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Ancient Traveler Series: Silk Route

In ancient times, as we all know, people started earning their bread and butter by means of exchanging as well as shipping goods and commodities from one part of the world to the other. These communication paths in Eurasia that covered both land and sea over which the exchange of silk and other commodities took place came to be known as 'silk route' collectively. These networks included the exchange of more than just commodities- it involved the exchange of culture, ideas, and beliefs which would bind people from different countries together. Therefore, in addition to the goods being exchanged and reaching different countries, even science, literature, arts, and other technologies were being carried along the Silk route. The network was not given a name until the mid-nineteenth century when a German geologist named Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen gave the network a name 'Die Seidenstrasse' meaning Silk Road. The name has a kind of mystery attached to it ever since.

Silk Route
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Silk Route: The Routes

The inauguration of the Silk Route was done by Zhang Qian after which it slowly formed into the Han Dynasty in which the roads began from Xian. This route was typically for China trade which extended through the Gansu province through Tianshui, Lanzhou, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Jiuquan, Wuwei and Dunhuang. Dunhuang was a famous spot for its culture and Mogao caves in addition to being a key point in the route from where the road got divided into three different parts namely northern, southern and central.

The northern route covered the western part including the northern foot of Tianshan Mountains, Hami, Urumqi, Yining, black sea and the surrounding area, Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The southern route covered northern foot of the Kunlun Mountains, Ruoqiang, Qiemo, Yecheng, Shache, Hetian, Kashgar. The route further traversed Pamirs which stayed covered in snow and reached Pakistan as well as India through Kashmir and reached Europe through Kabul, Islamabad, Mashhad, Damascus, and Baghdad.

The central route further covered the southern foot of Tianshan Mountains, Loulan, Turpan, Kuche, Korla, Kashgar, Aksu, Pamirs after which it would reach Mashhad by means of Fergana Basin, Bukhara, Samarkand and finally merge into the southern route. Though it has been very difficult to find out the actual length of the route, the estimated length has been nearly 10,000 kilometres which mean approximately 6214 miles out of which 3000 kilometres lie inside the territory of China.

The Legacy of The Route

Back in the nineteenth century, a completely new generation of travellers decided to follow the Silk Road looking for hidden secrets, to make some discoveries and witness adventures. These travellers included archaeologists, explorers, and geographers enthusiastically working to find out something new. Researchers coming in from France, Germany, Russia, Japan and England navigated through the Taklamakan desert so as to discover old sites which remained hidden along the Silk Road which again led to several huge archaeological discoveries, academic studies and the biggest of all- the lost passion and interest in the history of the routes. Today, one can see a number of buildings and monuments which stand strong with their grandeur and also mark the way of the Silk Roads by means of cities and ports. This legacy of the route which has been followed over the years has been reflected in the form of cultures which stand connected, customs, religions, and languages which have been born and developed along these routes. The route has been a place which has witnessed travellers belonging to different nationalities as a result of which not only commodities were exchanged but along with it, cultural interaction took place as well to a certain level. Silk Route has thereby been a catalyst for the formation of a variety of diverse communities across Eurasia and beyond. 

Silk Route Tour

How can one go about exploring the route today?

Today, the Silk Route covers five provinces which lie in Northwest Territory. These include Gansu, Shaanxi, Qinghai, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. This route has played an enormous role in stimulating the exchange between China and India, Europe, Central Asia, Rome and West Asia politically, economically and culturally.

Today, one can go about and explore this beautiful silk route by means of six different train routes which runs through Central Asia. These include -
  • A rail journey for 14 days in Orient Silk Route Express which covers all the regions between Ashgabat and Almaty and runs through three countries including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan
  • Another rail journey extends over a period of 18 days from Moscow to Tehran in luxury golden eagle which covers five countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran
  • There is luxury golden eagle again which begins its 15 days long journey from Tehran and goes up till Tashkent and covers three countries on the way including Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan
  • Another option is to take the luxury Golden Eagle again for 21 days from Beijing to Moscow covering 5 countries namely China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Western Russia
  • One can also go for the rail journey of 16 days in luxury golden eagle from South Caucasus to Central Asia covering Georgia, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan which lie on both sides of the Caspian Sea
Silk Route
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What to watch out for on the way?

According to travellers who have been to the place, the ideal time to travel is during spring season extending from March to May. During that time, the temperature is favourable (between 5 to 20 degree Celsius) and it is surrounded by lush green grass all over.
  • Traveling along the route has been made much easier with the invention of technologies and the emerging connectivity.
  • One must carry clothes for varying temperatures and items of personal hygiene which will not be available on the way.
  • Strong UV radiations of the sun will be prevalent at higher elevations which is why a sun tan oil or cream must be kept handy.
  • In addition to this, basic medical supplies should be kept along and all vaccinations should be done before starting the trip.
  • One must beware of thieves, should not get involved in conversations involving speaking against the government in Central Asia and the rash driving of motorcycles while crossing the road in China. In addition to this, since homosexuality is banned in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, it is advisable for couples to avoid the public display of affection.
Silk Route
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'Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport.'

This post was published by Saumya Bansal