.    SILK ROAD    .




The World's Longest Road

If you're going to travel the whole way, you better hitchhike


The Silk Road begins at Chang'an (Xi'an), capital of the Han dynasty's empire




Arriving at Xi'an, the old capital of the Qin dynasty, we see our way before us.

First, crossing the Yellow River, then, with the Qilian Mountains to the south and

Gobi Desert to the north, we will move to some Buddhist ruins on the way to the Tarim Basin.




Passing through Xi'an




The famous terra cotta soldiers of Emperor Qin - one of the most famous tombs in the world




Next stop is Lanzhou on the Yellow River, which we must cross




Outside of town the land gets rugged, and we see the loess which gives the

river its name - on we go to Mati Si and Dunhuang!




When Marco Polo arrived in China around 1300 he marveled at the

Buddhist sect called the Mati Si, who carved temples into the sides of the cliffs there




The Buddhist caves at Dunhuang along the road - Buddhism and Nestorian Christianity

diffused to the north and east, respectively, along the Silk Road; here there are houses




At Dunhuang, we can feel that the arid quality of central China kicking in.

We note more houses carved right into the side of the plateau




After Dunhuang we approach Crescent Lake - an oasis with a temple complex




Wait, the whole place is going to be like this? Yes. This leg at least. A satellite image of the Tarim Basin,

featuring the Taklamakan Desert, says we can't go through the middle, so we choose north to see Turfan.




Turfan in winter




We notice another change. No longer are we in historical China. Now we are in

the land of the Ugyhers, a Turkic people. We have crossed a cultural boundary

therefore, passing Turfan, between East Asia and Central Asia.




The Ugyhirs were conquered by the Chinese and now what they would like to call

Ugyhirstan is the Chinese province of Xinjiang - much like Tibet, conquered much later




The Bezeklik Monestary on the way to Urumqi

The Buddhist monks maintain the gardens, giving it an oasis-like quality




Urumqi is up in the mountains - it is the capital city of Xinjaing Province




People of the Ugyhir region




Urumqi at night. The largest city in Western China today, Urumqi is in the Guinesses Book of

World Records as the most remote large city in the world. It is 2,500 miles from any ocean, at the center

of the world's largest landmass. It also is one of the most air polluted cities in the world due to the

high altitude, thin air, and heavy industry mixed with car exhaust. Over 3,000,000 people live there now.




Going back to old Urumqi, it is time to hit the bazaar and get supplies for the trip to Kashgar




Going down the mountains we find the remote Kazil Buddhist Caves

with a statue of a monk there - thinking about Nirvana so long he turned to metal




We've come to the end of the Taklamakan Desert and also the end of the Xinjaing Province.

This means we have also come to the end of China. Kashgar is the westernmost point of the

country, guarding the border with the Stan republics of Central Asia.




Karakul Lake is in the middle of nowhere - at the intersection of the Celestial (Tian-Shan) Mountains,

the Pamir Range and the Kunlun Mountains. Its azure colored water reflects the snow caps




We have come so far... only to find... this guy...




The border is heavily patrolled on both sides... during Silk Road days

this would have been another relay point, handoff from the Ugyhirs to the Kazakhs




Moving to Central Asia, we turn north to Almaty





Silk Road city Almaty is home of the Kazakh people. we see the mountains in the background




On the way west to Bishkek, home of the Kyrgyz people, we encounter traditional homes




Bishkek is a bustling capital city today, another former Silk Road city that has made good




A little to the south as the crow flies, we come to the land of the Tajiks, and Dushanbe




The Hissar, or fortress, of Dushanbe




Moving to Tashkent, home of the Uzbeks, the relay continues




The Uzbek people are proud of their historic architecture, enriched by Silk Road trade




Architecture in Samarkand





Leaving Samarkand on the way to Bukhara





Bukhara is another of the great Silk Road stops, also an Uzbek city like Tashkent and Samarkand




The distinctively Central Asian-Mongolian traditional foods




The eerie stillness of old Bukhara, in the middle of Central Asia




Next stop: Ashkabat, home of the Turkmen. This is the mosque.




More Central Asian architecture in the familiar style




A southern spur of the Silk Road now goes to Bactra, in present Afghanistan, and

a city that was first Zoroastrian, then Buddhist, then Islamic.





This southern spur takes us to Khotan where we play chess, and then south to Taxila in modern Pakistan,

and from there on to Delhi, India - but we are not taking this spur




We continue to Baluchistan, where Merv is a former stop on the Silk Road, now no more




Entering Persia we need a new map of historical and ethnocultural zones




In Persia now, we enter Qom, an Iranian holy city




Next is Ray, an old ruin with a monument to Turghil Beg, leader of the Seljuk Turks

(its almost like they knew we would eventually get to something called "chapter 18"!




