Modern Travels on the Ancient Silk Road

The Silk Road trading route extended westward from Luoyang (east of Xi'an) in present day Henan Province, China, through the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province. Near Dunhuang it split. One route went south of the Taklimakan Desert, while another went to the north of the desert (the route I took). They rejoined at Kashgar (in Xinjiang Province, China), the most westerly part of China. Routes from here went over the mountains to Kyrgyzstan or via Afghanistan and Iran to Ctesiphon, near present day Baghdad in Iraq, the notional end of the Silk Road. Here, other trading routes came from the Middle East. At Turpan in northern Xinjiang Province, China another part of the Silk Road went via Urumqi into northern Kyrgyzstan. Trading routes met near Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and went north or south of the Caspian Sea. The route to the south was part of the Silk Road. The route to the north (the route I took) went via Khiva and Nukus.

This Gallery contains images along the Silk Road in China (Parts 1, 2 and 3), Kyrgyzstan (Part 4) and Uzbekistan (Part 5).

Part 1: Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China

Pingyao, halfway between Xi'an and Beijing (actually in Shanxi Province)

The Terracotta Warriors, near Xi'an

Huimin Street, Muslim Quarter, Xi'an

Xi'an City Walls

Mr Yang in 2016. In 1974 he discovered the Terracotta Warriors

Part 2: Gansu Province, China

At Bing Ling Thousand Buddha Caves

In a Linxia Laneway

Prayer wheels on the 3 km kora around Labrang, Xiahe

Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Xiahe

He Ain't Heavy (Labrang)

River view at Sangke, west of Xiahe

Prayer wheel, Labrang, Xiahe

Pull the Other One, Gangweidao village

Rural road near Gangweidao

At Sangke

The so-called 'western end' of the Great Wall at Jiayuguan

Holding it all together at Jiayuguan Fort

Jiayuguan Fort

Yippee! School's out! Dunhuang

Crescent Lake Pavillion, near Dunhuang

Modern trails over the Singing Sand Dunes, near Dunhuang

Remnants of an ancient mud brick section of the Great Wall, north of Dunhuang

Dune Duo, Sand dunes near Dunhuang

Playing Xiang Qi, Dunhuang

Camel trains, Singing Sand Dunes, Dunhuang

Part 3: Xinjiang Province, China

Jiaohe (200 BC to 1400 AD), near Turpan

A corridor in a mosque, Turpan

The Heavenly Lake, near Urumqi

Subashi ruins, near Kuqa

Maulana Ashiddin Mazar (mosque), Kuqa

Approaching Kuqa from the north

Laneway in a traditional part of Kuqa

Sun, clouds and mountains, north of Kuqa

The Muzart River at Cha'Erqizhen

Traffic Control, Aksu

Painted mountains, east of Gulelukexiang

Most of the remaining photos in Xinjiang Province (below) were taken in the Old Town in Kashgar in 2016 and 2019. Between 2009 and 2015 most of the Old Town of Kashgar was demolished. Much of it was rebuilt with wider streets and buildings better able to withstand earthquakes. If you want to see old Kaskgar before its destruction, look at John Gollings' images in Kashgar Oasis City on China's Old Silk Road, Frances Lincoln Ltd Publishers, 2008. In 2016 there was busy local life in the rebuilt old areas and access was almost unrestricted. There were children playing in the laneways and food vendors and activity everywhere. I saw few, if any, tourists from elsewhere in mainland China. By 2019 this had all changed: there had been a security 'crackdown' and the police presence was unbelievable. There were police on foot, in armoured personnel carriers and in cars patrolling the main roads. Within the old area police in electric buggies, on scooters, on bicycles and on foot were frequently encountered (every five or ten minutes). Armed and shield-carrying riot police roamed in groups of three. To get into the old areas, everyone had to go through x-ray security checkpoints that didn't exist three years before. There were far more security cameras. In parallel with this intense security regime, many businesses were now shuttered and closed. There were no groups of children playing in laneways. But the streets weren't empty: instead of the previous busy-ness of locals, it was full of Han Chinese tourists on foot or in electric buggies, with guides showing them what I knew to be no longer there. The irony was obvious and depressing. Pot plants lined every street, cute 'gateways' had been installed and in anticipation of National Day celebrations there were little Chinese flags everywhere. The old town had been turned into a soulless, sanitised, half-empty ethnic minority theme park, completely safe for Chinese tourists. Mind you, I found it completely safe and friendly three years before, but I'm not Han Chinese. In 2016 there was one remaining original mud brick section of the Old Town intact. By 2019 it was empty and closed off, apparently due to earthquake damage in 2017. As there are two or three earthquakes a year in this area and the old town has survived for centuries, I am unable to establish if that is the real reason for its evacuation and closure. It is being reconstructed. Time will tell if the result is authentic or just more in the theme park style. Old Kashgar is now dead. I am glad I had the chance to see it and meet its friendly inhabitants in 2016.

