I T I N E R A R Y
28 April - 27 May 2004
Mid-March Vehicles shipped from European ports.
Late March Vehicles shipped from USA west coast port.
Towards the end of April Arrive in Beijing at the time of your choice, taking advantage of the special hotel rate of just USD 70 per person per day, to shop and to see this ancient city's sights. Don't miss the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, or an extended walk on the Great Wall.
Monday 26 April: 14:00. The Great Tour proper begins with registration at the Sheraton Great Wall Hotel, Beijing. Issue of Chinese drivers' licences. We look after your accommodation and dinner from now on.
Welcome dinner in Peking roast duck restaurant.
Overnight: Sheraton Great Wall Hotel *****
Tuesday 27 April: 07:00. Travel by coach to collect vehicles from customs bonded warehouse in Beijing, with the help of experts from our agents. Issue of Chinese vehicles licence plates.
Dinner in Chinese hotpot restaurant.
Overnight: Sheraton Great Wall Hotel *****
Part One: Glimpses of Old China. The event starts gently, with daily runs on relatively easy roads across a well populated and busy, but often beautiful, rural landscape, giving many glimpses of old China along the way. Each day we visit scenic and historic places seen by relatively few tourists.
Day 1. Wednesday 28 April: Beijing (Great Wall) to Wutaishan (520km).
Ceremonial start from Great Wall of China, Juyongguann (60km from Beijing), complete with firecrackers and Chinese dancers and musicians. We leave the Beijing conurbation painlessly on expressways, and within less than an hour we are in green mountains that house parts of the Great Wall rarely visited by tourists. At the end of the day we arrive in the magnificent village of Taishan. This is the centre of the important Buddhist area of Wutaishan, which boasts many temples and monasteries. Yindu Hotel ***
Day 2. Thursday 29 April: Wutaishan to Pingyao (307km).
A short day, so there's an hour or so to explore Wutaishan's temples before taking the scenic mountain road to Shahe. We use fast highways to reach Pingyao - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - in time to explore this amazing turtle-shape walled town with lots of narrow streets, old houses and ancient towers, as yet unspoiled by modern tourism. Yunfeng Hotel **
Day 3. Friday 30 April: Pingyao to Luoyang (415km).
We drive on the highway to Changzhi and Jinche and take National Road 207 to Luoyang. Luoyang is one of the richest historical sites in China and was the capital of ten dynasties. Luoyang Grand Hotel ****
Day 4. Saturday 1 May: Luoyang to Xi'an (421km).
The first highlight of the day is the Longmen Shiku Buddhist Caves, where thousands of figures are carved into the rock face. Travelling along steep sided valleys and around countless twists and turns we eventually arrive at the town of Lingbao which also acts as the start of the expressway to Xi'an. A few hours later we arrive in the luxury of our international 5-star hotel for the first of two nights. Sheraton Hotel***** or Shangri-La Golden Flower Hotel *****
Day 5. Sunday 2 May: Rest day in and around Xi'an.
Excursion to Terracotta Warriors by coach. The Terracotta Warriors, about 30km out of the city, are a truly awesome sight. Archaeologists estimate that over 8,000 men and horses form this Underground Army, although only 3,000 have so far been excavated and (in some cases) restored. Dinner out for local dumpling banquet. Sheraton Hotel ***** or Shangri-La Golden Flower Hotel *****
Part Two: Along the Silk Road. As we move west into the steppes of central Asia, following the ancient Silk Road, the landscapes become grander, wilder, emptier.
Day 6. Monday 3 May. Xi'an to Lanzhou (664km).
A long but fairly easy day between two major cities, on two stretches of good expressway linked by a scenic run through mountains on the old Silk Road.
Sunshine Plaza Hotel *****
Day 7. Tuesday 4 May: Lanzhou to Qinghaihu (604km).
