The Silk Road
Caravans have been travelling the Silk Road for over 2000 years, and Chinese silk was reaching Rome before the time of Christ.
Ideas also travelled this road. Both Islam and Buddhism reached China by this route and some Silk Road areas have important relics of those religions. Various ideas from the East also reached the Islamic countries, and sometimes Europe.
(Marco Polo was a Venetian traveller who went far to the East, following some of the many branches of the Silk Road. He left in 1271 and returned about 1295. His book about his travels was a best-seller then and is still well-known 700 years later.)
followed this route, reaching China overland via Khotan and beginning his homeward journey with a ship on the Maritime Silk Road from Quanzhou to Iran.
Many travellers today follow all or part of this ancient path by train, bus, and private car. Some Wikitravel itineraries partly follow the Silk Road.
This is not an easy route, or one for the novice traveller. Consult a travel medicine specialist about vaccination, and about medicine to take along. See also Tips for travel in developing countries.
If you are doing the full route, bring phrasebooks for at least Chinese, Russian and Persian.
Note that parts of this route may be difficult or impassable in winter, and various borders may sometimes be closed for political reasons. Check country listings for details.
The traditional inns of the area are called caravanserai. They are built around a walled courtyard and have stables for the horses and camels. Some still exist; anyone travelling this road should try to stay in them at least once.
The whole area is Muslim which implies at least:
- a tremendous tradition of Muslim hospitality, wonderful treatment of visitors
- some conservatism, especially in matters such as womens' clothing
- risk of foreigners who do not understand Islam giving offence
- complicated politics, mixed with religious issues
- considerable hostility toward both Western and Russian influences
Some of the people are still nomadic herdsmen, and even in the cities tribal loyalties may run strong, which implies at least:
- tremendous hospitality again
- suspicion of outsiders, even from neighboring tribes. Foreigners are sometimes exempt
- many of them are heavily armed
That said, with a bit of common sense and goodwill, and a lot of flexibility on the part of the traveller, the risks are moderate.
See individual country and city listings for more.