Crossing the Silk Road

The following are some highlights of a month-long journey along the Silk Road.

The Silk Road is the route that connects the East and the West covering China, Central Asia, and European countries. Before the advancement of science, the world’s longest and most dangerous route allowed cultural exchange between the East and the West. The following are some highlights of a month-long journey along the Silk Road.

The World’s Most Beautiful Road, KKH -Centered along the 8,611m-tall K2, the Karakoram Range spreads across the Central Asia, Pamir Mountains, and the Tibetan Plateau. Humans, impressively enough, opened the world’s highest highway on this seemingly indomitable mountain range through Pakistan and China. A small village on the board of Pakistan from China along the KKH—a picturesque town leaves visitors in awe with its natural beauty.

Boarder Town, Tashkurgan

A small town on the boarder of Pakistan and China’s Uyghur Autonomous County, Tashkurgan is flocked with Pakistani, Uyghur people who arrived by international bus and Tashkurgan townies. At first glance, Tashkurgan way of greeting appears like beating—placing one’s fists on each other’s faces. But their traditional greeting of the Silk Road merchants conveys a warm welcome.

Uygurs’ Place in the Heart, Kashgar

Although now a part of minorities of China, Uyghurs played a significant road as middlemen during the cultural exchange through the Silk Road. Kashgar is forever a home-at-heart and a historic town of the Silk Road for Uyghurs. Not only is the town a must-visit for the Silk Road travelers, but for those visiting the Uyghur area as well. Except for Chinese-written signs, the place appears nothing like a city of China. An intersection for Silk Road travelers, Kashgar’s bustling market suffices to provide exotic mixture of various Central Asian countries.

The Hometown of Knife Production, Yengisar

For merchants crossing the Silk Road, a knife to protect them and to cook food was necessary. Perhaps, Yeingisar’s knives are the masterpiece of these artisans. The Silk Road’s number one knife production town, Yeingisar, undoubtedly remains a must-visit for the Silk Road travelers. 

Hub for 11 Different Minorities, Sache (Yarkand)

At the fertile oasis town, Yarkand (or Sache), dwells approximately 600,000 people composed of eleven different minorities. Yarkand has been a major oasis in the Taklamakan Desert since the Period of North and South Dynasty (as it was called “the great sand country”) and has grown into the major hub of the northern Silk Road. The amalgamation of eleven minorities has created new culture, not to mention fusion food. For those passing Sache, don’t miss out on the local fusion food, albeit not delectable-looking.

Traffic Hub of the Silk Road, Yecheng (Kargilik) County

Located in altitude 1,350m (4,4239ft) of the northern Tarim Basin, Yecheng is known as the driest part of China due to little annual precipitation. The environment may not be the best, but due to transportation to Tibet (author’s favorite region!) Yecheng is a delightful county. Since the past, travelers have crossed the dry land as it served as the traffic hub. Everything passes by quickly as it suits its nickname, the traffic hub that connects Urumqi in the North, and Kashgar, Pakistan and even Tibet in the South. If you are a transportation-using backpacker, don’t forget Yecheng to travel to the northern cities beyond the Taklamakan Desert.

The Biggest Southern Oasis city of Jade, Khotan

Khotan, or Hotan, is the biggest oasis city in the South known for its jade production. Unlike other aforementioned towns, Khotan is dense with skyscrapers as it is known as the greatest northern city of the Taklamakan Desert. Khotan produces the most jade in China. The Khotan jades are excellent in quantity and quality and are traded across China as well as in Europe at exorbitant price. The two rivers—Karakash River (aka Black Jade River) and Yurungkash River (aka White Jade River)—are literally flooded with jade that an hour of jade search will provide a handful of jade. For those with enough time, jade search at either of river will provide you with unique memories.

Starting Point to the Taklamakan Desert, Minfeng County

A small northern oasis county of the Taklamakan Desert, Minfeng, is a departure point for many Taklamakan travelers due to its convenient location. There isn’t a single town for another 540km (335 miles) beyond Minfeng, so make sure to pack enough food before departure.

The Land of No Return, Taklamakan

The fecund desert of Taklamakan appears smooth and soft rather than desolate and fertile. Its curvy waves made by wind and soft grains of sand like those of woman exalt reverence and awe. Every footprint on the sand dunes evokes different astonishment and senses.

Northern Oasis Town of the Taklamakan, Luntai

If there is Khotan in the South of Taklamakan, there is Luntai in the North. The entire town of Luntai Oasis was renovated as an intersection of Minfeng and Luntai. It is hard to believe there is a verdant town in the middle of desert. The refreshing smell of nature carried by the wind turns Luntai into a heavenly forest instead of sand-wind city.

The Center of Uygur Xinjiang City, Korla

The Oasis town of northern Taklamakan Desert, Korla is surrounded by Tien Shan mountain range to its North, and by the Taklamakan Desert to its South that you can see either desert or mountain in any direction. And thus “Korla” literally means “to gaze” in Uygur language. Geographically the town is located in the center of Xinjiang and serves as a hub that merchants passed by to enter Tian Shan northern road in the past. There are various remnants of the old Silk Road and entertainments to regale the visitors. 

The Permafrost that Looks Out the Desert, Tian Shan (also, Tien Shan)

Tian Shan stretches east to west from Uygur District to Kyrgyzstan. Also known as the most dangerous region of the Silk Road, Tian Shan mountain range borders Uygur District of Xinjiang, Urumqi of Central Asia, and the Taklamakan Desert. The mystical juxtaposition of fertile desert and permafrost augments to the sublimity and grandiosity of the region. From the northern Luntai oasis town to Korla and Turpan, Tian Shan portrays a picturesque scene all along.

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