As we eagerly await your introductions here on the Yak board, we wanted to present you and your families with a tentative itinerary for your summer in China!
Note—this itinerary will change. The intended flexibility allows us to travel with the locals, to off-the-beaten-track locations that often do not have fixed bus schedules. It also enables us as instructors to use the core curriculum and program components to create a course that is based on both our passions and your interests. As we get to know all of you, we will be able to create an educational experience that takes into account the unique nature of each group, rather than asking groups to fit into an impersonal schedule of sites and activities. Expect and prepare to embrace occasions when you will not know the changes happening beyond the next few days, and trust that as we re-evaluate and readjust the itinerary, it is with the intention of supporting an evolving you, as well as your increasing ownership of the course.
That said, we are excited to share with you a general overview for this summer:
Week 1: Cuihua Mountain and Xi’an
On June 27th & 28th, you will arrive in LA and meet the rest of the group and your instructors! We will spend some time orienting you to the program and the journey which lies ahead. On the afternoon of the 28th we will fly out of LAX and begin the first leg of our trip. On the evening of June 29th, after we land in Xi’an, we’ll gather our bags and then head a little way outside of the city to begin our orientation in a guesthouse in Cuihua Mountain, which has been a popular dwelling place for Daoist hermits for over 2000 years. Centuries ago, these were the mountains that inspired Laozi’s Dao De Jing; in the past few decades, these ancient Daoist traditions have been revived by discontented city-dwellers in pursuit of a simpler life, giving a fascinating glimpse into modern China’s search for meaning and purpose in an ever-changing world. In these breathtaking surroundings, we will go over all of the need-to-knows, program components, and China specific information, and set down strong foundations for a supportive and successful group dynamic.
After orientation, we will leave Cuihua Mountain and head to Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, and the start of the Silk Road. Xi’an has long been a crossroads for people from throughout China, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and thus a hub of diverse ethnic identities and religious beliefs. During these two days in Xi’an, we will explore the incredible cultural and religious diversity of this ancient city and see how it has changed over the centuries.
Week 2: Tianshui and Xiahe
We will continue our exploration of Chinese spiritual traditions as we head further west by train to Tianshui in Gansu Province where we will visit one of the most important grottoes in Chinese Buddhism – Maijishan Grottoes. While we explore and admire this masterpiece, which was constructed in the late Qin Dynasty (384–417 CE), we will learn about the history of Buddhism in China.
After Tianshui, we will travel by a combination of train and bus to the monastery town of Xiahe (Labrang), an essential place on the Tibetan Buddhist’s pilgrimage route. We will stay in Xiahe for a few days— and examine how the sacred pilgrimage site meets the modern-day booming Chinese tourism market. We’ll have an introduction to Tibetan language, culture, and religion in preparation for our travels to more rural parts of the province.
Week 3: Sangke Grassland Homestay
Following this will be our first homestay of the course in the Sangke Grasslands, where we will spend 4-5 days. The community that we will live with is nomadic, meaning that they live in different parts of the region in different seasons. Families in this community sleep in tents and spend much of the day caring for the sheep and yaks that they raise…we will participate with families in their daily chores and activities, such as yak and sheep herding, yak yoghurt making, and lying on the beautiful grassland and watching clouds float by.
Week 4: Xining and Dunhuang
Returning from our grassland homestay, we’ll head further north into Qinghai province. We will have a little pause in the capital city of Xining for a day or two to look back on our journey, evaluate how we are doing as a group and as individuals, and to set up new goals for the next section of our travels.
Once we have rested and reflected, we will travel northwest by train to Dunhuang in Gansu province. Dunhuang is situated in an oasis containing Crescent Lake and Mingsha Shan, named after the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. Dunhuang commands a strategic position at the crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Route and the main road leading from India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, as well as controlling the entrance to the narrow Hexi Corridor, which led straight to the heart of the north Chinese plains and the ancient capitals of Xi’an and Luoyang. 25 km southeast of the center of Dunhuang, we will visit the Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years.
Week 5: Xinjiang
After the mesmerizing experience at the Mogao Cave, we will leave Gansu province and embark on the next big section of travelling in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. We will take the train from Dunhuang to Urumqi and then take a flight from Urumqi to Kashgar. Prepare to stand in awe. Kashgar, the dreamy western city of alleyways—delicious aromas of baking bread, savory meat roasting over fires, carts pulling all sorts of wares through town, the sound of the call to prayer, hardware shops, music shops, and night street markets in a city that stays awake late. Here we’ll dig deep into our course’s themes…and probably also stuff ourselves with delicious food. We’ll drive out to Tashkurgan. More Central Asia than East Asia, Tashkurgan will defy what you imagine China to be. It’s also the likely location of the “Stone Tower,” a geographical marker Ptolemy identified as the middle of the Silk Road in 140 CE.
Week 6: Xinjiang, Transference & Beyond
During the second half of our time in Xinjiang, we will travel up north to Heavenly Lake. In summer, the Heavenly Lake is an ideal cool resort. Boaters enjoy views of the ever-changing silvery mountains towering into the blue sky, their slopes highlighted with verdant pasture and flamboyant wild flowers. Fishing at dusk has its own special charm. A day in this fairyland promises restoration.
We will gradually slow things down as we travel to the final destination of our trip – a location in Nanshan, where we’ll spend a quiet last few days reflecting on our travels, doing a lot of hugging, and preparing for the most meaningful journey of all: the journey home.
We hope this tentative itinerary has whet your appetites for the Silk Road. There’s so much more to come in these 6 weeks than can ever be put into words.
We hope you’re as ready and excited as we are!
Grace, Noam, Gong, Shuier