Vira Natura

Heart of Asia - China

24 May - 9 June 2024/tbc 2025
From £4,985.00 per person

An exciting research trip that traverses an incredible slice of Asia, journeying from the Pamir Knot (near Kashgar), where the Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Kunlun Shan, Altyn Shan and Tien Shan all converge in the greatest confusion of mountains in the world, and continuing along the southern edge of the latter on to the Altai, themselves spread across China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, representing more or less the geographic centre of Asia. The Great Game was played out between Great Britain and Russia in the late nineteenth century, centred on the old Silk Road oasis of Kashgar, but the whole province is one of intrigue. The vastness and richness of Asia’s landscapes will be revealed from deserts to dense spruce forests, high screes, remote passes and the seldom seen but stunning geopark of Kekotouhai or China's Yosemite.


A unique trip, places limited to a hardy few. 

Rough itinerary:


Days 1     Arrival in Beijing

Reaching the start of our trip takes some time so we’ll fly into Beijing and overnight at an airport hotel.

Day 2     To Kashgar

An early morning flight will take us (6 hours) back to the far western borderland of Xinjiang, landing at the famed Silk Road entrepot of Kashgar (Kashi). We should have time in the afternoon for a bit of local exploration, hopefully tracking down the old embassy building where many a plot was hatched. Overnight Kashgar.

Days 3-5     Karakol Lake, Torugart Pass road, Shipton’s Arch

Kashgar sits at the base of a complex knot of Asian mountains, the Pamir, Karakorum, and Tien Shan all collide hereabouts. We’ll spend the next three days exploring the various roads leading out of the city to high passes and hidden alpine lakes as well as the remarkable natural rock formation – Shipton’s Arch hidden in the hills to the west. Flora will be similar to that found in the Pamir with species such as; Scutellaria jodudiana, Phlomoides schugnanica, Lagochilus seravschanicus, Astragalus bodinii, A. nivalis, Rhodiola coccinea, Helianthemum songaricum, Gypsophila hernarioides, Parrya schugnana, Valeriana minuta, Saxifraga hirculus, S. oppositifolius and with luck coarse high screes may have Solms-laubachia flabellata in flower, a superb high alpine and wet areas the impressive Primula macrophylla, a stunning brute of a primrose. If the season is early, delights such as Aconitum rotundifolium too and of the woody plants pink Rosa korschinskiana should be in flower. Our maximum altitude will be 3700 metres. Overnight Kashgar.

Day 6     To Aksu

Modern roads now connect the former oasis towns of the Silk Road. The towering Tomur Feng rises up to the north, the highest peak in the Tien Shan and we will look at getting higher onto area. This is the broadest part of the range, largely trackless but no doubt there are routes to be found. Overnight Aksu.

Day 7     To Kuqa 

Depending on which happens the previous day and whether we spend more time looking around Tomur Feng we’ll arrive at the next oasis town for the night, hopefully with time to look at one of the ancient buddha caves nearby, but no promises here. Overnight Kuqa. 

Day 8     Borohoro Shan I

Changing tack we now head north and over the first large pass of the Borohoro Shan (actually an offshoot of the Tien Shan). We anticipate this to be a drier pass, which with luck will still have good snow patches for spring bulbs. The landscape will no doubt be superb. Floristically, we will have shifted more towards the Tien Shan Paucity of accommodation in the area means we will have to push on a bit at the end of the day to reach Xinyuan for the night. Don’t expect the Ritz!

Day 9     Borohoro Shan II

An early departure sees us climbing onto the second spectacular pass, one which should be greener with different flora, more typical of the Tien Shan to the west in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The target plant in this area is Fritillaria pallidiflora. We can also expect an array of Phlomoides, Trollius lilacinus, Anemone narcissiflora, Tulipa, Allium, Dracocephalum, Primula nivalis, P. matthiolii, Corydalis, Chorispora bungeana, etc. Overnight in Kuytun.

Day 10     To Tacheng

Largely a day of getting across the flatter plains to the next set of mountains, but hopefully we arrive in time to look around the hills near Tacheng.  Numerous new frits have been described from China in recent years, especially in these areas and we hope to find a number of them along this second part of the trip. Birch woods should have patches of Erythronium sibiricum near late snow too. Overnight Zhongdian.

Day 11     To Habahe

A traverse across the southern Altai, partly depending on how well we get on around Tacheng looking for rare frits. We will use back roads to make our way onto Habahe. Probably! Overnight Habahe (maybe).

Days 12-13     To Kanas National park

Densely wooded valleys frame serene lakes in this classic slice of the Altai and region that continues across a vast stretch of Siberia and spans four countries (China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia). Previous visits to this biome have found plentiful Paeonia anomala, Trollius altaicus, Aquilegia glandulosa, Iris bloudowii, etc.  This earlier season will throw up some surprises. We’ll spend two night staying inside the park and take some walks into the surrounding hills. Overnight Kanas.

Day 14     To Fuyun

A slow journey east exploring whatever side roads we can. Overnight Fuyun.

Day 15     Kektouhai

Today we will experience China’s Yosemite, or so they call it. An area with spectacular landscapes and no doubt some good plants to round off the trip.

Day 16     To Urumqi

A bit more exploration and then across the flatter landscapes to Urumqi.

Day 17     Flights or…

International flights or for those who want more China…we travel south switching Great Game and Silk Road for plant hunter paradise.


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