A relatively easy run up the valley of the Yellow River, the highlight of which is a visit to the amazing Ta Er Buddhist monastery. Qinghaihu (Hu means lake) is the third largest saltwater inland sea in the world. At over 3,000m (about 10,000ft), it is also one of the highest, and is famous for its beautiful scenery. Yaks and cattle graze and herdsmen tend their sheep on the endless open grassland. The lake is home to over 10,000 different species of birds, and is rich in fish - for dinner you can try the delicious fish dishes of the area. You may now start to feel the effects of the altitude as we overnight in the unusual Qinghaihu Tent Hotel *** (to be confirmed.)
Day 8. Wednesday 5 May: Qinghaihu to Golmud (622km).
Another long but easy drive on an empty modern 2-lane highway as we skirt along the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Before we do this however, we cross the Qinghai Nan Shane mountains, climbing to 3,817m (12,500ft), giving big views of plains, mountains and the Tsaidam Desert that we skirt on the way to our overnight halt in Golmud. Tianlong Hotel ***
Part Three: Across the Roof of the World. We now head south and enter Tibet on the world's highest asphalt highway; then the roads get more primitive as we explore little-used mountain passes and fascinating old towns on the way to see the highest place on earth. Known to the Tibetans as Qomolangma, it is an unforgettable sight as it dominates the landscape for fifty miles around. Finally we descend to the ancient Tibetan capital.
Day 9. Thursday 6 May: Golmud to Nagqu (836km).
From Golmud we climb on to the Tibetan Plateau, where views are the order of the day: sweeping grassland, steep mountains, dry river beds, nomadic yak herders and very little habitation. In fact the only people you see are fellow drivers and the workers on the ambitious Golmud to Lhasa railway project, who are also kindly upgrading the road. Not surprisingly, there are few if any acceptable places to stay in this desolate land, so we take advantage of the good asphalt road to achieve the longest day's drive of the event. We enter Tibet at the 5,220m (17,120ft) Tanggula Shanku pass - suitably adorned with prayer flags and surrounded by snowy mountains - before descending to the small mountain-ringed town of Nagqu and the highest 2-star hotel in the world (4,525m/14,840ft). Nagqu Hotel **
Day 10. Friday 7 May: Nagqu to Shigatse (492km).
A slightly shorter day's driving. We pass the beautiful and holy Namtso salt lake, and then take a remote gravel road across the highest pass of the event (5,300m/17,380ft) to descend to the small traditional town of Shigatse (3,850m/12,600ft). Shangdong Hotel ***
Day 11. Saturday 8 May: Rest day in Shigatse.
Time to catch your breath, or to explore at a leisurely pace the town, and most dramatically the Tashilunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The high point is the Chapel of Jampa, housing the world's largest gilded statue. Shangdong Hotel ***
Day 12. Sunday 9 May: Shigatse to New Tingri (252km).
We are now on the Friendship Highway, linking China and Nepal. Although the day's distance is quite short, the road conditions can be difficult. The scenery now is constantly changing, with many traditional villages. After passing through the town of Lhatse, the road becomes a bumpy gravel track wending its way up a valley, a couple of times crossing small tributary streams through muddy fords, taking us across the 5,220m (17,120ft) Gyamtso La pass. From here we descend to the plains, passing lonely monasteries and the camps of nomadic herders, to the small town of New Tingri (Shegar), jumping off point for many mountaineering expeditions. Everest Hotel **
Day 13. Monday 10 May: New Tingri to Qomolangma and back (222km).
One of the highlights of the whole Tour is the privilege of driving to the Mount Everest Base Camp, and seeing the giant at close quarters. Your first stunning view is as you cross the 5,120m (16,790ft) Pang La pass, before descending to follow the Upper Dzaka valley, with just the occasional glimpse of its snow-covered peak. The towns and villages are small but busy, most with their own small monastery or ruined fort; the famous Rongphu Monastery is the highest in the world. From here, it's just an eight km drive through moraine to Base Camp itself, where a motley selection of tents and some concrete "toilets" represent the permanent fixtures. After stopping awhile, we retrace our steps to New Tingri. Everest Hotel **
Day 14. Tuesday 11 May: New Tingri to Shigatse (252km).
