THE SILK ROAD REVISITED
Date: 12 October - 29 October, 2013
Lecturer: Elizabeth Morrell
Cost: £3540 • Course Code: SILK-13
The Silk Road and its many branches, originating in the first century BC, were a vital source of cultural and material exchange for China and the surrounding countries. Islam was introduced from Persia and its influence is omnipresent in the towers and cupolas of the mosques which dominate the market squares along the route. From Persia also came dates, pistachios, peaches, pears and the narcissus while the Chinese transported silk, green ginger, peonies, roses and paper to the West. Dunhuang, once the point of departure for travellers heading southwards to India, was crucial in the spread of Buddhism into China – the Grottoes of the Thousand Buddhas are judged to be amongst the finest examples of Buddhist art in the world.
Our Tour Director leads us along the Chinese section of this road originally created by Emperor Wu and his generals when establishing peace amongst the western area’s warmongering tribes and securing a safe passage for itinerant merchants. The road continued to be used for international trade for more than a thousand years until tribal grievances made it unsafe and effective maritime routes made it uneconomic. The once bustling cities were then deserted and buried by the sands of time until the late 19th century when a band of notorious adventurers, explorers and archaeologists exhumed the route again.
Our ‘journey to the West’ through China commences in the cultivated plains of the east, moving towards the loess landscape of the Yellow River Valley and into the sparsely populated desert which occupies such a large percentage of Chinese territory. We shall spend several days travelling in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region through the Taklamakam Desert – whose name means ‘once you go in you don’t come out’. Rising up to the north are the Heavenly Mountains (near Turfan and Urumchi) and to the south of the desert are the Kunlun Mountains – separating Xinjiang from Tibet and Pakistan.
Considerable parts of our journey are covered by road and rail with strategic use of internal flight routes. Overnight accommodation on the train will be in soft class sleepers which have four berths to one compartment. Some of the road journeys across the desert are very long – taking the best part of a day in some cases – but provide an incomparable insight into this vast country. As the itinerary includes some less frequented parts of Xinjiang, please be prepared for simple standards of accommodation in some instances.
Our Tour Director is Elizabeth Morrell, BA, a Sinologist and Chinese speaker who has been visiting China since 1976 – the year in which Chairman Mao died – when she studied modern Chinese literature at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Day 1Depart Heathrow 1640 on British Airways for overnight flight to Beijing.
Day 2Arrive Beijing 0930. Orientation tour visiting the Temple of Heaven and Tian’anmen Square. Check-in at the Beijing International Hotel for two nights. Visit to the ‘hutongs’ (old residential quarters of Beijing). Evening: introductory lecture.
Day 3Morning: Forbidden City (largest palace complex in the world and seat of supreme power for over five centuries) and the National Museum of China. Free afternoon.
Day 4Morning flight to Xi’an (the caravanserai for travellers on the Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty as well as the capital). Transfer to Jianguo Hotel for two nights via Han Yang Ling excavations, the city wall, Drum and Bell Towers and Great Mosque. Evening: lecture.
Day 5Morning: Terracotta Army excavations, the Lesser Wild Goose Pagoda and the Forest of Stone Steles Museum. Free afternoon and evening.
Day 6Morning: visit the Shaanxi History Museum (Tang Dynasty frescoes). Transfer to airport for flight to Dunhuang. Afternoon: Mingsha Dune and the Lake of the Crescent Moon. Overnight stay at the Dunhuang Hotel.
Day 7Dunhuang: Grottoes (the earliest date from the fourth and fifth centuries). Early evening: board the overnight train, crossing from Gansu province into Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Day 8Arrive at the oasis town of Turfan. Transfer to Huozhou Hotel for breakfast and overnight stay. Whole-day excursion to see the Bezeklik (Thousand Buddha) Grottoes, the sandy ruins of the city of Gaochang, the traditional underwater system known as ‘karez’ which originates in the Flaming Mountains visible on the horizon and Sugong Pagoda.
Day 9Depart Turfan for 800km drive along the Desert Highway to Kuche (important staging post on the Silk Road) via the edge of the Tarim Basin. Overnight stay in Kuche.
Day 10Morning: mosque and the ruins of the ancient city of Subashi. Depart Kuche for Aksu via the Kizil Kara Buddhist Caves. Early evening arrival in Aksu, overnight stay at Hongfu Hotel.
Day 11Whole-day desert drive (with stops en route) to Khotan (Hetian) on the southern extremes of the Taklamakam. Two nights at the Muzitake Hotel.
Day 12Full day in Khotan: Cultural Museum and the ruins at Rawak (reached by jeep and camel). See paper-making by hand, silk-weaving mill and local bazaar.
Day 13Morning: depart for Shache (Yarkand). Afternoon: Mausoleum of the King of Yarkand and the Grand Mosque. Overnight stay at the Wanghou (Queen’s) Hotel.
Day 14Depart Shache for two nights at Tianyuan International Hotel in Kashgar. En route visit Yinjisha (Yengisar) famous for its handmade knives.
Day 15Whole day in Kashgar: famous Sunday market, Id Kah Mosque and Abahoja tomb.
Day 16Morning flight to Beijing via Urumchi. Free evening. Two nights stay at Beijing International Hotel.
Day 17Excursion to the Great Wall at Mutianyu, North East Beijing. (the rugged nature of the surroundings and the frequency and style of the watch-towers suggest that this was strategically a very important part of the Wall).
Day 18Depart Beijing 1210 on British Airways, arriving Heathrow 1455.
Cost includes: return airfare, accommodation based on sharing a twin or double bedded room (except 4-berth soft-sleepers on day 7), breakfast, 12 dinners & all lunches (except one), excursions & admissions.
Not included: visa, travel insurance, single supplement £450 (excludes overnight train accommodation on day 7 where single rooms are unavailable).