On the Silk Road
The air lingers over us, hot and stagnant like a thick blanket. Sweat pours down our faces, clothes cling to our bodies, and our tongues stick to the roofs of our mouths with thirst. The town of Turpan is like an oasis on the edge of desert Taklaman. It resides 153 below sea level and isn’t called the hottest place in China for nothing.
We have journeyed in China for ten days now, following the northern route of the ancient silk road. So far our travels have taken us to the towns of Kashgar, Aksu, Kuqa, Karla and Turpan. Driving along the southern side of the Tienshan mountain range has offered us some splendid and exciting views. The mountains are rocky, steep and harsh and their surface glistens in different colours. The different minerals in the soil make the mountains glow in red, green and golden yellow, like fire
We have enjoyed the atmosphere of the silk road in its ancient cities, which’ buildings have seen travelers and tradesmen for 500 years. Business is still busy in the bazars, the sale items include silk, embroidered fabrics, rugs, jewelery, tea and dried fruits. The melancholy sound of Dutar, a traditional long necked instrument with two strings, flows from the hands of an elderly musician. We’ve admired the multicultural heritage of the area by visiting its many mosques, grand masoleums, romantic palaces, Buddhist caves and old ruins.
The conditions on the silk road have, however, changed since the camel caravans. During the middle ages camels would have had to battle difficult mountain roads and valleys, whereas the modern day caravans get to whizz from one mountain city to the next on a motorway. The daily journeys have also increased by tenfold from the 30-40km of the olden times. The hot climate hasn’t changed much, but modern technology has made it more bearable, for which I’m thankful for as I turn on the air con. And as I open an ice cold drink from the fridge I am reminded that the distance between wells on the silk road used to be up to three days! Besides, during those times a caravan could suddenly be halted by robbers going after gold and jewels. These days the only things travelers must watch for are speed cameras and road tax, which is usually no more than a few euros.
During the hay-day of the silk road, traveling strangers might have received a mixed welcome, from strange looks to swords at times. We however, have received nothing but smiles and “hello’s”. At times we feel like celebrities, as the locals insist on getting their picture taken with us!
Life is as smooth as silk, for the modern day caravan on the silk road!