BEIJING, LHASA, GUILIN, SHANGHAI
Today you will be met at the Beijing airport by an Imperial Tours’ tour director who will accompany you during the remainder of your stay in China (the tour director acts as a personal concierge to you throughout your stay in China, allowing you to make changes as you see fit…this may mean adding a site or taking out a site, changing a restaurant or booking a foot massage!). Upon transferring to the hotel, you will have the remainder of the day at leisure. (Raffles Hotel – Landmark Rooms)
This morning, professional photographer Doug Gifford will welcome the group with an orientation session designed to help you make the most of your trip. Doug will introduce the various destinations you will visit during your stay and offer invaluable hints and tips on how to best capture that perfect shot in China!
Today’s activities contrast colossal monuments of the past and present. After strolling across Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, an authoritative symbol of today’s China, you will be awed by the majesty of its antique Forbidden City (to which in times gone by you would have been denied access). You will be taken to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City area early in the morning so that you can take advantage of the morning light.
During dinner each night we will hold a debriefing of the day’s activities and a critique photographs captured during the day by group members.
We’ll take you for an early morning visit to one of ancient China’s most sacred sites, the Temple of Heaven, used by the Emperor as a place to mediate affairs between God and man. Morning is a great time to visit the Temple as you will see local Beijingers out doing their morning exercises, singing, dancing, etc.
For shoppers, Beijing’s largest open-air market will come close to paradise. The market starts at the crack of dawn, giving you a unique chance to mingle with Beijingers, overseas and local art dealers as well as farmers who import goods from the countryside. This is your opportunity to buy a Ming dynasty set of the Confucianist classics for a song (the best buy of 2001!) or else, and more likely, to buy from an astonishingly rich variety of Chinese and Tibetan cultural objects (at usually a tenth the price found in the U.S. and at often half the price found at local shops).
For non-shoppers, this market can be thought of as China’s largest museum of modern cultural life, where you can see, talk to and photograph a wide range of local and regional Chinese going about their daily lives and business. (Please note that this market is open only on Monday.)
We continue the day with an intimate pedicab tour through Beijing’s traditional alleyways (or hutong). This is one of the rare chances that you will see Chinese people in their everyday setting. You will have the opportunity to visit the home of a Chinese family and ask them questions about their way of life.
Today you will visit the Great Wall of China. Built to protect China from the incursions of predatory nomads, the utility and meaning of this fortification has been contested for centuries. The unprecedented scale and unexpected charm of the Great Wall may inspire you. The section that we most highly recommend is the further away, about 2.5 hours drive, but is generally considered one of the most beautiful sections of the Great Wall. Once there, you will be treated to a private banquet on the Wall itself (weather permitting).
Today we will take a flight to Lhasa. With breathtaking views in almost every direction, this is truly a photographer’s paradise. Upon arrival, we will drive from Gangkor Airport to the Lhasa Hotel (1 hour).
Our altitude in Lhasa is about 3,650 meters or 12,000 feet, approximately 4,500 feet higher than Colorado’s Grand Canyon. The remainder of the day will be left at leisure to allow you to acclimate to the altitude. If you feel up to it, you will be able to start your exploration of Lhasa today. (Lhasa Hotel – Deluxe Rooms)
Today we head to the center of Lhasa’s religious life at its Jokhang Monastery. It is impossible to put into words the sense of peace and equanimity that imbues the atmosphere of this historic monastery. On the one hand, Tibetan pilgrims display intense devotion as they pray before their deities, pouring yak (a local variety of cow) butter or ghee into the altars’ butter lamps. On the other hand, the casual comings and goings of the red-robed monks lend this beautiful building the reliability of tradition and the self-confidence of knowledge.
Afterwards, you will stroll onto the Barkhor for the first time. This is the kora, or pilgrimage route around the Jokhang Temple’s circumference. As you amble along it, surrounded by pilgrims, you will be assailed by novel sights, sounds and wonders. Poking your nose into local Tibetan markets, your eyes will feast on strangely clad clansmen from Tibet’s outlying regions and peruse the wares of the many antique and thangka shops of this astonishing circuit. After a late afternoon rest, we will return here in the evening to watch a Buddhist ceremony in a nearby temple.
