The Silk Road (or roads) was the ancient trading route between Europe, China and central and southern Asia. From India, one branch ran through Tibet into China. And from China through central Asia to Europe.
This guaranteed to depart tour will follow these ancient routes and visit the farmers and the modern logistical services which continue to operate in these areas. Apart from looking at the unique agriculture of Tibet, central China, Xinjiang and Kazakhstan, the tour will include many cultural and scenic wonders.
These include the Giant Pandas of Schezuan, Tibet and the amazing Lhasa Express across the high Tibetan Plateau. We will take advantage of the new high speed train to Xinjiang and the wonders of Turpan and Urumqi. We then follow the silk road caravans through the amazing scenery of western China and across the border into Kazakhstan.
From the cosmopolitan city of Almaty to the rapidly expanding grain production areas of the north, Kazakhstan has much to offer, and is largely unexplored by western farmers.
Note that the following itinerary is a draft only
Depart Australian cities for Chengdu in China. Evening arrival, welcome reception and settle
into hotel to rest up for the evening.
Chengdu is the home of the Giant Panda breeding centre – the best way to get up close to these amazing animals.
We will also visit the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, a huge engineering project, built over 2,000 years ago with tens of thousands of workers. It saved the area from floods and made Sichuan the most productive agricultural area in the country – and it still works today.
Morning flight to Lhasa in Tibet. From the airport we drive for 1 hour to Tsetang, which is
the richest and most profound historical and cultural region of Tibet and is the place where
the Tibetan race originated. It is known as “Tibetan Granary” Because of its mild weather and fertile land. We will visit farms growing highland barley, the signature crop of the region.
CA407 Departs Chengdu at 8.20am Arrives Lhasa at 10.40am
Morning visit to Yongbu La Khang, the oldest known building in Tibet, reputedly the home of the Yarlong Kings 2000 years ago. Afternoon visit some Tibetan villages to see their crops including visit of family to learn their daily life. Then drive for 2.5 hours to Lhasa and transfer to our deluxe hotel in the eastern part of the city.
Lhasa is at around 3500 metres altitude, so we will be proceeding slowly. Most people quickly forget any altitude discomfort as they explore this fabled city. A highlight is the outstanding Potala Palace.
One of the real highlights of this tour will be the journey on the world's highest railway – the Lhasa Express. The total trip takes almost 24 hours and the first 10 hours are through the most magnificent scenery – yaks, lakes and mountains across the top of the world.
The train reaches an altitude of over 5,000 metres (there is a digital readout in each carriage) but is partly pressurised and oxygen is available if necessary.
Overnight is in comfortable bunks with sharing in "soft sleeper" 4-berth first class cabins.
Morning arrival in Xining (7.35am), a fast growing medium sized city. We will transfer to
our city hotel for breakfast and then we will have a few hours for a shower, rest and maybe
some shopping in this thriving town. In the afternoon, we will transfer to the airport for a
flight to Urumqi in north west China. Urumqi is the largest city and capital of the vast Xinjiang province of western China. Xinjiang is booming with huge agricultural areas, oil and gas fields and vast renewable energy projects.
China Southern CZ3629 Departs Xining at 4.55pm Arrives Urumqi at 7.30pm
After an early breakfast, we head back to the airport for a flight to Nalati in the centre of the
famous grasslands of the same name. We then take our private coach for two hours to the
small town of Bayinbuluke where the traditional Naadam Festival is taking place. Naadam is a Mongol tradition and the largest festival takes place in Mongolia each July. But this area of China also has a large Mongol influence and the locals also observe the tradition. The locals dress in traditional costumes and participate in the Naadam games of Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. Given the Kazakh heritage of the region, we may also be lucky enough to see a game of Kokpar, in which groups of horsemen attempt to carry a goat carcase past the opposition. The final arrangements for the Naadam celebration won't be made until the end of May, so we will retains some flexibility in the itinerary.
Tianjin Airlines Departs Urumqi at 7.55am Arrives Nalati at 8.55am
This is the last day of the Naadam festival, so the itinerary today will depend on the activities of the locals. We will probably spend the morning at the festival before visiting Swan Lake which lies in a scenic area surrounded by the snow capped Tian Shan mountains. Each year, thousands of swans come to spend the summer before they migrate to the south. We will then visit a local cattle farm before returning to Nalati, the other great grassland area of Xinjiang. This beautiful grassland area was a stopping off area for the Silk Road caravans and for Genghis Khan's marauding horsemen.
Today we will visit local nomadic herders and a Merino sheep farm around Nalati before driving down the fertile and scenic Ili valley to Yining. En route we will visit the largest liquor making factory in Xinjiang as well as productive grain and fruit farms. In the markets and bazaars of Yining, you can get a sense of the more than 20 major ethnic groups which inhabit this region of western China.
From Yining, we follow the Ili valley for a couple of hours, skirt the Kazakhstan border, and call in to the famous Fruit Valley. It is actually a mountain passage that serves as an important gateway between Ili and the outside world. From the bottom of the valley to the mountain slopes on either side, visitors can simultaneously enjoy the scenery of all four seasons. The place is known not only for its natural beauty, but also for the abundance of wild fruit trees, especially apple trees. Apples from the Fruit Valley are one of the Ili region's most famous exports. From here, it is a short drive on a road with major engineering marvels to Sayram lake.
At 2,000 metres above sea level, Sayram lake is the largest alpine lake in Xinjiang, with an area of 450 square kilometres and a depth of 85 metres. Due to the high altitude and cold climate, the average temperature of the lake is just 5°C, so that even in summer the water may feel icy-cold. The placid water stretches far into the distance, and gives the impression of connecting seamlessly with the blue sky. It is surrounded by wildflowers and vast grasslands, which provide ideal grazing land for the local Uygher (Oy-gur), Kazak and Mongolian herdsmen. The pastures are dotted with the yurts of the herdsmen, and sheep and goats amble around at a leisurely pace. We will have time to explore the lake surrounds and the chance to spend the night in a traditional yurt (tent).
After breakfast, we will head east on an excellent Chinese road with a visit to a large irrigation farm growing cotton and other crops before we have lunch near Kuytun. In the afternoon, we continue on to Urumqi, check in to our hotel and freshen up before dinner and a briefing on Xinjiang agriculture from local officials.
We'll travel out of the city to visit some local irrigation properties, mostly growing grain and cotton crops. During the day we will visit Heavenly Lake, perched high in the mountains before returning to Urumqi. some free time to explore the city, including the local bazaar.
This morning, we will travel past the biggest wind farm facility in China to Turpan on the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert and nestled up against the Tien Shan mountains. The Turpan depression is the lowest point in China and the second lowest in the world, and the city was one of the major stops on the old Silk Road. Turpan is one of the most interesting agricultural areas in the world. Apart from some great modern irrigation farms, we will visit the Karez irrigation system, an ancient (3,000 years old) underground system of around 5,000 km of channels to use the snow melt from the Tian Shan mountains to irrigate the arid but fertile soils. The ancient and modern irrigation systems are the basis of a huge area of cotton, grain and grapes.
After breakfast, we will visit farms on the way to the Flaming Mountains and visit the ancient city of Jiaohe if time permits. Then after lunch, we will return to the airport at Urumqi for our flight to Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, with a spectacular location tucked in against the mountains.
We go back two hours at the border, so we arrive before we leave.
China Southern CZ6011 Departs Urumqi at 8.45pm Arrives Almaty at 8.30pm
A free day in Almaty with a short tour of this modern, European style city before we venture into the mountains for some spectacular scenery and lunch at the Shymbulak Ski Resort.
We make an early start this morning for a flight to Kostenay in northern Kazakhstan. This is a very impressive broadacre cropping region only about 150 kilometres from the Russian border. We will meet with farmers and researchers at the Kostanay Mechanisation Institute which promotes new technology to local farmers. Afternoon visit to a local farm.
After breakfast, we take our European double decker bus on a fairly slow road towards Kokshetau. This will be a long day with about seven hours driving but with a couple of interesting farm stops on the way, including a 7,500 hectare farms and another with 23,000 hectares of seed and commercial crops. Daylight is not a problem, with sunrise at 6.30 at this time of year and sunset at 9.30pm. The drive is worth it as we arrive on the shores of beautiful Lake Burabay.
Free day to enjoy the lake and the spectacular walking trails in the National Park, one of the most popular summer holiday areas of Kazakhstan.
This morning we travel to the nearby demonstration farm at DAZ (Deutsches Agrarzentrum in Kazakhstan) which is a joint venture between the German and Kazakhstan government, with support from a wide range of machinery manufacturers and crop protection companies. We will inspect some of the trial work on the farm followed by lunch and a short seminar on the research. In the afternoon, we will take the (good) highway to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
In the evening, we will have a final farewell dinner.
Tour of this rapidly growing, well planned city. Most of the spectacular architecture, parks and public buildings can be visited in a walking tour from our central hotel.
Later in the afternoon, we will transfer to the airport where most passengers are heading back to Beijing, while others will be going in different directions. On the way back to China we lose a couple of hours, so it is an early morning arrival into Beijing. Transfer straight to the very comfortable airport hotel.
Air Astana KC227 Departs Astana at 6.40pm Arrives Beijing at 1.55am (next morning)
Flights back to Australia, or continue the adventure with private travel to Europe, China or more of Central Asia.