Trip Number: 12715A
Price: $5,295 (12-15)
$6,595 (11 or fewer)
Staff: Ann Kruse
- Marvel at Xi’an's terra cotta warriors
- Enjoy Kashgar's vibrant and exotic Sunday market
- Admire Buddhist art treasures at the Magao Grottoes
- All meals, lodging, and gratuities
- Diverse sightseeing with English-speaking guides
- All in-country transportation: air, rail, and comfortable bus
Our journey follows the path of the ancient trading route called the Silk Road,
stretching approximately 2,000 miles from Xi’an in the east to Kashgar
near China's far western border. Along the way we will visit ancient Buddhist
sites, caravan towns in the desert, the western end of the Great Wall, and the
exciting medieval city of Kashgar. We will cross the vast distances of China
by plane, train, and vehicle to visit towns, oases, and historical sites that
few western tourists see. Along the way, we will meet the many ethnic minority
peoples who live in this area and see the influence of Buddhism and Muslim practices.
The trip starts in Xi’an, China. Please plan to arrive in Xi’an
a day or more before the trip starts. There are several sights to visit in the
city that will help to prepare us for the Silk Road journey.
Photo: Ann Kruse
Day 1: After a morning orientation meeting, we will visit
the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built in the seventh century to house ancient Buddhist
scriptures brought from India. After lunch, we will visit Xi’an's Ming
Dynasty City Wall, nine miles of which still surround the city center. This
wall, encircled by a moat, is one of the few in China that remains intact and
demonstrates how it was meant to protect a city from invaders. We will have
the opportunity to bike atop the City Wall as energy and time permit. Overnight:
Day 2: Today we will visit the famed terra cotta warriors
-- one of China's treasures. The site contains over 7,000 life-sized clay warriors
and war horses standing in battle formation. We will then enjoy a dumpling dinner.
Day 3: This morning we will tour the Silk Road Exhibit at
the Shaanxi History Museum. In the afternoon we will stop at the Han Dynasty
Yangling Museum to view the recently discovered "naked warriors."
Originally sculpted in wood and clay and adorned with fine silk, only the torsos
of these warriors remain but in perfect condition. We will then take a one-hour
flight to the city of Lanzhou, once a caravan stop along the Silk Road. Overnight:
Photo: Ann Kruse
Day 4: A boat ride up a tributary of the Yellow River will
take us to the Thousand Buddha Caves of Binglingsi. The caves consist of grottoes
carved into the walls of a 200-foot-high cliff by Buddhist monks and their followers
in the fifth century, and were an important center for Buddhist study. We will
also visit a nearby Tibetan Temple. Overnight: Lanzhou.
Day 5: We will visit Lanzhou's excellent museum, which has
an impressive exhibit of Silk Road artifacts. A late-afternoon flight will bring
us to Jiayuguan in the Gobi desert, an ancient crossroads and garrison town
on the Silk Road. Overnight: Jiayuguan.
Day 6: This morning we will visit Jiayuguan Fort, which has
been part of the western end of the Great Wall since 1372. The Fort is a striking
edifice standing in desolate splendor in the desert with snow-capped mountains
as a backdrop. We will also see other remnants of the western Great Wall, as
well as many tombs that dot the desert in this area. In one tomb, we will view
paintings and drawings depicting facets of daily life in earlier times. Overnight:
Day 7: We'll travel by coach from Jiayuguan to the 2,000-year-old
desert town of Dunhuang, an important caravan stop on the Silk Road. Today it
is known as the site of one of the most priceless troves of Buddhist art the
world has ever known, the Magao Grottoes. En route we'll stop at the Yulin grottoes,
carved into cliffs in the sides of mountain gorges and painted with Buddhist
frescoes. Overnight: Dunhuang.
Photo: Ann Kruse
Day 8: This morning we will visit Crescent Lake and ride camels
at the foot of the Singing Dunes. After lunch, we will have a guided tour of
the stunning Magao Grottoes. The carving here began 366 CE and the work continued
for a thousand years. Many of the caves contain statues of Buddha and his followers,
and many of the walls are covered with vivid murals. Overnight: Dunhuang.
Day 9: Today we will visit Yumenguan Pass and Yangguan Pass,
two of the passes or gates of China through which caravans were required to
pass. Lunch will be at a farmer's home near Yangguan Pass. Overnight: Dunhuang.
