Journey from Beijing to China’s remote northwest, following the ancient trade routes known as the Silk Road. Join U.Va. Professor of Art History and former Visiting Professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dorothy Wong, to learn about about China’s history, culture and art. Demand in the western world beginning in the 1st century BC prompted markets to spring up, clamoring for silk, and the traders of China set out on their arduous treks to supply this demand. Follow in their footsteps, beginning with classic Beijing. Fly to Dunhuang in Western China, where Buddhist art was carved and painted on the walls of sandstone caves, and to Urumqi in Western China, where nomads of Mongolian, Kazak and Uighur extraction have roamed for thousands of years. In Turpan, inspect the ancient karez irrigation system and its result:  lush Grape Valley. Browse the unrivaled Kashgar Sunday Market, where merchants sell everything from kabobs to camels. Continuing on to the ancient oases of Uzbekistan, where the blue-tiled mud-brick mosques, the Koranic schools, or madrassahs, with their high arched entryways and the bazaars dot the Silk Road where even today commerce continues in a flurry of color and design.

Program Highlights

  • Embark on a special tour through the hutongs of Beijing, the alleyways between traditional Chinese courtyard homes, to get a glimpse of what Beijing was like for hundreds of years.
  • Beyond the classic masterpieces of Beijing, admire the newer architectural contributions from the Olympic Games, including the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, and the aquatic center referred to as The Cube.
  • Admire the UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, which present a thousand-year study in the development of Buddhist art in China.
  • Venture to Crescent Moon Lake, bubbling up in the midst of desert dunes at the foot of Mingsha (Echoing Sands) Mountain, and explore astride a camel.
  • Admire the fusion of Islamic and Uighur styles of architecture and decorative art displayed in the Emin Minaret, China’s tallest minaret, in Turpan.
  • Explore the backstreets of Kashgar’s legendary Sunday Bazaar with its brilliant and chaotic conjunction of traders, clients and living merchandise.
  • Enjoy lunching with guests from the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent and discussing current political and economic affairs.
  • Visit at least four UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the route.
  • Enjoy a performance by Topotushki dance troupe, whose lively dances are based on traditional Uzbek styles.
  • Enjoy a guest lecture on archaeological excavations and discoveries throughout the Bukhara region by the curator of the Ark Citadel.


Dorothy Wong, Professor of Art History

Specializing in Buddhist art of medieval China, Dorothy Wong’s research addresses topics of art in relation to religion and society, and of the relationship between religious texts/doctrine and visual representations. In addition to Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form (2004) and Hōryūji Reconsidered (editor and contributing author, 2008), she has published articles that range in topics from pilgrims’ maps to devotional arts, deity cults, pure land paintings, gender and ethnicity issues in Buddhist patronage, cults of saints in Asian traditions, and images of Buddhist cosmographies. Her current research project includes a book-length manuscript on the transmission of Buddhist art from China to Japan during the seventh and eighth centuries, and the subsequent transformations. As a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Technology in Humanities at the University of Virginia, she is working on a digital project entitled: “Silk Road: The Path of Transmission of Avalokiteśvara.” A former editor of the Asian art magazine Orientations, she currently serves on the editorial boards of Early Medieval China and Buddhist Art of China. She is also an Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre of Asian Studies at the University of Hong Kong.


1 -

Depart U.S.

Depart the U.S. on international flights to Beijing, China.

2 -

Arrive Beijing

Arrive in Beijing and transfer to a city center hotel.  In the evening gather for a welcome reception and dinner at the hotel or a nearby restaurant.
Meal: D
Hotel Peninsula Palace

3 -


Multi-faceted Beijing, modern capital of China, is the country’s most important city and its political and historical center.  A city of contradictions, Beijing’s skyscrapers overshadow traditional narrow alleys called hutongs, and the remnants of Imperial China sit alongside five-star hotels and western brand-name stores.  Beijing’s numerous landmarks, ranging from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Forbidden City, to Tiananmen Square with its Great Hall of the People and mausoleum of Mao Zedong, tell the long history of China as well as the short history of the People’s Republic.

