The Silk Road, also known as the Silk Route was a network of ancient trade routes, established in China during the Han Dynasty. This mesh of trades linked the regions of the ancient world commercially during the period of 130 BCE-1453 CE. Although the name ‘Silk Road’ is common and recognized used by many, the term ‘Silk Routes’ appealed more to historians, as this trade network was not a single route from east to west, but a collection of many. Marco Polo, the European explorer has described in detail the Silk Route in his works.
Horses, saddles, animal skins, fruits, honey, glassware, textiles, camels, slaves, weapons and armour were the goods traded from West to East. While in the opposite direction, from East to West, the goods comprised of silk, tea, porcelain, ivory, rice, gunpowder, medicine and many others were traded. The emperor Han officially opened the trade with the west in 130 BC, but later this was boycotted by the Ottoman Empire and routes were closed. This closure of the silk route initiated the Age of Discovery (1453-1660 CE), defined by European explorers mapping new water routes to replace the land route. It has impact cultures around the world as by introducing others to their religion and western culture.
Today, the term ‘Silk Road’, although coined by a German explorer, evoke images of western notion of the Orient. An era where the caravan of horses and mules dotted the canvas, painted with a wild and picturesque landscape. If someone wants to take on the journey of 8,000 km today, one would have to pass through present-day war zones, unexplored desert fringes, and countries which are now relatively safe to visit. This trip would cover an enormous, largely undeveloped region, so aiming for mostly window gazing or visiting a select two or three cities would be the best to know half of the history of Silk Route.
Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, western Mongolia, South Caucasus and some other countries are the ones through which the ancient trade network passed. There is a lot to explore in China, and some bucket list worthy sites in Uzbekistan (like Bukhara, it’s the holiest city) and Turkmenistan. Staying for a day or two to explore their cultures would be an experience of a lifetime.
Most of central Asia consists of rugged terrain with lofty mountains, and nomadic landscapes. Around rural backwaters, old traditions persist about the question of how much sugar in your tea is cherished till now. Also, Nomadic farming forms the livelihood of many and hunting with eagles is still thought as thrilling. As Marco Polo became the first world’s professional traveller, to follow the ‘The Travels’ (his book) will take the modern-day explorer some time and planning (as it plays a key role) but it’ll be an adventure to remember.
The Silk Road can be a massive undertaking for a fortnight’s trip to a smaller slice of Asia. Get your map out and start plotting…
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The article is written by Aarushi Bhardwaj.