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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Silk Road
Silk Road - TravelPuppy.com
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 into India.

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.
Useful travel links
Silk Road Silk Road Foundation web site
Silk Road.com all about Silk Road