Day 10: This morning we will visit the Western Thousand Buddha
Caves, which are set into a cliff on the banks of the Dang River. The afternoon
will be free to explore Dunhaung. After dinner we will drive to the railhead
town of Liuyuan to board an overnight train across the desert to the oasis town
of Turpan, which lies in one of the lowest depressions on earth, 260 feet below
sea level. Overnight: sleeper train.
Photo: Ann Kruse
Day 11: Turpan is an agricultural town with lush, cultivated
fields. This sharp contrast to the surrounding desert is due to a unique system
of harnessing melting glacial water from nearby mountains. The population is
made up of Uygurs, Turkic Muslims with a distinct culture. The flavor of the
town, with its busy bazaar and market, is that of Central Asia. The sights that
we will see today include the ruins of the ancient city of Jiaohe, the unique
water system called the karez, and the beautiful Emin Minaret, a sun-baked clay
mosque standing amid grape vineyards. Overnight: Turpan.
Day 12: An all-day excursion will bring us to the ancient
Uygur village of Toyoq, situated in the Flaming Mountains. The town, surrounded
by vineyards, is known for its special grapes and raisins. This is a timeless
place where families have lived for centuries. After lunch our excursion continues.
We will visit the ruins of the second-century Silk Road Garrison town of Gaochang
and the Astana Tombs. Overnight: Turpan.
Day 13: This morning we will drive to the large city of Urumqi,
capital of Xinjiang province. We will visit a museum that has a fine exhibit
of archeological treasures of the Silk Road, as well as an exhibit about the
minority cultures of Xinjiang. We'll also visit the Uygur market before taking
an evening flight to Kashgar, a large oasis city strategically located at a
crossroads of Silk Road routes into Central Asia, India, and Persia. Overnight:
Photo: Ann Kruse
Day 14: We will visit the Kashgar Sunday Market, often considered
to be the highlight of this trip. Farmers arrive from the countryside in their
donkey-drawn carts, bringing their produce, fabrics, hardware, and other products
to sell. Animals of all types, from sheep to horses to camels, are for sale.
We’ll mix with local families as we parade around this hectic, colorful
and exciting place. We’ll also visit a local Uygur family and have lunch
in a local home. Overnight: Kashgar.
Day 15: Our excursion to Karakul Lake at 11,000 feet takes
us into stunning, dramatic scenery. The peace and quiet of this pristine lake
is in stark contrast to the dusty towns along the Silk Road. Snowcapped mountains
loom on the far side of the lake while camels and horses often graze nearby.
Day 16: This morning, we will tour the significant sights
of the city: Id Kah Mosque, the Abak Hoja Tomb, the handicraft street and the
fascinating Old Town. An evening flight will take us back to Urumqui, where
we will stay at a hotel near the airport.
Photo: Ann Kruse
Day 17: A morning flight takes us to Beijing for the last
stop on our trip. This afternoon will be free to rest or to take an optional
excursion to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. This evening we will celebrate
with a farewell dinner. We will spend the night at a hotel near the airport.
Day 18: The trip ends after breakfast. The hotel offers free
shuttles to the airport for international flights home.
Note: A tour of Beijing can be arranged for those who wish to extend their
trip either at the beginning or the end of the trip. Your
trip leader can provide more information about options for those who wish to
spend time in Beijing, either on their own or with a guide.
Please note that our plans may change unexpectedly due to a variety of factors:
weather, changes in airline schedules, changes in government regulations, and
other unforeseen factors. Trip members must be prepared for this and willing
to accept changes in the itinerary.
The trip starts in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi Province in central China.
Participants should plan to arrive in Xi’an a day or two prior to the
trip, to recover from jet lag and to allow a cushion for airline delays. There
is plenty to do in this historic city. Your trip leader will provide more details
after you register.
You are responsible for arranging for and paying for your travel from home
to Xi’an and from Beijing (at the end of the trip) home. You are also
responsible for the cost of lodging, food, and any activities in Xi’an
before the trip starts. Your trip leader will provide information about the
A visa is required for travel in China. Your trip leader will provide you will
information about obtaining your visa.
The following costs are NOT included in the trip price: your visa; travel from
home to Xi’an; travel from Beijing to home; lodging, food, or activities
before the trip starts or after the trip ends; personal expenses during the
trip (beverages, snacks, laundry, any meals not taken with the group, medical
care, taxi fares, etc.).
