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China Silk Road Travel guide

Two thousand years ago, the threads of commerce were established and the Silk Road connected Xi'an to the Middle East and Europe, opening China for the first time to the Western world. It was in 138 BC that the Han emperor Wudi sent an emissary westward, not for trade, but to seek allies to defend China against the Huns. From that time until the 14th century, caravans carrying spices, fruits, and all manner of goods from the West routinely crossed the deserts in search of silk, transforming forever China's frontier towns into cosmopolitan trading centers.china_silk_road_travel

Modern day Marco Polo may follow the path of these ancient caravans all the way from Xi'an, in China's interior, to Kashgar near the former Soviet border (the present border of the republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan). Numerous tour companies offer various Silk Road Tours that include one or more of the major cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Hong Kong) and then venture out across western China, where the majority of people still follow a way of life largely unchanged since the days of early traders. Tours along the Silk Road pass through areas where 12 of China's 56 ethnic minorities still live. Unlike the caravans of the past however, today you can travel in comfort by air, train and motor coach.

Xian was one of the most important cradles of Chinese civilization. It marked the start of the famous 'Silk Road' that linked China with central Asia and the Roman Empire. And it served as the first capital of a unified China and capital of 13 dynasties periodically from the 11th century B.C. to the early 10th century A.D. Xian, or Chang'an as it was called in ancient times, is known as the city of 'Everlasting Peace.'

An important desert oasis along the Silk Road, Lanzhou houses two Buddhist grottoes, the Bingling Temple Caves and Maijishan Grottoes. You can see artifacts and cultural relics of the Silk Road dating back to 1066 BC displsyed in the Provincial Museum. Other attractions include Labrang Lamasery and Five-spring Mountain.

Jiayuguan Pass
Jiayuguan Pass, the west end of the Great Wall, is located at the foot of JiaYu Mountain. This city is home to a magnificent castle with a tower and two three-story gates at the East and West. Also near Jiuquan are the Bell and Drum towers, built in 343 AD, and the Wei Jin Tombs, containing 1,600 year-old murals that pre-date those at Dunhuang.

Dunhuang, with its lush green fields and mountainous rolling sand dunes, is one of China's most historic destinations along the Silk Road. Located about 1½ hours northwest of Lanzhou by air, Dunhuang served as a rest stop for traders and as the gateway through which Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity entered China.

Jiuquan is an important city on the ancient Silk Road. The city has a long history of producing luminous wine glasses, called jade cups.

This city is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China's far Northwest. Vast deserts, an ancient glacier, a huge open-air bazaar, and the colourful dress of its 13 indigenous nationalities transform Urumqi into an exotic, far removed world. Only 116 kilometres away, Heavenly Lake (Tianchi) offers a vast expanse of placid water, 1,801 metres above sea level. The lake is surrounded by steep green pastures, virgin conifer forests and snowy mountain peaks.

An oasis 180 kilometres southeast of Urumqi, Turpan is accessible only by rail or road. Turpan presents a myriad of colourful faces and ethnic backgrounds. The Uygur and Hui peoples comprise most of the town's predominantly Moslem population. Turpan is best known for its grapes and honeydew melons, but is also rich in historical relics bearing evidence to the importance of the area's links to the Silk Road. Places of interest include the Sugong Mosque (also known as the lmin Pagoda or Suleiman's Minaret), the Thousand-Buddha Caves of the Flaming Mountains, and the Gaochang Ancient City and Jiaohe Ancient City, ruins of a once-prosperous, strategically important garrison town between the 1st century BC and the 14th century AD.

Kashgar is located at the junction of the south and north routes of the Silk Road. Then, after crossing the Pamirs Plateau, the northern route led travellers of old to Persia and thence on to Europe, while the southern route led to ancient India. Main points of interest in Kashgar include the Tomb of Apak Hoja, Big Bazaar.

Other tourist cities along the Silk Road include Hami, Korla, Hotan and Kuqa.

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