The writer, adventurer and broadcaster Benedict Allen has been wandering the world's most remote regions for around 30 years. Known for his passion for immersing himself in indigenous cultures, Benedict hit the headlines after going missing for several days in Papua New Guinea last year. He is the author of 10 books documenting his experiences, including The Edge of Blue Heaven, an account of a journey through Siberia.
The Great Silk Road adventure
Four countries, thousands of miles and 33 days in length: this is one of the most remarkable tours you can undertake. The rewards for those who join it are suitably immense: views of magnificent landscapes, from the region's highest mountains to steppes, grassy plains and deserts, as well as cities of fabulous wealth and architecture of extraordinary beauty. Welcome to one of the important thoroughfares in history, connecting continents, and plied by merchants and travellers from Marco Polo onwards. With guest appearances from the intrepid Benedict Allen and Jonny Bealby, the founder of Wild Frontiers and a Silk Road veteran, as well as a foreign correspondent, you will have a rich variety of fascinating viewpoints during your travels. And there is no danger of roughing it like the traders of yesteryear. Staying in comfortable hotels throughout, you will leave the logistics in the capable hands of Wild Frontiers, allowing you to discover why this remains, as our Wanderlust guide says, the "greatest travel route of all time".
Reasons to book
Talks from our experts
World heritage sites
Our expert guide
- Full services of a Wild Frontiers Tour Leader
- Exclusive talks from Jonny Bealby, The Telegraph's China correspondent and Benedict Allen
- 89 meals
- All accommodation
- All entrance fees
- All transport as outlined in the itinerary
Your epic trip starts late morning today in the Chinese capital. After an introductory briefing and some time to get settled, enjoy a gentle introduction to some of the many cultural wonders that the Land of the Dragon holds, starting with the 15th century UNESCO World Heritage Temple of Heaven. This evening venture out for your first group dinner.
This morning visit Tiananmen Square, one of the world's largest public spaces and home to the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. From here you will enter the Forbidden City, which for nearly seven centuries was the residence of Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors. By way of contrast, this afternoon take a cycle rickshaw tour to explore some of Beijing's remaining hutongs, the narrow back lanes lined with authentic courtyard houses where you can glimpse what remains of traditional domestic life. This evening you will enjoy an in-depth talk and informal Q&A with the Telegraph's China Correspondent, Neil Connor.
Day3Beijing – Great Wall – Xi’anMutianyu - Great Wall of China, China
Today discover the imposing Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, 90km north of Beijing and away from the crowds at the Badaling section of the wall. The Great Wall, begun in the 3rd century, is truly one of the wonders of the world and you will have plenty of time here to marvel at this iconic sight and to walk along its impressive ramparts. After your visit you will return to Beijing to take an evening flight to Xi'an, the true start of the Silk Road.
In this ancient city you will have the whole morning to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda as well as the old town, where you will be able to see the massive city walls which at 14km in length enclose the historic centre. You will wander through the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter and visit the Great Mosque, one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China. The afternoon is free to explore this wonderful city at leisure.
A highlight of any visit to Xi'an is a visit to see the Terracotta Warriors - one of the greatest archaeological finds of the last century. Amazingly nothing was known of the existence of the life-size soldiers of the Terracotta Army until a peasant digging a well in 1974 stumbled upon them. The underground battle formations of life-sized pottery warriors, archers, horses and chariots have been left in situ in three large excavated pits and you will visit them all. Later in the day you will return to Xi'an.
Day6Xi’an – JiayuguanJiayuguan, China
Take a morning flight to Jiayuguan, a strategically sited town in Gansu province that once guarded the western extremity of the Great Wall. Here we will visit the Overhanging Wall, located just a short distance to the northwest of the city's famous fort. Located at the foot of the Black Mountains, this section of wall forms part of the defensive ramparts that once protected China's western border. A mix of partially restored fragments and original wall, today it offers an excellent venue for a walk, providing some stunning views out across the barren emptiness of the surrounding countryside. Jiayuguan Fort is one of the quintessential images of western China and was built in 1372 to guard the pass between the snow-capped Qilian Shan and Hei Shan peaks. This afternoon you will also visit this splendid construction, considered the last outpost of the Chinese Empire since the days of the Han Dynasty, when the Great Wall reached as far as the Yumen Pass, about 90km northwest of Dunhuang.
