Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Blossoms Tour. China 2018

Someone took this photo of place known as Apricot Valley.  If you know the name of the photographer, please click on the Send feedback button and let me know their name so I can give them proper credit for capturing this incredible view!

I've been home, from my summer trip to India and Nepal for a little over four months now and I have been sorely delinquent in doing any blogging about that trip. Hopefully, with winter just around the corner, I will find myself cooped up indoors and will productively spend the time in front of the computer recalling that most amazing trip.

Of course, whatever else might have distracted me these past four months to take me away from blogging did not take me away from planning my next trip.  This will be the annual trip with Bro and as with all past trips, I let him set the travel time period and then I come up with the trip ideas.  This time, he told me March/April timeframe will be good so China immediately sprang to mind.  Yes, we still have Japan on the backburner and while that would have made for an ideal spring trip, I just have yet to come to terms that it's such and expensive place to travel around.  One day.

In the meantime, Bro agreed to China.  While he was putting in his leave request to cover the 30 day period we would be traveling, I set about the task of putting together the itinerary.  Remarkably, between the time I got in the shower and the time I got out, I have a rough plan in mind.  It would be four cities - Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Xi'an and then somewhere along the Silk Road.  I did a portion of the China Silk Road in 2016 - from Xi'an to Dunhuang.

Me, standing before the Zhangy Danxia Landform, in Sept 2016.

This trip, I decided to take the opportunity to do another section of the route - from Urumqi to Kashgar.   Having traveled to Central Asia, I am expecting much of the culture to be familiar to me but for Bro, this will be a whole different world. As I told him, we have stereotypical ideas about the people and culture of China.  Going to the Silk Road region will open his eyes to another world.  To some extent, it will feel like that stereotypical view of China but to a very large extent, it will not.

For the cities, we can easily make our own way around.  There are plenty of accommodation options and public transportation options are plentiful and by American standards, dirt cheap.  Bro has some (very minor) concern about the language but I've been to so many peoples where I cannot communicate through conversation that I've learned other ways to get my point across.  Bro will learn very quickly.

Kashgar and Urumqi are in Xinjiang province.   My first task was to find a tour to the region.  There are plenty of Chinese tour operators offering trips to the area but I'm a bit picky.  In general, I don't like to go with large operators.  That might seem surprising to some people as big companies typically have more tour offerings though not always at better prices.

As a responsible traveler, I think it's imperative to give back to the small, local operators.  I hit paydirt on one of my Google searches.  I found a company called Old Road Tours and there was something about their website and tour offerings that really appealed to me.  The fact that it is family owned pretty much sealed the deal for me.  I decided to reach out to them to inquire about a tour.  As always, I start out with one of their packaged tours.

Abdul Wahab is the owner and I was fully expecting him to respond back.  So you can imagine my surprise when I received an email from a woman named Genessa who turns out to be an American woman working with the company.

From the very first email to now (and we are still communicating), Genessa has been a godsend.  Not only does she know Xinjiang like the back of her hand but she also incredibly detailed and her English is perfect - no chance of any information getting lost in translation!

Based on my initial request, Genessa put together an itinerary for us which also includes spending the night in Abdul's home with dinner cooked by his mom!  As I was reviewing it, I was Googling to look up the places she mentioned in itinerary - most did not show up on Google maps!  It was then that I came across the incredible photo that opens up this posting.  WOW!!  I had to find out more about what I was looking at so more Googling and came across even more stunning photos.  You can see some of them here.

Turns out through Google, I came across a place that is simply referred to as Apricot Valley.  Situated in Tuergen Township, Xinyuan County in Yili, Xinjiang, the enormous 2,000 hectare (5,000 acre) valley is famed for its grove of wild apricot trees.  I read somewhere that it's the largest grove of its kind in all the world!  It just so happens that the trees bloom around the time we were planning to be in China.  Given that we would be in Xinjiang, in Yili, how could we not make a trip to see these amazing blooms?  So, I asked Genessa about it.  Without skipping a beat, she revised our itinerary so we'll be spending an afternoon and morning here - plenty of time to take photos.  But, you can never tell with Mother Nature and global warming these days so fingers crossed, we'll be there at just the right time with flowers around peak bloom. 

Genessa and I are still working on putting the finishing touches on our Silk Road trip.  In the meantime, apricot blossoms in Xinjiang got me wondering what else will be blooming in Shanghai and Beijing when we're there.

So, more Googling.  What would my travel planning life or life in general be without Google?  I hate to think of it.  Back to blossoms.  Luck would have it that we will be in Shanghai during the Peach Festival.  Yes, there is such a thing because Chinese revere the peach for it symbolizes immortality or the wish for a long and healthy life and so we have to celebrate the fruit and the blossoms that precede them.  

Visitors passing under the flowery entrance in Nanhui, Pudong New Area, Shanghai. 
(Photo from Top China Travel)

The Shanghai Peach Blossom festival takes place from the end of March thru early April of each year.  I don't know what the exact dates will be for 2018 but our time in Shanghai will be during the festival.  Apparently, there are quite a few places you can go to to admire the blossoms.  I'm checking out the possibilities now as well as options for transportation.  So far, it seems like the city reroutes public buses to go to the more popular venues but we'll see.  Worse case, I will hire a car and driver.  I HAVE to see these blooms.

In Beijing, it will be about the cherry trees.  Cherries typically bloom very early in the spring so I hope there will still be flowers on the trees by the time we arrive.  I've not figured out yet where the best venue is to see the blooms though I have seen photos of blossoms around the Summer Palace that make me think that might be a good spot.  Of course, seeing wild trees blooming along the hills that the Great Wall runs through would also be a very memorable experience.

I found a website that provides a guide on the 10 best places to see the blossoms in China.  For us, there's information on Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi'an.

Of course, the trip to China will be more than chasing blooms.  When it's not about the trees, it will be about sightseeing and eating.  More research to come on places to see, do and eat!

Here's the itinerary for the trip.


With the Silk Road portion of the trip pretty much under control, I can now turn my attention to planning our time in the cities.  I still have quite a lot of logistics to work through - specifically, where we are staying in each city and how we will make our way between the cities as well as to Urumqi and back to Beijing.

Not ready yet to begin counting down the days but time does fly!