Following breakfast at the hotel, depart on full-day city tour.  Begin at Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square, one of the largest public squares in the world.  Located on the square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall.  On the west side of the square is the massive Great Hall of the People, and on the east side is the equally large Chinese History Museum.  To the north is the Forbidden City, from which 14 Ming and 10 Qing emperors ruled China.

Beijing’s ancient neighborhoods grew by connecting siheyuan, the traditional Chinese courtyard homes, to each other.  The alleyways between the siheyuan are called hutongs.  Take a tour by pedicab through the hutongs and get a glimpse of what Beijing was like for hundreds of years.

Lunch is at a local restaurant before continuing to the Great Wall at Badaling, the most accessible point from the city.  Originally stretching over 3,800 miles, the Great Wall was built to protect China from northern nomads.  China’s first unified wall was built during the third century BC during the rule of Emperor Qin.  The current form of the wall dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. On the way back into the city in the evening, drive past the National Olympic Complex and catch a view of the Bird’s Nest Stadium and The Cube National Aquatic Center.
Enjoy a traditional Peking Roast Duck dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
Meals: B, L, D

4 -

Beijing / Fly to Dunhuang

This morning fly to Dunhuang and then enjoy a tour of this fascinating oasis town, where mountain vistas provide a spectacular backdrop to the green fields and sandy dunes that come together here.

Dunhuang was founded during the Han Dynasty in 111 BC and was one of four Chinese garrisons meant to control the trade routes to the west.  Situated at the western end of the Hexi Corridor, which snakes between North Mountain and Qilian Mountain, Dunhuang became one of the most important towns on the Silk Road.  The road from Xi’an divided at Dunhuang into two routes around the Taklamakan Desert.

Ancient travelers, whether traders, pilgrims, or ambassadors, had to pass through Dunhuang on their way to and from their destinations.  Buddhist monks from China and Korea traveled this road, and Dunhuang became a repository of Buddhist wisdom and art through the thousand years of trade on the Silk Road.  After the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century, trade was curtailed because of strife and danger along the route, and by the 15th century the new water routes had put an end to the importance of the Silk Road.

Visit the Dunhuang Museum, which contains treasures from the ancient city, including some of the written sutras from the Mogao Caves and coins and paper excavated from the surrounding area.

Enjoy a traditional dance performance this evening with dinner at a local restaurant.
Meals: B, L, D
Hotel Soluxe Shazhou

5 -


Today visit the Mogao Buddhist Caves. Fifteen miles southeast of Dunhuang is a sandstone ridge peppered with caves. Traditionally it is believed that a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage to India in the 4th century carved the first one at the place where he had a vision of a thousand Buddhas.  Until the 14th century other travelers, pilgrims and artists carved more caves, decorating them with frescoes and painted statues.The resulting 500 or so grottoes present a thousand-year study in the development of Buddhist art in China.  The earliest carvings and frescoes are reminiscent of Indian art, while later dynasties’ artists used different techniques and portrayed figures of their Chinese contemporaries.  The caves became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Also pay a visit to the Western Mogao Caves, dug into a cliff overlooking the Dang River, about six miles west of the main Mogao Caves.  The ten caves that can be viewed include frescoes and large vividly-painted statues.

In the afternoon, tour Crescent Moon Lake and Mingsha Mountain located just outside the city.  Crescent Moon Lake, bubbling up in the midst of desert sand dunes, is fed by an underground spring, and maintains its shape in spite of the shifting sands.  The lake sits at the foot of Mingsha (Echoing Sands) Mountain, so called because of the ringing sound the sand makes.  At the foot of the dunes, take a short camel ride.
Meals: B, L, D

6 -

Dunhuang / Fly to Urumqi

This morning fly farther west to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Urumqi, a Mongolian name meaning “Beautiful Pasture,” is seated at the foot of the soaring Tien Shan (Heavenly) Mountains.  Both its people and its landscapes are variegated and diverse.  The slopes of 17,864-foot Bogdan Peak, bristling with spruce, give way to valleys lined with poplar that merge into the grasslands of the nomad, and finally transform themselves into desert.  Nomads of Mongolian, Kazak and Uighur extraction have roamed here for thousands of years, and Han Chinese people began moving here in the first century AD.

