15-day trip to the deserts and mountains of China’s frontier
At the heart of Inner Mongolia (an Autonomous Region of China), the world's highest sand dunes form a unique desert. Dotted throughout this sea of sand are 150 lakes, a rare source of life in this primarily inhabitable environment. We will explore the Badain Jaran desert, before continuing on through the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai, followed by a journey on the world's highest railway line to Lhasa.
Day 1. Arrival in Beijing
We arrive in Beijing, the fascinating capital of the world’s most populous country. This city mirrors the whole of China’s fast-growing economy, from which some of its inhabitants are benefiting, and yet there are still people in the cities and rural areas who have to struggle to make it through another day. Skyscrapers rise up only a few steps away from the ancient hutongs; the latest cars glide past rickshaws; and traditions thousands of years old continue to be observed alongside new market rules and a new way of life. All these, and much more, make Beijing one of the world’s most impressive cities to visit. From the airport, if time permit (depending on time of arrival in Beijing), we drive to the Summer Palace. Built during the Qing Dynasty as a resort exclusively for the Imperial Family, this enormous site comprises various temples and has the world’s longest decorated corridor. Today the palace offers Beijingers a place where they can escape the hustle and bustle of the city. We tour the site on foot and enjoy a boat ride on the man-made Kunming Lake. We then drive to the heart of the city and take a stroll through Wangfujing Pedestrian Street, where, behind some of the world’s largest shopping malls, we visit the night food market. For the brave at heart, a delicious meal of various insects cooked in several ways awaits. After checking in at our hotel, we enjoy a traditional Beijing roast duck dinner. Overnight in Beijing.
Day 2. BEIJING ✈ ZHANGYE
This morning we drive back to Beijing airport, as we fly to the city of Zhangye. We might have a direct flight to Zhangye, or we might have to change planes somewhere along the way, depending on availability. We arrive in Zhangye, an important trading post on the ancient Silk Road, located right at the entrance to Hexi Corridor- the most convenient route for trade convoys to navigate between the rising Qilian Mountains to the south, and the vast Gobi Desert to the north. Upon arrival in Zhangye, we visit the reclining Buddha temple, dating back to the Western Xia Dynasty of the 11th century. Apart from the impressive 34-meter (112 feet) Buddha statue, the temple complex also includes some very interesting religious artifacts that have been recovered from various archaeological digs in the region. In the evening we stroll along the lively night street, where city dwellers come to enjoy a night out of good local food served at small restaurants and food stalls. Overnight in a local hotel in Zhangye.
Day 3. ZHANGYE – BADAIN JARAN DESERT
This morning we depart Zhangye as we drive north. Badain Jaran Desert is home to the world’s highest sand dune, rising to some 500 meters (1,640 feet), and offers challenging drives as well as marvelous landscapes of sand seas extending to the horizon. Surprisingly, this seemingly endless sea of sands is dotted with nothing but beautiful blue lakes. No one knows for certain what the source of these lakes is, but it is assumed the water comes all the way from the Qilian Mountains through underground rivers. The drive through the dunes and among the lakes would bring us to Soumin Jaran, a beautiful lake with a beautiful Mongolian temple beside it. We visit the temple, now inhabited by only one monk, and stroll along the lake shore. Overnight in a simple guesthouse at Soumin Jaran.
Day 4. BADAIN JARAN - ZHANGYE
We leave Soumin Jaran and drive almost to the top of one of the highest dunes in the area for a spectacular view of the lakes and the seemingly endless seas of sand. From here we take a 2½-hour hike to Nuritu Lake. After a quick lunch there, we take to the vehicles to drive out of the desert. En route we visit the wall of singing sand and the brave can have a quick bathe in Bor Tulguu Lake. We leave the dunes and stop at the small local museum to learn more about the desert and its surroundings. Back on a solid asphalt road after two days of driving through the dunes, we reach the small settlement of Alxa Youqi. Here we depart our jeeps and return back to Zhangye, arriving there in the evening. Overnight in Zhangye.
Day 5. ZHANGYE- XINING
We leave Zhangye and drive to Bing Guo. Located at the foot of the Qilian Mountains, this lovely park consists of marvelous sandstone formations. We take a short hike down a valley and climb up to an observation point for a breathtaking view over this unique landscape. We then continue to Dan Xia, a spectacular mountain with somewhat psychedelic patterns of colors in the rock. Late in the evening we leave Zhangye as we take a Bullet Train to Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province. Overnight in Xining.
Day 6. XINING – DAY EXCURSION TO CANBULA
Today we take an excursion out of Xining to the Canbula National Forest Park, which has impressive rock and land formations and snow-capped mountains. We explore the park by car then hike down the Nanzong Valley to the area of Liujia Gorge, now flooded following the construction of a power station dam, and take a memorable boat ride on the lake formed by the dam (if available). In the late afternoon we drive back to Xining, crossing over the mighty Yellow River. Overnight in Xining.
Day 7. XINING - SKY TRAIN TO LHASA
Today we have an early start as we go to the city's main square to see the crowds taking their morning exercises, from groups of Tibetans dancing to traditional and modern music all the way to individuals mastering their t’ai chi technique. We then walk to the city's food market to stock up on fruit and vegetables for our train ride later in the day. Before leaving Xining, we stop at one of the city’s largest mosques. Showing a combination of traditional Muslim and Chinese architecture, the mosque is located at the edge of the wide extent of the Chinese Sunni people. Originally constructed during the 14th century, the buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. We continue to the train station for an unforgettable ride on the recently opened Sky Train to Lhasa. This ambitious project undertaken by the Chinese government is not only the world’s highest railway but also a true triumph for mankind, overcoming many natural obstacles during its construction. Overnight aboard the train.