Day7Jiayuguan – DunhuangJiayuguan, China
This morning we'll visit the Wei-Jin tombs that date back to 220-420 AD. Inside the tombs we can see some of the original wall paintings depicting various social activities such as fishing, farming, hunting and drinking, including a very controversial depiction of ancient Chinese using knives and forks. We'll then continue to Dunhuang where we'll head out to a wonderfully iconic spot - the singing sand dunes of Crescent Moon Lake. Here we can climb to the top of the enormous sand dunes for amazing views of the crystal clear spring hidden amongst the sands and enjoy the stunning views of the sunset in the desert.
Day8Dunhuang -TurpanDunhuang, China
Dunhuang was once a very important staging point, the last stop for the camel caravans before the gruelling journey through the desert. It was from here that the Silk Road divided into its northern and southern routes. Dunhuang's fame, however, is largely due to the Mogao Grottoes, which are one of the world's richest treasure troves of Buddhist manuscripts, wall paintings and statues known as the Thousand Buddha Caves. The honeycomb of caves runs along the cliff face and contains some 2,415 coloured clay sculptures and more than 45,000 square metres of mural paintings. The colours have remained lively due to the extremely dry climate and about 25-40 caves are open to the public at any one time. Later you will transfer to nearby Liuyuan for your bullet train journey all the way out of Gansu Province into Xinjiang, once known as Chinese Turkestan.
Turpan is one of the lowest places on earth, where rain never falls and summers can be scorching hot. It was once an important staging post on the Silk Road and its large oasis produces the best grapes in China. Here you can see the ancient karez system of irrigation whereby the melted snow from the surrounding mountains is brought down to the town in underground channels, all dug by hand and stretching some 3000 km. This is similar to the Arab falaj system or the Iranian qanat. During your time here you will visit the fascinating ghost city of Jiaohe, the ancient capital of the Jushi people, a city founded in the 2nd century BC but abandoned in 14th century AD following its destruction by the Mongols. It stands on an isolated plateau and has a haunting silhouette and atmosphere. You will also see the so-called Flaming Mountains, which are well known to scholars of Chinese Literature as being the backdrop to the famous 16th century novel Journey to the West, but perhaps better known to non-Chinese scholars as the setting for the 1970s TV show Monkey, which told the story of Tripitaka's search for Buddhist relics along the Silk Road. You will visit the 18th century Emin Minaret built in Afghani style.
Day10Turpan – Urumqi - KashgarUrumqi, China
A three-hour drive takes you to Urumqi, Xinjiang's bustling capital. Here you will visit one of the area's best museums - the Xinjiang Regional Museum - which is perhaps most famous for its acclaimed collection of well-preserved mummies. Later in the day take a flight over the imposing Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar. This Uighur town was one of the most strategically important destinations on the Silk Road, lying as it does at the junction of major routes over the mountains towards India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
There will be ample time for personal exploration in this Silk Road city which sits today, as it has done for centuries, at a major crossroads of trade routes. You will see the controversial statue of Chairman Mao in the city centre as well as visiting the green-tiled Aba Khoja tomb in the quiet suburbs. After a traditional Uighur lunch you will have a break before exploring the old town. You will end the day by having tea on the second floor balcony of one of the old chaikhanas, watching the street market below. The evening will be free to explore or perhaps try one of the traditional restaurants.
Day12Kashgar – Tashkent (Uzbekistan)Kashgar, China
Today you will have the chance to experience the famous Yakshambe Bazaar - the Sunday Market - where you will be able to meet Uighur, Kyrgyz and Kazakh traders at the famous animal market. Here you will spend time watching the locals trade everything from woodwork and ironware to sheep, donkeys, cattle, horses and camels before progressing onto the covered bazaar, believed to be the biggest in Central Asia. After a free afternoon take an evening flight via Urumqi to Central Asia's largest city, Tashkent.
You will have the morning to explore some of Uzbekistan's capital, taking in the Khast Imam Complex which houses a 7th century Koran, as well as Chorsu Bazaar and Independence Square. In the afternoon you will be joined by the engaging Benedict Allen who will share with us his stories of travels in Central Asia during an informative private talk.
