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Days 1-5: Saturday, June 3 - Tuesday, June 7
Depart U.S. on flights bound for Beijing, China's most important city and its political and historical capital. Beijing's skyscrapers overshadow traditional narrow alleys (hutongs), and the remnants of Imperial China sit alongside five star hotels and western brand-name stores.
While waiting for customs to release your cars, tour Beijing's classic sites, such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven, built in 1420. Admire the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall, about 50 miles out of the city, and visit the Ming Tombs, constructed over nearly 80 years of the Ming dynasty.
The group travels together to Tianjin to complete the necessary procedures to pick up your Chinese driver's licenses at the traffic authority office. When all is in order and vehicles are ready to be claimed from customs, you are taken to the port to pick up your cars. You will drive them back to the traffic authority for the vehicle inspection, and then receive your Chinese license plates.
Day 6: Wednesday, June 8
Beijing / Datong via Hanging Monastery
(420 km / 261 miles)
After breakfast drive to Datong, a city of two and a half million in the northern tip of Shanxi Province near Inner Mongolia. Founded in 200 BC near one of the gates of the Great Wall, Datong is best known for its Yungang Grottoes, over 250 caves filled with 51,000 Buddhist sculptures created during its years as the capital.
Make a stop en route to tour the Hanging Monastery (Xuan Kong Si), built 1400 years ago on Mt. Hengshan, with its precipitous cliffs and old pines.
Day 7: Thursday, June 9
Datong / Pingyao
(382 km / 237 miles)
This morning you have the option of visiting the Yungang Grottoes, located near the hotel. The caves of the 5th century grottoes are adorned with Buddhist carvings and statues - over 50,000 of them. The 53 caves cover almost a kilometer of a bluff on Wuzhou Muntain, and illustrate the evolution of Indian Buddhist art into a more Chinese style. Note: If you choose to visit the Yungang Grottoes, an entrance fee of approximately $10 per person will need to be paid on the spot.
This afternoon depart for the ancient city of Pingyao. Pingyao's well-preserved 14th century city walls and multitude of early residences have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It used to be called "Turtle City" because of the placement of the gates in its 40-foot walls - two on each side, and one on each end. China's first bank was founded here.
Days 8-9: Friday, June 10 - Saturday, June 11
Pingyao / Xian
(563 km / 350 miles)
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi Province and the eastern terminus of the great Silk Road. Under the ancient name Chang'an, Xi'an was home to 11 Chinese dynasties and is one of China's oldest cities. At its peak in the 8th century, over a million people lived in Xi'an.
Board a coach to visit one of Xi'an's most important sites, the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Guarding the tomb is the magnificent Terra Cotta army of 7,000 life-sized figures. Peasants digging a well stumbled on this vast archaeological discovery in 1974. Today observe some of the originally crafted warriors, horses and chariots, now restored and on display at the local museum.
Day 10: Sunday, June 12
Xi'an / Pingliang
(330 km / 205 miles)
Pingliang, in eastern Gansu Province, was a stop on the old Silk Road on the way west from Xi'an. Nearby is China's most sacred Taoist site, Kongtong Mountain, where dozens of temples and ancient pagodas dot the landscape.
Days 11-12: Monday, June 13 - Tuesday, June 14
Pingliang / Lanzhou
(360 km / 223 miles)
Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, is where the Silk Road crossed the Yellow River. In the Provincial Museum in Lanzhou is the famous "Flying Horse," symbol of the area. Depart by coach on a city tour of Lanzhou, including visits to the Yellow River Iron Bridge and the Gansu Provincial Museum.
Day 13: Wednesday, June 15
Lanzhou / Wuwei
(279 km / 173 miles)
Wuwei in Gansu Province was once a prominent city along the Silk Road, connecting China to Central Asia, Mongolia and beyond. The area is famous today for its sweet melons, wine and vinegar. Places of interest in Wuwei include the Confucian temple, a bell tower, a Taoist Temple, and the tall statue of the galloping bronze horse, unearthed in 1969 and dating back to the late Han Dynasty (around 200AD), which has become a symbol of the tourism board of China.
