Set on the rooftop of the world in the Himalayas, Nepal has been a key link for trade between China and India, with many believing in its link with the Silk Road, hypothesizing that passed the route connected India and China via Tibet. UNESCO has recently identified concrete links between Nepal and the Silk Road, along with associated three routes through the country, connecting the Silk Road from China to the Gangetic Plains.
Nepal sits in the Himalaya Mountain Range, making it the land of exotic monasteries, mantras, Sherpas, yaks and the legend of Shangri La. Nepal shares its land-borders with Tibet in China and India.
Kathmandu is both the political and cultural capital of Nepal. It’s a city full of bright colors, sights and sounds that many describe as being intense and intoxicating. It serves as a good base to explore the country.
Eat & drink
Daal Bhaat Tarkaari is a national dish made from spiced lentils that have been poured over boiled rice and served with vegetables. This is often accompanied by yogurt and some spicy chutney or pickle.
Momos are traditional meat or vegetable filled dumplings that often accompany beer.
Raksi is a strong drink that bears a resemblance to tequila. It’s often home-brewed, which means it will vary in strength and taste. It will often be served in unbaked clay cups and marketed on menus as “Nepali Wine”.
Jaand is an alcoholic drink dubbed “Nepali Beer”. It is weaker than the above-mentioned Raksi, but it still packs a punch. It is often served diluted with water.
Trekking. Nepal is famed for its mountain landscape, and many come here to scale Mount Everest or explore the natural landscape of the country. Teahouse treks are perhaps the easiest ones to explore, since you’ll find many teahouses and lodges within a day’s hike.
Russia might flank most of the Central Asian countries that were synonymous with the Silk Road, but the main route mostly bypassed the transcontinental country. However, some of the northern routes carried up from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan up by the Caspian Sea and the Volga River towards Astrakhan and to the rest of Russia.
The country itself is the size of a continent with a varied landscape from the tundra of Siberia, grassy steppes, snow-capped mountains, and dense forests.
Russia shares land-borders with Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, North Korea and even Poland and Lithuania if you include Kalingrad.
Moscow is Russia’s capital city and a preliminary starting point for many looking to explore the Silk Road or the Trans-Siberian Railway. The city boasts endless attractions to keep visitors occupied.
St. Petersburg is Russia’s second city and located at the very western end of the country. It is famed for its Hermitage Museum and imperial architecture.
Irkutsk is a popular stopping point on the Trans-Siberian Railway in deep Siberia. It’s located close to Lake Baikal.
Kazan sits in the heart of the Volga region and is known for its Tatar culture.
Yekaterinburg is another popular stop-off point on the Trans-Siberian, for its cultural center and proximity to the Ural Mountains and also marks the geographical border between Europe and Asia.
Eat & drink
Blini are thin pancakes made from buckwheat that are often served with caviar or sour cream.
Borsch is a classic soup made from beetroot that you’ll find all over Eastern Europe.
Pelmeni are dumplings that have been filled with meat, a popular dish in the Siberian and Ural regions in Russia.
Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest fresh water lake in the world. Located in the heart of Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border. It’s noted for its natural beauty and walks.
Astrakhan is located between the Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea, putting it in an optimal position for trade. The city was founded around the 13th century when the Golden Horde controlled it. Its proximity to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea made it one of the cities in which the northern route of the Silk Road passed into.
The Ural Mountains are one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and mark the border between Europe and Asia. However, the mountains are very low, but still provide plenty of opportunities for adventure travel. The range runs from the north of Russia in the arctic Kara Sea down to northern Kazakhstan.
Marking the Western end of the land-based Silk Road in the Middle East, Syria is a country that is rich in history and cultural heritage, but unfortunately due to the current civil war, many historical sites have been damaged or destroyed, not to mention it’s become very unsafe for tourists to visit at present.
The ancient cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Bosra, and Palmyra are all on the UNESCO World Heritage list and most of Syria’s historic monuments still play a part in daily life, from its historic souqs, tea houses and mosques.
Syria shares its borders with Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, and a coastline with the Mediterranean.
Damascus is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, since it was established 10,000 to 8,000BC, and eventually became an important hub on the southwestern branch of the Silk Road. The city is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and old houses decked with green courtyards.
Aleppo is one of historic Silk Road trading cities in Syria, with millennia of history, making it, like Damascus, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Even though the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its historic Al-Madina Souq, was mostly destroyed during the Civil War conflict only a few years ago.
