ON ANCIENT TRACKS – THE SILK ROAD AND MY JOURNEY TO THE WEST
I first traveled along the Chinese Silk Road in 1995, on a trip organized by the University of Hawaii. We journeyed by bus, train and short flights. Reaching Kashgar on China's westernmost border for the Sunday Bazaar, I vowed to return one day with more time to explore.
In June, 2001, I returned to explore the Silk Road. On this trip, I traveled overland from Xian to Kashgar.
Although a long journey across deserts and mountains, it was certainly not as difficult as in the past. By 2001, modernization in Xinjiang had brought hotels, tourist amenities, and transportation networks, including a new rail link between Urumqi and Kashgar.
Silk Road Lecture Handouts
I have been sharing my Silk Road experiences with students of all ages for over twenty years. I am interested in the early works of European explorers, particularly Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943).
Stein's archaeological and geographical work is well represented in his 1933 publication: On Ancient Central Asian Tracks: Brief Narrative of Three Expeditions in Innermost Asia and Northwestern China. Many of Stein's works are in the public domain and available at Archive.org.
The University of Hawaii 1995 Silk Road Tour
The travel began at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian, and ended at the Kashgar Bazaar, also known locally as the Sunday Market, and now officially known as the International Trade Market of Central and Western Asia.
The 12 photos shown here are from my first trip along the Silk Road, and have been placed in chronological order.
Monks at the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian
33 years old in the Gobi Desert
UH Hilo Prof John Cheng near Turpan
Toordi Ashan, our driver in Xinjiang
Flaming Mountain, from the epic tale, "Journey to the West"
Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang
Kazakh yurts in the Tianshan Mts
Tianshan – flight from Urumqi to Kashgar
Aba Khoja Mausoleum (1640) Kashgar
Kashgar knives for sale at the Sunday bazaar
Musical instruments for sale in Kashgar
Tobacco seller in Kashgar
My 2001 Silk Road Independent Study Project
In the summer of 2001, I made an agreement with the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH) to conduct independent research on the Silk Road. I proposed to travel overland from Xian, China, to Delhi, India.
Taxila was one of the most ancient universities in the world, where people from all over Asia and the Middle East came to study and teach. At least eighteen subjects were covered, including medicine, religion, and science. Instruction was available in at least five different languages, and this multicultural environment contributed to the pre-eminence of Taxila as a center of learning from the 5th century BC until the 2nd century AD.
Taxila was a key site where the ancient Greeks met the Buddhists, a cultural coincidence that occurred at the dawn of Mahāyāna Buddhism and the birth of the Gandhāran civilization.
Visitors today can explore the ruins of a two-thousand-year-old university, and stroll around the Taxila Museum filled with unique art history.
I kept a comprehensive photo journal of my travels, and after returning and presenting my photo journal at the university auditorium I earned enough credits to complete my undergraduate studies at the University of Hawaii.
Journey to the West
My plan was to follow in the footsteps of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (玄奘) (c. 602–664), who traveled to India in the 7th century, during the Tang Dynasty, and kept a detailed account of his travels.
His journal, Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域記), is an outstanding treasure of Chinese history.
Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Starting in Xian, at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda built in Xuanzang's honor, I began my own journey. I tried to visit the same cultural sites and physical landscapes, and to keep a journal, like he did. While his trip to India and back took approximately 15 years or more, I had just two months.
The 18 photos shown here are highlights from the Chinese leg of the journey, placed in chronological order.
Statue of Xuanzang at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian
Bell Tower in Xian – starting point of the Silk Road as a trade route
View from the train – Xian to Jiayuguan
Jiayuguan Fort, the western end of the Great Wall
Singing sand dunes at Dunhuang
Dunhuang Mahayana Buddhist art
Uyghur man with his taxi at the Gaochang ruins
Uyghur youth at the Gaochang ancient ruins
Raisins for sale in Turpan
Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves and the Flaming Mountains
Hui culture in Urumqi
Kashgar knives at the bazaar
Peppers for sale at the Kashgar bazaar
Uyghur youth at the Kashgar bazaar
Working at the Kashgar bazaar
Id Kah Mosque (1442)
Islamic Culture at the Id Kah Mosque
Reading the Koran at the Id Kah Mosque
Thank you for visiting my Chinese Silk Road journal page.
Steven A. Martin