The Silk Route is a historical network of trade routes across Asia, connecting countries like India, China and Indonesia with Europe and North and South Africa. These trade routes were established around 200 BC and expanded the centuries after then. After the Middle Ages land routes declined as sea trade routes increased. So they have been around for more than 1.500 years… Traveling the Silk Route should be easy… after all, people have been travelling this route for ages… So, here’s an interesting question is: what to expect?
To answer that question, I studied the silk route in more detail. Traveling through Asia, from east to west, and starting in Shanghai, we pass through these cities: Xi’an, Dunhuang, Kashgar, Dushanbe, Ashgabat, Tehran and Kars before arriving in Istanbul. The distance is approx. 12.000 kilometer plus I’ll probably be lost a couple of times. From the Tour d’Afrique’s rider’s kit: “we did reach as low as -7 degrees Celsius on one mountain night where we were camped above 3000 m in 2007. We also hit highs of 50 degrees Celsius in Turkmenistan in 2008.” But that’s just that :-).
More challenging is the traffic in the cities we have to pass through. Shanghai has more than 19 million inhabitants and covers an area of 6,340.5 square kilometers, which extends about 120 kilometers in north and south and nearly 100 kilometers in east and west, and with more than 1 million private cars.
Or Xi’an with 8 million inhabitants, 200 bus lines, 6 passenger transport railway stations and many many cars as well. But there is also the famous Terracotta Army with over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, and the majority which is still buried in the pits. In China, everything is impressive!
Further along the Silk Route we’ll pass the Taklamakan Desert. This is an area of 337.000 square kilometer / 130.000 square miles and it’s the world’s second largest shifting sand desert with about 85% made up of shifting sand dunes. I guess that means that it will be windy and my skin will feel very smooth after this sand-blasting experience. In this part of the world hotels will be limited, so I expect to sleep in my tent, in the middle of nowhere, at night under a very impressive sky! Great! Although I will miss a shower in the morning…
The Pamir Highway is known as the second-highest altitude international highway in the world, connecting Kyrgyzstan with Uzbekistan through Tajikistan. It crosses the Ak-Baital pass at 4,655 meter altitude! And although I can’t find the exact length of the Pamir Highway, I expect it will be approx. 500 kilometer cycling through the mountains… The good thing is that it’s only one road, so I probably can’t go the wrong direction… but you never know…
Another highlight will be Samarkand in Uzbekistan which is added to UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001 as Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures. You should ask Google for pictures and Wikipedia for (historical) insights. I don’t know where to start writing about this city… I’ll share my experiences with you when I’ve been there! And the same is true for places like Dushanbe, Ashgabat, Tehran and Kars.
A little about my traveling through Iran. I’ve been reading some blogs and receiving some info from TDA, and this describes its best: “most friendly and hospitable people throughout asia.” Of course I have to use my common sense, not to participate in demonstrations, respect religion and things like that, but that applies to Europe as well. I’m really curious to see and experience Iran other than what we see and hear on television.
So, what to expect? I guess I can summarize it as: lots of kilometers on my bicycle, meeting a lot of people, new cultures, and everything else you can think of. But most of all, I expect that I am going to enjoy it very much!