Day 8. Arrival LHASA
We reach Lhasa in the early afternoon and drive directly to our hotel to rest after the 24-hour train ride. At nearly 3500 meters (nearly 11,500 feet) above sea level, the air in Lhasa is very thin. For those who need some time to acclimatize, a free afternoon in the hotel is offered. Those with enough stamina will leave the hotel and drive to the bustling Barkhor, a circular street around the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s most important temples. After exploring the Barkhor, with its countless pilgrims and busy market stalls, we enter the Jokhang, dating from the 7th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overnight in Lhasa.
Day 9. LHASA
Today we explore Lhasa’s most prominent sites and temples, beginning with a morning visit to Norbulingka. Built in 1775, this was the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas from the time of its construction until the present Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. With its vast, well maintained gardens, and the light breeze blowing from the central lake, this is a perfect refuge from the heat of the city in summer. We explore the numerous chambers and shrines in the complex before leaving the compound and heading towards the Potala Palace. With fortified walls as protection from both invaders and earthquakes, and stretching over some 140,000 square meters (nearly 35 acres), the palace looks over the entire Lhasa Valley. The Potala features more than 1000 shrines, the tombs of most of the Dalai Lamas, and an excellent display of Tibetan and Buddhist art and workmanship. We leave the palace and head to Sera Monastery, where continuous religious debates take place in a shaded courtyard at the heart of the complex. This is one of the three main colleges of the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism, we shall explore its various halls, and witness the tradition of religious debates. In the evening we return to our hotel for a second night in Lhasa.
Day 10. LHASA - SAMYE - TSEDANG
Leaving Lhasa, we drive along the Kyi River Valley. On the river bank, we stop at a sacred site where Tibetan families give a ‘water burial’ to children who have passed away. We then drive up to a 5,000-meter (some 16,400 feet) pass for a view over the crystal-blue Yamdrok Lake, one of Tibet’s most sacred lakes. Returning to the Kyi Valley, we head towards Samye Monastery. This is the first ever Buddhist monastery built in Tibet, with its construction assumed to have begun in 775 AD. The five-story monastery is built in the form of a mandala and is a major pilgrimage site for Tibetans from all over the country. Leaving Samye, we take a boat to cross the Yarlung River and continue our ride along the valley to Tsedang. Overnight in Tsedang.
Day 11. TSEDANG - LHASA AIRPORT ✈ BEIJING
Today we take the short drive from Tsedang to Yumbulakhang Palace, believed to be not only the palace of the first king of Tibet but also the first building ever to have been built in Tibet. With very few written records about the palace, which now functions as a monastery of the Gelugpa sect, it is assumed that its construction started in the 2nd century BC. It was severely damaged during the Cultural Revolution but was reconstructed in 1983. Leaving Yumbulakang and Tsedang, we once more drive along the Yarlung Valley to Lhasa’s airport for an afternoon flight to Beijing. Arriving in Beijing rather late in the evening, we head to our hotel for the night.
Day 12. DEPARTURE FROM BEIJING
After breakfast at the hotel, we drive to Beijing international airport for our international departure.
Dates & Pricing
Trip rates valid for two confirmed travelers and above. If you are booking this trip for a party of four travelers or more, please contact us for our special rates.
Note: Trip rates are valid all year round, but are not valid for trips that occur (in whole, or in part) during Chinese national holidays: Qingming Festival (2-5 Apr), Labor Day Holiday (30 Apr - 3 May), Dragon Boat Festival (9-12 June), Mid-Autumn Festival (14-18 Sep), and National Holiday (30 Sep – 7 Oct).
[email protected] reserves the right to change tour prices and programs due to changes in flight schedule, changes in airfares, and other local circumstances.
Prices are based on twin share occupancy.
Discounted rates for groups of 4 travelers and above:
4 travelers- US$4184/ person
6 travelers- US$3751/ person
8 travelers- US$3566/ person
- Applicable only for travel groups of 4 people or more booking their trip together.
16th June, 2017–27th June, 2017
- $4,948 Per Person (From 2 people)
- $883 Single Room Supplement
- 2 domestic flights Beijing/Zhangye-Lhasa/Beijing
- Accommodation at hotels selected including breakfast
- Bullet train Zhangye-Xining 2nd class
- Soft-sleeper (4-berth) compartment for Sky train Xining-Lhasa
- Transfer by private A/C vehicle (except transportation in Badain Jaran- no A/C)
- 4WD for 2 days in Badain Jaran Desert
- Meals as indicated in the program
- English speaking guide for each area as per program
- Entry fees for all sightseeing as mentioned on the program
- Badain Jaran travel permit
- Tibet travel permit
Granting travel permits to both Badain Jaran and Tibet are at the absolute discretion of the Chinese Government, and might be declined at any time without prior notice.
- International travel to and from China
- Travel insurance
- Chinese tourist visa
- Excess luggage
- Expenses of personal nature (food and drinks beyond those provided, laundry, etc.)
- Anything not clearly mentioned in the program
- Beijing – Novotel Xinqiao Hotel 4-star
- Zhangye – Dinghe International Hotel 4-star
- Badain Jaran - Local simple guesthouse
- Xining – Sanwant Hotel 4-star
- Lhasa – Yak Hotel 4-star
- Tsedang – Yulong Holiday Hotel 3-star
- Beijing at the end of the trip) – CITIC Hotel 4-star
Note: the listed hotels are tentative. Final hotel list shall be confirmed upon placing a booking and paying a deposit.
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