Ashgabat To Beijing (56 Days)

Number of people

(£4595)


Ashgabat To Beijing (56 Days) Silk Road Highlights & China
Ashgabat, Beijing
From: £4595

Join this challenging expedition along ancient trading routes, following in the tracks of the old Silk Road. Discover some of the oldest cities in the world steeped in history and legend. Visit the legendary 'Stan's' taking in the bizarre city of Ashgabat and the splendour of the Old Registan in Uzbekistan. Get outdoors in Tajikistan and hike in the Fann Mountains. Kyrgyzstan amazes with it's deep mountain lakes and perennially snow-capped peaks, before crossing the mighty Torugat Pass and traversing the whole of China. Pandas, Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall all await!

Suitable for:

Solo

Couples

Students

Groups

Additional information

Itinerary

DAY 1: ASHGABAT

Welcome to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital. Founded in the1880's by the Russian Tsarist government, sits between the foothills of the Koptedag mountains to the south, and the vast Karakum Desert to the north. The city was almost destroyed following an earthquake in 1948 and rebuilt in the Soviet-style. Following independence in 1991, the city has been transformed into a futuristic, and in many ways bizarre collection of unique structures and wide streets lined with marble. For many travellers, Ashgabat is one of the most mystifying and unusual cities they will ever experience.

We have some free time and enjoy a city tour of Ashgabat. On the city tour, we visit Independence Park, the Ertogrul Gazi Mosque, the Arch of Neutrality, the Turkmenbashi Mosque Mausoleum and many other sites throughout the city. There are plenty of fantastic photo opportunities, and we will have the chance to explore some of the markets and meet the locals.

DAY 2-3: ASHGABAT TO KUNYE URGENCH

From Ashgabat, there is a gruelling desert crossing as we drive north through the harsh Kara-Kum Desert, a sparsely populated and remote expanse. We veer off the highway and do some serious off-roading as we cross the dunes to the Darwaza Gas Crater. Also known as the ‘Door to Hell’ or ‘Gates of Hell’, this remarkable sight is the result of a Soviet-era gas exploration accident, when the ground beneath a drilling rig gave way and to prevent poisonous gas leaking out it was decided to burn it off. Originally engineers believed it would all be burned in a few days, but that was in 1971 and the field is still burning to this day. The result is a sight quite like no other as we can peer down into the crater and see the fire, and feel the intense heat coming from the flames. Conditions permitting we will get to the crater in the truck and bush camp nearby in the remote desert.

Rising early the next morning we leave Darwaza and return to the highway as we continue north to Kunye Urgench, an ancient Silk Road town that was abandoned in the early 1700s and has been left largely untouched since. The old ruins of the town are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the most striking sight is undoubtedly the 60-metre high minaret, that dates from the 11th Century. It is said that when Genghis Khan’s Mongol army invaded this area that the infamous warlord was so impressed by the minaret he ordered for it to not be destroyed!

DAY 4-8: KUNYE URGENCH TO BUKHARA

We cross the border to Uzbekistan. Road conditions permitting, we will drive to the edge of where the Aral Sea used to lie. In the 1960s the Soviet Union began an intense irrigation project to boost cotton growth in the region using the then vast sea as its source. The project has led to the sea now shrinking to just 10% of its original size and today as we reach where its edge formerly was, we can see ships sitting incongruously in the middle of what is now a huge desert where we camp for the night.

Continuing further into Uzbekistan, we find well-preserved relics from the time when Asia was a centre of an empire, learning, and trade along the famous Silk Road. Some of its cities have abundant old architecture, mosques and minarets cloaked with the mystery of the orient dating back thousands of years.

Our first city stop is in Khiva, one of the most noteworthy of the cities and towns of Central Asia. It is a unique monument town, completely preserved in the cultural style of the region, and is a World Heritage Site for its historical significance. It has more minarets than any other place in Asia, and the Juma Mosque, which has an amazing 218 ornate carved wooden columns, is another of the main attractions. We will spend at least a couple of nights here to explore the ancient madrassas, medinas, mausoleums and museums and soak up the unique atmosphere.

Continuing south, we bush camp out in the desert before reaching another town with much historical influence that was also on the Great Silk Road.

DAY 9-12: BUKHARA TO SAMARKAND

The name Bukhara is synonymous with the Silk Road, and its name conjures up images of Marco Polo, trading caravans and exploration. The British explorer Alexander Burnes, one of the iconic figures of the Victorian-era ‘Great Game’ was nicknamed ‘Burnes of Bukhara’.

The city is situated on a sacred hill and was founded in the 13th century BC; a centre of learning throughout much of its history, it is home to over 350 mosques and some 100 Islamic colleges. It is an attractive city with narrow streets, green parks and gardens that are a pleasure to wander around and there will be the opportunity for about of good-humoured haggling in the bazaar.

