ON ASSIGNMENT: CHINA'S SILK ROAD
I traveled on the Chinese part of the Silk Road in June 2007, a journey from Xian in the east to Kashgar, in the west. A journey of about 3200 kilometers (about 2000 miles) that took 3 weeks by train, bus, plane, 4x4. The journey to describe the life along the Silk Road in today’s China.
The Silk Road got its name only in the 1870s by a German scholar but the trade-route, probably the greatest ever East-west trade route, was first traveled by ambassador Zhang Qian in the second century BC while on a mission from Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty.
The early trade in Silk was done by great caravans of merchants and animals, traveling on some of the most inhospitable land on earth, including waterless deserts and mountain passes with snow.
Silk composed a small portion of the trade along the Silk Road: eastbound caravans brought gold, precious metals, stones, ivory, textiles etc, and westbound caravans transported ceramics, bronze weapons, furs, cinnamon barks and rhubarb.
Very few caravans completed the entire route and the towns along the way became important stops on the way to take on fresh merchants, animals and goods.
These oasis towns prospered considerably because of the trading caravans.
Perhaps the most challenging part of the trip was crossing the Liu sha, or “moving sands”, known as the Taklamakan Desert. Fierce wind and sandstorms made the crossing a challenge.
Taklamakan means, “go in and you will not come out” in Turki, and has been feared by travelers for more than 2,000 years.
A new highway was recently completed from Aksu to Hotian, the new Taklamakan desert highway that considerably cuts the traveling time through the desert.