Eat & drink
Falafel is a vegetarian dish made from chickpeas that have been made into a rounded croquette with spices and cilantro and are deep-fried. They are often accompanied with pita and hummus.
Foul, pronounced “fool” is a paste made out of fava beans, topped off with olive oil, paprika and cumin, often served up with flatbread, mint, and onion.
Bosra is located towards the Southern part of the country in the desert, esteemed for its Roman architecture and use of black basalt stones.
The Dead Cities make up a network of Roman and Early Christian towns that once formed a part of the historic city of Antioch, and have been abandoned for a long time.
Palmyra dates back to the 2nd century AD and boasts some of the most stunning archaeology in the country. Because of its Roman ruins, Palmyra is perhaps one of the most touristic spots in the country.
Lebanon has a rich historical tapestry of Roman, Phoenician, Crusaders, Ottoman, Umayyad, and Egyptian ruins and heritage in the country. Its proximity to the Mediterranean has made it a prime location where trade is concerned. Not only linking the land-based route of the Silk Road with the maritime connections to the rest of Europe, Lebanon was also on the Incense and Spice routes, primarily trading in resin with Europe.
The country is rich in historical sites, like Byblos, Beirut and Sidon being some of the oldest continuously populated cities in the world
Lebanon is located in the eastern Mediterranean and shares land-borders with Syria and Israel.
Beirut is Lebanon’s capital city located on the Mediterranean coastline. It’s the largest city in the country, but small when compared to other capitals, however it’s a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant arts scene and exciting nightlife.
Byblos is a testimony to Lebanon’s rich history, with its city layers showing evidence extending back to the Stone Age. The city has a picture post-card seaside area and close historical ties to trade history. Its historical center dating back to the Phoenicians is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sidon is another coastal city located between Beirut and Tyre. Sidon boasts a collection of medieval ruins.
Tyre boasts some of the most spectacular Roman architecture in the world, and is the largest city in the south of Lebanon after Sidon.
Eat & drink
Shish Tawouk is a typical Lebanese dish of barbecued chicken often served with garlic.
Tabouleh is a salad made with bulgur wheat and vegetables. It’s often mixed up with olive oil, lemon juice, and cilantro, among other spices.
Knefeh is a sweet dish that is made from a type of breaded cheese that is served up in syrup with sesame seed bread, it can sometimes be served as a dessert.
Wine. Lebanon is known for its wines, where grapes have been in production since antiquity in the Bekaa Valley.
Arak is a liquor made from a distilled base wine that is flavored with aniseed. It becomes cloudy when diluted with water.
Baalbeck is one of Lebanon’s most spectacular sites. The city, known as Heliopolis by the Romans, started off as a Phoenician city, but was eventually conquered by the Romans.
Anjar is located in the Bekaa Valley and offers plenty of good local restaurants in which you can sample local Lebanese cuisine, however, it also houses the unique ruins of the 8th century Omayyad city.
Jordan sits on the route connecting the Silk Road to the Middle East and North Africa, not to mention its proximity to the Mediterranean coast via nearby Israel and Syria, as well as connections to the Arabian Peninsula.
The country is also home to one of the most enigmatic cities, Petra, a city carved entirely into rock, and one of the hubs for the southwest bound Silk Road roads. The country is also rich in ruined Roman cities, desert citadels, biblical sites and crusader castles.
Jordan has land borders with Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Amman is the capital city of Jordan and is a good base for exploring the country. It houses many surprises behind its mud-colored walls from Roman sites, art galleries, and café culture.
Aqaba sits on the Red Sea across the border from Eilat, which was once historically the same city.
Eat & drink
Mansaf is Jordan’s national dish that is made from a large platter layered with “shraak” break, similar to a thin pancake, rice, lamb chunks cooked in a sauce made from “jameed”, a sundried yogurt, spices, and topped with pine nuts or almonds.
Stuffed Vegetables are also a staple in Jordanian diets.
Petra is one of Jordan’s iconic cities and makes the list as one of the populated cities along the Silk Road. The Nabataens built the city carved out of sandstone in the 3rd century BC. From Petra, the Nabataens commanded the trade routes running from Damascus down to the Arabian peninsula, most of which came along the Silk Road trading silk, spice and slave caravans. The travelers had to pay a tax and protection money, which funded Petra turning it into one of the great cities of the region, until several earthquakes in the area caused the inhabitants to abandon the cave city.
