silk road tour

Experience the best of the Silk Road on a 12-day adventure September 2-13, 2010.

The Friends of Dunhuang embark on an unforgettable expedition each autumn, setting forth from China’s ancient capital, Xi’an, exploring the spectacular Mogao grottoes, and visiting exotic destinations in China’s westernmost Xinjiang province. This modern journey in the footsteps of merchants and monks offers an opportunity to experience the Silk Road with private access to normally closed sites, expert academic guides, and the highest levels of comfort and service.

Dr. Vincent Yip, an an accomplished photojournalist who teaches a Silk Road course at Stanford, will lead the Friends westward along the ancient route. The legendary Silk Road was the main artery for cultural and commercial interchange between China and the West from 200 AD until the 16th century, when Portuguese ships opened up ocean routes. It extends from Xi’an through China’s vast northwest, where colorful minorities such as Huis, Kazakhs, Uygurs and Tibetans preserve rich cultural traditions.

Cave 428, Dunhuang (Northern Zhou, 557-580 AD)

Late summer to early autumn is the ideal time to visit, with long days and favorable temperatures. In Xi’an the Friends will examine newly uncovered antiquities and the famous terra cotta warriors, with special access courtesy of Shaanxi Province’s heritage authorities.

At the Mogao grottoes near the oasis city of Dunhuang, we visit special caves normally closed to the public as guests of the Dunhuang Academy. Private talks by expert guides illuminate Mogao’s priceless murals and statuary. “In some ways it is the world’s largest museum,” says Dr. Yip. An early morning trip by camel to the top of the nearby Singing Sand Dunes for a catered breakfast and breathtaking sunrise views will rejuvenate spirits.

Heading west the tour arrives in Xianjiang, with an excursion to the oasis town of Turfan to sample the local harvest in lush Grape Valley. A highlight on the 2010 tour will be the Eid Festival in Kashgar, the Uyghur peoples’ most spirited holiday. “This land is a photographer’s dream and an ethnologist’s playground,” says Dr. Yip.

Please contact Dr. Yip at for details and pricing for the 2010 tour.

September 2-13, 2010

Thursday, September 2


  • Depart on international flight for Beijing or another gateway city in China.

  • Friday, September 3


    • Arrive Xi’an, China’s ancient capital (domestic ticket from your international gateway in China is included in tour price.) Ssettle into hotel (three nights).
    • Welcome banquet near the iconic Tang era Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a venerated Buddhist site. Overview briefing on the Silk Road by your tour director, Dr. Vincent Yip.
    • After dinner visit galleries and teashops in one of Xian’s vibrant neighborhoods.

    Explore Xi’an with behind-closed-doors access.

    Saturday, September 4


    • Morning visit to Terracotta Warriors Museum, with special access to a VIP area where we are invited to inspect a group of newly excavated figures.
    • After lunch, visit Huaqing Hot Springs made famous by Yang Guifei, concubine to the Tang emperor Xuanzong. Ranked among the most famous gardens in China, the site has a history of more than 3,000 years.
    • At the invitation of the Shaanxi Heritage Bureau, visit the provincial Conservation Institute to observe the fascinating process of reconstructing antiquities.
    • Dinner at De Fa Chang Restaurant, which for 75 years has made dumpling making a fine art, then soak up traditional culture on a stroll through Xi’an’s Muslim night market.

    Tang emperor’s steed in Xi’an.

    Sunday, September 5


    • Morning visit to Shaanxi Provincial History Museum, the region’s finest, hosted by the museum’s senior archaeologist. The museum director has arranged a private tour of a collection of murals recently discovered in an Imperial tomb, and invited our group to examine a collection of priceless antique bronzes.
    • After lunch, enjoy a private tour of the largest antiquities storehouse in Shaanxi Province, a treasurehouse of recent archaeological discoveries.
    • Visit the Bell Tower and adjacent City Wall (the 14km length can be traversed by intrepid walkers or on bicycle).
    • Enjoy dinner and VIP seating at a cultural performance highlighting music and song of the Tang dynasty.

    Monday, September 6

    Xi’an / Dunhuang

    • Morning visit to the Forest of Stone Steles Museum, where ink rubbings can be taken of more than 3,000 commemorative tablets that record the diverse cultures and religions of the Silk Road.
    • Later visit the innovative Han Yangling Museum, an ongoing excavation of a second century B.C. tomb that uses state of the art technology to interpret the site. Over 90 satellite tombs have been excavated since 1990, yielding some 100,000 artifacts.
    • Afternoon flight to Dunhuang.
    • Settle into the attractive Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel (two nights) in VIP rooms fronting the Singing Sand Dunes.
    • Dinner at the hotel with a briefing by Dr. Yip on the region’s history and rich culture.

