A captivating China tour with Cosmos
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From the Great Wall to the mighty Terracotta Army - China is big on sights and experiences
paused to catch a lungful of air and absorb the equally breath-taking view of
the Great Wall of China snaking into the hilly distance the last thing I
anticipated was being offered a medal to say I’d walked the wall, along with
postcards, flags and other mementos. On reflection, the encounter with the
hardy hawker who’d carried her bag of wares up the world’s largest man-made
structure encapsulated a country that really is like nowhere else on earth.
inaccessible to the outside world through its natural defenders of mountains,
seas and desert - and the ruling dynasties that created the Great Wall to
protect the empire - it’s only in recent years that the world’s most populated
country has emerged from self-imposed isolation. From the mind-boggling ancient
and modern engineering projects of the Great Wall and Shanghai’s neon-lit
skyscrapers, to the choice of credit card busting jade carvings or fake Rolex
watches for a fiver, along with curious locals asking to take photos with us -
the equally inquisitive ‘big nose’ westerners - China is filled with amazing
and often contradictory experiences.
most independent traveller will find the best way to discover this complex and
still mysterious country is on a guided tour, and our journey took us from
Shanghai to Beijing. The first day included a walk along The Bund, Shanghai’s
elegant waterfront mile where Gothic, Art Deco and other historic buildings are
overlooked by sleek modern towers on the opposite side of the Huangpu
River. That night we returned to see it in a completely different light on a
river cruise, where the towering buildings were illuminated in a kaleidoscope
meal introduced us to the delights of the Lazy Susan, a fixture, albeit a
moveable one, on the Chinese dining scene. Trying to get the hang of chopsticks
is part of the fun of eating out, although knives and forks are always available.
We also had to learn to pace ourselves, after initially taking large portions
from the array of dishes placed on the rotating glass table top. It took a
couple of meals to realise the food keeps coming and the end is only nigh with
the arrival of a plate of fruit.
stop in Shanghai was the 16th century old town; a world away from
the fast-paced modern city we’d seen earlier. The tranquil Yuyuan Garden is a
real oasis, with imposing dragon-shaped walls guarding the peaceful haven where
ponds are filled with glistening koi carp and turtles, the latter a Chinese
symbol of longevity. In the streets outside locals queue for lunchtime dim sum,
while cafes serve all manner of Chinese tea; some familiar varieties and others
sold as a cure-all, claiming to help anything from digestion to hangovers.
internal flight the following day took us to Xian, which boasts the most complete
city wall to survive in China. More than 40ft high, and as wide in places, it is more than eight miles long and if you’re feeling energetic
you can hire a bike to cycle around.
Xian’s biggest sight - in every sense - is the Terracotta Army. Located an
hour’s drive out of the city, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer
majesty of more than 7,000 larger the life-size figures in serried ranks and
all with different facial features and characteristics, from young, lean foot
soldiers to plump and stately generals. Alongside them are equally noble
crafted in 210BC on the orders of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang to
protect him in the afterlife, the spectacle is all the more thrilling because
the soldiers lay hidden in the vast mausoleum until being discovered by local
farmers digging a well in 1974.
us every step of the way on the tour was George, our indefatigable tour
guide who dispensed a wealth of information and humour in equal measure. Chinese
v Western toilets became something of a standing joke, if you’ll pardon the
pun, and one day we were relieved to find five-star toilets certified by the
Each day brought
another highlight, and from Xian we took a sleek bullet train to Beijing which
is the gateway to the Great Wall of China. Many tours head to the Badaling
section, which is closest to the city but can get very busy. Our 43-mile drive
to the Mutianyu stretch, accessed by cable car, was rewarded with an uncrowded
walk between some of the watch towers. Free time on the wall allows serious
hikers to ascend some of the challenging steps, while others can simply relax
over a drink at the panoramic viewing point.
excursions, which included a dazzling acrobatic show, were interspersed with
plenty of shopping opportunities, be it haggling for inexpensive souvenirs in
Beijing’s three-floor Pearl Market or having the opportunity to buy
painstakingly crafted carpets, silk paintings and exquisite jade from
specialist workshops which included a short tour and insightful talk.
culminated with a stroll around the vast expanse of Tiananmen Square, the largest
in the world, and the enigma of Beijing’s adjoining Forbidden City that was
closed to the outside world for five centuries.
time we reached our last hotel in Beijing, dodging a fair few of singer Katie
Melua’s alleged nine million bicycles as we crossed the road, we knew how to
tell real jade from fake, a potted history of the Chinese dynasties, that
Peking duck is carved into 120 precise pieces, and that you can’t really see
the Great Wall from space. Above all we had
memories that would last far longer than even the lengthiest Lazy Susan meal.
Cosmos offers a variety of escorted
touring holidays from 11 to15 days with the option to include a Yangtze River
cruise. The 11-day itinerary ‘A China Experience’, taking in the Great Wall of
China, Terracotta Warriors, Beijing and Shanghai is priced from £1,599,
including flights, full-board accommodation, guided sightseeing, transfers and
private home pick-up service.
Travel Advisor recommends Cosmos Tours and Cruises
Photographs courtesy of Cosmos
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