Traveling China's Silk Road: The Route
View the interactive map to learn more about the route and its history.
In May of 2006 American filmmaker Tim Boelter, British writer Mike Chrisp, and Chinese off-road driver Lao Wang will depart the city of Zhengzhou, China on a remarkable journey into China’s wild western frontier.
Traveling over 6,000 miles along China’s ancient northern and southern Silk Road routes, this odyssey is a unique passage into a vast, remote corner of the most populous country on earth.
Leaving behind the traditional population centers of Beijing, Shanghai, and Zhengzhou, the team will drive to a place in China where the local residents don’t speak the Chinese language. Here the religion of Islam has replaced Buddhism, and small Turkic villages dot the desert landscape as remote oases on the ancient Silk Road.
The northern Silk Road begins in the ancient Chinese city of Xian. For over 2,000 years this was the center of China, dating back to the Xia (first) dynasty. Remarkably Xian has remnants of an Islamic presence here dating back 500 years. Aside from the famed Terracotta Warriors located here, Xian has an abundance of historic and geographic wonders to explore. As they cross the northern tier of China and just within the Gobi Desert, they travel beyond the final reaches of the Great Wall of China, and eventually on to the Xinjiang Province.
Xinjiang is the largest province in China where a vast desert stretches for hundreds of miles and the greatest mountain ranges on earth tower above the arid plains. Here the Taklimakan Desert swallows the horizon and earns its reputation as the Desert of Death. Scientists consider it the most dangerous desert in the world.
Next the team travels to the capital city of Urumqi, known as the farthest city in the world from any ocean. This city, whose culture resembles anything but Chinese, shares its roots with the Turkic people who follow Islam.
It’s here in Urumqi where they take part in the Taklimakan Desert Rally. This competitive 4X4 off road race crosses one of the great deserts of the world and eventually finishes in the farthest western city of China.
As they drive westward through the heart of the Taklimakan desert they soon arrive at the exotic camel-trading outpost of Kashgar. This desert oasis was, and still is, a trading hub on the Silk Road. Here there is a fascinating mix of ethnicity including Uyghers, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Han Chinese.
Kashgar is also where the Silk Road splits to navigate north and south around the Taklimakan Desert. The southern route is less modern and marked by ancient cities that have succumbed to the desert sands and retreating rivers.
As they continue across the southern Silk Route, travel becomes uncertain as a shifting desert and mountainous landslides destroy the road routinely. The southern route goes through small desert towns — most notably, Hotan. Renowned for its silk, carpets and jade, Hotan’s Sunday market is a spectacle to witness.
Eventually they travel back to where they began — finishing an epic journey through an enormous country where cultures collide and breathtaking scenery saturates our senses. This extraordinary journey will reveal a truly unique part of China that is undiscovered by the outside world.
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