    • Dunhuang Cave 158: Recumbent Buddha.

      Tuesday, September 7


      • Rise early to enjoy the morning light at Mogaoku, the UNESCO World Heritage site whose 492 decorated caves hold what is arguably the world’s greatest collection of Buddhist art.
      • Our visit will be hosted by Fan Jinshi, Director of the Dunhuang Academy, who has worked at Mogaoku for almost 50 years and is the world’s most knowledgeable Dunhuang scholar.
      • At Dr. Fan’s invitation we will visit special grottoes normally closed to the public that contain some of China’s most priceless wall paintings and sculptures, enjoying private talks by expert guides.

      • Splendors of Dunhuang

      • Afternoon excursion to Yangguan, one of two gates that guarded the Chinese empire against nomadic invaders.
      • Dinner at a family style restaurant, then enjoy shopping in Dunhuang’s colorful night market.
      • Returning to the hotel, a relaxing foot massage is waiting to complete an extraordinary day.

      Dunes at sunrise.

      Wednesday, September 8

      Dunhuang / Urumqi

      • Rise before dawn and travel by camel to the top of the dunes for a catered breakfast and spectacular views.
      • Morning visit to Crescent Moon Spring, an oasis nestled among the Singing Sand Dunes.
      • In the afternoon, fly over the Taklamakan desert to to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, where a series of oases settled by non-Chinese minorities welcomed pilgrims and traders traveling between China, Central Asia and Europe.
      • At dinner, Dr. Yip will brief us on the region’s history and peoples, and preview our excursions to the region’s sites of historical interest and natural beauty.

      Grape Valley, Turfan.

      Thursday, September 9

      Turfan / Kashgar

      • Rise early for a full day excursion to Turfan, a lowland basin in the Taklamakan Desert that was an important staging post on the Silk Road and is today a stronghold of the Uyghur people.
      • Tour Grape Valley, in lush contrast to the surrounding desert, and meet a local family. Our visit during the harvest season enables us to sample the bountiful produce of the region.
      • Visit the 2,000 year old ruins of Jiaohe, the largest and best preserved earthen city in the world, surrounded by wter on a river island. Interpretive lecture among the ruins by Dr. Yip.
      • Visit the Karez ancient irrigation works, still in use today, which transformed the surrounding desert into a fertile oasis for production of cotton and grapes. Later explore the Flaming Mountains of Monkey King fame.
      • After returning to Urumqi for dinner in the hotel, take an evening flight to Kashgar, China’s westernmost oasis town where the edge of the Taklamakan Desert meets the soaring peaks of the Pamir, Tianshan and Karakoram ranges.
      • Settle into hotel (three nights).

      Kashgar market scene.

      Friday, September 10


      • Our visit to Kashgar coincides with the three-day Eid festival, when the local Uyghur people celebrate the end of the long fast of Ramadan with the ecstatic whirling Sama dance.
      • Enjoy a walk through the Old City including the largest mosque in China and the Abakh Khoia Tomb, a magnificent Islamic architectural complex.
      • Visit a local family, then observe Muslim services where over 20,000 people are praying.
      • Dinner in a local restaurant.

      Lake Karakul.

      Saturday, September 11


      • Full day excursion along the spectacular Karakoram Highway, China’s overland link to Pakistan, traveling among glaciered peaks and mountain pastures to pristine Lake Karakul. The region is inhabited by the Kirgiz and Tajik minorities, whose settlements provide a colorful backdrop.
      • Return to Kashghar for farewell banquet at the hotel.

      Sunday, September 12

      Kashgar / departure to gateway city

      • Morning visit to the world-famous Kashgar Grand Bazaar, the largest in central Asia, traveling back in time to soak up extraordinary sights and sounds in this melting pot of commerce, culture and exotic cuisine. This is an excellent opportunity to purchase local handicrafts e.g. hand made leather boots, musical instruments, etc.
      • Depart Kashgar for Beijing or another gateway city (domestic ticket from Kashgar to your international gateway within China is included in tour price.)
      • Overnight in gateway city (cost of this final hotel night is not included in tour price, but Friends of Dunhuang can make the booking on your behalf.)

      Monday, September 13

      Depart China

      • Board international flight for Beijing or your gateway city.

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