|This ancient trading
route was started by Han Dynasty power from 138 BC when Emperor
Han Wudi ordered a mission to Central Asia and began westwards extensions
of the Great Wall into the Gobi Desert. Travelled on by silk merchants
from the 2nd century AD until its decline in the 16th century, the
Silk Road is still open in parts to tourists who
desire to explore its heritage. This long string of caravan trails,
roads, oases, and mountain passes, sprawled from northern China,
through bleak desert and mountainous terrain to the ports on either
the Caspian Sea or Mediterranean Sea, and was the conduit for merchandise
and ideas travelling between ancient China and the West. Later,
the Mongols used the Silk Road to secure their vast empire, as Marco
Polo discovered when he travelled it in the 13th century.
The two main routes are separated into the north
route and the south route: the north
begin in China at Xi’an, and runs through the Gansu
Corridoor, Dunhuang, Jade Gate
Pass to the neck of the Gobi desert, following the Tianshan
mountains around the edges of the Taklimakan desert to
Kashgar (Xinjiang province), crossing the Pamirs
to Samarkand or Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and onto
the Caspian Sea. The south route runs with the
north up to the Jade Gate Pass and then winds round
the southern edges of the Taklimakan desert to
Kashgar and then over the Karakorum mountain range
The Silk Road was once a major highway
for the expansion of Buddhism into East Asia, and later on, for
the growth of Islam, and consequently many monasteries, stupas,
grottos, minarets and other ruins dating as far back as the early
centuries can still be seen along the way. Additional attractions
along the route are the diverse scenery, several different minority
peoples and romantic cities.
Inside China the main sights are located in Xinjiang Province,
including the Buddhist grottos at Dunhuang, ancient
relics at Turpan, such as the ruins of the city
of Jiaohe and the exciting Sunday market at Kashgar.
Travel along the Silk Road can be very difficult because of the
terrain, harsh climate and absence of a developed infrastructure.
Visitors to the region are advised to travel with a tour company
or travel agent.