China's Ancient Heartland    *alt*

15 days, from £3200
TransIndus
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Description

Explore the origins of Buddhism in China on this private tailor-made tour
Trace the evolution of Chinese religious culture from the rock-cut caves of the Wei Dynasty (mid-5th century AD) to the warrior monks of Shaolin's Kung Fu temple on this extraordinary two-week tour of China. You'll visit the iconic Ming palaces and temples of the capital, along with a prime section of the Great Wall, before travelling to the medieval city of Pingyao, and then by overnight train to Xian to see the Terracotta Army. Songshan - a sacred Taoist and Buddhist peak - is the highpoint of a journey through the Yellow River's ancient sites, which include China's first Buddhist shrine and the fabulous Longmen Grottoes. Accommodation is of a high standard throughout, although generally not what may be described as 'boutique' or 'luxury' (except in the capital and Shanghai, if desired).

Holidays types: Cultural Holidays

Itinerary


 Day 1 UK, Beijing

Fly overnight from the UK to Beijing.


 Day 2 Beijing

On arrival you'll be met by your guide and accompanied to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the morning recovering from your journey. Later, re-join your guide for a trip to the Imperial Summer Palace.
Situated on Beijing's northwestern outskirts, the Summer Palace was where the Qing court used to spend the hot months of the year. Comprising pleasure pavilions, shrines and pathways, the complex nestles at the foot of a low, wooded hill beside a lake - the perfect place to ease yourself gently into your trip. After supper, should you have the energy, consider a taking in a performance by the State Circus or Chinese National Opera.


 Day 3 Beijing

A full day's sightseeing starts with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the magnificent 'Forbidden City', former seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties, followed by a drive north to the Great Wall of China in the afternoon.
The Forbidden City is a vast complex, but you'll have ample time in the morning's tour to savour its sumptuous architecture and displays of priceless ceramics, calligraphy, weapons, ceremonial robes and paintings. Beyond the north walls, the rockeries and cypress groves of the Royal Gardens provide a serene counterpoint to the vast structures and open spaces of the palace proper. After lunch, you'll be driven north to a spectacular stretch of the Great Wall - one of the wonders of ancient China.


 Day 4 Beijing

Visit the Temple of Heaven in the morning, before joining a rickshaw tour of a hutong district of central Beijing. In the afternoon, you'll be driven to the railway station to catch the train to Datong, in neighbouring Shanxi Province.
One of China's great religious and historical monuments, the Temple of Heaven is a huge, circular platform centered on an ornately decorated temple where in times past the Chinese Emperors performed rituals to ensure the success of the harvest. On an altogether more humble scale, the hutongs are the narrow alleyways of old Beijing. Lined with siheyuan (courtyard residences) and a variety of traditional shops and restaurants, they are wonderfully evocative of bygone eras.


 Day 5 Datong

Three spectacular survivors from China's distant past occupy your attention today as you explore old Datong, culminating with a visit to the Yungang Caves.
The first of the day's historic monuments is a huge, 45-metre-long, 8-metre tall screen-wall decorated with glazed turquoise and yellow tiles depicting dragons. The so-called 'Nine Dragon Screen' dates from the late-14th century and is one of China's most spectacular national treasures. Another is the Huayan Temple, an 11th century Buddhist monastery sporting a grand, four-tier pagoda roof. Both serveA as good primers for the main sight of your Datong tour, the Yungang Grottoes, a short drive west of the city. A storehouse of exquisite ancient sculpture, Yungang is the largest site of its kind in China, featuring 53 rock-cut caves and a literally thousands of beautifully carved Buddhas and deities.


 Day 6 Taiyuan

In the morning, drive to the Hanging Temple outside Datong, whose halls and flying walkways cling to the face of a vertical cliff at the foot of Mt Hengshan - a true masterpiece of medieval Chinese architecture. Later, travel onwards to Taiyuan for an overnight stay.
No matter how many pictures of it you may have seen beforehand, your first glimpse of the Xuangkong temple outside Datong is guaranteed to evoke gasps of amazement. Clinging to a near vertical sandstone escarpment, 246ft (75m) off the floor of a hidden valley, the upswept roofs and wooden galleries of the shrine have hung precariously over the same void for nearly 1,500 years. Oak beams driven into post holes in the cliff provide support for this gravity-defying edifice, whose prayer halls, hollowed from the rocks, contain Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian deities.


 Day 7 Pingyao

Drive from Taiyuan in the morning to the beautifully preserved, medieval town of Pingyao. Spend the rest of the day exploring the walled old centre with your guide.
Pingyao's assemblage of Ming and Qing-era buildings is famous throughout China, and with good reason. It's no coincidence that its old town has been used repeatedly as a location for epic movies, most notably the internationally acclaimed Raise the Red Lantern, which was shot in the rambling Qiao Family Compound (Qiao Jia Dayuan), one of the country's grandest 18th-century residences. The 313-room mansion nowadays holds a fascinating museum where lovers of antique Oriental furniture will find much inspiration.


