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An Archaeological Study Tour
The Silk Road of China

October 10 – 30, 2013
21 Days
Led by Professor Robert Thorp
Washington University

*Designates UNESCO World Heritage Site



map of China

The legendary Silk Road linked China to the trading centers of Persia, the Middle East and Europe. More than 2,000 years ago, merchants first began to use this great artery for the flow of goods between China and the Roman West. Its routes skirted searing deserts, followed narrow tracks through mountains and crossed vast grasslands. Caravans from the West risked great hardships in order to import the precious silk cloth that only the Chinese knew how to produce. But it was not only merchandise that was imported by these travelers. Buddhism, Islam and other ancient cultural traditions diffused along these routes and created cities of great ethnic and cultural diversity. Our exciting journey traces the Silk Road through China from Xian to the caravan cities of Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Turpan, Hotan and Kashgar. Although much has changed along the Silk Road in 2,000 years, both first-time China travelers and those for whom this is a return visit will find this an exciting and adventuresome tour.

Thursday, October 10
: Independent departures from our home cities.

Friday, October 11: BEIJING: We arrive into Beijing this evening and transfer to the Citic Beijing Airport Hotel by hotel shuttle bus.
Saturday, October 12: XI'AN: Our flight departs early, arriving midday into Xi’an. The Chinese terminus of the Silk Road, Xi’an was the capital of China during the Han and Tang dynasties, the two ages when the world came to China. En route from the airport we will stop to visit Yangling, the tomb of the Han emperor Jingdi, renowned for its miniature army of figurines. During the next three days, we will visit the extraordinary sites in both the city and the surrounding countryside. Touring in Xi’an proper will include the Shaanxi History Museum, the Forest of Stelae,as well as the Great Goose Pagoda, associated with Xuanzang, the great Tang monk-traveler. There will also be a chance to sample local cuisine. Our three-night stay will be at the refurbished and centrally located Sofitel Xi'an Hotel. This evening we will meet for an orientation lecture and dinner at our hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Sunday, Monday, October 13 & 14: XI'AN:
We will make an excursion into the countryside to visit the Tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi*, the first emperor, who unified China. Outside of his tomb over 8,000 life-size terra-cotta figures depicting soldiers, cavalry, charioteers and horses have been unearthed. On Monday we will once again drive through the Wei River valley to the Qianling tomb of Tang Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu, with its dramatic setting and spirit path of stone figures, and to the Tang imperial palace site, the Daming Gong just north of the city. Upon our return to Xi’an, we will visit the Great Mosque (Huajue Lane Mosque) and Muslim quarter.
Meals: Breakfast & lunch daily & 1 dinner
Tuesday, October 15: LANZHOU: This morning we fly to Lanzhou. Known as the “fragrant city,” Lanzhou was a garrison town and a vital stop for caravans. We will spend the afternoon visiting Lanzhou’s excellent Gansu Provincial Museum, which houses among its many treasures the famous “Flying Horse of Gansu.” Lanzhou Legend Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Wednesday, October 16: LANZHOU/DUNHUANG: This wonderful day begins with a boat trip on the Yellow River to the Buddhist caves at Binglingsi. Accessible only by water, thirty-four caves and niches dating from the Western Qin (385-431) are spread along rock cliffs for over a mile. We will view those niches with the finest Wei, Sui and Tang sculptures and paintings, the most impressive of which is the huge stone-carved Buddha, over 80 feet tall, carved into the face of the cliff, before returning to Lanzhou. This evening we will fly to Dunhuang. Dunhuang Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Thursday, October 17: DUNHUANG: The highlight of our stay here will be the Mogao Cliff cave-chapels*, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This complex of some 492 cave-chapels was begun about 366 CE and is a veritable museum of magnificent sculpture and beautiful wall paintings in both Chinese and Central Asian styles. Our two half-day visits will allow us a good look at the best of the caves currently open. Our emphasis will be on the chapels of the Sui and Tang periods (7th-9th centuries). We will also visit the Han dynasty Great Wall at Yumen (1st c. CE), a striking frontier outpost north of the oasis across the hardpack Gobi Desert.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Friday, October 18: DUNHUANG/ÜRÜMQI: Touring continues with our second visit to the Mogao Cliff cave chapels. This evening we fly on to Ürümqi and the Hoitak Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Saturday, October 19: TURPAN: We drive via the Daqin Pass, a major passage along the northern Silk Road, across the forbidding Gobi Desert to the lush oasis of Turpan, known for its grapes and melons. Turpan is a basin, the second lowest point on the face of the earth, bordered on the north by red sandstone hills, called the Flaming Mountains. This afternoon we will visit the excellent regional museum, and the 18th-century Emin Minaret and Mosque. Our two-night stay will be at the new Tuha Petroleum Hotel.

Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Sunday, October 20: TURPAN: Today our touring includes the ancient walled capital of the Uighurs, Gaochang, as well as the Bezeklik cave-chapels in the Flaming Mountains. We will have time to explore the local bazaar and stroll along the wonderful grapevine-covered lanes.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Monday, October 21: ÜRÜMQI: This morning we will visit the ancient citadel of Jiaohe*, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, notable for its temples and stupas. We return to Ürümqi late in the afternoon. Hoitak Hotel.    
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Tuesday, October 22: ÜRÜMQI: Today’s touring will include the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum, which exhibits materials from the region including a number of well-preserved mummies. We will explore the bazaar area and end the day with a scenic view of the city from Red Hill.
Meals: Breakfast & lunch

Wednesday, Thursday, October 23 & 24: HOTAN: A flight brings us to Hotan. Our stay in this oasis will be a true adventure as it is visited by very few Westerners. Touring here will include the newly-discovered temples at Domoko (5th-7th centuries), the ancient stupa of Rawak visited by Sir Aurel Stein and the small local museum. We will learn about the region’s famous jade production, see how Khotanese silk has been woven for centuries and ride camels amidst the sand dunes of the Taklamakan Desert. Hotan International Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner daily
Friday, October 25: KASHGAR: Our drive takes us along the edges of the Taklamakan Desert through dozens of small oases to Kashgar. En route we will stop at Yarkand (Shache), a tradional Uighur town with an old fort, an interesting cemetery and the Aleytun Mosque, which can be viewed from the outside. The westernmost Chinese city on the Silk Road today, Kashgar (ancient Shule, Jiesha) continues its role as a cultural crossroads. Traders still cross the borders with the former Soviet Union and Pakistan to trade in the local markets. Kashgar International Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Saturday, Sunday, October 26 & 27: KASHGAR: On Saturday we will visit the Great Mosque, the largest in China, the shrine to the poet Yusef Has Hajif and the Apaq Khoja Shrine, as well as the intriguing craft streets of the Old Town. Our visit coincides with the Sunday Market, one of the largest and most colorful markets in China. Sunday morning thousands of people travel from miles around Kashgar to trade their fascinating merchandise at this huge bazaar. Some of the traders will have arrived from distant villages during the night and will begin to set up their stalls in the morning. We will have plenty of time to explore both the animal market and the main bazaar.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Monday, October 28: ÜRÜMQI: This morning we fly back to Ürümqi and return to the Hoitak Hotel. This evening we will meet for our farewell dinner and toast the end of our Silk Road journey.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner
Tuesday, October 29: BEIJING: A morning flight returns us to Beijing. We will be transferred to the deluxe Grand Hotel Beijing, centrally located a short walk from Tian’an Men Square. The remainder of the day will be at leisure.
Meals: Breakfast
Wednesday, October 30: We will transfer to the airport for our departure flights.
Meals: Breakfast

Please Note: Tourist facilities on the Silk Road are not well developed. Hotels are simple and there will be some long drives between cities on roads that may be in poor condition. The flight and train schedules change frequently causing a revision of the tour program. Every effort will be made to ensure that such changes maintain the intent of the itinerary.
This tour should be considered strenuous. It requires walking over rough, uneven and sandy terrain. For the most satisfying experience, and in fairness to your fellow travelers, all participants are expected to be physically active and able to walk independently throughout our full touring days. Although the rewards are great, only those willing to accept some discomforts should consider taking this tour.

<China clay figures>


China Binglingsi


<China clay figures>


China wall painting


China Turpan Mosque


China Yarkland