SPRING IN CHINA
MARCH 22-APRIL 6, 2017
It has been amazing to see the changes in less than twenty years – transformed cities, water buffalo giving way to machines, and realization of the world's largest dam among other items. As to railways, there were still steam locos in mainline service up until 2005. A railway to Tibet (world's highest) was completed in 2006. And, high speed trains began operating on one short route in 2008. Today, the high speed network already is more extensive than that of Europe, and is still linking new cities. So, no visit is ever exactly the same! Every trip here brings much which is familiar along with new perspectives and different things to see. If you are a first time visitor, you will surely have many questions. Most of these will be answered by our bi-lingual guides, but we can assist with planning details – what to pack, assisting with the visa, etc. The schedule below offers an overview only – we try to be flexible during the tour to take in things of interest to group members, or if rain, for example, makes the Great Wall not such a good idea! All MEALS are included from the 23rd until end of boat trip.
Day 1 Wednesday March 22: –Arrival into Beijing (BJ)
We will try to meet arrivals, but hotel info will be provided in case you use a taxi. Hotel: CITIC Airport Hotel (formerly Sino-Swiss) – free airport shuttle (though it can be tricky to find…) Meals on your own today. Afternoon to relax. Take in evening performance in the city if you are eager to go, but most will want to relax after long flight.
Day 2 Thursday March 23
Very early start today to take the train to GREAT WALL. Trains depart North Station (First station in BJ but extensively modernized recently). About 90 minute ride climbs into the mountains, actually tunneling beneath the Wall before switching back to BADALING ("8-ways view") station, a 15 minute walk to the Wall entrance. Gradually more tour buses arrive and the Wall may become quite crowded by mid-morning, so my suggestion is to walk as much as you wish in the early part of our visit. We will stay for lunch here before taking the early afternoon train back into the city. Remainder of day can be decided upon later – options include Summer Palace (recommended if good weather), Hutongs (taste of old Beijing with its alleyways, and maybe a home cooked supper), or a revolving restaurant overlooking the city.
Day 3 Friday March 24
On train Z69, depart BJ West Station at 10AM for a 26 hour fast run to Hami – a journey which required three days back in 2001! Our train passes thru the longest tunnel in China in the high mountains where snow is possible this time of year (about 3 PM). While this is not a high speed train, speeds will reach near 100 MPH. Soft class sleepers offer compartments with four beds – two lower, two upper). There may be a two-bed room available (upper / lower). There is a dining car, and snacks / beverages are available from the roving food trolley.
Day 4 Saturday March 25
n early afternoon we arrive into Hami South station. After lunch, our van will take up on to Sandaoling (90 minute drive). The massive open pit coal mine developed here in the 1970s has just about reached the end of its productive life – and with it, the last fleet of working (non-museum) steam locos in the world! 2020 had been noted as closure date, though this could be advanced in view of the curtailment of coal production in China due to a slowing economy and alternate energy sources. Hopefully the 8 or 9 JS-class 2-8-2s – mostly built as recently as the 1980s – will yet be hauling coal.
Day 5 Sunday March 26
Early morning (sunrise is not until about 8 this far west) is a good time to hang around the engine depot, as this is shift change. Every 15-20 minutes or so, an empty string of side-dump gondola cars is shoved toward the mine. As this is on a grade, the loco will work hard, and sometimes slip. There are usually 3 to 4 trains working in rotation. Once loaded, trains head either to the washery or to a coking plant. Processed coal is later taken to the China Rail interchange several miles distant, or may go by truck.
There are also a few deep mines in the complex, but activity here is infrequent. The now abandoned tip area saw rock (overburden) trains until 2014 when this phase of the mine ceased. These and other places may merit short visits to appreciate the changing nature of this place. The workshops could also be visited if any repair to the locos may be taking place.
The town of 40,000 is a mixture of Chinese and native Uyghur peoples. In March 2015 a night party marked the end of the Chinese New Years period. Restaurants specialize in lamb and spicy rice dishes, while others are more typically Chinese – but don't look for a KFC here!! We will come back to town for a couple hours in mid day to rest, when the high sun makes for less interesting photography.
