The Silk Road: Once and For All
The Trip of a Lifetime, that we've been planning for a lifetime!
Why Now? Tibet in 2011 proved it can be done. We've been taking groups to China since the late 1970s, and over the three decades, we've tested groups and pushed the travel envelope with adventures ranging from a first-ever 1986 rail trip from Beijing into Sibera (travel agents said it couldn't be done and wouldn't be popular if we set it up – we had 65 in the group…) and the never-before visited by an American group mountains of Western Hubei province to visit the dawn redwoods. Then up to Lake Khovsgol in northern Mongolia in 2007. Then, last year we pushed a bit harder and took a group on the Qinghai-Lhasa railroad up and over 16,000 feet into Tibet. The Tibet trip proved that we could prepare a group of Americans for a part of China that would test them both physically and emotionally. For some, the trip was life-changing, bringing them into the realities of 21st century China and face to face with the Tibetan people as they struggle with their own versions of those realities.
Our Last Major Frontier. In 1965, when I began studying Chinese History as a graduate student at the East-West Center in Honolulu, it seemed that it would never be possible to travel to the People's Republic of China. It was Red China; mysterious and evil. Since first peeking over the New Territories border in 1966, I was fascinated and intrigued by the idea of someday going there.
We've been saving the Silk Road. The preparation for such a trip is daunting both physically and culturally, both for us and the group. We have over a year to prepare. If not now, when?
The Tocharians - One strong attraction is the incredible and relatively recent unearthing of mummified burials near Urumqi. The research, politics and controversy surrounding these obviously Caucasian mummies captivated us from the outset. Annie Lydon has a thing about mummies and burials; we've sought out ossuaries in Portugal and unintentional mummies underneath Dublin.
Camels – We saw our first camels tethered to posts at the Great Wall at Badaling, sad creatures giving rides and "photo opportunities" to whomever would pay. But, in 2007, we took a group to Mongolia and out in the remote sand dunes of Bayangobi, we met camels. True, they were still providing opportunities to camel "dudes" but this time, they were able to get up and stretch and gliiiiiiiide across the dunes. Annie is hooked.
Other themes we will develop both in pre-trip preparation and with the itinerary:
1) Cultural diffusion – The Silk Road was a conduit, not only for goods, but also culture – art, music, dance, literature, ideas.
2) Tibetan Buddhism – We will continue to explore the spread of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as other Buddhist sects.
3) Islam – Obviously, in the aftermath of 2011's Arab Spring, there are manifestations of a Muslim restiveness, particularly as we move westward.
4) Diversity of landscape – The stereotype of the Silk Road centers on deserts and desiccation, but we intend to route the itinerary so that we will experience some stunning snow-capped mountains and Alpine lakes.
Leadership – The trip will be co-led by Sandy Lydon and Dr. Cherie Barkey. Another reason for doing this trip NOW is that Cherie's planning to take a leave from her Cabrillo College teaching responsibilities (where she teaches Chinese History and Asian American History) in the fall of 2013 and is planning to be in China. Among her many other skills (you should see that woman bargain!) Cherie has fluency in Mandarin, and is well-versed in the current scholarship on the Silk Road.
At this stage here's what you can figure:
1) At least three weeks in October, 2013. We're going to work hard to get out to China's far west, and we plan to take advantage of it.
2) Go into China via Shanghai then fly out to Kashgar, and spend some time exploring (including Lake Karakul), and then work our way back eastward, including, tentatively, Urumqi, Turpan, and Dunhuang. And then we'll conclude in Xi'an before returning to Shanghai and back to the US.
3) Relatively rugged – There will be times we'll be in the countryside, traveling by four wheel drive vehicles, sleeping in yurts. Though this trip will not be as physically demanding as the 16,000 foot railroad going into Tibet, it will have more persistent rough edges.
4) We're working on having Tony Lu as our National Guide. Tony was our guide for our 2011 Tibet trip, and he has had extensive experience leading groups along the Silk Road.
5) Pre-trip preparation – We will have a series of mandatory pre-trip sessions over 2012 and 2013.
6) Relatively Expensive – We will be covering a lot of ground, and the greatest expense will be the cost of transportation.
If you're interested – what should you do?
• Clear your October, 2013 calendar.
• Make sure that your passport will be current through February 2014. (Your China visa will require it.)
• Get on our Silk Road Interested list. Click here. We will hold at least one pre sign-up session, and we will notify this list first. There is high interest in this trip and we expect it to fill early.