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The Long and Winding (Silk) Road

By June 28, 2012 No Comments


The Silk Road was an ancient trade route, connecting West, South and Eastern Asia with parts of Europe and the Mediterranean, to transport textiles, perfume, medicine, tea and all manner of products across land, until sea trade increased. For us, the Silk Road’s northern route comprises a hefty portion of our driving journey and conures images of caravans traversing unforgivable desert landscapes and explorers discovering unchartered regions of a mystical land.

Well, that’s the romantic version. The reality is that our Silk Road experience is going to be the most arduous and obstacle-laden part of our journey – where we’ll traverse countries Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Photo – credit

However, as the risk mitigation theme of this blog is becoming somewhat of a bummer, let’s focus for the moment on all the exciting Silk Road wonders that await us.

 

We’re all capable of reading the Silk Road Wiki Page, so here are some things you may not know about this infamous trade route:

  • It’s thought that the Bubonic Plague reached Europe via the Silk Road. Ok, not a positive start.
  • Let’s try again. Uzebkistan’s Khiva, now a modernised city, was once the biggest slave trading metropolis in central Asia. Damn!
  • The Silk Road was also a vessel for the exchange of religion, with Buddhism, Islam and Christianity entering China this way.
  • The Silk Road was named by German geographer Ferdinand van Richthofen, the uncle of the Red Baron, in 1870.
  • Many of the traders travelled with Bactrian camels, used because their nostrils can close and blow sand out to prevent clogging and slowing down progress.
  • Findings suggest the Silk Road may have been used in prehistoric times and is close to 30,000 years old.
  • Marco Polo was the first Westerner to leave an account of his Silk Road travels in his book Il Milione (The Million).

Now, while the term “rally” generally lends itself to tearing through bush terrain to reach a finish line replete with hillbillies and slabs of cheap beer, this particular one lends itself more to the adventure to be had along the way. Don’t get us wrong. We do need to finish, in one piece, and drink our bodyweight in cheap beer. However, we haven’t driven all this way to speed through locations with only the finish line in sight.

Here’s some cool information (in no particular order) about the Silk Road milestones we’ll be journeying through:

Turkmenistan

  • Turkmenistan’s city Merv (Mary) was once considered the gate to Central Asia and is under the state protection as UNESCO Heritage Site, with many ancient settlements and fortresses, namely Erk-Kala, Gyaur-Kala, Sultan-Kala,Abdullakhan-Kala and Bairamalikhan-Kala, Iskander-Kala, Shakhriar-Kala, Smaller Sultan-Kala, and Shaim-Kala.
  • Apparently the Turkmen people, once known to be the fiercest warrior bully types on the Silk Road, are some of the nicest folk you’ll ever meet. We’re looking forward to trying their tea and traditional “tamdyr” bread.
  • Pointing at people, monuments or statues is considered the height of rudeness.

Uzbekistan

  • Uzbekistan is roughly the same size as California and one of only two double landlocked countries in the world – this means that every country that borders it, is also landlocked.
  • Uzbekistan has The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art, exhibiting one of the world’s largest collections of Russian avant-garde art.
  • The cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are the main Silk Road relics with Khiva being described as a massive open air museum.
  • Uzbekistan architecture is world renowned for its diversity and colour with structures still standing as a legacy from ancient Central Asian rulers.

Kyrgyzstan

  • Osh, believed to be “older than Rome” and hence one of the world’s oldest cities, is one of the region’s Silk Road milestones.
  • The Kyrgyz were nomads and had no written language, hence all history has been deduced by external sources and archaeology.
  • Kyrgyzstanhas more than 88 mountain ranges, making up close to 70% of the country’s land mass.
  • Roughly 50% of the Kyrgyzstan population lived below the poverty line in 2003
  • Nothing to do with the Silk Road, but we’re excited to visit a Ryumachnaya, a “restaurant” strictly for drinking vodka. Apparently the food selection is limited to fried bread and potatoes – all you want really after a night on the white spirits.

Any Silk Road stories you want to share?

 

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