Day 14: Thursday, June 16
Wuwei / Jiayuguan
(480 km / 298 miles)
Jiayuguan, sometimes translated as "Nice Valley," was a strategic fort town along the Silk Road. The city is located in the middle of the Hexi Corridor, the narrow desert valley that funneled caravans from X'ian through to Dunhuang. The westernmost fortress of the Great Wall was built here, as well as the wall's oldest signal tower. Today the city is a western manufacturing center.
Days 15-16: Friday, June 17 - Saturday, June 18
Jiayuguan / Dunhuang
(385 km / 239 miles)
The destination today is Dunhuang, founded during the Han Dynasty in 111 BC. It was one of four Chinese garrisons meant to control the trade routes to the west. Situated at the western end of the Hexi Corridor, which snakes between North Mountain and Qilian Mountain, Dunhuang became one of the most important towns on the Silk Road. The road from Xi'an divided at Dunhuang into two routes bordering around the Taklamakan Desert.
Take a tour of Dunhuang's Mogao Caves, an incredible repository of Buddhist murals. Traditionally it is believed that a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage to India in the 4th century carved the first one at the place where he had a vision of a thousand Buddhas. Until the 14th century other travelers, pilgrims and artists carved more caves, decorating them with frescoes and painted statues. The caves became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Day 17: Sunday, June 19
Dunhuang / Hami
(430 km / 267 miles)
The prefecture of Hami has been celebrated since the late 17th century as the home of the sweet Hami melon. The city of Hami was first established in the 18th century, but only a small part of the original town, named the "Mighty Guard of the Tien Shan," remains. Hami is home to approximately 300,000 citizens. In the summer time, the fields outside the city are sweet with the aroma of the melon fields.
Days 18-19: Monday, June 20 - Tuesday, June 21
Hami / Urumqi
(541 km / 336 miles)
Urumqi, a Mongolian name meaning "Beautiful Pasture," is seated at the foot of the soaring Tien Shan (Heavenly) Mountains. Both its people and its landscapes are variegated and diverse. Nomads of Mongolian, Kazak and Uighur extraction have roamed here for thousands of years, and Han Chinese people began moving here in the first century AD.
Enjoy an introductory city tour of Urumqi. Visit the fascinating Xinjiang Minority Peoples' Museum, whose centerpiece is its collection of mummies and other preserved bodies discovered in area tombs. Make a stop at the lively market at Erdaoqiao where tradespeople sell anything from Uighur handicrafts and silk carpets to fruits and kebobs.
Day 20: Wednesday, June 22
Urumqi / Kuytun
(274 km / 171 miles)
Kuytun is a town that showcases the diversity of Xinjiang. Located on the railway line that runs from Urumqi to Kazakhstan, this area is inhabited by ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs, Chinese and others. The hills and valleys beyond the city, lying in the shadow of the Tien Shan Mountains, are largely agricultural. Take an optional guided walking tour through the marketplace.
Day 21: Thursday, June 23
Kuytun / Yining
(451 km / 282 miles)
Drive to the city located near the border with Kazakhstan in Western China. Yining's position in the Ili River Valley makes it a major agricultural center, and the city is dotted with markets while the outlying region is taken up with orchards, farms, and grasslands.
Day 22: Friday, June 24
Yining / Almaty
(458 km / 289 miles)
Today is the last day in China as the group heads for Kazakhstan. Border crossing procedures may take a long time, and all cars and vehicles will be staged at the border together before beginning procedures and crossing. Once all are across and staged on the Kazakhstan side, the convoy begins its onward journey to Almaty.
Kazak vehicles and guides will meet you at the border crossing. Funds in local currency will be available for exchange from dollars, so that participants will have some local cash for gas and other incidentals today.