Day 6 Monday March 27:
Final day to enjoy the best remaining steam show in China! Again, early morning and late afternoon are prime times to get out and enjoy a slice of coal mining history soon to fade from the world scene. Go to bed early!! We are off to Hami train station by about 2 AM….
Day 7 Tuesday March 28:
Our train departs at 5:11 for the long but scenic trek toward Chengdu! Train K2060 offers soft class sleeper and diner for the 39 hour trek, arriving 20:05. There is an alternate train which is a bit slower and takes 2 nights, but we chose this train as it maximizes daylight viewing. In the early morning (5:47, Baoji) our train reverses direction and heads up China's steepest mainline grade of 3%. Helpers are used on freights, and an extra loco will be added to the front of our train. The scenery – sometimes quick glimpses between tunnels – is spectacular. Once we have arrived about 8 PM, transfer to hotel for a good nights sleep.
Day 8 Wednesday March 29:
PANDA! Near the city is the Panda Breeding and Research Center which has been in the forefront of efforts to understand and protect the species. You will see various stages of life. The red panda (not really a panda…_ and various other animals and birds make this a memorable morning. Signs along the bamboo lined walkways encourage quiet – routinely ignored by groups of children when they greet some foreigners! We will enjoy lunch at one of the signature tea houses before our afternoon transfer to the Shibanxi Narrow Gauge.
Day 9 Thursday March 30:
The Jiayang Coal Company operates what has become China's premiere railway tourist venture. The first mine from 1938 began as a joint English – Chinese venture to supply coal to new steel mills near Chongqing (from where our boat departs). The coal was moved by mule down the mountain to the Min River. By the 1950s increased development spurred the need for a railway connection, which allowed access to additional mines. Most of these mines closed in the late 1980s, and one is now open as a tourist attraction (and quite well worth a visit). The lower end of the line is electrified, hauling coal from the yet active mine to a power station. The steam trains haul local passengers three times daily, plus a variable number of tourist trains. More details on these will be explained on the tour. Some prefer to ride these up and down (just buy a ticket); others like to watch and walk the right of way to seek out good photo locations. The yellow flowers, which produce rape seed, are usually at their peak at this time.
Day 10 Friday March 31:
More time to ride and watch the Narrow Gauge. There should be about 4 or 5 active C-2 type 0-8-0 locos, which where made in Dalian, China, during the mid 1950s to a Polish design.
Day 11 Saturday April 1:
A short trip on the Leshan River will allow us to see the giant carved Buddha. Then it is on to Chongqing, the mountain city.
Day 12 Sunday April 2:
Most of today we will have time to explore this Pittsburgh of China, junction of two rivers. The ropeway over the river and monorail alongside offer two unique modes of local transport, both of which we will sample. Due to the hills, bicycles just are not popular here. In the evening following our supper, we will head for our five star boat. We will have four nights on the boat, which for the most part will be docked after dark to allow for daylight viewing of the best areas. ("Century Sky" is a five star boat, 2006 construction, 5 decks with revolving open atrium among other features. Cabin upgrades may be possible in advance.
Day 13 Monday & Day 14 Tuesday April 3 & 4:
On the boat with various shore excursion options which can be purchased individually or as a group packet. Be aware that excursions require some walking (such as White Emperor City with 600 steps – unless you want to try the sedan chair!). Some excursions are subject to water conditions. There will be bilingual guides on the boat. Much more detail about the fascinating Three Gorges and other aspects of the river trip will be covered later.
Day 15 Wednesday April 5:
Shore excursion to see the big dam, before ending the river ride in Yichang late morning. Train G308 ("G" denotes High Speed, CRH) departs at 14:05 for the 7 ½ hour run to Beijing (old train was 18 ½ hr.). Check in to the CITIC Hotel.
Day 16 Thursday April 6:
PRICES PER PERSON
DOUBLE ROOM OCCUPANCY$3,995
INGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$250
SINGLE OCCUPANCY HOTELS:
Beijing, Sandaoling, Chengdu, Qianwei , and Chongqing.
DEPOSIT TO HOLD SPACE$1,500
FINAL PAYMENT DUE BY DECEMBER 22, 2016