THE SILK ROAD: Road Tripping the Route that Spawned Civilization

WHAT: Travel the Silk Road

Today, we’re able to travel the length of the ancient Silk Road, from Turkey to China and back, in a day. However, two thousand years ago, the same journey would be measured in decades. Then, some ancient intercontinental travelers connected a shifting network of trails stretching between Istanbul and Beijing. The Silk Road changed the world as we know it. It didn’t just pop up overnight. Neither was it a single road made of silk. Above all, it was a reunification spot.

A Brief History Lesson

At some point in ancient history, early homo sapiens headed north and reached the gates of North Africa. There, they came to a fork in the road. Some went north or west, into Europe. The other group went east to a region eventually named Asia. Tens of thousands of years later, the Silk Road brought these groups back together. They looked, spoke, acted, ate, drank, lived, and thought differently. They exchanged art, jewels, fabrics, animals, and more. Moreover, traders and travelers along the Silk Road swapped technologies that would impact human culture forever.

Ancient caravan on the Silk Road
Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Silk Road – The Path to Modern Civilization

Today, the cultural legacy of the route remains not as a marketplace of goods. Above all, it is remembered as an exchange center for ideas, ideologies,  philosophies, and science. And, of course, God. Yahweh and Jesus traveled east. Meanwhile, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various flavors of nomadic shamanism headed west. Around 700BC, a new religion – Islam, was born along the route’s Arabian mid-point. The rest is history.

The silk road view of the Hindu Hush mountains in Pakistan.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

 

Nowadays, traveling the Silk Road is to follow the ghost of traders, merchants, and Mongol warriors. Much has changed. However, the Silk Road’s reputation as the world’s highest, lowest, hottest, coldest, longest, most rewarding road trip remains the same.

 

entering China along the Silk Road
Photo Credit: Tom Phillips
HOW

For convenience sake, let’s just say the Silk road network traverses any nation between Turkey and Eastern China. For example, there’s the Northern, Southern, and Southwestern routes. All of these merit a dedicated travel book in themselves. Whichever route you choose, you’ll need to do your homework. Many choose to travel by car or motorcycle. Likewise, traveling the Silk Road is also something of a rite of passage for long-distance cyclists. If you choose to hitchhike then God be with you.

 

Photo Credit: Amit Jain. Unsplash

 

Silk Road No Go Areas

Before setting off, remember that certain routes are inaccessible during winter. Other routes pass through deadly serious bandit country and present-day conflict zones. In certain places, the chances of being kidnapped and/or killed range between high and guaranteed. These locations can and should be avoided.

Many Silk Road travelers choose stretches of road that incorporate major cities and attractions. For example, favorites include the remote Gobi desert and the spectacular Hindu Kush mountains. There’s also the spectacular Karakoram mountain range spanning  China, India, Pakistan, the Himalayas, and beyond.

Some of the roads are smooth graded highways. In contrast, some are dirt paths and old, crumbling Soviet-era trails. Along them, you’ll encounter towns, villages,  mosques, and incredible Persian and Muslim architecture.

 

Abandoned Soviet Tank on the Silk Road
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

For accommodations, check out the Caravanserai. These ancient traditional inns have welcomed weary travelers since ancient times.

Remember that traveling the Silk road requires:

  • A valid passport
  • Visas
  • Extensive planning
  • Possibly vaccinations.
WHERE

The Silk road encompasses most countries between Turkey and China. These include Russia, Mongolia, some North African nations, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a whole bunch of other ‘stans.’  You can begin the journey anywhere between Europe and China. However, the traditional jumping-off spots are the routes between  Xian, China, and Istanbul, Turkey.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons
RISKS

Avoiding red-hot conflict zones is a no-brainer.  Beyond that, traveling the Silk Road takes you into old-world, conservative Islamic territory. Above all, ensure your actions, words, manners, and dress convey respect. Similarly, nomadic herders live in many areas. Tribal loyalties run strong among these rugged, sometimes heavily armed groups.  Some may welcome you. But, some may not. Communication could be key. Consequently, a simple phrasebook may be invaluable.

The city walls of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: Falco. Pixabay

 

REWARDS

Nowadays, cultural and religious differences between east and west are all we hear about. In contrast, traveling the Silk Road brings sights, sounds, intimate conversations, folkloric traditions, and cultural immersion. Essentially, you will experience things that take you way beyond the narrative. Of course, over the centuries much has changed.   However, the Silk Roads’ capacity to broaden cultural horizons remains as powerful as it was hundreds of years ago.

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