Fascinating account of the mystique of the Silk Road

If you get to buy articles like Hui Muslim hats, Tibetan bags, Kazakh carpets and colourful Qiang dresses or savour dishes like roujiamo, lamina and laghman, which region would it be? The Silk Road, which is not a place but regarded as a journey - from the edges of the Mediterranean to the central plains of China, through high mountains and inhospitable deserts.
Fascinating account of the mystique of the Silk Road
Dancers perform at traditional ceremony, in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, an important part of the Silk Road

New Delhi

A new book The Silk Road: A Biography from Prehistory to the Present Day, authored by Jonathan Clements, offers a chronological outline of the region’s development and also provides an introduction to its languages, literature and arts. Clements lays stress on the fascinating historical sites which feature on any visitor’s itinerary besides on the writings and reactions of travellers through the centuries. He argues that historical accounts have an inevitable bias towards civilisations that leave a footprint and the Silk Road, therefore, is a slippery historical object. 
“Entire civilisations have risen and fallen on the Silk Road leaving perilously little evidence of themselves,” the book, published by Speaking Tiger, says. For thousands of years, the history of the Silk Road has been a traveller’s history, of brief encounters in desert towns, snowbound passes and nameless forts. It was the conduit that first brought Buddhism, Christianity and Islam into China, and the site of much of the ‘Great Game’ between 19th-century empires. 
Today, its central section encompasses several former Soviet republics, and the Chinese Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. The ancient trade route crosses the sites of several forgotten kingdoms, buried in sand and only now revealing their secrets. 
“Experiencing the Silk Road requires more than a fridge magnet from the gift shop – break Shaanxi bread and cast it into your mutton soup; hear the call to prayer outside a Kashgar mosque; feel your aching calves as you struggle up the steps to a Buddhist grotto; smell the faint rasp of sand in the air, even in a modern city. Then your souvenirs will truly be keepsakes, reminding you of those memories,” Clements writes.

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