Dear Silk Road Companions,
It is our pleasure to share with you the tentative itinerary of our journey along the Silk Road. We’re hard at work with our local partners discussing routings, organizing home stays, trading ideas on course themes, and much more. But we know you’re dying to know where we’re going, so here it is: the tentative itinerary.
We are getting so excited. We’ll be traveling from the center of the Chinese world to its peripheries and then out of it completely. Yet, as Uttam and Madeleine alluded to in their introductions, this journey will also challenge your idea of what China, Central Asia, and the Silk Road really are. More on all that later.
From low lying cities in to watersheds of China’s great rivers to sparse plateau villages to the trade hubs that formed across the oases on the edges of the Taklamakan desert and then into the world of the famed steppe peoples: these places hold many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for us. Please come ready to take advantage of them. And remember your traveling pants because we’ll be covering nearly 5,000 kilometers in six week’s time, a whirlwind of cultures, landscapes, and new friendships to come!
Week One: LA, Cuihuashan, Xi’an — The Eastern End, the Heart of the Chinese World
We’ll meet as group in LA. After some introductions, food, and check ins, our excited bunch will head to the airport to catch a plane. We’ll touch down in China’s capital, Beijing, before hopping right back on the plane to Xi’an.
Our first destination will be a mountain getaway outside of Xi’an. We begin our orientation in a guesthouse in Cuihua Mountain, which has been a popular dwelling place for Daoist hermits for over 2000 years. Centuries ago, these were the mountains that inspired Laozi’s Dao De Jing; in the past few decades, these ancient Daoist traditions have been revived by discontented city-dwellers in pursuit of a simpler life, giving a fascinating glimpse into modern China’s search for meaning and purpose in an ever-changing world. In these breathtaking surroundings, we will go over all of the need-to-knows and set down strong foundations for a supportive and successful course. We’ll share meals, explore the natural beauty, and have some fun. We’ll also take advantage of the tradition of Daoist hermits who reside in the surrounding mountains to discuss the spiritual traditions we’ll encounter along our itinerary.
Feeling better prepared and with clearer intentions, we’ll head to the ancient capitol of Xi’an at the heart of Han China. As the capitol of many dynasties and the eastern end of the Silk Road routes, Xi’an is among the most storied in China. These days–as in the past–Xi’an is a loud, busy metropolis. We’ll explore, eat delicious food and drink green tea, and visit sites that will help us begin to understand what the Silk Road means to Chinese civilization.
Week Two: Tianshui and Rebgong — Homestay on the Plateau and the Tibetan World
Going west from Xi’an by train, we’ll arrive at Tianshui, Gansu Province. Here we will visit one of the most important historical sites in Chinese Buddhism – Maijishan Grottoes. While we explore caves and the art contained, we will learn about the history of Buddhism in China. This is part of our transition from the Chinese world, dominated by the home-grown traditions of Confucianism and Daosim, toward the Tibetan one, where Buddhism continues to shape the way people think about the world.
From Tianshui, we’ll board a train and head to our third province of the trip, the high plateau of Qinghai. We’ll visit the small city of Rebgong, cultural hub of the Amdo region of the Tibetan world. Here we’ll pay our respect to the local mountain deity and settle into our first home stays. We’ll meet fantastic people, see some yaks, eat yogurt, explore the surrounding hills, start to understand what village life is like in China, learn a bit of Amdo Tibetan, and hopefully get to some some of the preparations for the famed local shamanism festival—a festival that is a testament to the intermixing of new and much older spiritual traditions characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism (and all religions). We’ll visit temples, view ornate Tibetan art, drink milk tea, and join in our hosts’ daily routines as they pursue their livelihoods by farming, herding, and doing part-time work in the city.
There will be the possibility of an excursion to the large monastery of Labrang in nearby Xiahe.
Week Three: Rebgong, Turpan, and Kashgar — Oases and the Turkic World
We’ll finish up our home stays and board a train from Turpan, one of the hottest and lowest places in China. But don’t be sweat it. Turpan is also home an innovative water system created to collect and transport water through the arid place. We’ll explore the historic sites of this oasis town on the eastern edge of the Turkic world and hopefully get to sample some of the dried fruit Turpan is known for. From Turpan on the eastern edge of Xinjiang we’ll board an overnight sleeper train to the western border of China’s territory and the famed oasis city of Kashgar situated there.
Kashgar was for a long time the dreamy city of alleyways, delicious aromas of baking bread, savory meat roasting over fires, carts pulling all sorts of wares through town, the sound of the call to prayer, music shops, and street markets. Much of that is changing today—a process epitomized in the demolition and renovation of the city’s old town.
Week Four: Kasghgar, Osh, Pastures, and the Nomadic World
Our plan is to enter Kyrgyzstan over land through the Irkeshtam Pass, a millennia-old mountain crossing that passes between the Tianshan and Pamir mountain ranges, connecting the Oases Worlds of Southern Xinjiang to rich Fergana valley. From Kashgar we will drive to the border, cross it, and begin exploring the second country of the trip!
We’ll spend the week exploring the ancient city of Osh and its surrounding areas. During this week we plan to get out into the beautiful scenery for some hiking.
Week Five: Homestay in the Summer Pastures
We’ll have further home stays in the summer pastures of herding peoples and learn about Uzbek and Kyrgyz lifestyles and worldviews. We’ll learn about traditional handicrafts, such as how people make a yurt or ger (the traditional dwelling of nomadic people on the steppe, which appears as a symbol in the Kyrgyzstan flag). Through all this, we’ll learn much more about Kyrgyzstan and also about the history and mythology of one of the most ancient and enduring lifestyles, nomadism.
Week Six: Bishkek, Urumqi, Home — The End of the Road
During our final week we will move a lot and talk a lot. During this time, we’ll also be conducting transference, a phase in the course where we reflect on all we’ve seen and done and bring our journey to its close. We’ll take a look back at China from a new perspective and begin to transition from a Chinese understanding of ancient and contemporary globalization toward an understanding that takes into account Russian and Central Asian perspectives also. We’ll try to come to a better understanding of not just China and Kyrgyzstan but of the whole region as a place shaped by shared geographies, histories, and cultures.
We’ll visit the capitol of Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan’s mountainous north, explore the surrounding areas, and end our course the right way. We’ll take a short flight to Urumqi, Xinjiang’s provincial capital, and then transfer onto our flights home.
So that’s an outline for you. We hope this itinerary makes the trip seem a little more real and gives you a way to start imagining the sites and sounds and tastes to come. Post any questions on the Yak board or email.
-Tindy, Noam, Luke