Tangut Dynasty Footsteps China Itinerary
This is an exciting 13 – night adventure which takes the traveler to lesser known destinations in China. See the Silk Road, the Gobi Desert, the magnificent Yellow River Stone Forest, explore Matisi Grottoes, stop at Haishen Chulu Stone Forest, visit the spectacular Mingshashan Dunes, explore the Mogao Caves and the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China. Visit museums, mosques, see the reclining Buddha at Dafo Temple, enjoy a wine tasting at Yuanshi Vineyard Wine Cellar, enjoy lunch with a local family, ride a camel, enjoy dune bashing and much more.<!–– start itin loop ––>
Start your adventure in the city of Yinchuan, a strategic point on the Silk Road where the desert, mountains and plains converge at the Yellow River in the north-west region of the country.
At the airport, you will be met by your guide and transferred directly to check into the hotel.
In the afternoon, start your exploration by taking a step back in time at the Ningxia Museum which details the city’s rich cultural melting pot of Han, Hui, Manchu Mongolian and Chaoxian influences. This fascinating facility features a comprehensive collection of over 40,000 cultural relics spread across 12 exhibition rooms. English language audio guides are available.
After breakfast, visit the magnificent Western Xia Imperial Tombs and ancient rock carvings. The tombs dominate a 50 sq-km space at the foot of the Helan Mountains in the vast Gobi Desert. The tombs served as the mausoleums of Western Xia dynasty emperors and the site has nine Imperial mausoleums, 254 subordinate tombs, an architectural complex and more than 10 brick-and-tile kiln sites. Set off in search of the tens of thousands of ancient rock engravings found on the slopes of Helanshan. These date back over 6,000 years and were left by nomadic tribes who populated the area.
In the afternoon, take a guided tour of Yuanshi Vineyard Wine Cellar. This includes three wine tastings served with biscuits.
After breakfast, check-out and head to Najiahu Mosque and then Hui Culture Park. The drive is three hours. The grand mosque dates back to the Ming Dynasty era and is a classic example of traditional Chinese architecture.
Enjoy lunch at a Muslim restaurant in Tongxin.
Afterwards, visit the Grand Tongxin Mosque which dates back to the early years of the Ming dynasty. This structure blends Hui and Han culture. Continue to Zhongwei and explore Gaomiao Temple, a multi-faith shrine which caters to the religions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
After breakfast, check-out of the hotel and set off on a four – hour drive to this incredible geographical park, the magnificent Yellow River Stone Forest. Boasting a history that spans four billion years, it was formed by the rising of the Earth’s crust. It sits in a long valley next to the mighty Yellow River in Jingtai. The unique patterns on the cliff sides formed by water and wind erosion have made this site even more attractive. As no private vehicles are allowed to enter the park, board a shuttle bus to Yellow River Bay and from here cruise in a boat across the river. Take a donkey cart to explore the valley which features a surreal collection of towering sand stalagmites and stone pillars of varying sizes and shapes. Continue to Lanzhou where you will check into your overnight accommodation.
After breakfast, check-out and head to the train station to catch an express train to Zhangye in central Gansu. Here, stand in the shadows of the reclining Buddha at Dafo Temple. This is China’s largest reclining Buddha and this 12th century statue stretches an impressive 35 meters. Visit by private minivan the Danxia Landform Geopark (45 minute from the city, 39 km journey). This destination is home to incredible ‘rainbow mountains,’ layers of different colored sandstone and minerals that rise and fall like waves across the surreal landscape. The colorful rolling hills span about 300 sq km and are an incredible natural phenomenon formed over 24 million years.
After breakfast, check-out and drive for about one hour to explore the incredible 4th century Matisi Grottoes. The intricate network of sacred grottoes, caves and hanging temples date back to the Eastern Jin Dynasty. This site is home to the famed Horse’s Hoof Temple. The grottoes also boast delightful views of the snow-capped Qilian Mountain. Some of Matisi’s caves and relics were damaged by treasure hunters and activities during the Cultural Revolution.
After exploring the ancient caves and temples, enjoy lunch and then continue to Alashan Youqi on a 136 km, two – hour drive to your hotel.
After breakfast, check-out of the hotel and start your incredible desert exploration. Badan Desert spans 49,000 sq-km, making it China’s third largest desert. It is also home to some of the world’s highest dunes, with some towering over 500 meters. The highest dune, Bilutu, stands as the third highest dune in the world. The desert is also dotted with over 100 picturesque lakes, hence the name of Badan, which translates in Mongolian as ‘mysterious lakes.’
