Along the Silk Road in Western China – Xian, Jiayuaguan, Dunhang, Turpan, Kashgar and Tash Rabhat.

Phil Cooper

East Midlands
Rotary, U3A, possibly Probus, schools could be a consideration
30th January 2018
Silk Road | China (Western) | Kashgar | Turpan

Many will have visited Xian, to see the terracotta army and the wall, but this leg of the Silk Road has many other places are of real interest.

The journey took me along roads through the Taklamakan desert, which has great extremes of weather. The rough translation of Taklamakan is “you may enter, but you may not leave”. Many trading caravans did not survive trips, which were only possible due to the oases.

Running throughout the region is a layer of sandstone exhibiting many layers of beautiful colours, perhaps best seen at Danxia Geological park.

The fortress at Jiayuguan is the most westerly part of China and was reinforced to counter the threat of Tamerlane the Samarkand war lord. It is near the Hanging Great Wall, the starting point of the wall, built by the Ming dynasty in the 14th century.

There are monuments to Buddhism which was dominant in the area, firstly at the Bingling Grotto, which features a giant Buddha 27 meters high. The Magao Caves near Dunhang are famous for the artefacts rediscovered by British archeologist Aurel Stein and his rival Frenchman Paul Pelliot, who competed to obtain the most manuscripts and other treasures. The impressive wall paintings date back to the 7th century AD. Nearby are the singing sand dunes of Mingsh Shan. Turpan was a major stop over along the Silk road and is well below sea level. Irrigated by the karaz canals running underground there are signs all around of the buildings to hang the grapes, The raisins were declared the best in the world. I experienced a fall back in time visiting a local Uyghur village, who are of Turkic origin. Jiaohe city originally dates back to 18,000 BC and came under Buddhist influences. It was a major site for trading along the Silk Road.

Historic Kashgar is a remote border city and has changed hands several times and reflects the different cultures in the area. The Id Kha mosque is one of the largest in China. One of the sites listed as one to see is the Sunday bazar, possibly the largest in Asia, while the animals bazar sees frantic activity with famers bargaining for the best prices. The soul of Kashgar is the old city and although a lot has been removed, some of it remains, while other parts have been restored.

Leaving China for Kyrgyzstan Tash Rabat was not to be missed. Originally possibly a Nestorian monastery, the stone built building served as a caravanserai and is where the local Khan administered the surroundings.

Many of the sites of interest were some distance apart and travel took quite a lot of the time. It was however a very worthwhile trip and as usual full of historical sites and stories.

About Phil Cooper

I am a former graduate Biology teacher and also coached cricket for 24 seasons. mainly in New Zealand and Scotland. as a professional. I currently spend the early part of the year in New Zealand and I have delivered several talks, often in New Zealand, which of course I also have an extensive knowledge of having visited the country 14 times.

I continued to travel once I retired. I am prepared to give talks relating to my travel experiences to places, often with a historical background and often not readily visited. These include the Silk Road in Central Asia and Western China, Syria and Jordan, India, Cuba and Peru.

The last trip I undertook was to Northern India and the wildlife reserves in Assam, such as Kaziranga, where there is a large variety of wildlife, including the vulnerable One Horned Rhino. This is the basis of a talk which was well received at Havelock North Rotary Club, Hawkes Bay New Zealand in February 2018.

I look back at my trip in the Middle East - from Cairo to Istanbul and reflect on what I saw then and what I see currently in places like Aleppo. However the highlight for me was the crusader fortress of Krak des Chevaliers, which is shown on the photo I have included. This was described by TE Lawrence as "perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world".

I research the topics thoroughly and I provide a narrative and background to illustrated talks. I operate on a voluntary basis and am prepared to travel within reasonable distances from my home in North Nottinghamshire.

 Central Asia Talk Feedback

This part of Central Asia included in particular Kunya Urgench, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. The buildings are simply stunning and the area is historically very interesting. It is the arena where the Great Game was played out, the political and diplomatic confrontation between Britain and Russia in the 19th century, which was described by one of the audience as fascinating.

"Very interesting talk. I could hear every word. I knew nothing about this area and learnt a lot. Pleased I came!!"

"A very interesting and thought provoking talk."

"Managed to tie in a wide land and historical areas in a concise and interesting way. Gave a wider understanding of the history of these areas which I had not come across before. Would have liked photos of the surrounding countryside."

Some felt there was perhaps a lot of information to handle, others would have liked more information about other areas such as the geography. The word interesting cropped up many times.

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