*take nothing for granted!
Unless otherwise indicated all photos © Richard McKie 2005 - 2015

Who is Online

We have 223 guests and no members online

Translate to another language

 

 

 

 

Travels in Central Asia

 

In June 2018 we travelled to China before joining an organised tour in Central Asia that, except for a sojourn in the mountains of Tajikistan, followed in the footsteps of Marco Polo along the Great Silk Road. 

 

 

 

The Silk Road

The term ‘silk road’ was first coined by a 19th century German historian and has stuck ever since to a series of somewhat flexible overland routes across Eurasia extending 11,000 km (7,000 m), a third of the way around the world, from Xi'an in China to the Mediterranean Sea.  It linked on en route to the other great trade route that went to India, through modern Pakistan from Afghanistan, via one of five 'invasion routes' that included the Khyber pass and up the Kabul River valley, that rises very close to the upper reaches of the Indus near Rawalpindi (and modern Islamabad).  Today this whole network is called the Great Silk Road. 

The ancient silk road is by far the longest and oldest overland trade route in the world. Chinese silk has been found in the hair of Egyptian mummies that were embalmed around three thousand years ago, arriving there by some arcane series of trades.  But by Roman times, trade along the Silk Road was more organised, as the Roman historian Pliny wrote: 'so Roman women may expose their charms through transparent cloth'.  At that time (c 78 CE) the very long lived Han Dynasty ruled China and China's military and trade influence extended as far as Transoxiana, the region between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers that run into the Aral Sea, now mostly in Uzbekistan, while the Roman Empire extended to a port on the Caspian sea, just a thousand kilometres away, less than the distance from Melbourne to Brisbane or New York to Charleston or John o' Groats to Land's End.

Under the Tang Dynasty Transoxiana would briefly become Chinese territory but in 751 CE it would fall to the Arabs with the assistance of the Mongol Empire, ending Chinese expansion west for the next 1,200 years.

Trade with the west grew in the 13th century after Genghis Khan followed by his son, Ögedei Khan, conquered Central Asia (including Tibet) and China in addition to: Eastern Turkey, Belarus and most of Russia, part of Romania, all of Iran and  Eastern Iraq (Persia). Thus creating the largest contiguous land Empire the world has ever seen.  Yet, hidden behind the veil of that great and feared Mongol Empire the existence of China was almost forgotten by medieval Europe, so that many believed that silk originated in India. 

But hidden knowledge was bread and butter to Venetian traders, like the family of Marco Polo. Between 1271 and 1295 this young man, travelling with his father and uncle, followed the silk trade all the way to China. After his return he was taken as a prisoner of war by Genoa, where he related his experiences to Rustichello da Pisa who was amazed and wrote them down, publishing them as the Travels of Marco Polo, around 1300. They found an equally amazed and incredulous European audience particularly at/by the young man's experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, who as we will see later, was one of Great Khan’s grandsons, now at the head of the Yuan Dynasty.

It was Kublai Khan who had commanded the systematic mapping of towns along the Silk Road to facilitate trade, connecting the far flung reaches of the Mongol empire with commerce and information along which the traders travelled.

But it was the Travels of Marco Polo that are credited by some historians with kicking off the European Renaissance and the collapse of monasticism, leading to the Scientific Revolution and the modern world.

The Travels also inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge, assisted by opium, to write a famous poem by which the name Kublai Khan is perhaps best remembered:

Kubla Khan

Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea...

...It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772 - 1834

 

The opium poppy (papaver somniferum) would in time play its part in both the devastation and the development of China and latterly of Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan.  In the 19th century the Chinese would attempt to stop the British East India Company trading in Indian grown opium for Chinese manufactured domestic goods and silver, draining the Imperial Treasury, and a century and a half later the US and her allies would attempt to stop cultivation in Afghanistan.

Oddly, in the 21st century the largest supplier of legal, medical, opium in the world with 85% of the market is Tasmania, Australia.