In the back streets of Kashgar, 2016. Local teenagers walk past a street food vendor

The same street in 2019: no food vendor, two new security cameras (above the two women on the right), few locals and lots of mainland tourists.

Bakery in the back streets of Kashgar, 2016. The business was shuttered and closed in 2019.

Sister and brother, Kashgar (2016)

Conversations, Kashgar (2016). This business was still there in 2019, but 'tidied up' off the street.

Hot Wheels in Kashgar (2016)

Friendly butcher, Kashgar in 2016. This business was not operating in 2019.

Look familiar? Sunday Livestock Market, Kashgar (2016)

In the only remaining original mud brick quarter of Kashgar, 2016 (Closed by 2019)

A corner, mud brick quarter of Kashgar, 2016 (Closed by 2019)

The last mud brick quarter, closed off and vacated, 2019

At the Grand Bazaar, Kashgar (2016)

Local shop, mud brick quarter, Kashgar in 2016 (This area was closed by 2019).

Butcher at the Sunday Livestock Market, Kashgar (2016)

Celebrating 70 years of achievement

-- it's party time

Back street west of Id Kar Mosque, Kashgar in 2016

The same back street in 2019: turned into a theme park

Local life in Kashgar's old town, 2016

A food stall in the back streets, Kashgar in 2016. The business was not there in 2019.

At the Livestock Market, Kashgar (1)

At the Livestock Market, Kashgar (2). All livestock market images are 2016.

At the Livestock Market, Kashgar (3)

Camels for sale at the Livestock Market, Kashgar

At the Livestock Market, Kashgar (4)

Part 4: Kyrgyzstan

Karakol in eastern Kyrgyzstan

Soaking up the sun in Karakol

The golden boy of the Soviet era

Old Russian cottage, Karakol

Karakol memorial to those who died in the Great Patriotic War (1941-45)

Goat on a Rope - Karakol Sunday Livestock Market (simply crazy!)

In a back street of Karakol

The 1910 Dungan (Hui) Mosque, Karakol

Jeti-Oghuz landscape

Jeti-Oghuz Gorge

Near Dolon Pass

Cemetery near Naryn, on the Silk Road route over the mountains from Kashgar

Skaka Valley rock formations

West of Keng-Suu

Down from Dolon Pass

Dolon Pass Snowscape

Mountain Stream, east of Song-Kul

Approaching Song-Kul alpine lake in early snow

Lone herdsman, Song-Kul

East of Song-Kul

Horses grazing near Song-Kul

Petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata

Stacking hay, Kalmak Ashu

'Dusty' - Horseback games, Kalmak Ashu

Off to work at the Ministry, Bishkek

Enlightenment from Lenin (now in a back street), Bishkek

Part 5: Uzbekistan

Kosmonavtlar station, Tashkent Metro

Tashkent Old Town (1)

Chigatay Cemetery, Tashkent

The domed meat market, Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent

Tashkent Old Town (2)

The incredible Registan, Samarkand

Bridal couple at the Registan, Samarkand

Bridal party, Timur's Ak-Saray Palace, Shakhrisabz

Alisha Navoi station, Tashkent Metro

A ceiling in the Sher Dor Madrassa, the Registan, Samarkand

In the Old Town, Samarkand

Before the tourists arrive, the Registan, Samarkand

Group outing to Timur's tomb (Gur-E-Amir Mausoleum), Samarkand

Char Minar (with concrete storks & nest), Bukhara

A bazaar in Bukhara

Kalon minaret, Bukhara

The harem at the Summer Palace . . .

The Summer Palace of the last emir, Alim Khan near Bukhara

A golden smile, Bukhara

A conversation outside the Kalon Mosque, Bukhara

Corridor at Kalon Mosque, Bukhara

Once upon a time in Khiva

City walls at the South Gate, Khiva

Daily life inside the city walls, Khiva

Allakuli Khan Madrassa, Khiva

Former harem chamber, Khiva

Old town, outside the city walls, Khiva

In the old town, Khiva

Uzbekistan dancers in Khiva

Kazakhstan dancers in Khiva

Toprak Qala fort, western Uzbekistan

Ayaz Qala fort, western Uzbekistan

Kyzyl Qala fort, western Uzbekistan

Site of an ancient relic: the road from Khiva to Nukus

Mizdakhan near Nukus

Caravanserai at Mizdakhan