Is there any more romantic a symbol than that of the Silk Road? Chinese silks, spices, jade, the western connection to the exotic East. This mystical route conjures images of camels and nomadic horsemen and has a history of lands that have fallen under the Han, Genghis Khan, the Persians and Soviet Russia, to name a few of the empires that sought to control the trade route. Everyone from Alexander the Great to Marco Polo have explored here. Starting in at least the fourth century BCE, the silk road was at least 4,000 miles in length covering 40 countries, but at its centre were “The Stans” of Central Asia.
Now independent countries, the Central Asian region comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan now coloquially known as “The Stans” (“stan,” the Persian suffice meaning “land of”). This was the very crossroads of the Silk Road, connecting Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India and China. The Routes Network of Chang’an-Tian Shan Corridor, covering this area has been protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The region was under Persian control from the 8th to 13th Centures AD and perhaps that period explains the demographic of the population today, which is 95% Sunni Islam, with some remaining traces of its past religions, Buddhism, Eastern Orthodox and Christian. There is still a flavour of Soviet Russia, with some of these countries, supposed democracies, still being ruled by former Soviet leaders.
The amazing geography of this area – arid and mountainous – made agriculture poor but was perfectly suited to nomadic horsemen and animal herders. East of the Gobi desert and steppe settlements rise the snow-capped Pamir and Tian Shan ranges of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, home to traditional herding communities and some truly epic mountain scenery. It is these two countries that would be explored now, but for the current global pandemic.
In the meantime, we shall have to conjure images of exotic skylines of minarets and medressas and caravans loaded down with exotic goods from the East.
We would fly into Tashkent, Uzbekistan but the next day we’d head for Tajikistan and visit its magnificent cities and travel over over the Khargush Pass at 4,344m (14,252’). The second half of the trip we’d visit the beautiful cities of Kyrgyzstan and travel through the High Pamirs mountain range.
Joanna Lumley, the very first Bond girl, now travel documentarian extraordinaire, travelled the Silk Road. There are 4 episodes, here is the first:
This is where I’d normally post a photo of me stepping off on a journey, suitcase in tow. For now, I’m writing from my sunny balcony in fingerless gloves. Let me leave you with this,
And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened, and rested,
and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being and were still.
And listened more deeply. Some meditated,
some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And in the absence
of people living in ignorant, dangerous,
mindless, and heartless ways,
the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the
people joined together again, they grieved
their losses, and made new choices, and
dreamed new images, and created new
ways to live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed
– Kitty O’Meara
– with thanks to Joan McNeely and Margaret Slade