The legendary route known as the Silk Road is thousands of kilometers long and connects Asia to Europe. British author Colin Thubron traveled along the road and recently published a book about his experience.
More than 11,000 kilometers long, the Silk Road is a web of interconnected trade routes that extend from China to the Mediterranean Sea. It runs through the valleys, mountains and rivers of China, Iran, Afghanistan and through the historical cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in Central Asia.
Author Colin Thubron traveled third class across the countryside for his travel book, Shadow of the Silk Road, staying in dingy inns or farms along the way. As Thubron takes his readers across geographic boundaries he reveals cultural boundaries not found on a map.
"You look at a map and you see here is Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Iran, but when you travel that's when you realize how all these borders meld into one another more subtly so that they seem to have ethnic discreteness," explains Thubron.
Trade along the Silk Road once played a significant role in the development of the Chinese, Egyptian, Roman and Mesopotamian civilizations. But today the economy of these regions varies like the hills and slopes in the Silk Road.
"You suddenly see what we think of as westernization,” says the author. “Countries of Central Asia still seem to be economically almost lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many people in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, said how things were better under the Russians."
Thubron says this journey has shown him a new depth of human nature. It is this less commonly seen face of humanity that Thubron offers his readers. "I want readers to get a sense of the complexity and individuality of these people here."
The Silk Road may be centuries old, but for travelers its attraction is always new. It is a story of many civilizations, and travel along it demands curiosity and perseverance, for these are the traits that helped carve out the Silk Road.