Friday 5th – Friday 26th September 2008

KASHGAR, whose history spans 2,000 years is at heart a medieval city, a vibrant Islamic centre and the largest oasis city in Chinese Central Asia.   At the heart of the old city is the Id-kah Mosque and in the surrounding bazaar, silversmiths, boot makers, porcelain menders and bakers, labour in front of teashops and stalls selling carpets, silk, jewellery, hats and intricately carved knives and wooden chests.

KHOTAN (Hetian) is famous for its ‘white’ and ‘black’ jade, carpets, silk and embroidery.    Mulberry and fruit trees as well as maize, wheat, rice and cotton grow in abundance.    Here we will have the opportunity to visit weavers and other craftsmen and participate in the flourishing Sunday Market.  The ancient city of Yotkan flourished between the 3rd and 8th centuries.  East of Hetian are some thirteen rivers which once flowed more than 40 kilometres into the desert and which soon covered the towns that had once prospered along their shores.

MINFENG (Niya) formed the Kingdom of Shanshan during the first century BC.   A visit to the Endere itself would take us two days by camel or truck so we will have to satisfy ourselves with the artefacts housed in the museum.   But the adventure now lies in crossing northwards into the shifting sands of the Taklamakan desert (‘from which no-one returns’). 

KUQA brings us to the Thousand Buddha Caves of KIZIL, set in a magnificent gorge and one of the four biggest groups of grottoes in China.  The father of the city’s most famous linguist and scholar, Kumarajiva (344-413) called the ‘Nineteenth Patriarch of Buddhism’ came from Kashmir.  During the Tang Dynasty the kingdom reached its zenith.   The wealth of the trade caravans subsidized the Buddhist monasteries, in which more than 5,000 monks worked and prayed.  The frescoes illustrate some of the finest examples of Gandharan (Indo-Hellenistic) influences overlaid with Persian elements.  The Kuchean musical instruments of drums, lutes and reed-pipes heavily influenced Chinese music.   Molana Eshdings tomb witnesses the first Islamic missionary from the Middle East to visit Kuqa.

TURPAN (Tulufan) – Located in a depression 80 metres below sea level with an extremely dry climate, Huozhou ‘Land of Fire’, reaches 40 degrees in the summer.   In 108 BC farmers and traders of Indo-European ancestry inhabited the area.  Until the 5th century, the capital was JIAOHE (Yarkhoto).  During the Northern Wei Dynasty the capital of GAOCHANG (Kharakhoja) was established here by the Loulan people.   TUYOQ (Tuyugou) with the backdrop of the ‘Flaming Mountains’ is a beautiful, timeless village with a friendly Auger community. The mosque is on the road cutting between the lush vineyards up to the cemetery, behind which runs the gorge and caves.

The MAGAO CAVES, which honeycomb the cliff-face of the Mingsha Hills, 25 kilometres southeast of DUNHUANG contain the world’s richest treasure trove of Buddhist manuscripts, wall paintings and statuary.   According to legend, in 366 AD the vision of a thousand Buddhas inspired a wandering monk to cut the first of hundreds of caves into the sand-stone cliff face.   Over the next ten centuries Dunhuang became a flourishing centre of Buddhist culture along the Silk Road.  Visits to the caves and the Institute of Archaeology will be a fitting end to a magnificent journey.

Landprice: (including flights Urumqi to Kashgar & Kuche to Urumqi):  £2000
Air China Flights:
London / Beijing / Urumqi – Dunhuang / Beijing / London £880

Single Room Supplement £350

Please do not hesitate in contacting me should you have any questions about this trip or would be interested in joining another in the future.

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