Since yesterday should have provided you with some of the most striking visual images of your life, the bar is set high for this morning’s visit to the Potala Palace - the trapezoidal, red and white Winter Palace that oversees the growing city beneath. Few buildings are as emblematic of their people - America’s White House is perhaps as much a symbol of America’s liberties and values as the Potala Palace expresses the remoteness and former might of Tibet. The elaborate golden tombs of past Dalai Lamas are of inestimable beauty, value and mystery.
Then in the afternoon we will visit Sera Monastery on Lhasa’s outskirts. Once boasting thousands of monks, these wealthy monasteries vied for the hidden levers of governmental power. Now operating once more, you will see young monks meditating and studying in the debating gardens and chanting halls.
Today’s day trip to Ganden Monastery, an hour and a half’s drive from Lhasa, is an opportunity to replace the city and capture some great shots of life in rural Tibet. Thirty miles from Lhasa, we turn our backs on the smooth asphalt of the highway to climb a meandering dirt track up a tributary valley. Our gentle ascent through a series of switchbacks takes us high above the local village to an altitude of approximately 4,500 meters or 14,500 feet. Ganden Monastery, a striking array of white buildings, surrounding the red "Golden Tomb of Tsongkhapa" (the founder of the Gelugpa monastic sect), will suddenly appear in the hollow of a distant mountain ridge. Temples, colleges, dormitories, assembly halls, kitchens and the like proudly dominate the crown of this deep valley.
As inspiring as it is to view the treasures of this famous monastery, a visit to Ganden is incomplete without walking its kora, or the pilgrimage around its perimeter. Leading you around the back side of the ridge, this kora introduces breath-taking views of the river plain thousands of feet beneath as well as of the adjacent, towering, snow-topped mountains thousands of feet above. It is no wonder that chortens (religious towers), prayer flags and prayer stones are sprinkled liberally along this kora in tribute to God and nature.
Prepare for a dramatic change of scenery as we say goodbye to the arid landscapes of Tibet and fly to Guilin (via Chengdu) to be welcomed by this area’s tropical warmth. Upon arrival in Guilin, you will be transferred to your hotel to relax before dinner. (Hotel of Modern Art – Deluxe Rooms)
The day begins with a ride on traditional bamboo rafts along a less visited stretch of the Li River. Children swim in the rippling waters, lined with overhanging clumps of bamboo and crossed by ancient stone bridges. Local farmers rake the riverbed for reeds to give to their wives to dry out and weave. Fishermen click signals to their cormorants as they hunt the river bottom for fish.
There will be plenty of time today for taking photographs of the river, farmland and the karst mountain scenery.
Today you will have a chance to see rural China by traveling far from the tourist route deep into the countryside to view village life. You will visit a local school, watch villagers prepare soy milk and tofu and wander through the rice fields. This is a wonderful place to relax and really enjoy rural China. (We ask you not to bring presents for the young children at the school. Imperial Tours takes care not to create a culture of dependency amongst the school children, and instead donates equipment to the school in return for the access it provides our guests.)
The afternoon has been left free. Some may want to rent a bike to further explore the area. Others might decide to visit the contemporary art gallery located on the hotel grounds and perhaps even chat with and photograph the local artists in residence.
This morning we’ll take an early morning flight to Shanghai. Shanghai will take your breath away. Since the early 80’s this city has been growing like no other, the Pudong waterfront becoming as emblematic of economic prowess as that of Manhattan or Hong Kong.
In the afternoon you’ll have the chance to head to the Bund for some iconic views of the city. On one side the Bund’s grand colonial buildings, on the other, directly across the Huangpu River, the towering skyscrapers of Pudong.
Today, you will discover Shanghai’s longtangs or alleyways. You will be able to walk around the traditional Shanghai homes and discover the life of the local Shanghainese people.
Later in the day we will take you to the Yu Gardens, one of the best examples of Chinese garden design in the country. Afterwards, you will have some time to walk around Shanghai’s old quarter and perhaps even visit a local Buddhist Temple.
After dining at one of Shanghai’s chic new restaurants, we will visit its modernistic Opera House to enjoy the marvelous stunts of the Acrobatic Show.
You will be transferred to the airport in time for your return flight home. Don’t forget to wake up early to take advantage of the Hyatt’s stunning views and fantastic breakfasts!