Today China's President Xi Jinping is keen to revive the Great Silk Road with a special eye to oil and gas reserves in Central Asia.  In 2013, he unveiled his 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) initiative, also known as the 'New Silk Road', to invest in transport infrastructure all the way to Europe.

Pakistan has already been promised an initial $50 billion to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India has declined to participate but 65 other countries have expressed interest and the European Union has set up the 'EU-China Connectivity Platform' to coordinate the European response.  As we learned on this trip, like Pakistan, both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, along with several other 'Stans', are already in receipt of substantial Chinese infrastructure assistance.

 

The New Silk Road
The New Silk Road - following the old - as envisioned in Uzbekistan
Xi Jinping has a grander scheme in mind - projecting China's influence across Eurasia to the EU

 

As have our travels elsewhere, this trip would again challenge a number of the simplistic assumptions with which I grew up.  As this website suggests, despite my inevitable prejudices and unfounded assumptions I try to apply a sceptical filter, taking nothing for granted, and to:  ...weigh everything.

 

 

Comments  

# Richard 2018-09-23 01:50
Richard

Interesting to hear your update on China’s Silk Road. In 2007 we travelled from Beijing to Kashgar then down the Kakoram Highway to Tashkurgan [less than 30Km from Pakistan border]. Whilst travelling we also visited Xiahe [with its large monestry] and noted the Chinefacation of this area. In fact recent photos of Kashgar seem to show that much of the old town has gone.

Interaction with the Uyghurs.indicat ed that they were not happy with the Han invasion.



A very interesting part of the world.



Richard Walker
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote

Add comment


Security code
Refresh


    Have you read this???     -  this content changes with each opening of a menu item


Travel

Israel

 

 

 

A Little Background

The land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, known as Palestine, is one of the most fought over in human history.  Anthropologists believe that the first humans to leave Africa lived in and around this region and that all non-African humans are related to these common ancestors who lived perhaps 70,000 years ago.  At first glance this interest seems odd, because as bits of territory go it's nothing special.  These days it's mostly desert and semi-desert.  Somewhere back-o-Bourke might look similar, if a bit redder. 

Yet since humans have kept written records, Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Ancient Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, early Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Ottomans (and other later Muslims), British and Zionists, have all fought to control this land.  This has sometimes been for strategic reasons alone but often partly for affairs of the heart, because this land is steeped in history and myth. 

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The McKie Family

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

This is the story of the McKie family down a path through the gardens of the past that led to where I'm standing.  Other paths converged and merged as the McKies met and wed and bred.  Where possible I've glimpsed backwards up those paths as far as records would allow. 

The setting is Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England and my path winds through a time when the gardens there flowered with exotic blooms and their seeds and nectar changed the entire world.  This was the blossoming of the late industrial and early scientific revolution and it flowered most brilliantly in Newcastle.

I've been to trace a couple of lines of ancestry back six generations to around the turn of the 19th century. Six generations ago, around the turn of the century, lived sixty-four individuals who each contributed a little less 1.6% of their genome to me, half of them on my mother's side and half on my father's.  Yet I can't name half a dozen of them.  But I do know one was called McKie.  So this is about his descendents; and the path they took; and some things a few of them contributed to Newcastle's fortunes; and who they met on the way.

In six generations, unless there is duplication due to copulating cousins, we all have 126 ancestors.  Over half of mine remain obscure to me but I know the majority had one thing in common, they lived in or around Newcastle upon Tyne.  Thus they contributed to the prosperity, fertility and skill of that blossoming town during the century and a half when the garden there was at its most fecund. So it's also a tale of one city.

My mother's family is the subject of a separate article on this website. 

 

Read more ...

Opinions and Philosophy

The demise of books and newspapers

 

 

Most commentators expect that traditional print media will be replaced in the very near future by electronic devices similar to the Kindle, pads and phones.  Some believe, as a consequence, that the very utility of traditional books and media will change irrevocably as our ability to appreciate them changes.  At least one of them is profoundly unsettled by this prospect; that he argues is already under way. 

Read more ...

Terms of Use                                           Copyright