We return over the route of Day 12 to Shigatse. Dinner in local restaurant. Shangdong Hotel ***
Day 15. Wednesday 12 May: Shigatse to Lhasa (360km).
We take the more beautiful south route via Gyantse. You will see Karola Glacier and Yamdroktso Lake on the way - one of the three Tibetan holy lakes and the largest fresh water lake in Tibet. To the east and west of the lake, two mountains with eternal snow to provide its endless water source. As we descend, we start to find fields of barley and the number of yak herds increases dramatically. The views also change, with no more great plains, but valleys and fast flowing rivers - strangely reminiscent of the glens of Scotland but on a larger scale and with a different breed of hairy cow. Upon arrival in Lhasa, Tibetan girls will present hada (ceremonial white silk scarves) to everyone, to mark our completion of an epic journey to the Tibetan capital. Lhasa Hotel ****
Day 16. Thursday 13 May: Rest Day in Lhasa.
Your chance to rest a bit, and to explore this ancient city, buying souvenirs, visiting sights like the magnificent Potala (the palace of the Dalai Lamas), the Jokhang Temple and the bustling Barkhor market, or just enjoying a yakburger at the Hard Yak Café. Tibetan dinner with traditional singing and dancing. Lhasa Hotel ****
NB if the altitude is troubling you, you can drive direct to Lhasa from Nagqu (325km), and wait for us there. Alternatively, you can wait for us to return from Everest in Shigatse or New Tingri, or drive back to Lhasa early from either of these places. However, any nights spent in hotels other than those on the itinerary, and any other incidental costs of any deviation from it, will be at your own expense. We cannot credit you for nights booked and not taken up.
Part Four: The Land Beyond the Clouds. The most adventurous part of the Tour takes us into one of China's remotest regions, the deep green valleys and the beautiful misty mountains that parallel the country's southern border, through the real Shangri La and on to Lijiang, the old world town made famous by the compelling British TV series Beyond the Clouds. The going is slow, rough and may be prone to delays through landslips and other acts of Nature; the daily runs shown below are most definitely provisional (although we have allowed ample time for this leg as a whole). Expect the overnight accommodation to be basic (simple guest house or camping in your own tent), and not necessarily all that clean. The road is currently being improved, so we are privileged to see this wonderful country, a byword for Paradise, before it is changed for ever. Meanwhile, we advise participants to travel in pairs or threes, to help each other through any troubles.
Day 17. Friday 14 May: Lhasa to Linzhi (Nyingchi) (454km).
We cross a high plateau through a scenic terrain with lush alpine forests and clear snow-melted streams, passing Pasum Tso, a jade-green lake girded by steep forested slopes; in its centre lies Tsodzong island, reached by a flat-bottomed ferry drawn by an overhead cable. Nyingchi Hotel ***
Day 18. Saturday 15 May: Linzhi (Nyingchi) to Bomi (230km).
A short day in kilometres, but allowing us plenty of time to negotiate a stretch of road through a spectacular gorge that is vulnerable to landslips and where we may encounter delays and detours. Crossing Serkhyem La pass (4,515m/14,813ft), we will have spectacular views of Mount Namchak Barwa (7,756m/25,446ft) and Mount Gyala Pelri (7,150m/23,458ft). Local guesthouse or camping (or new hotel under construction).
Day 19. Sunday 16 May: Bomi to Basu (Baxoi) (250km).
Today we wander along the Poto-chu Valley at Tramog (2,743m/9,000ft), located deep in the thickly forested gorge of Parlung Tsangpo with glacial waterfalls streaming from the mountainsides. Ranwu, nicknamed "Switzerland in Tibet", is on the shore of Ngan Tso, a spectacularly crystal blue lake rimmed by snowy peaks. Local guesthouse or camping.
Day 20. Monday 17 May: Basu to Mangkang (Markem) (351km).
We cross two high passes, at around 3,900m (12,795ft), and at 5,008m (16,430ft), and drive past local Tibetan houses scattered round the feet of snow-capped peaks. Local guesthouse or camping.