Day14Tashkent - SamarkandSamarkand, Uzbekistan
This morning take the fast train to Samarkand, one of the finest cities of the Silk Road and undoubtedly a tour highlight. After check in take your first look at this amazing city, with a visit to the majestic Gur-Amir Mausoleum and of course the iconic Registan.
You will enjoy a full day wandering through this incredible city taking in such sights as the Bibi Khanym mosque and the Shakhi Zinda 'street of the dead'. You will also have the chance to return to the Registan for sunset.
Day16Samarkand - BukharaBukhara, Uzbekistan
After breakfast drive along the "Royal Road" to Bukhara. After checking into our guesthouse, close to the famous Labi Hauz plaza and pool, you will have free time to explore the streets and alleyways of this atmospheric ancient town before meeting for dinner.
This morning visit the famous Arc - or town citadel - in front of which the British officers Connelly and Stoddard lost their heads in what was one of the most infamous events of the Great Game. You will also visit the Kolan Minaret - or Tower of Death, from which Amir Nasrullah Khan threw his enemies - as well as the rest of the beautiful old town. The rest of the day is free to explore Bukhara at your leisure, with opportunities to wander through the bazaar and maybe do a little souvenir shopping, before having a free evening to explore this delightful town at your own pace.
Day18Bukhara – Mary (Turkmenistan)Mary, Turkmenistan
An early start today takes you to the Uzbek border and into the rarely visited country of Turkmenistan. After customs formalities followed by the thrill of crossing the great Oxus - Amu Darya River - you will have lunch in Turkmenabat before continuing on to Mary, your base for the next two nights.
After breakfast this morning, visit the UNESCO listed site of Merv. Lying along the southern edge of the Karakum Desert, on the banks of the Murgab River, Merv is the site of one of the greatest cities to ever grace the trading routes of Central Asia. The ancient city of Merv lies spread across 100 square kilometres of desert, today a ghostly echo of its former glory, but once one of the greatest cities in the world. Its importance as a UNESCO World Heritage site reflects its once powerful status and at its peak the city was a cultural beacon for Christians and Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Muslims. The city rose to prominence under the Sassanians and the Seljuk Turks, and during the 11th and 12th centuries it rivalled even Baghdad in importance, being known as Marv-i-shah-jahan (Merv, Queen of the World). Its end though was swift and bloody, and came by way of an unstoppable storm from the east, when in 1221, the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan descended onto the desert plains, sweeping everything in their path. The city however refused to pay tribute and in an act of savagery that was extreme even by Mongol standards, the entire city of nearly one million people was put to the sword. This afternoon you will pay a visit to the excellent Mary Museum which exhibits many of the artefacts which have been excavated from Merv.
Day20Mary - Mashhad (Iran)Mashhad, Iran
This morning leave Turkmenistan behind and travel across the Iranian border. En route to Mashhad you will visit the Robat-e-Sharaf, one of the oldest and most ornate caravanserais in the region. Considered by many to be a true masterpiece of Seljuk design, the building dates from around 1120 AD, when merchant caravans laden with riches from the east regularly plied these busy trade routes. From here continue on to the holy city of Mashhad (the Place of Martyrdom). It was here that the Imam Reza, a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed and the 8th Shi'i Imam, was killed on the orders of the caliph in 817 AD. Heir to the Abbasid caliphate, his shrine went on to become a major pilgrimage site in the 16th century and today remains one of the Shi'i faith's most sacred cities.
Day21Mashhad - TehranMashhad, Iran
After breakfast this morning pay a visit to the impressive Imam Reza shrine, whose golden domes and towering minarets present one of the most remarkable monuments anywhere in the Muslim world. Set within the confines of a walled enclosure in the heart of the city, the site is filled with a wonderful array of mosques, courtyards and madrassahs and, whilst the shrine itself is off-limits to non-Muslims, the complex presents a fascinating place to explore. Following our visit take a short flight towards the Iranian capital of Tehran.
