Wander ancient towns seldom visited by Westerners on this unique cultural journey
Nestled in the farthest western reaches of China, Xinjiang Province has served as a cultural and commercial crossroads for centuries. This land of tribes and clans of at least thirteen different ethnicities is still rooted in tradition. And as the heart of the Silk Road, their warmth and hospitality remains as timeless as ever. Traveling through beautiful landscapes of forest, steppe, grassland, and desert, and framed by the dramatic backdrop of the snowy Tian Shan Mountains, you’ll see firsthand a vanishing way of life and marvel at the cultural and natural riches to be found on China’s “New Frontier.” We’ve put a strong emphasis on cultural encounters by combining visits to colorful markets, local artisans, and ancient villages with a couple of overnight homestays, folk performances, and tons of regional cuisines to offer you genuine and educational interactions with the local people. Topped off with a distinctive desert camping experience—one you can only get with MTS—and even a night in a traditional yurt, you’ll go home with an insider’s perspective of this raw, remote land the way few Westerners have a chance to see it!
Hiking, cultural touring, camel ride
- Discover the intricate mix of ancient Silk Road cultures through the history, art, nature, and friendly hospitality of China’s Wild West
- Wander through colorful markets and visit local artisans
- Immerse yourself in desert culture on this unique cultural journey adventure that includes a night of desert camping—an experience you can only get with MTS!
- See the ancient centers of the Silk Road through the eyes of the locals on homestays, watching folk performances, and sampling the varied regional cuisines
- Get off the grid to see some of the most dramatic and remote mountains and lakes in China, plus the vast Taklamakan Desert!
Duration: 15 days Start Location: Beijing End Location: BeijingDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Beijing to Urumqi
Trip starts in Urumqi. We arrange your flight from Beijing - Urumqi, but you will not be escorted in Beijing. You must board your flight on your own and upon arrival in Urumqi, our guide will meet you at the Urumqi Airport and transfer you to the hotel. Explore Urumqi, visiting the Xinjiang Regional Museum, which features exhibits from the 13 different ethnic groups of Xinjiang and the local market. Enjoy an evening show of Uighur folk songs and dances as well as the local Uighur Night Market.
Day 2 : Urumqi to Heavenly Lake
After breakfast we will drive to Heavenly Lake, about 1-1/2 hour’s drive. After we reach the mystical Heavenly Lake, surrounded by the snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains in the distance, we will hike around the lake and explore the surrounding area. Overnight in Kazakh yurt (yurts are heated and very clean, with a separate bathroom beside the yurt, but no shower).
Day 3 : Heavenly Lake to Turpan
After a traditional Kazakh breakfast we will drive to Turpan (about 180 miles, 4-1/2 hours), stopping occasionally for photo taking. Afternoon free to relax in this charming oasis town with grapevines everywhere and Uighur women in colorful local dress.
Day 4 : Turpan Area to Tuyuk Village
Today we will visit the world famous Karez irrigation system (this system is unique to dry, arid areas such as Afghanistan, Iran and Xinjiang) as well as the two ancient cities of Idkut (Gaochang) and Yargul (Jiaohe). Idkut (Gaochang) was founded in the 7th century and still boasts the remains of a large Buddhist monastery in decent condition despite its age. Yargul (Jiaohe) was established during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), but was decimated by Genghis Khan so little remains. Our lunch will be a traditional one with a local family. For dinner, we will arrange a fantastic meal in the popular grape valley with a local Uighur folk song and dance performance. Tonight we will do a homestay in ancient Tuyuk village.
Day 5 : Tuyuk Village to Kuqa
Today we will explore Tuyuk village. Tuyuk is the oldest known Uighur town and very unique. You will not see any other travelers here. We will visit village markets and learn about the local Uighurs’ lives in this area. We will return to Turpan and have dinner before catching the overnight (soft sleeper—11 hours) to Kuqa.
Day 6 : Kuqa
Our full immersion into local culture would not be complete without transport by donkey cart from the train station to our hotel. Once you are checked in and settled, we will sample local Uighur food in a popular Kuqa restaurant. In the afternoon, we will visitthe Kuqa 1000 Buddha Caves, which date back to the 11th century and match those of Luoyang, Dunhuang and Datong. These Buddhist cave paintings hail from a pre-Islamic Buddhist civilization that existed in this region from the 5th century until the 11th century. We also visit the very mysterious Kuqa Grand Canyon and Kuqa Juma Mosque.
Day 7 : Taklamakan Desert to Niya
Today we will cross the Taklamakan Desert, one of the biggest and most mysterious deserts in the world. Taklamakan means “those who go in will not come out” attesting to its emptiness and remoteness. Overnight in Niya town, which used to be an important hub on the Silk Road.
Day 8 : Niya to Hotan
Drive to Hotan, in one of the most isolated parts of Xinjiang on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert.
Day 9 : Hotan to Camping in Taklamakan Desert
Today we will explore Hotan—visiting the Jade River and a traditional clothes making factory where we can enjoy local culture in action before driving to the Taklamakan Desert for our distinctive desert trekking experience. We will ride camels and hike for a few hours before building our camp, where we will roast lamb kebabs over the fire. Overnight camping in the desert.
Day 10 : Hotan
Return to Hotan and our hotel to clean up before visiting a local carpet factory, where will learn how the local women have made carpets by hand for hundreds of years. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight in Hotan.
Day 11 : Hotan to Kashgar
Drive from Hotan to Kashgar, visiting Yarkent ancient city on the way. This ancient town is known for the dead, including the famous tomb of Ammanisahan, a Uighur queen and musician famed for her work collecting the Uighur muqam. We will also explore the labrynthine alleys of the intriguing old quarter, where craftsmen do their work by hand. Overnight in Kashgar.
Day 12 : Kashgar
Today we will rise early to catch the famous Sunday market, when the population of Kashgar swells by 50,000. This market is still one of the most amazing bazaars in the world and there is little that is not for sale here . You will see an overwhelming array of livestock, rugs and clothing, as well as junk. Photo opportunities abound and you will lose hours in the labrynthine chaos. Next we will visit the Old Town where we will enter into a Uyghur home for a delicious lunch. Afterwards we will visit the Apak Hoja Tomb where there are 58 tombs and 5 generations buried. Our guide will relay the differing legends of the "Fragrant Concubine" related to this site.
Day 13 : Kashgar
On our last day in the region, we will have a late breakfast and enjoy a leisurely day of sightseeing—taking in Id Kah Mosque, one of the largest mosques in China, and a nearby Handicraft Street where you can see workers making all kinds of goods, as well as other fascinating Kashgar sites. Overnight in Kashgar.
Day 14 : Fly from Kashgar to Beijing
Fly from Kashgar to Beijing. Overnight at CITIC Hotel Beijing Airport.
Day 15 : Fly home
DATES: Best time to go: June - July, September Departures: Jul 10 - 24, 2013 Sep 4 - 18, 2013 Special departure with MTS President Kevin Callaghan Sep 23, 2013 - Oct 7, 2013
$3,695 (6-12 members)
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.