This week’s dream
Traveling today’s Silk Road
“The Silk Road is rising again,” said Wade Shepard in Bloomberg.com.
As a massive investment in infrastructure begins—led by $800 billion from China—the legendary trade route is being reborn as a network of highways, railways, and airports that link 65 countries. “For travelers, this means a wealth of new destinations to explore.” The full journey, from western China to northern Greece or vice versa, might require months. But two weeks or so can be time enough for highlights, starting with three days in Xian, China, once the cosmopolitan heart of the Silk Road and now a bustling city of 12 million. You’ll want to see Tang West Market, where the ancient trade route began. Then, while wandering the narrow alleys of the city’s Muslim quarter, “be adventurous and try foods you’ve never tasted before”—persimmon doughnuts, say, or spicy camel skewers.
Next stop: Uzbekistan, whose ancient cities remain “remarkably intact.” Though Genghis Khan sacked Samarkand in 1220, the city’s medieval quarter still stands, along with such “eye-popping” sites as Registan Square, completed in 1660. “Then it’s off to Bukhara, a city studded with glistening turquoise domes, ornate mosques, ancient forts, and layer upon layer of living history.” Try to find time, too, for Khiva. “It’s an incredible example of traditional Islamic urban design, and its 2,000-year-old inner fortress, the Itchan Kala, will send you traveling back through time.”
In Azerbaijan, the capital, Baku, has clearly “awakened from its post-Soviet slumber.” The city where East truly meets West is now “ripe with Old World charm and modern-day glitz.” Some centuries-old caravansaries, the inns with an open courtyard where travelers once stayed, have been converted into fine restaurants. The adventures to be found just outside the city might be what you remember most, though. Gobustan National Park has thousands of prehistoric rock carvings, some 20,000 years old, “plus volcanic mud pools for skin-softening soaks.” At Alat, a new port, you can catch a ferry for a beautiful ride across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan. “Who do you know who has ever done that?”
A 23-day Silk Road tour with Wild Frontiers (wildfrontierstravel.com) starts at $5,161.