Enjoy lunch with a local family who live on the banks of the lake and then continue with your desert exploration. Check into your hotel by the dunes.
After breakfast, check out and drive for 8.5 hours, 460 km road trip to the ancient city of Khara Khoto. En route, stop at Haishen Chulu Stone Forest and drive into the park to enjoy a picnic in the shadows of the spectacular stone forest towers that have formed over millions of years. Continue to Khara Khoto, a ruined Tangut city that dates back to 1032. This was abandoned in the 14th century. It was buried under centuries of sand storms until it was re-discovered in 1907. Check into a government four-star (local rating) hotel in this destination.
After breakfast, have the day to discover the incredible site of Khara Khoto, which is also known as the Black City. Home to forests and lakes, Khara Khoto was founded in 1032 and it became a thriving center of western Xia commerce in the 11th century. This walled fortress was taken by Genghis Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire and it continued to thrive under Mongolian rule until the 14th century when it was abandoned and then discovered by explorers in 1907. The site was excavated between 1927 and 1931 and over 2,000 books, scrolls and manuscripts in the Tangut language were recovered. Explore the remains inside the nine – meter – high walled city, whose outer walls run about 421 meters east-to-west and 374 meters north-to-south.
After breakfast, set off on a seven – hour drive, 400 km journey to explore the Great Wall of China in Jiayuguan, or better the end of it. En route, stop to stretch your legs and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. In Jiayuguan, visit the impressive Jiayu Pass, the largest pass of the iconic Great Wall. The Jiayuguan section of the Great Wall dates back to the Ming Dynasty and it took 168 years to build. It served as a fortress to protect vulnerable entry points in a desert valley which is flanked by rugged mountains. The pass marks the end of Imperial China and the start of the Silk Road which connected China with the West. After exploring this area, continue to the city center to check into your hotel.
After breakfast, check out of the hotel and set off on a four hour and fifteen – minute road trip to this destination which sits on the edge of the vast Gobi Desert. It was also a frontier garrison on the Silk Road. The place name translates as ‘singing sand mountain’ due to the sound created by the winds whipping over the dunes. Check into the hotel in time for lunch. After some time to freshen up, visit the spectacular Mingshashan Dunes which span 40 km in length and 20 km in width, with the highest point at an elevation of 250 meters. There is the option to ride a camel, go dune bashing, or hire a helicopter (surcharges apply). After enjoying a serene sunset at the dunes, return to the hotel for dinner.
After breakfast, prepare to have your breath blown away at two magnificent natural wonders. Explore the Mogao Caves, a complex of 492 ornate Buddhist grottoes carved into cliffs above the Dachuan River. These intricate structures were created from the 4th century onwards.
Return to the hotel for lunch, ahead of driving to Dunhuang Yadan National Geologic Park. This Geopark is a designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Global Geopark and this was awarded in recognition of its importance in history as a major point on the Silk Road, as well as the uniqueness of the landscape. Explore the 398 sq-meter park by Jeep to admire the fascinating collection of Yadan landforms that rise from the Gobi Desert like a scene from another planet. Return to the hotel with time to refresh before heading to the lively Dunhuang Night Market to browse abundant stalls and feast on a variety of local delights for dinner.
After breakfast, check-out of the hotel and take a 30-minute drive to the airport, where you will board a flight to Beijing. From the airport, set off on a two – hour drive to the luxurious resort, Dhawa Jinshanling, which is nestled in a lush mountainous area at the foot of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China. After check-in, have the afternoon at leisure to relax in the sumptuous surroundings of rolling green mountains and sprawling gardens. The stylish resort is also home to a spa for those wanting to unwind and indulge in a well-deserved pamper session. Alternatively, you can opt to explore the nearby section of the Great Wall, which is a great spot to enjoy a sublime sunset. Finish the day with a delicious farewell Chinese cuisine dinner in a private room.
Round out your incredible adventure with a morning hike long the iconic Great Wall. It is recommended to rise before dawn to watch nature spring to life as the sun pierces through the canopy of trees. After breakfast, set off on a short drive to Simatai West and take a 40-minute uphill walk to the East-Five-Eye watchtower in Simatai West. From here, enjoy breath – taking panoramas from the elevated positon of this UNESCO listed fortification. Take an 8.5 km walk along a stunning section of the Great Wall which is scattered with watchtowers and steep slopes which provide ever-changing perspectives. Enjoy lunch at a village before returning to the hotel to rest.
In the evening, head to the airport for your onward flight.