The Kyzylkum Desert is about 300,000 sq km and lies between the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers. This is a vast arid plain with some isolated bare mountains rising to 900 metres and we journey across it on our way to Samarkand. Scheduled permitting, we may opt to take the local train and rejoin the truck on arrival.

Samarkand itself is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan. It dates back 2,500 years, making it as old as Babylon or Rome. Here we have a couple of days to explore the splendid architecture such as the 15th-century Bibi-Khanum Mosque which when it was built was considered to have the largest dome in the Muslim world. Today it stands next to a noisy and colourful Oriental market. No trip here is complete without a wander around the three edifices of the Registan, once Medieval Samarkand's commercial plaza and today quite possibly the most awesome sight in Central Asia.

DAY 13-14: SAMARKAND TO DUSHANBE

From here we drive southwards towards Tajikistan. Time allowing en-route we will make a short stop in the Unesco Town of Shahrisabz. Here still standing since 1380 are parts of the original 65mtr gate towers to Timur’s Summer (Ak Saray) Palace.

Dushanbe is Tajikistan’s largest city, and aptly its name means “Money” in the Tajik language. It’s a big showy entry to the country, in stark contrast to the East. You’ll pass a lovely day strolling through parks, admiring the fountains and the wide boulevards punctuated with grand buildings. Visit “Flag Pole Park” or the bazaar, or make the most of being in a city with restaurants specialising in various cuisines!

DAY 15-19: DUSHANBE TO BISHKEK

We drive north into the Fann Mountains, one of Tajikistan's great ranges (the other being the Pamirs). Peaks of over 5000 meters slip by as we head to Iskanderkul Lake at 2200 meters. It is said to be the resting place of Alexander the Greats horse, Bucephalus. The glacial lake is a stunning spot for a hike and we aim to visit Tajikistan's highest waterfall (40 meters).

Continuing north we arrive at Khujand - although today the city is not one of the most picturesque, it has had an important role in the history of the Silk Road and was one of the furthest points reached by Alexander the Great. It is said in this area that he wept, saying he had no further territory to conquer. We have time to visit the Fortress and Panjshanbe Market (one of the largest covered markets in Central Asia).

We re-enter Uzbekistan and arrive in the Fergana Valley, known for its silk production and the area that gave the name to one of the greatest routes in history.

Crossing into Kyrgyzstan our first stop is Osh, the second biggest and the country's oldest, city. Make sure you visit the bazaar, which has occupied the same spot for over 2000 years and used to be a major stop along the ancient Silk Road.

We drive north through stunning mountain views and past the turquoise waters of Toktogul Reservoir, before arriving in the capital city of Bishkek.

DAY 20-21: BISHKEK

Kyrgyzstan's leafy, relaxed capital is a largely Soviet-built city, softened somewhat by its many boulevards and tree-lined streets. We take a few days here in a comfortable, friendly hostel to recharge our batteries. We can enjoy the cafés and restaurants dotted around the city, there is no shortage of bars and nightclubs, and for those so inclined there are also a few cinemas and shopping districts.

Bishkek is also home to many museums, including the Kyrgyz State Historical Museum and Zoological Museum, which have exhibits that explain more about Kyrgyzstan political and natural history, and there are several parks and other public areas worth visiting to watch local life pass you by, the main one being Ala-Too Square, which once was dominated by a large statue of Lenin (this has now been moved to a smaller square in the city).

DAY 22-30: BISHKEK TO SEMENOVSKRE GORGE

We head northeast to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis and capital until 1997. Almaty is the largest and most ethnically and culturally diverse city in Kazakhstan. Set in the foothills of the Trans Lli Alatau mountains, the area has a ski resort (Shymbulak) at an elevation of 2,200 meters and enjoys a great amount of snow from November through to May. The city has many sights and attractions, including Ascension Cathedral in Panfilov Park; Abay Opera House; Golden Warrior Monument in the Republic Square and the giant Almaty Tower. Or for adrenaline lovers, why not ride the ‘Fast Coaster’ roller coaster, which is located on the side of a mountain and reaches speeds of 45 km per hour.

We continue east looking for amazing camping areas to explore, before crossing back into Kyrgyzstan and the area of Lake Issyk-Kul, a mountain lake in the northern Tien Shan Mountains, once used by the Soviets to test their submarine torpedoes!

The area of Altyn Arashan and its surroundings offer the outdoor lover many hiking and horse riding opportunities and we spend a few days here to take in the amazing scenery.

We visit the vast red stone cliffs in Jeti-Oguz and visit the town of Karakol with its attractive houses and tree-lined streets. Behind it are the Terskay Ala-Too Mountains, an unspoilt wilderness populated only by nomadic shepherds.