Day 21. Tuesday 18 May: Mangkang to Deqing (Deqen) (216km).
Today we travel south along the Mekong River valley, entering Yunnan province. Our last stop in Tibet is at Yanjing, famous for its salt fields and saline hot springs, where on this short day there will hopefully be time for a relaxing immersion. At Deqing, in the shadow of a holy mountain, we can visit a fine Tibetan monastery. Taizifeng Hotel ***
Day 22. Wednesday 19 May: Deqing to Lijiang (346km).
We drive through parts of the Hengduan Range along the Jinsha Jiang River, and through a beautiful small town named Benzilan, stopping briefly to explore the historic Tibetan Buddhist centre of Zhongdian, which claims to be the original Shangri La. Its great monastery was devastated during the Cultural Revolution of 1959, but has now been systematically restored, and several hundred monks again perform Buddhist exercises in the prayer halls. A short afternoon drive, through lovely fertile countryside and the spectacular gorge of the upper Yangtse brings us to the ancient and picturesque city of Lijiang, capital of the Naxi people and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its old wooden houses. Guanfang Hotel *****
Day 23. Thursday 20 May: Lijiang to Dali (199km).
A morning to explore Lijiang before a noon start to a short day's drive brings us through fertile landscapes to the beautiful old city of Dali, capital of the Bai people, again with time to explore. Dinner in local restaurant. Yaxing Hotel ****
Part Five: The Warm and Fertile South. Leaving behind the barren majesty of Tibet and the green mountains of Hunnan, we finish our Tour by crossing southern China, a land of varied landscapes, warmer and softer than the area around Beijing a thousand miles to the north, a difference reflected in the people, their culture and their food.
Day 24. Friday 21 May: Dali to Kunming (690km).
An easy day's run through pleasant landscapes, much of it on an expressway, which at this point of the journey is a welcome relief after some of the roads of the last week! Kai Wah Plaza Hotel *****
Day 25. Saturday 22 May: Rest Day, Kunming.
A chance to relax in five-star comfort, or to explore this agreeable and ancient town, called "the Spring City" because its equable climate means that flowers are always in bloom. A good chance to do some shopping as we near the end of our journey. Dinner at a restaurant specialising in the traditional dishes of the area. Kai Wah Plaza Hotel *****
Day 26. Sunday 23 May: Kunming to Huangguoshu (580km).
Early in the morning we set off for the Stone Forest, 80 hectares of bizarrely shaped limestone cliffs and peaks created by wind and water erosion some 270 millions years ago. We enter Guizhou Province, one of the most undeveloped and sparsely populated areas in China, famous for Maotai liqueur. Huangguoshu is China's biggest waterfall. Huangguoshu Hotel ***
Day 27. Monday 24 May: Huangguoshu to Kaili (450km).
We drive directly to Kaili, giving time to visit this centre of a number of varied ethnic cultures. Grand Dragon Hotel ****
Day 28. Tuesday 25 May: Kaili to Guilin (512km).
A long day's drive through a mountainous area of deep river valleys and terraced hillsides, to Guilin, famed for the natural beauty of its limestone rock pinnacles and crystal clear waters. Royal Garden Hotel *****
Day 29. Wednesday 26 May: Guilin to Zhaoqing (538km).
Our route takes us through further lovely landscapes. Star Lake Hotel ****
Day 30. Thursday 27 May: Zhaoqing to Shenzhen (311km).
A short run on expressways brings us by lunchtime to China's fastest growing city, at the gates of Hong Kong. Afternoon free to relax and shop before a final farewell celebration marks the end of the Great Tour. Shenzhen Venice Hotel *****
Friday 28 May.
Deliver vehicles to Shenzhen docks for shipment home. Transfer by private coach to Hong Kong airport, to or a world-class five star hotel in Hong Kong for an optional stopover or extended stay in this fabulous city.
The above itinerary and list of hotels is provisional and subject to amendment.