To create maps is such a pleasure. When hand draw, mind travel. And I’m pretty sure that thereby appeared labels and graphics like – “Here live dragons” and “World ends here”… So, let return on topic. Interested by Silk road and following some cyclist travelers I try to research how original Silk road changes in this time of ethnic conflicts, wars, and closed borders. And be lucky to find caravanistan.com. But about him a little bit later.
Route start near Baghdad on Tigris port and ancient city Ctesiphon – Madain in present days. Iraq is still highly not recommend for travelers, and most people directly from Turkey enter in Iran. Even more, a border crossing near Khanaqin is closed. So, most modern travelers start real Silk Road in Teheran. From the capital of Iran road goes straight east to Nishapur near a border and after that to Mary, Turkmenistan. Here ancient route splits. One through Afghanistan, others go to Bukhara and Samarkand.
As more and more I read about the road through Afghanistan, more and more regret that live in these centuries. Now on the border have only two possible checkpoints far from the route on a map, the country is not a touristic destination at all and for crossing a border with China through Wakhan corridor and Wakhjir pass guys from caravanistan.com say:
The last foreigner to cross here was probably somewhere in the 1940’s.
But this route connect with another famous road – Karakorum highway – highest paved road in the world. But Karakorum highway go up to Himalaya mountains, and Silk road goes down to Taklamakan desert.
The route through Bukhara and Samarkand after him enter in Fergana valley. Here on the north is impressive Tien-Shan mountain. For that route spit again. Short, but hard way is from Kokand, through Osh, Taldyk Pass and follow Red River (Kyzyl-Suu) go to Kashgar. Now modern travelers use (kind of) this variation, but in opposite direction. After Samarkand, they prefer to go to Dushanbe and take road M41 aka Pamir highway to Osh. Once in Kashgar all around is Taklamakan desert. Silk road does not cross directly desert, but surrounding from south and north. North (more central) route goes to major cities and ancient trade centers like Aksu (Bharuka), Kucha, Yanqi (Karasahr) and Turpan. South route lead to Anxi edge between desert and Kunlun Mountains.
Ancient travelers who not like mountains (or deserts) from Kokand go on northern route of Silk road skirt Tien-Shan mountain from west and entering in North-west China between Tien-Shan and Altai mountains. In China route follow main roads and on the way brings others branches of Silk road in Turpan and Anxi. After Anxi is again one road and along Qilian Shan and border of Inner Mongolia arrive in Lanzhou – capital of Gansu Province where meet big Yellow river. From here traders may sail goods on river or continue to Xi’an and Luoyang – two of Four Great Ancient Capitals of China and major cities in past.
Here in Luoyang, Silk road ends after 8-9000 km.
Now one of best website to find information how to travel on Silk road you may find in caravanistan.com. All about landmarks, visas and the embassies of the countries through which road pass, and of course my favorite – Border crossing map 🙂