Tehran is one of the largest cities in Western Asia and currently home to about one-fifth of the country's population. The Iranian capital since 1795, it is a rich blend of cultural traditions that span the country's diverse heritage. Today you will take in some of the city's most interesting sights including the sumptuous Golestan Palace, the oldest of Tehran's historic monuments. A World Heritage Site, this stunning complex of palaces and manicured gardens encompasses more than two centuries of Qajar rule. Time-permitting you may also pay a visit to the nearby bazaar. In addition, and by invitation only, we also plan to visit the National Museum of Art which contains a small but impressive collection of fine arts on display in a stunning setting.
Day23Tehran – KashanKashan, Iran
This morning travel south into Iran's mountainous and desert interior towards Kashan, where you will visit the Royal Gardens of Fin, and the Agha Bozorg Mosque, which was built in the 18th century. The mosque is famous for its imposing dome and large sunken Maddrassah, and the large wooden door that guards the entrance is said to have as many studs as there are verses of the Quran.
Day24Kashan – YazdKashan, Iran
Travelling via the small town of Na'in, where you will also visit one of the oldest mosques in Iran, you will visit nearby Mohamediyh where the locals still employ traditional methods to weave using camel hair. After lunch continue through the desert, arriving in Yazd in time to watch an eerie sunset from the Towers of Silence, the unique Zoroastrian burial towers.
Your first port of call is the Bagh-e-Doulat Abad Gardens, which were once a residence of the former ruler Karim Khan Zand. They consist of small pavilions set in peaceful gardens and the tallest Badgir (wind tower) in town. Then you will move on to visit the magnificent Jameh (Friday) Mosque and the informative Water Museum. You will then have time to wander the winding old city streets and bazaar. Weather-permitting we also plan to drive out into the nearby desert for a memorable dinner in an abandoned caravanserai.
Day26Yazd - Pasargadae - ShirazPasargadae, Iran
Today head south-west, stopping at Pasargadae with its six-tiered tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of the great Persian Empire. Later continue to Shiraz, the old capital whose name today is synonymous with poetry and learning, and which is one of the country's most relaxed cities.
A morning walking tour includes a visit to the imposing Arg-e Karim Khan fortress, with its 14-metre high circular towers which dominate the city centre. There will also be time to explore the bazaar and some of Shiraz's famous gardens and teahouses before soaking up the atmosphere at the tomb of the great Persian poet Hafez. Here you will meet with a local expert who will explain why this 14th century poet is so loved by Iranians today.
Day28Shiraz – Persepolis - Naqsh e Rostam - ShirazPersepolis, Iran
Today, in the company of an expert local guide, you have the whole day to enjoy what must be surely be a highlight of Iran if not of the entire Middle East: Darius the Great's fabulous Persepolis. You will also visit the magnificent Achaemenid tombs at Naqsh e Rostam, cut high in cliffs above the ground, facing respectfully towards Persepolis. After ample time exploring the site make your way back to Shiraz where you will have time to discover this beautiful city at your leisure.
Day29Shiraz - IsfahanIsfahan, Iran
Depart for the old Persian capital of Isfahan today. Once known as "half the world" this is a truly fascinating city and it will be your base for the next three nights. Upon arrival check into your hotel, relax and take a leisurely walk to orientate yourself with this most memorable of cities.
Your sightseeing today will include visits to the Chehel Sotun Palace and Museum, and the magnificent Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Here you will explore some of the world's most beautiful mosques, the Imam (Shah) Mosque and the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. You will also visit the six-storey Ali Qapu Palace, built in the 16th century to serve as a gateway to the royal palaces that are situated in the parklands beyond.
You have another day to explore this fascinating city, including visits to the Jameh Mosque. There'll be plenty of time to explore and shop in the famous bazaar, or just to relax and people watch. We also plan to see a demonstration of how Iran's renowned miniatures are made. This evening for a change of scenery travel to Julfa, the Armenian Quarter of Isfahan. This is a great place to interact with locals as well as enabling you to see the illuminated bridges over the Zayandeh River at night.
Day32Isfahan - TehranTehran, Iran
Depart Isfahan early in the morning, arriving in Tehran for a chance to do some last-minute sightseeing in Iran's cosmopolitan capital (our main aim being a visit to the Crown Jewels) before taking your final dinner in the country - a traditional Persian meal, accompanied by local musicians.
Tour ends after breakfast.
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