Joining the Caravan: Traveling the Silk Road

Mo Gao Caves coer

Brace yourselves because we are about to travel down the Silk Road.   I forget sometimes that I live a ridiculously privileged life.  It is easy to get into a routine where Iam distracted by the fact that I am useless at communicating and essentially illiterate in China and forget to remember what a unique and amazing position I am in.  Why yes, I am spending the next 10 days traveling the ancient silk road…  Yep, I want to smack me too. 

The “Silk Road” isn’t as much a road as a series of vague routes essentially linking China and the Mediterranean through central Asia.  The routes basically started longer ago than recorded history as various people traded with the next settlement and eventually solidified into what we now call the Silk Road.  Although there are maritime equivalents the overland route through Central Asia crossing the Taklimakan desert tends to be the Silk Road that people have in mind. Actually, they didn’t even call it the Silk Road until the 19th century.  Up until then I guess they referred to it as, “That really long dangerous trip that I go on hoping to strike it rich.  See you in a couple years when I get back” You can see why they eventually shortened it.   

The Silk Road is one those romanticized ideas that as a traveler I am irresistibly drawn to.  It brings long caravans of traders on camels walking through the sand dunes to mind.  I have this idea that that a journey like this in many ways is as much a journey of self as a journey of distance.  I am intrigued to see what I am going to learn and whether all of this lives up to my expectations.

Here is the rundown: We are flying out from Beijing to Xi’an where we will see the famous Terracotta Warriors and visit a Muslim quarter.  We fly out to Zhangeye the next day to see some colored mountains and Jia Ya Guan Fortress which is the western end of the Great Wall. We will drive four hours to Dunhuang to see the Sand Dunes there and the Mo Gao Caves which have Buddhist Grottos in them. Then we have a night train to Turpan.   Apparently, this is an essential Chinese experience but I am not looking forward to it. *shudder*.  In Turpan we will see the Emin Minaret, the Karex Irrigation System (oh, that sounds like a fun museum) and the Ruins of Ancient City of Jiao He.  This is a ruin that is large and better preserved than Pompeii and asks the question about the western centeredness of education.  A three hour drive to Urumqi where we will visit the International Bazaar and Heavenly Lake.  We fly out the next day to Kashgar where we will visit Karakul Lake, New Old Town, Héytgah Meschit Grand Mosque, Abakh Khoja Tomb, Old Old Town, the Kashgar Bazaar and finally Sunday Animal Market before taking the seven hour flight back to Beijing. 

Bear in mind that this whole trip will be in synch with China’s National Day holiday so pretty much every place that we will go is guaranteed to be insanely crowded.  Bring it on! 

Tomorrow we move on to Xi'an!