Visit the lively market at Erdaoqiao where tradespeople sell anything from Uighur handicrafts and silk carpets to fruits and kebobs.  Wander the Old Town, where modern Uighurs live their everyday lives.  Time permitting, climb to the top of Red Hill, a rock escarpment in the center of town, for great views of Urumqi.
Meals: B, D
Sheraton Hotel

7 -

Urumqi / Drive to Turpan

This morning visit the renovated and updated Xinjiang Regional Museum.  Housed since 2005 in a modern new building, the museum is divided into two sections, one dedicated to the 12 minority groups of Xinjiang, and the other to archaeological findings from the Silk Road.  The minority cultures hall displays costumes, cultural artifacts, life-size models of typical houses and yurts, and items used in the daily lives of Western China’s minority peoples.  The centerpiece of the Silk Road section is its collection of mummies and other preserved bodies discovered in area tombs, including the Luolan Beauty, the 4,000-year-old body of a woman in fur sandals believed to be of IndoEuropean descent.

During the day’s tour, make a stop at Urumqi Wind Power Station, the largest wind power station in Asia.

This afternoon drive to Turpan, the hottest city in China, located in what is known as the Valley of Fruits.  The wine grapes that are cultivated here are irrigated with a 2,000-year-old gravity-fed system that brings water from the glaciers of the Tien Shan Mountains. Turpan was a welcome oasis on the northern Silk Road, its green fields surrounded by one of the deepest waterless depressions on earth.  During the Han Dynasty, from 202 BC to 220 AD, its sister cities of Jiaohe and Gaochang were famous trade and defensive centers.  Their ruins remain in the desert near Turpan.

Explore the ruined city of Jiaohe, built in the 2nd century and eventually abandoned after it was decimated by the Mongols in the 13th century.  Located six miles west of Turpan, Jiaohe stands on an island surrounded by two small rivers.  Jiaohe literally means confluence of two rivers.

About eight miles outside of Turpan, between two stark red clay cliffs, is a narrow valley overflowing with greenery.  In Grape Valley, melons, peaches and pomegranates thrive, but the stars of the show are the rows of vines and their grapes.  In August the air is fragrant with their sweetness; the hot and dry desert conditions give the grapes a very high concentration of sugar.  Of the many varieties of red, white and purple grapes, the favored white seedless Wuhebai, sometimes called the green pearl, can have a sugar content as high as 22%.

Grape Valley is laced with shady trellised walkways heavy with grapes where people congregate in August, when the grapes are ripe.  Up the hill are well-ventilated brick drying rooms for the tons of raisins made here every year.

Near Turpan, admire the 144-foot Emin Minaret, built of wood and mud-brick in 1777.  Looming over the Uighur Mosque, the graceful tapering minaret shows the fusion of Islamic and Uighur styles of architecture and decorative art.

Arriving in Turpan in the evening, check in to the hotel for dinner and overnight.
Meals: B, L, D
Tuha Hotel

8 -


Following breakfast at the hotel, visit the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves.  In 366 AD a Buddhist monk from India scooped out the compacted red sand of a riverbank to form the first of the Thousand Buddha (Bizeklik) Caves 35 miles from modern-day Turpan.  Pilgrims began to arrive to see the wonderful fresco of the Buddha that he painted in his cave, and stayed to dig and decorate more caves.  Although some of the finest frescoes were cut away and shipped to Europe by early 20th century explorers Van de Coq and Bartus, and others defaced by Muslims objecting to the depiction of human forms, many remain on the walls of the labyrinth.

