Sep 12

Emperors and Concubines

While we know it today for it’s magnificent blue and white porcelain, the Ming Dynasty is credited with closing off China from the rest of the world, putting an end to over a thousand years of¬†cultural and economic exchange along the Silk Road. It was the Ming Emperor Zhu Di who moved the capital to Beijing and built the Forbidden City with it’s sprawling palace complex, wall and moat. The largest building of this Chang tomb is equal in size to the largest building in the Forbidden City, yet it was made entirely with sacred Sandalwood and without the use of nails. In life, Emperor Zhu Di had sixteen concubines, he took them with him in death.¬†Construction dates from 1409 AD.

Sep 12

China’s Earliest Buddhist Temple

In the ruins of the ancient city of Kashgar, we visited the Mor Pagoda. It was the first Buddhist Temple established in China and dates from the 2nd century AD. Ancient Kashgar was an important city along the Silk Road but was abandoned in the 10th century after internal strife and a war of succession led to the adoption of Islam as the official religion. When the city location was moved 30 km away, it continued to be an important Silk Road destination.


Sep 12

Bukhara Caravanserai

We once again have access to youtube. This video from Bukhara shows a typical Silk Road Caravanserai. Thank you to Archaeologist Bekhruz Kurbanov for sharing his expertise.

Sep 12

Son Kul Lake to Tash Rabat

The road from Son Kul Lake to Tash Rabat is considered the most dangerous road in Kyrgyzstan because of the 33 Parrots. Our guide Sasha explained that the Russian word for “fear” sounded just like the English word “parrot”. This pass was the most stunning yet and the 33 referred to the number of switchbacks on the treacherous descent. Our passage was simple enough but I imagine in the winter months it would live up to it’s reputation.

Our Tash Rabat yurt camp was quite different from the one at Son Kul Lake. The air was about five degrees celsius warmer and the camp was run by Russians rather than nomads. Although there was no lake to chill the air, in the middle of the night the wind came howling down the gorge and beat the heavy walls and entry flap of our yurt. There was something different about this place, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in a way only a few places have. I had dreams that night. I dreamt of animals and hunting parties. I imagined yeti like creatures roaming the hills and opened my eyes half expecting to see one standing in the middle of the room staring back at me. The dream was so vivid I was almost disappointed when there wasn’t.

A controversy surrounds the origin of the Tash Rabat caravanserai. Some experts have pointed to carved crosses and claim it was an early Christian church. Another scholar insisted it was built in the 10th century. Most experts believe the fortress like structure was built in the 15th century. Unlike the Caravanserai I visited in Bukhara, this one was constructed to withstand attacks by bandits. Being the largest stone building in Central Asia it felt more like a small European castle than Silk Road merchant hotel. The narrow river gorge continued to wind up past Tash Rabat and provided an alternate route to the one we were taking to Torugart Pass.
Russian Sauna

Russian Saune by Curious Lizard

At the Tash Rabat yurt camp