DAYS 57 – 97: CHINA
Crossing into China from Kyrgyzstan is an experience in itself as you drive over the 3,752m Torugart Pass and head down into the Uighur city of Kashgar.
From Kashgar you will take a side trip to Lake Karakol on a stunning journey along the Karakoram Highway. The drive takes you up past some truly incredible mountain scenery and underneath a few 7,000m peaks including Mustagh Ata. Near Lake Karakol you will stay in local nomadic yurts, sleeping 6-8 people per yurt. Provisions here are very basic, but the scenery is incredible and it is an interesting glimpse into the way of life of the local Uighurs.
Returning to Kashgar, you will visit the animal market just outside of town and then the famous Kashgar Sunday Bazaar, as well as the central Id Kah Mosque and the surrounding square. During your time in Kashgar, your crew will be finalising the customs procedures for the overland truck to continue further into China.
Your overland journey through China begins as you leave Kashgar and head east through the Taklamakan Desert following the northern branch of the Silk Road. The desert crossing usually takes 3 days / 2 nights and it is intended to wild camp, although at times the police insist that you do not camp and so you will stay in local hotels instead.
When you complete your drive through the Taklamakan Desert you will arrive at Heavenly Lake, a beautiful lake set in the Tian Shan mountains. You will stay here for two nights in local yurts and will have many opportunities to relax in the incredible scenery and walk around the lake.
From Heavenly Lake you will travel to the oasis town of Turpan, where you stay for 2 nights exploring the surrounding sites including the famous Jaiohe adobe ruins.
From Turpan you will head to Dunhuang, another oasis town. The following day you will have an included visit to the awe-inspiring Mogao Buddha Caves in the morning. You will then have a free afternoon to explore this amazing town and its surroundings – there are possibilities for camel rides along the sand dunes and bicycle rides out to the nearby White Goose Pagoda!
Continuing your journey, you will drive to Jiayuguan, where you will have an included visit to the Jiayuguan Fort – the most westerly point of the Great Wall of China. Please note the Great Wall in this area is adobe, unlike the more famous stone sections which you will visit further to the east. You will camp near an adobe section of the wall.
You will then drive to the incredible Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains and spend some time exploring the region before heading off to wild camp nearby.
The small town of Liujiaxia on the lower slopes of the remote Tibetan plateau will be your next stop, and then from there you will set off to the enchanting Tibetan town of Xiahe where we spend the next 3 nights. We will have an included visit to the incredible Bingling Si Buddha Caves en route.
The next few days are free to explore this beautiful town and surrounding grasslands. You can take a guided visit to the Labrang Monastery where Tibetan monks can be seen doing their daily rituals and chants. There may also be a chance to go trekking, horse riding or exploring the surrounding grasslands, visiting Tibetan families and perhaps trying the local Yak butter tea.
Leaving Xiahe behind you will head to the chaotic capital city of Gansu province, Lanzhou. You will have some free time this evening to explore the city.
From Lanzhou you will drive to the small town of Pingliang at the base of the Mount Kongtong, one of the holiest mountains in Chinese Taoism. You will have an included visit to Mount Kongtong, and will have the full day to explore the temples and walk and explore the pilgrimage routes on the mountain.
Xi’an will be your next stop. This amazing city was the ancient capital of Shaanxi province and the end of the Silk Road. You will have three nights in Xi’an with time to fully explore the city, its famous city walls, Bell & Drum towers, pagodas and Muslim Quarter, as well as the world-famous Terracotta Warriors, where you have an included visit and a guided tour.
From Xi’an you will make your way to the city of Yan’an. Yan’an is famous for being the ending point for those on the ‘Long March’, and became the CCP headquarters for a brief period. During your time here you have an included visit to the Revolutionary museum and the CCP Headquarters site.
Your next stop will be the ancient village of Lijiashan, famed for settlement of cave dwellers and still home to more than 600 families. In Lijiashan we will stay in a cave room, run by a local family and set up for guests. You will set off early the next morning for an included visit to the Black Dragon Temple just outside of Lijiashan. You will then drive to China’s best-preserved ancient walled town, Pingyao where you will have three nights, giving you plenty of time to explore this ancient town and surrounding sites such as the Mian Shan Mountain Resort and the Zhangbi Underground City.
Your journey will then continue to the stunning mountainous area known as Wutai Shan, one of the holiest sites of Chinese Buddhism and a major centre of pilgrimage in the country. You will have a full day to explore the area and visit its incredible array of temples and religious sites.
En route to your next stop, Datong, you will have an included visit to the incredible Hanging Monastery which hangs from a cliff 75m above the ground and was built over 1,500 years ago. While in Datong you will have an included visit to the awe-inspiring Yungang Buddha Caves.
From Datong you will head for one of the world’s most incredible sights – the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China! You will have time in the afternoon and the following morning to thoroughly explore and walk along the Great Wall.
After exploring the Great Wall in the morning, you will continue with a short drive to the city of Chengde where you will have a full day to explore the Puning Temple and the famous Imperial Summer Resort.
From Chengde it is a short drive to complete your journey to China’s chaotic and evocative capital, Beijing, where you will stay for three nights. On the morning after arrival you will head out on the Beijing metro to the city centre’s famous Tiananmen Square, which you will walk through and then take a tour of the Forbidden City. You will then have free time to fully explore the many sights, sounds and flavours of Beijing.
After a couple of days in Beijing you will leave the Chinese capital behind and begin your overland journey towards Mongolia with a long drive day to the border town of Erlian where you will either wild camp outside town or stay in a basic local hotel depending on weather conditions and group preferences.