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The Great Wall of China; over four thousand miles long and twenty-five hundred years old - a fitting symbol for the wondrous nation of China. This country of over a billion people has been a leading civilization throughout the world's history.
It has lured traders, travelers, conquerors and the curious over the centuries. Let China lure you, too, with its treasures of antiquity, stunning landscapes, warm people, charming villages and vibrant zest of its booming cities.
China is a land of splendors and surprises, a vast region only slightly smaller than the United States. Within its borders are incredible mountains, some of the longest rivers in the world, vast steppes and serpentine coastlines. From sub-tropical to sub-arctic China boasts rainforests, grasslands, deserts and tundra and borders fourteen other nations. China is a multicultural country with fifty-five ethnic groups. You can only imagine the wealth of culture and cuisine in such a rich land! Keep your camera ready. From the busy streets of Beijing and Shanghai to the classic beauty of Yanshuo and the desert wonders of Kashgar, China is the jewel box of the Orient.
The city of Beijing has long been the centre for art, culture and politics. It offers a fascinating introduction to China. The primary capital for more than seven centuries its ancient past includes stunning imperial residences and parks, walls and gates. Explore the tombs of the Ming Emperors. Visit the hutongs, the alley neighborhoods, to experience how the people of Beijing have always lived. See what was hidden at the mysterious Forbidden City. Wonder at the beauty of the Temple of Heaven, enjoy the Summer Palace and Beijing opera like an emperor, and feast like one during a multi-course Chinese dinner. Beijing's exciting present offers famous shopping districts, broad boulevards and modern museums. Stand in awe in the middle of Tiananmen Square and wonder at the centuries of accomplishment of the Chinese people.
Shanghai evokes images of glamorous women and smoky business deals overlaid with Oriental mystery. With its western-influenced architecture it was the center of colonial foreign business. The Bund showcased European and American banks, trading houses, hotels, consulates and clubs along the shore. Shanghai is China's showcase city – its financial capital, fashion and industrial center. Stroll the Bund, shop the Huahuei and Nanjing roads, enjoy the streets of souvenir and jewelry shops and don't forget to stop to refresh yourself with dumplings and tea and a stroll to the Temple of the Town Gods and the beautiful Yu Yuan garden.
The cultural center of China surely rests in Xian. It was the capital of thirteen ancient dynasties and is home of some of the most ancient and superb temples in the nation. It's Golden Age in the Tang dynasty flourished while Europe entered the middle ages. Most famous for its standing army of terracotta warriors, this treasure trove of history was the starting point of the Silk Road. The city walls were built forty feet high and several miles are still intact, affording fantastic views of the city and surrounding areas. Other ancient structures include the beautiful Drum and Bell Towers. The Bell Tower was once used to keep time. There are bronze bells and stone chimes that musicians still play. Behind the Drum Tower you will find the night market filled with vendors, peddlers and food stalls. The Academy Gate leads to a street filled with authentic replicas of buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties, allowing visitors to step back in time and explore exquisite art and traditional handicrafts, jade carving, silk fans and musical instruments. It has a lively Muslim quarter and its food is a tempting blend of Far and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Guilin is familiar to anyone who admires traditional Chinese art – its sharp-sided mountains and glittering lakes are a favorite theme. Flowering cassia trees, farmer's boats along the Li River, surrounding longji titian or terraced rice fields and old-fashioned ethnic minority villages like Ping An will charm any visitor to this area. The "stone forests" are weathered limestone formations filled with craggy peaks and underground streams and caves, some of them hundreds of feet high.
Nearby Yangshuo is the perfect place to take in all this fabulous scenery. Its streets retain their original Chinese style and lively West Street offers everything for tourists. Cormorant fishing is still practiced here and you can cycle or take a bamboo raft along the scenic Li River, then relax in one of the town's many outdoor restaurants. Guilin and Yangshuo are located in the state of Guangxi, bordered to the south by Vietnam.
On the other side of the Tianshan Mountains from Kazakhstan is the most inland city in the world – Urumqi. Truly part of Central Asia, it is populated with colorfully dressed ethnic Uygur, Hui, Kazakh and Kyrgyz people. This bustling modern city was once a strategic point on the ancient Silk Road. On the banks of the Urumqi River and overlooked by the mountains, the city has beautiful parks and vistas. The fascinating Xinjiang Regional Museum features artifacts and treasures from the area's Silk Road history and the International Grand Bazaar offers unparalleled shopping. Just outside of Urumqi is Tianchi – Lake of Heaven. In contrast to the surrounding desert landscapes below, Tianchi is an alpine lake of crystal waters reflecting the surrounding pines and snowy peaks. The Southern Pastures area offers travelers the chance to visit traditional Kazakh grazing pastures in the nearby valleys.
Kashgar is another fabled city of the Silk Road in the extreme west part of China on the far side of the Taklamakand desert. In a rugged landscape of mountains and golden sands, Kashgar was an important trading hub and a contentious area within Central Asia during the 1800s as Russia and England played at empire building. The narrow winding streets of the old town are lined with mud-brick houses and life seems not to have changed over the centuries. The warm, open friendliness of the people here welcomes you in with hot tea and soft round bread right out of the clay oven. Sample the melons, figs and grapes ripened in desert soils with glacial runoff. Visit the markets for silks, carpets, copper teapots and hats of all shapes and sizes. Thousands of farmers from surrounding areas and traders from Pakistan and Kazakhstan come to the Sunday market. At the livestock market frenetic bargaining for sheep, horses, yaks and camels make this a "must-see" then find some peace by the reflecting pool in the courtyard of the immense Idgar Mosque.
Ready to experience China? The hard part will be deciding where to start!