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China's Silk Road & Tibet: Route of Monks & Merchants

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Explore the Tibetan Plateau on a splendid circular route that embraces the sacred cities of Tsetang, Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse. Ride the high-altitude train from Lhasa down to Lanzhou, then make your way along the old Silk Road to Western China to experience the Kashgar Sunday animal market, where merchants sell everything from a single camel to a herd of sheep. Along the way, visit Dunhuang's Mogao Caves, frescoed and carved with a thousand images of the Buddha, and Turpan's lush Grape Valley, watered by a 2,000-year-old irrigation system.

Days 1-2: Beijing

Spend a night in Beijing, then board a flight to the Tibetan Plateau.

Days 3-8: Tsetang, Lhasa, Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse, Shigatse

Spend six incredible days exploring remote corners of rural Tibet. Spend a night in Tsetang and visit the country's first monastery, its first palace and the Yarlung Valley, home of its early kings. Continue to Lhasa and experience Tibetan culture at the massive UNESCO-listed Potala Palace, where yak-butter candles flicker in front of thousands of altars. Wander Barkhor Market, where you can bargain for yak-wool boots or Tibetan fur hats trimmed with brocade. Venture into the valley where Chupsang Nunnery is hidden.

Take a breathtaking drive over Khampa Pass at 15,700 feet, to Gyantse's celebrated Kumbum, stopping to enjoy the views from the shores of turquoise Yamdrok Lake, said to be a goddess incarnate. Drive to Shigatse to discover the traditional home of the Panchen Lamas, Tashilhunpo Monastery, whose gleaming golden roof can be seen flashing from afar.

Days 9-13: High-altitude railway, Lanzhou, Dunhuang

From Lhasa, board the high-altitude train down to Lanzhou, passing by Tangula Station, the world's highest railroad station. In Lanzhou, visit the Gansu Provincial Museum to admire the iconic bronze Flying Horse, perfectly balanced atop a bird. Fly to Dunhuang, founded in 111 BC, where the Mogao Buddhist Caves were created across ten centuries by Silk Road travelers, pilgrims and artists. Visit Crescent Moon Lake, bubbling up in the midst of the Taklamakan Desert sand dunes at the foot of Mingsha (Echoing Sands) Mountain, and take a short camel ride.

Days 14-18: Urumqi, Turpan, Kashgar

Fly to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and drive to Turpan, a welcome oasis on the northern Silk Road. The sweet wine grapes cultivated in Turpan are irrigated with a 2,000-year-old gravity-fed system that brings water from the glaciers of the Tien Shan. Explore the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, begun in 366 AD when a Buddhist monk from India scooped out the compacted red sand of the riverbank to form the first cave. Investigate the underground tombs of Astana and the ruins of ancient Gaochang.

Tour 2,000-year-old Kashgar, the fabled city that greeted Marco Polo as he entered the Middle Kingdom. Browse its Sunday animal market, where you can purchase livestock for meat, milk or transportation.

Trip Details

Length of Trip: 18 Days
2014 Departures: 2
Dates: May 16-June 3, 2014
  September 26-October 13, 2014
Land Tour Cost:  
5-16 travelers $5,895
Plus internal air
$1,400 (economy class, subject to change)
Partial Single Supplement $1,095
No Hidden Costs!

MIR Signature Experiences

  • Drive from Lhasa through the Tibetan highlands to sacred Yamdrok Lake, said to be the incarnation of a goddess
  • Hike from hillside Pabonka Monastery down to the Chupsang Nunnery, enjoying commanding views on all sides
  • Enjoy an authentic Uighur meal served in a private Kashgar home in Western China


Day Activity  
Day 1: Beijing  
Day 2: Fly to Gongkar (Lhasa) Airport, drive to Tsetang  
Day 3: Tsetang, Yarlung Valley, drive to Lhasa  
Days 4-5: Lhasa  
Day 6: Yamdrok Lake, drive to Gyantse  
Day 7: Drive to Shigatse  
Day 8: Shigatse, Lhasa  
Day 9: Lhasa, depart by overnight train  
Day Activity  
Day 10: Arrive Lanzhou  
Day 11: Fly to Dunhuang  
Day 12: Dunhuang  
Day 13: Fly to Urumqi  
Day 14: Drive to Turpan  
Day 15: Turpan  
Day 16: Drive to Urumqi, fly to Kashgar  
Day 17: Kashgar  
Day 18: Depart Kashgar  

Suggested Extensions

Combine this trip with additional time in Beijing or a visit to Shanghai or Xi'an. Contact us for details.

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Some images on this page courtesy Julia Rindlaub

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