Kariz, with a 1000 miles of underground channels.  Sweet grapes grow in abundance.   We catch a glimmer of the ancient cities of Jiaohe and Gaochang, visit Emin Minaret, and are dazzled by Flaming Mountain in the mid-day sun.  Much to see in this charming oasis that also has engendered the arts of music and dance on the Silk Road. Overnight Train plus 2 nights

Hotan: A short flight offers a panorama of the formidable Taklamakan Desert (less daunting from the sky than from atop a camel in a windstorm.  On the Southern Silk Route we land at oasis of Hotan, once a major Buddhist kingdom.  Hotan was the first place outside China to learn the art of silk-making, the seeds of mulberry trees and the silkworms themselves being concealed in the head-dress of a Chinese princess who came to marry a Khotani king. Visit the Silk and Mulberry Research Center and the Atlas compound that carries out every step of silk making and weaving of ikat.  Another art we will see is the making of mulberry paper.  Hotan was famous for jade, and locals continue to seek the precious stone in the town's river bed. 2 nights

Urumqi: This capital is the most inland city in the world and home of the Uighur people and 12 other ethnic minorities.  Huge mosques are still in use.  The extraordinary “Mummies of Urumqi” are housed in the region’s museum. The dry desert has preserved their bodies, and even more remarkably, their clothing, for 3000 to 4000 years.  A treat is a full day in the Tianshan or Heavenly Mountain range where snow-capped peaks rise almost 18,000 feet around a crystal clear lake.  Kazakhs bring their yurt home, animals and family from May to September.  Time for walking and exploring, perhaps finding a Kazakh family still there. 2 nights                                                                                                                    
Suzhou: We face east to a “heavenly” place, known for the beauty of its women and the quality of its silk.  After a flight to Shanghai, we drive to Suzhou to experience classical China in this Silk Capital.  It is also the home of master gardens (a replica of the Humble Administrator’s Garden is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York) and philosophers.  The cultural arts flourish in this “Venice of the East”.  Silk is what drew traders along the Grand Canal in the 12th century to pluck China’s best exports.  We delve into this history at the interactive Silk Museum, examine the modern silk process at the Silk Factory, and are in awe of the master talent at the Embroidery Institute famous for its double-sided embroidery.   A boat trip on the Grand Canal will bring us into the daily lives of the local people.  Time for tea, strolling, and shopping, as you wish. 3 nights

Shanghai: Majestic and gleaming with its architectural transformation that occurred in the 1990s, Shanghai is again the Pearl of the Orient.  It was the favorite of many foreign settlers from countries that set up “concessions” following the Opium War of 1840, and it gained its notorious reputation in the 1920s when triads and pimps held sway.  In earlier centuries, merchants plied their trade from this port on the East China Sea, and today financiers are instrumental in propelling this city to the top of the economic zones.  The Shanghai Museum structure reflects modern advancements while exhibits inside highlight 4000 years of achievement.   Old Town keeps its charm and true historic sights while integrating reproductions to expand the shopping area. A Farewell Dinner ends our journey to China’s Silk Road & Silk Capitals. 1 night

Oct 13: Fly home or chose to extend your time in Shanghai or beyond.

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