Explore the underground tombs of Astana that protected the bodies of the residents of ancient Gaochang since the 3rd century.  The extreme conditions of the Turpan depression, the hottest and driest place in China, have helped to preserve everything in the burial vaults, including the food for the trip into the afterlife.  Books, linen, and silk clothing, small figurines, coins, and sometimes murals surrounded the bodies, which are as well preserved as Egyptian mummies.

In the afternoon explore the Turpan Museum.  Built in 1990, the museum exhibits cultural artifacts ranging from the Paleolithic Age until the present day

Tonight, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant with a special cultural performance.
Meals: B, L, D

9 -

Turpan / Drive to Urumqi / Fly to Kashgar

Following breakfast, drive back to Urumqi to catch a flight to Kashgar. Settle in for the weekend.
Meals: B, L, D
Kashgar Tianyuan International Hotel

10 -


China’s westernmost city, 2,000-year-old Kashgar is unlike any other place in China.  The fabled city greeted Marco Polo and countless Silk Road travelers as they entered the Middle Kingdom.  While its previous glory as a trading center has all but disappeared, Kashgar retains the exotic air and immense appeal of medieval Asia.  Hemmed in by the desert and the Pamir Mountains, the Kashgar of today is a rich mix of peoples and cultures.

Spend the morning at the unrivaled Sunday Market.  This bazaar, with its brilliant blend of peoples and its chaotic bustle, is without equal.  It is possible to spend the majority of the morning at the market where one can find traditional silks, musical instruments, hand-crafted knives, embroidered hats and an amazing variety of fruits, nuts and livestock.

After lunch, visit the Id Kah Mosque, built in 1442 on the town’s busiest square.  Stop at theAbakh Hoja Tomb, reminiscent of Central Asia’s architectural style.  Abakh Hoja ruled in this region in the early 17th century.  The site is also known as the Fragrant Concubine Tomb, in memory of Abakh Hoja’s granddaughter, Iparhan.  Stroll down National Street, where a great variety of Uighur handicraft workshops are found.
Conclude the Kasghar exploration with an evening Uighur dance performance.
Meals: B, L, D

11 -

Kashgar / Fly to Urumqi

After breakfast, fly to Urumqi and upon arrival those not taking the extension will transfer to the hotel and enjoy some additional touring today in and around Urumqi.
Meals: B

12 -

Depart Urumqi

After breakfast today, transfer to the airport for your departure home.
Meals: B

» Itinerary for optional Extension to Uzbekistan: October 3-10, 2011


Hotel Peninsula Palace (Beijing)
The luxuriously renovated five-star Hotel Peninsula Palace is a short walk away from the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Wangfujing shopping district. The hotel features two world-class restaurants, including “Jing,” designated as one of the “75 World’s Top New Restaurants” by Conde Nast in 2003. A fitness center, pool, spa and sauna round out the amenities. Rooms include plasma TV, high-speed Internet access and bedside electronic panel.

Hotel Soluxe Shazhou (Dunhuang)
Centrally located in Dunhuang, the four-star Hotel Soluxe Shazhou features three restaurants serving Chinese and Western dishes. Some of the rooms have balconies, and the south side overlooks Mingsha Mountain. Services include a luxurious spa center.

Sheraton Hotel (Urumqi)
The five-star Sheraton features a 24-hour cafe, a variety of restaurants and a lounge, indoor heated pool, business center with high-speed Internet access, fitness and spa facilities. Rooms include air conditioning, satellite TV, ironing board, minibar, and hair dryer.

Tuha Hotel (Turpan)
The five star Tuha Hotel was built in 1997 and is located close to the city center. Rooms feature modern amenities including television, air conditioning, mini bar, hair dryer, and Internet access. The hotel restaurant features Chinese and international cuisine.

