WHAT IS THE SILK ROAD?
The Silk Road is one of the world’s most famous and evocative routes. Named after the trade which sprang up in response to the demand for Chinese silk, its origins can be traced back over 3000 years.
Merchants exchanged goods such as horses, furs, jade and ivory for silk. This in turn led to trading posts springing up along the route, which over time grew into wealthy and important cities, such as Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
It wasn’t just goods which travelled the Silk Road, but in time everything from ideas and religion to cuisine and even disease. We’ve brought some of this to life in a Silk Road infographic.
WHERE DOES IT RUN TO AND FROM?
Rather than a single road, the Silk Road was more like a network of different routes. At its full length, it stretched from Xi’an in eastern China to Constantinople, now Istanbul. Different branches stretched on alternative routes, to the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia, across to the Middle East and over sea routes to North Africa.
WHICH PARTS SHOULD I SEE?
That depends on what you’re after.
Kyrgyzstan (above) is hard to beat in terms of breathtaking scenery, with landscapes of grassy steppe, primal forests and turquoise lakes, along with the remote and striking “Mountains of Heaven”.
It’s also the place to experience nomadic culture: sleep in traditional yurts, meet eagle hunters and enjoy watching nomad’s horse-games. Our Kyrgyzstan Explorer trip spends two weeks uncovering this natural beauty, through walks, stays in yurts, horse rides and some unforgettable drives through the mountain scenery.
If it’s the cultural legacy you’re searching for, head to Uzbekistan for the architecturally splendid ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva, filled with elaborately tiled mosques, emerald domes, impressive fortresses and palaces all with fascinating histories.
Discover the legacy of great rulers such as Babur, who conquered northern India and became its first Mughal emperor, to Tamerlane, one of the last great nomadic conquerors of Central Asia, who built many of the stunning monuments of Samarkand and Bukhara on our Uzbekistan: Land of Silk Road Treasures tour.
But if you can’t choose – don’t worry! Combine elements of both, for instance on our Mountains and Cities of the Silk Road tour, spending time in both Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful mountains and Uzbekistan’s wondrous cities.
THE UNUSUAL: TURKMENISTAN
Beyond this, Turkmenistan offers unique travel experiences, with an ostentatious marble-clad capital like no other and the ever-blazing phenomenon of the Darvaza Gas Crater.
Iran is experiencing a travel renaissance since it re-opened to western tourists, with a wealth of fascinating culture and history, stunning mountain scenery and an exceptionally friendly and hospitable populace.
THE FULL MONTY:
For those with the time to spare, our epic 47-day Great Silk Road Adventure travels the entire route end-to-end, through six contrasting countries and 15 UNESCO sites.
WHAT IS THE FOOD LIKE?
“Surprisingly better than expected!” most of our travellers delight in telling us.
Signature dishes include laghman (hand-pulled noodles with meat) and plov (a slow-cooked rice dish - see photo above). Whilst there is a lot of meat, the region is not as un-vegetarian friendly as you might assume. From pumpkin-stuffed dumplings to beetroot soup and an abundance of aubergine and fresh tomato salads, there is plenty by way of meat-free alternatives.
Read our blog on the food of the Silk Road from Wild Frontiers' Mike, who spent time there last summer. Travel and food writer Caroline Eden has recently published a wonderful cookery book Samarkand celebrating the cuisine of Central Asia and we discuss the main flavours and popular dishes with her here.
ANY CULTURAL THINGS TO BE AWARE OF?
Travelling to Central Asia and the Silk Road, like travelling anywhere, requires an open mind and a respect for different cultures. With these in hand, you are bound to have both a revealing and rewarding visit. Particular issues crop up from country to country and on any of our trips we will always send you detailed notes on anything to be aware of beforehand.
Examples of such issues include things like pretty vigorous border checks into countries like Uzbekistan, alongside alcohol not being permitted and women being required to cover their hair in Iran.
WHAT IS THE VISA SITUATION?
For British and American nationals, clients will need to get visas before travelling to most Silk Road countries. The exception is Kyrgyzstan, which is simply a stamp on arrival.
Iranian visas require a bit of time as we must acquire an invitation code for you. We can apply for this on your behalf and it generally takes three to four weeks to come through. You can then apply for your visa using this code. In addition, Turkmenistan requires an official letter of invitation.
You should always check the country guidelines for whichever country you are visiting.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO GO?
With everything else varying country to country, so too does the climate. The summer months are best for enjoying the mountain scenery of Kyrgyzstan; it's pleasantly warm in the daytime – enough to go walking in just a t-shirt, although at night when sleeping in yurts in the open steppe and at high altitude, temperatures fall to almost freezing. Layers and thermals are therefore key!
Both Iran and Uzbekistan are best enjoyed in spring or autumn and are in their prime in May and September. Our Great Silk Road Adventure departs in September in order to take into account the many considerations of a changing climate and altitude
GROUP OR TAILOR-MADE?
You can arrange either with Wild Frontiers. Our group sizes are never more than 12 – with the exception of our 47-day Great Silk Road Adventure which accommodates up to 16 people. If you travel in a group tour along the Silk Road with us, you will find yourself with a range of companions, mostly from Europe and the United States, across a range of ages, professions and interests. If you prefer to travel on a tailor-made basis, we have a range of suggested itineraries along the Silk Road or we can build your itinerary from scratch.