Continuing around the lake to Semenovskre Gorge the adventurous can hike through lush terrain, following the rivers that wind through the national reserve.

As we travel around Kyrgyzstan we camp, but we also may have the opportunity to use some family homestays, where we are welcomed into a local home for the night. These are subject to availability, but if we can arrange them they offer a fantastic experience, allowing us to feel part of the family for a night and make some new friends!

DAY 31-34: SEMENOVSKRE GORGE TO TASH RABAT

Travelling south and leaving behind Lake Issyk-Kul, we make our way to the isolated and breathtaking Lake Song Kol, where we stay in traditional felt Yurts. There will be an opportunity to either hike or horseback ride and explore the surrounding area. If we are lucky we may even see a game of Ulak Tartysh - a Kyrgyz version of polo.

We spend a couple of days driving south through the mountains towards the border with China. On the way, we cross vast high plains where Kyrgyz nomads, living in their traditional yurts, practice a lifestyle that has changed little over the centuries. We will stop off at Tash Rabat, an ancient Caravanserai on the old Silk Route.

DAY 35: TASH RABAT TO KASHGAR

The border is crossed via the Torugat Pass in the Tien Shan Mountains which at 3,752 m is one of the highest passes in the world. From here we leave the truck behind and change over to a private transfer to the border, where our Chinese Guide and new Oasis Leader will be waiting, before driving down the pass to Kashgar.

DAY 36: KASHGAR

Using the public buses around Kashgar, we have a full-day guided tour. Kashgar is home to one of the last remaining statues of Chairman Mao, still standing in a watchful gaze across the People's Square. Other highlights we hope to see are Apak Hoja Tomb, a beautiful example of Uyghur Islamic Architecture; Id Kah Mosque, the largest Mosque in the whole of China; Handicraft Street where we can view pots being made, traditional musical instrument workshops and wood craftsmen at work. If we are lucky enough to be in Kashgar on a weekend, we will endeavour to visit the Sunday Livestock Market.

DAY 37-41: KASHGAR TO LHASA

We take the overnight train to Jiayuguan and get our first glimpse of the Great Wall of China! We have time to explore in the afternoon and we will overnight here.

Our next train journey takes us to Dunhuang, a city on the edge of the Gobi desert which is situated at a point of vital strategic and logistical importance, on a crossroads of 2 major trade routes on the old Silk Road. We visit the famed Mogao Grottoes (also known as the Qianfodong - the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas). This honeycomb of caves was constructed from the 4th to the 14th centuries and has an astonishing collection of 492 caves, which are one of the world's richest treasure houses of Buddhist sutras, murals and sculptures.

We also take a trip to the edge of the oasis to Ming Sha Hill and the Crescent Moon Pool. Springwater trickles up into a depression between huge dunes, forming a crescent-shaped pond. Here we will be able to scramble up and slide down one of the giant dunes and there is the opportunity to ride on a Bactrian camel (the two-humped variety) over the dunes.

Boarding our night train, we travel further East to Lanzhou, where we change trains and journey on to Lhasa.

DAY 42-46: LHASA TO SHIGATSE

Tibet, once home to the Dalai Lama. At 3,490 metres, Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. We will have time in the afternoon to relax and acclimatise to the altitude.

We have a full day to explore this interesting city, with our Tibetan guide. Must-see sights are the Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Square and the stunning Potala Palace. We hope to also visit the Sera Monastery, wherefrom mid-afternoon monks still debate with the aid of flamboyant arm movements!

Boarding our private bus, we cross the mighty Gampala Pass (4790 metres) and we get our first glimpse of Yamdrok Tso Lake. The lake is surrounded by many snow-capped peaks and in the distance, and on a clear day, you can see Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar, (7191m).

On arrival in Shigatse, we visit the home of Panchan Lama - Tashilunpo Monastery. Financed by local nobles, the Monastery was founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. We overnight in Shigatse.

DAY 47-49: SHIGATSE TO GYANTSE

Continuing on our bus journey we arrive at Rongbuk Monastery, which is situated at 4980 metres and is claimed to be the highest in the world.

Our accommodation tonight will be very basic, but (weather allowing) the views of Mount Everest will more than makeup for any discomfort.

We visit Mount Everest Base Camp hoping for a glimpse of the peak, before driving to Tingri, a stopping point on the Friendship Highway, for our overnight stay.

We continue on the Friendship Highway to Gyantse, where there is the option to visit Pelkor Chode Monastery and Kumbum Stupa. The Kumbum, which was built in 1497, is particularly interesting as the structure contains some 76 chapels through 9 levels. We overnight in Gyantse.