 Day 8 Pingyao

A day of leisurely sightseeing in Pingyao's walled city today in the company of your TransIndus guide.
Walking tours of Pingyao typically focus on its walled old centre, whose thousands of antique houses, courtyard mansions and shops remain gloriously free of garish modern signboards and cars. Lining the main thoroughfare, Nanda Jie, are scores of little wood-fronted boutiques specializing in traditional arts and handicrafts - a great opportunity to indulge in a spot of souvenir shopping. You'll have plenty of free time today to wander at your leisure and catch up on some reading in one of the many old-fashioned tea shops to be found in this delightful town.


 Day 9 Pingyao

Complete a circuit of Pingyao's 14th century Ming ramparts, then head into the surrounding countryside to visit a couple of ancient temples and fortified clan houses before catching a night train to Xi'an.
Pingyao's Ming walls retain their original barbican gates and watchtowers, and these provide great vantage points from which to enjoy views over the town's time-warp roofscape of red-tiled, upswept eaves. Several villages in the surrounding countryside also preserve splendid 18th and 19th century courtyard residences that are open to visitors, and well worth a look.


 Day 10 Xi'an

Your TransIndus guide will meet you off your train and escort you to your hotel. Later, visit the Terracotta Army, returning in the afternoon for a tour of the 16th century Ming ramparts and Muslim (Hui) Quarter.
Until you set eyes on the legion of 8,000 soldiers, horses and chariots buried in three huge pits outside Xi'an, it's hard to comprehend the scale of the Terracotta Army. The complex is, however, only one part of a much larger ensemble set out in the 2nd century BC that includes the unexcavated tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor. In the afternoon, you'll have time for a round of the city's ramparts by bicycle, and to scale the ancient Goose Pagoda, before exploring the Muslim (Hui) quarter, with its wonderful mosque. Culinary legacies of the ancient Silk Road are to be found amid tasty snacks served by the terrace kitchens along Beiyuanmen, the district's main drag.


 Day 11 Luoyang

On arrival in Luoyang, you'll check in to your hotel before embarked on a guided tour of famous White Horse Temple and Longmen Grottoes, outside the city.
Two great historic sites feature on the day's hit list: the splendid White Horse Temple, China's oldest Buddhist shrine, named after the pair of steeds that are believed to have transported its ancient scriptures here from India; and the UNESCO-listed Longmen Grottoes, with their giant Buddha and myriad tiny rock-cut caves, which formed the end point of the ancient Silk Road. The best vantage point from which to admire the complex is the east bank of the Yi River. You'll alsoA beA able to view the caves on a boat excursion.


 Day 12 Luoyang

The famous Shaolin Monastery near Dengfeng, China's Kung Fu capital, is the target for a varied day trip from Luoyang.
Synchronized demonstrations of martial arts by hundreds of students and monks, with the misty ridges of Songshan Mountain rising in the background, make for an unforgetable spectacle. The lower slopes of the massif are studded with atmospheric brick-and-stucco temples, the most photogenic of them the Songyue Pagoda, where the Empress Wu Zetian used to pray in the 7th century AD. The so-called 'Pagoda Forest', next to the Shaolin Monastery, is a striking assemblage of monuments to Kung Fu masters spanning fourteen centuries.


 Day 13 Shanghai

After breakfast, you'll be driven to the airport to catch your flight to Shanghai. A TransIndus guide will meet you on arrival to accompany you to your hotel, in time for a quick taste of the city before nightfall.
We recommend a stroll along the Bund - the iconic walkway lining the Huangpo River. The best place in the city to get your bearings, this breezy promenade backed by stately old Neo-Classical and Art Deco buildings faces the dramatic skyline of Pudong across the water - a mesmerizing spectacle around sunset when the twinkling lights of its innumerable skyscrapers are reflected in the water.


 Day 14 Shanghai

The city is your oyster for this final day of sightseeing. Start at the Ming-era Yuyuan Garden, in the old town.
Shopping, eating and gallery browsing are very much the order of the day in Shanghai, along with visits to the fabulous museum - one of China's finest - and the classical gardens of Yu Yuan, with their pagoda-roofed pavilions, koi carp ponds, luohan pines, gingko trees and rockeries. Afterwards, tour the adjacent market, and the Jiangnan Silk Workshop to see modern Chinese sericulture in action, before heading back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at one of the city's acclaimed Cantonese restaurants - dim sum, shrimp dumplings or crispy pork belly are three mouth-watering local treats on offer.


 Day 15 Shanghai, UK

After breakfast it will be time to say goodbye to Shanghai, and China, as you head out to the airport to catch your return flight to UK.