Moving further through Persia we go through the ruins of Ecbatana, the Silk Road city

to the west of present day Tehran, capital of modern Iran





Last stop in "Persia" is Ctesiphon, destroyed by the Muslims during the assault on the empire.

We are actually in Mesopotamia, and this ruin is outside Baghdad... others came here before...




The Iraqi capital was built 1,000 years ago by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs

That means it is a realtively "new" city - at least by Silk Road standards!

Here the Arabs took the handoff from the Persians, and we move on to our final stop.




In this area of the Silk Road we see some new faces: Americans

Most Americans are leaving or are out of Iraq, but may be sent back

to fight the growing Sunni radical group that has claimed the next part of the old

Silk Road: ISIS




A car bomb has exploded in the Shi'a area of Baghdad. Sunni-Shi'a violence continues

and ISIS is trying to take over Baghdad. They have just gotten Anbar Province




We cross into Syria, or is it the Islamic State? Here in Raqqa the Syrian dictator

Bashar al-Assad has no authority, this is ISIS headquarters- hit by American

cruise missiles in fall, 2014.


From Wikipedia: "ISIS":

ISIS is a Sunni extremist group. It follows an extreme anti-Western interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. ISIL's aim is to establish a Salafist-oriented Islamist state in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Levant.[216]

ISIS' philosophy is well represented in the symbolism of its black flag, which first appeared as the flag of its former parent organization, al-Qaeda. The flag shows the seal of the Prophet Muhammad within a white circle, with the battle phrase above it, "There is no God but Allah", depicted on a black flag, the legendary battle flag of the Prophet Muhammad.[217] Clearly such symbolism points to ISIS belief that it represents no less than the restoration of the Caliphate of early Islam, with all of the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would necessarily imply.[218]

According to some observers, ISIS emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the first post-Ottoman Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt.[219] It adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups.[216][220]

Other sources trace the group's roots not to the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more mainstream jihadism of al-Qaeda, but to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:

For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.[221]

According to scholar Bernard Haykel, Wahhabism is the Islamic State's "closest religious cognate ... For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself."[221] According to The New York Times, "All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void" and denouncing it for its beheading of journalists and aid workers.[221]

ISIS' ideology originates in the branch of modern Islam that aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting later "innovations" in the religion which it believes corrupt its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam and hence has been attempting to establish its own caliphate.[222] The use of violence to purify the community of unbelievers comes from the Wahhabi tradition. While ISIS is widely denounced by a broad range of Islamic clerics, it took political pressure to persuade Saudi clerics to issue a formal condemnation. Al-Qaeda-oriented clerics were much quicker to condemn the group.[221][223]

According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIS capital of Ar-Raqqah report that "all 12 of the judges who now run its court system ... are Saudis". The destruction by ISIS in July 2014 of the tomb and shrine of the prophet Yunus (Jonah in Christianity), the 13th century mosque of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qassimin, the 14th century shrine of prophet Jirjis (St. George to Christians), and attempted destruction of the Hadba minaret at the 12th century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri, has been called "an unchecked outburst of extreme Wahhabism".[224]

Other Saudi practices followed by the group include the establishment of a "religious police" to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction of or conversion to other uses of all churches and non-Sunni mosques.[225]

Salafists such as ISIS believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, since ISIS regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad, it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.

When the group announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, it claimed authority over the Iraqi governorates of Baghdad, Al Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and parts of Babil.[42] Following the expansion of the group into Syria in 2013 and the announcement of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the number of wilayah—provinces—which it claimed increased to 16. In addition to the seven Iraqi wilayah, the Syrian divisions, largely lying along existing provincial boundaries, are Al Barakah, Al Kheir, Ar-Raqqah, Al Badiya, Halab, Idlib, Hama, Damascus and the Coast.[239] After taking control of both sides of the border in mid-2014, ISIS created a new province incorporating both Syrian territory around Albu Kamal and Iraqi territory around Qaim. This new wilayah was named al-Furat—"Euphrates" province.[240][241] In Syria, ISIL's seat of power is in Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Top ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are known to have visited its provincial capital, Ar-Raqqah.




Like Willie Nelson sung, though, eventually we need to get on the road again.

We leave ISIS and Raqqa, and head to Palmyra in the middle of Syria




Arriving in Endessa, we find old Roman ruins and we know we are near the end




the terminus of the road: Antioch




The old city of Antioch has changed a lot...




The Roman Empire is long gone, of course, and now the city is in Turkey

on the Orantes River. From here goods were shipped by boat to Rome, Egypt, Greece and more!




Back home to Rome. Did you like your tour?

(don't answer that).




Next: Early Islam



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