DAY 50-52: GYANTSE TO XI'AN

Once again we cross the mighty Gampala Pass, with time to visit Yamdrok Tso Lake, before heading back into Lhasa to catch the high altitude train to Chengdu.

This is one of the world’s classic train routes and will take us almost 2 days to complete! It was said a track could never be built at such high altitudes or across such a landscape, but the Chinese have managed to achieve it! We will see snowcapped peaks, turquoise plateau lakes and grazing yaks from our window.

We arrive in Chengdu in the early morning and transfer to our hotel, where we will be based for 2 nights.

Our next stop will be the Panda Sanctuary where we can see these gentle giants. The Sanctuary was created in the 1980s to house six sick Panda’s and has become one of the most important centres for Panda breeding research in the world.

We take the fast train to Xi’an and have an afternoon to explore the city. Xi'an is well known for its food and nightlife and there are some attractive restaurant districts to wander around in the evening.

DAY 53: XI'AN

Highlights in Xi'an you may wish to see are the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the Bell and Drum Towers or maybe check out the well preserved City Walls, dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

The Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses is probably the most famous, and there will be time for a visit if you wish to see them. These are the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and work is ongoing at this site. Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 in 246 BC, Qin Shi Huang began work on his mausoleum - before becoming the first Emperor of China. It took 11 years to finish and it is believed he built this vast terracotta army to accompany him into the afterlife. The museum covers over 16,000 sq metres - with armies of soldiers and their horses arranged in lines under a giant aircraft hanger type roof. There are over 7,000 figures and it really is a remarkable sight.

DAY 54-56: XI'AN TO BEIJING

From Xi'an, we begin our last journey - by train to Beijing. After our 15 hr train journey - we will have the chance to explore China's capital and soak up the atmosphere. Beijing is a heaving, thriving place, an economic powerhouse of Asia, and the cultural centre of China. We include a trip to visit the superbly preserved section of the Great Wall, before enjoying our last night party in some of the many bars and clubs in the city.

There is so much to see in Beijing so we recommend staying on for a few days to see all the main sights and also to relax. Well known places to visit here include the largest central square in the world - Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City, as well as the largest sacrificial complex in the world, the Temple of Heaven. You will also see the towering skyscrapers and the endless stream of traffic. Nowhere else on earth will you find such a variety of gourmet Chinese restaurants offering the very best of the eight different styles of Chinese cuisine as well as western-style dishes. Then there is of course the shopping, and there are countless shopping malls and markets all over the city to pick up cheap Chinese made products. The nightlife too is worth exploring and there are plenty of pubs and clubs to visit before flying out or continuing with your travels.

Your trip ends after breakfast on the last day of your tour, and we suggest allowing extra time to explore the city at your leisure (depending on the length of your visa).

Experience

Feel the intense heat coming from the Darwaza Gas Crater
Explore the ancient medressas, mausoleums and mosques in Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand
Stunning journey through Tajikistan over it's High Peaks and Alpine Lakes
Wander through the oldest bazaar in Central Asia in the city of Osh
Overnight stay in a Traditional yurt at Lake Song Kol
Enjoy the stunning mountain scenery, cliff formations and alpine lakes throughout Kyrgyzstan
Our first taste of the Great Wall of China near Jiayuguan
Venture around Crescent Moon Lake and Ming Sha Hill a desert oasis
Discover Lhasa with a guide - one of the hi

Included

  • Accommodation - approx. 40% camping & 60% simple hostels/hotels/homestays
  • Arrival airport transfer in Ashgabat
  • Turkmenistan Letter of Invitation support and fees
  • Ashgabat city tour
  • Darvaza Gas Craters
  • Yurt Stay at Lake Song Kol
  • Tash Rabat Caravanserai
  • Local English speaking Chinese guide for our time in China
  • China letter of invitation support and fees
  • Guided tour of the Mogao Caves
  • Guided tour around Potala Palace & Jokhang Temple (entry not included)
  • Visit to Mt Everest base camp
  • Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding & Research Centre
  • Terracotta Army warriors
  • Visit to the Great Wall of China
  • All Transport on Oasis Expedition Truck (Ashgabat to Tash Rabat)
  • Transfer from Tash Rabat across the China border to Kashgar
  • All local transport in China including the Classic High Altitude train from Lhasa to Chengdu
  • Meals - approx. 45%
  • Camping and Cooking equipment
  • Services of Oasis Crew

Not included

  • Visas
  • Local Payment (see tour notes & options)
  • Optional Excursions as listed in the Pre-Departure Information
  • Flights
  • Airport Taxes & Transfers
  • Travel Insurance
  • Meals - approx. 55%
  • Drinks
  • Tips
Ashgabat To Beijing (56 Days) Silk Road Highlights & China
Next Booking: May 29, 2024
Scroll to Top