If you have any questions about what is covered by the trip price, or any questions
about travel to and from the trip, please ask your trip leader.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Ann Kruse
Accommodations will be in three- and four-star hotels. All rooms will have private
bathrooms with tub and/or shower. The trip price is based on two people sharing
a room. Anyone traveling alone will be assigned a same-sex roommate. A few single
supplements will be available for an additional charge.
All meals are provided from lunch on day one through breakfast on the last
day. Food will be plentiful, wholesome, and tasty, although it may become repetitious
since there is little change in food patterns between Xian and Kashgar. We do
our best to provide the best of local food rather than confining ourselves to
just "tourist" food. In northwest China beef, rather than pork, is
commonly served whereas mutton and lamb will become more popular as we travel
farther west. A popular dish is barbecued mutton on skewers eaten with a wide
variety of flatbreads. Noodles and dumplings (often with a ground mutton filling)
are common. There will be a moderate amount of vegetables and a variety of melons
and other fruits.
The itinerary is quite active and fairly long, so participants must have the
stamina and energy to keep going at a moderately quick pace. We will cover large
distances by plane (five flights), train (one overnight journey), and bus. There
will be a few longer driving days (up to five hours). We will do a moderate
amount of walking at various sites. We will constantly be getting in and out
of buses. We will visit some sites that have long and uneven steps. At train
stations, each participant must be able to carry his or her own bags up and
down steep stairs to reach the train. The elevation of 11,000 feet at Karakul
Lake may be a problem for some people. Participants may opt to remain in Kashgar
for the day if this is the case. Checking in and out of airports can be tiring
and time-consuming. The overnight train ride can also be fatiguing. However,
the itinerary does allow for occasional free half-days that can be used for
rest and relaxation.
The temperatures in the desert areas should be pleasant in September, with
the possibility of some warmer days with temperatures climbing to the mid- or
high-eighties at times. There may be some rain in Xian or Beijing.
Equipment and Clothing
No special equipment is necessary. A suggested clothing and equipment list
will be sent to trip participants. All are urged to pack as lightly as possible
considering the amount of moving we will be doing on this trip.
Books About Silk Road History:
- Bonavia, Judy, The Silk Road: Xian to Kashgar.
- Whitefield, Roderick, et al., Cave Temples of Magao: Art and History
on the Silk Road.
- Walker, Annabel and Aurel Stein, Pioneer on the Silk Road.
- Polo, Marco, Travels of Marco Polo: Complete Yule-Cordier edition, vols.
- Hopkirk, Peter, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for Lost
Treasures of Central Asia.
- Whitfield, Susan, Life Along the Silk Road.
Books About Modern China:
- Thurbron, Colin, Shadow of the Silk Road.
- Pomfret, John, Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the
- Hessler, Peter, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present.
- Economy, Elizabeth, The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge
to China's Future.
- Gifford, Rob, China Road: A Journey into the Future of Rising Power.
Photo: Ann Kruse
The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on environmental and conservation
issues, both locally and globally. We encourage grassroots involvement and education.
To support the Sierra Club’s mission, we will discuss environmental topics
that apply to the areas where we will be travelling.
China faces many environmental problems. Since our trip will largely avoid
the most crowded urban areas, we will not experience the air pollution, water
pollution, and overpopulation that many Chinese experience regularly.
In our travels in the desert, however, we should keep in mind one word: water.
We will be traveling through areas that are fertile agricultural areas thanks
to irrigation. The farmers rely on the glaciers in nearby mountains for the
snows that make agriculture possible. If the glaciers melt, the impact will
be far reaching and somewhat unpredictable. Will melting glaciers flood the
ancient Buddhist art carved in the river gorges? What will the local people
-- as well as national and international consumers of their produce -- do if
irrigation is no longer possible?
On the other hand, we will drive by the largest wind farm in China. The windy
desert provides some respite from the reliance the Chinese have on coal-fired
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Ann Kruse visited China for the first time in 2005 and fell in love with it. After returning home, she dug into learning about the language, the culture, and the history of this fascinating place. This will be her fifth visit to China and her third time on the Silk Road trip, which combines her love of China with her fascination with how geography shapes the culture of a people. A veteran wilderness traveler, Ann has been leading Sierra Club trips, including white water rafting and kayak trips, since 2002. When she's not traveling, she works as an organization and leadership development consultant at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. She lives in a suburb of Seattle with her husband, who is also a Sierra Club trip leader.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips