As one of the world's oldest and most historically important trade routes the Silk Road is a must on any intrepid traveller's bucket list.
The route consists of three sections – south, central and north – which were collectively named the 'Silk Road'. From the 2nd century BC to the 14th century Chinese silk was the most demanded commodity traded between China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece, the Roman Empire and Northern Africa. The Silk Road was the cultural highway that connected these world powers at that time and still today, important cities lie along the route, including Xi’an, Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Turfan, Urumqi and Kashgar.
The Silk Road stretches over 3,800 kilometres from Xi’An to Kashgar, making it impossible to see everything in one trip. While two weeks are ideal, a week-long itinerary is feasible if you stick to three or four destinations. Cities such as Xi’an, Lanzhou and Urumqi all have 5-star accommodation. As western China is still a developing region, finding luxury hotels west of Urumqi will be difficult. Do your research online or have a travel agency specializing in western China travel create an itinerary for you.
Day 1-2 Lanzhou, Capital of the Gansu Province
In Lanzhou, you should visit the First Bridge, commonly known as the Zhongshan Bridge, and see the muddy, tumultuous Yellow River from here. Visit the White Pagoda Park on the hilltop and admire the cityscape along the shores. Western China is well-known for its noodles, so tuck into Lanzhou’s most famous dish – a simple bowl of golden noodles in a hot, delicious broth. Add a few slices of beef, white radish, fresh spring onion or parsley and a spoonful of chilli oil and you have a simple delicious lunch.
Day 3-4 Jiayuguan, ‘The World’s First Fort’
Jiayuguan’s expansive landscape welcomes you to the next stop along the Silk Road. Jiayuguan Pass served as the first impasse of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty. Declared as a national heritage and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the pass has an enormous entrance with an impressive plaque that declares ‘the world’s first fort.’ Head to the Weijin Mausoleum and see over 660 colourful frescoes depicting the political and cultural events of the Silk Road.
Day 5-6 Dunhuang, an oasis and sand songs
Dunhuang, an important stop along the route during the Han and Tang Dynasties, is on the border of the Gobi desert. Wear a hat, long-sleeve shirt and sunglasses to protect yourself from the elements. The surreal looking Crescent Moon lake with its ancient residence (now a museum) and pagoda is a must visit.
Not far away is the Mingsha (‘singing’) Sand Dune, named for the desert’s natural sound phenomenon. If you have an extra day to spare, head west to see Yumen Pass where jade tradesmen entered Central Asia. After hundreds of years of wind erosion, today it is nothing more than a huge block of rammed earth with an opening through it, nonetheless a vivid reminder of the Silk Road’s glory days.
The majestic, wild and almonst eerie wind-eroded landscape around Yumen Pass is one of the highlights of this trip. At the edge of the Gobi desert the rocky mountains stretch endlessly into the horizon and feel a million miles away from the bustling cities of industrial China.