From the Karakoram Highway to Beijing, and Everything In Between

As soon as I turned 18 one of the first things I did was get a passport. I’ve always known I wanted to travel, and that was the first step I made towards my dreams. However it wasn’t until almost two years later, on May 12, 2015 that I actually got the chance to use that passport to travel halfway across the world, to China

After taking a semester long course focusing on China and it’s relationship with the media, my journey started on a rainy morning at Saint Michael’s College. Where we were all loaded into vans before departing to the airport for a 14-hour flight. We landed in Kashgar, the westernmost point of China, and continued down the Karakoram Highway, which is now considered to be the modern Silk Road. 

My classmates and I walked in the footsteps of those who came before us. We stayed with a Kyrgyz family in their yurts overlooking Karakul Lake, ate and danced with a Tajik family in their Tashkurgan home and spent a night dancing under the stars with Uyghurs in the Taklamakan Desert, also known as the Sea of Death. We enjoyed the cultural differences and experienced a part of China that many people don’t even know exists.

For our last day in Kashgar we started out early with a hike to Shipton’s Arch, the largest natural arch in the world. While hiking up the manmade stairways you can see it peeking out at you, humbly hiding it’s dimensions. However you can’t even fathom it’s vast size until you are standing mere feet from it. After our hike and a short nap, we traveled to the Id Kah Mosque, which is the largest mosque in China, went to a silk carpet shop and visited Kashgar’s Old Town, a seemingly disheveled gem full of genuine Uyghur culture. 

With three day left in China we bid farewell to the west and made our way east, finishing up the remainder of our trip in the country’s capital, Beijing. Our day of travel was filled with long layovers, and a few cases of the stomach bug for some members of the group. After very little recovery time, we were up and loaded onto a bus to make our way into the mountains. We met with William Lindesay, a Great Wall expert, who gave us a unique opportunity to see a part of the Great Wall that is not open to the public. The overgrown section of the wall made me realize just how much history could be found within the stone structure. 

Our last day consisted of a trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. After spending a portion of the semester learning about the history of these landmarks, it was impressive to see them in person. We also visited the 798 Art Zone, a large section of galleries and street art in the Chaoyang District of Beijing. Unfortunately when we arrived the galleries were closing, so we wandered around looking at the various street art and graffiti. 

The final stop of our night was Houhai Lake, which is surrounded by a Hutong neighborhood famous for it’s nightlife. The colorful lights were beautiful, and they certainly reflected the eccentric area of Beijing. But our night didn’t end there, after a taxi ride back to the hotel, we all took the Dongcheng District of Beijing on foot. We wandered around maze like Hutong neighborhoods, took photos by Tiananmen Square and I celebrated my 20th birthday at midnight. Without any sleep, we returned to Tiananmen Square at 4am, to watch the daily flag raising ceremony. And after our sleepless night, it was time to go home. Ending the trip of a life time.

I spent a large majority of the trip with my camera strapped to my side, here are just a few of the shots I got from this unique country:

Special thanks to my professors Rob Williams and Traci Griffith, who made this trip a possibility. To all of my classmates for traveling to the land less traveled and taking every new experience by storm, even eating pigeon and using squat toilets. And to my mom and dad for not treating me like a crazy person when I told them I wanted to go to China.

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