Kashgar Tianyuan International Hotel (Kashgar)
Centrally located in Kashgar, the Tianyuan International Hotel has well-appointed rooms with Internet access and minibars. Guest services, including sauna and hair salon, are located onsite. A lobby bar and cafe are also available and serve coffee and cocktails.


27 meals: breakfast daily; seven lunches and nine dinners (on main program)

Program Fees

Main Tour:
$4,995 per person, double occupancy, land only.  A limited number of single rooms are available for a supplement of $895 to the per-person, double occupancy rates.

Optional Extension to Uzbekistan (click here for details) :
$2,995 per person, double occupancy, land only.  A limited number of single rooms are available for a supplement of $295 to the per-person, double occupancy rates.

Price includes (Main Tour):

  • All accommodation based on double occupancy per itinerary with breakfast daily, local service charge and tax. Beijing (2 nights); Dunhuang (2); Urumqi (1); Turpan (2); Kashgar (2); Urumqi (1)
  • Airfare within the itinerary in economy class: Beijing-Dunhuang one-way, Dunhuang-Urumqi one-way, and Urumqi-Kashgar-Urumqi round trip
  • Land transportation by private coach throughout the itinerary
  • Arrival and departure airport transfers for passengers arriving and departing on the tour start and end dates
  • All sightseeing and excursions including entrance fees per itinerary
  • Local English speaking guides throughout itinerary
  • Special features as stated in itinerary including various performances and meetings with local guest speakers
  • Services of a MIR tour manager throughout the land program
  • Special Welcome & Farewell Receptions
  • Meals as listed in itinerary
  • Bottled/purified water with meals
  • Beverages with lunches/dinners: choice of one non-alcoholic drink
  • Alcoholic drinks wine, beer with welcome and farewell dinners
  • All gratuities including to tour manager, local guides, and drivers
  • Baggage handling at hotels and airports where available
  • Destination preparation information packet

Does not include (Main Tour):

  • International airfare taxes or fuel surcharges between USA and the start and ending cities
  • Pre- or post-tour services
  • Visa or passport fees
  • Medical and trip interruption insurance or evacuation costs
  • Food or beverages not included in group meals
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, alcohol, telephone expense, excess baggage fees, photo/video expenses inside museums (where allowed)
  • Other items not expressly listed as included.

General Terms & Conditions

Air Arrangements: Program rates do not include international airfare. Because there are a number of flight options available, there is no group flight for this program. Information on recommended flight itinerary will be sent by our tour operator upon confirmation.

What to Expect: This trip is moderately active due to the substantial distances covered and the extensive walking and stair climbing required. To reap the full rewards of this adventure, travelers must be able to walk at least a mile a day; flexibility and a willingness to accept local standards of amenities and services are highly recommended as well.

Reservations and Payments: Please complete and return the reservation form with your non-refundable deposit ($500 per person). Mail payment and registration form to: 85 South Washington Street, Suite 210, Seattle, WA 98104. If paying by check, make payable to MIR Corporation-Trust.

Cancellations and Refunds: Costs of cancellation if received: 91 or more days before departure, deposit paid or due in full of $500 per person; 61 days to 90 days before departure, 50% of land tour cost per person; 60 days or less before departure, no refund. All cancellations must be made in writing to the University of Virginia and are effective upon our receipt of your written notification.

Single Travelers: Prices are based on double occupancy; single rates are available. We make every effort to match single travelers who request a roommate. However, shared accommodations cannot be guaranteed and a single supplement rate will apply.

Insurance: Trip cancellation/interruption insurance is highly recommended and should be considered for your financial protection. Also important is medical insurance and emergency medical evacuation coverage. Information on insurance is available and will be mailed upon receipt of your reservation.

Responsibility: A detailed statement of limitations and exclusions of liability of MIR Corporation and the University of Virginia for loss of property, injury, illness or death will be provided to passengers upon enrollment and is available to prospective travelers upon request. A signed release is required for trip participation.