Wadi Rum offers one of the most spectacular desert scenery in the Middle East. Immortalized by Lawrence of Arabia, it’s still possible to imagine caravans crossing over the dramatic desert landscape.
While Iraq has a negative image in the press due to the recent conflict in the country, it once housed the sophisticated civilization of ancient Mesopotamia. The country is located between the fertile values in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and once housed one of the first agricultural societies. The Assyrian, Sumerian and Babylonians called modern day Iraq their home.
Iraq was one of the key countries on the Silk Road, following the route that went down to the Middle East, crossing Bagdad through to Syria and even down to Egypt. Once home to sophisticated and rich cities, traces of the Silk Road can still be found in Iraq.
Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria border the country.
Bagdad is Iraq’s capital city and was once one of the greatest cities of culture in the Islamic world and a main stopping point on the Silk Road. Unfortunately, the city has been torn apart by war and is listed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Mosul is Iraq’s second city and has one of the most diverse religious make up in the country. It is a city that is rich in historical buildings, from churches to mosques, castles, schools, and monasteries. The markets of Mosul capture the feel of the historic Silk Road with a diverse mixture of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Turcomen, Assyrians, Yazidi, Mandeans, Roma, and Shabaks.
Eat & drink
Masgouf. This open cut freshwater fish has been marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma and tamarind in its skin before being roasted for hours. This is the national dish of Iraq and often served accompanied with limes, chopped onions, tomatoes, and flatbread.
Tepsi Baytinijan is a baked casserole made from meatballs, eggplant, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and potatoes.
Babylon is synonymous with the Cradle of Civilization, and even though this ancient city has suffered from military negligence and looting, you can still find some impressive ruins in this ancient city.
Hatra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an ancient Parthian City in the Iraqi desert. It was founded in the 3rd century BC and became a part of the Parthian Empire, becoming a center of trade and religion, and one of the main cities on the Silk Road heading south towards Damascus and Egypt. Even today the city is still rich in ruins from its great days in ancient Parthia.
Nineveh is over 3000 years old and was once the capital city of ancient Assyria. The ruins of the city lie just outside of modern day Mosul across the river Tigris.
Ur is one of the wonders of the Sumerian World, famed for its Giant Ziggurat of Ur.
The southern branch of the Silk Route took a turn down through Afghanistan over to Pakistan and then into India. There are a number of Silk Road related sites and cities scattered all over the Indian subcontinent. Most of the places associated with the Silk Road are found in northern India, especially in the province of Bihar, however many strands of the route continued to carry goods to the rest of the country and there is plenty of archaeological evidence to prove that the Silk Road went as far as down to India’s most southern tip.
India is a vast country that is boarded by the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea on its coastline, sharing land borders with Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar.
Delhi is the capital of the country, which appears a little chaotic on first impression, but is filled with ancient monuments and spectacular museums.
Mumbai is the economic and entertainment hub India. The city is a true melting pot of cultures and people, reflected in its eclectic architecture ranging from colonial and art deco buildings to classic Indian. Mumbai is an exciting city where you can enjoy fine dining and the finer things in life.
Chennai is the largest city in the south and is popular for its beaches, luxury hotels, and contemporary restaurants.
Eat & drink
Khaaja is a typical dessert from the Bihar province, one of the major Silk Road destination, it’s made from wheat, flour, sugar and oil that is filled with juicy sugar syrup inside.
Kadri Bari are savory dumplings from Bihar are made with gram flour and cooked in a spicy gravy and yogurt.
Lassi is a drink found in North India that is made from yogurt, water, salt, and spices, and mixed until frothy. Sometimes it is sweetened with honey or fruit.
Vaishali is one of the earliest republics in the world and the site of Buddha’s last sermon. It was also an important site along the Silk Road.
Vikramshala University in the Bihar province was one of the most important sites of Buddhist learning. Excavations revealed a huge square monastery and temple, and it is believed to be one of the main cities on India’s Silk Road.
Mongolia as an independent state refers to the historic Outer Mongolia, whereas Inner Mongolia geographically and politically belongs to China, even though it’s autonomous with its own language and culture. Mongolia is a country with vast steppes, arable land, and desert.
The Gobi Desert played an important role in the route of the Silk Road, with a number of sites and desert garden market places still abundant in Inner Mongolia.
Both Mongolia and the province of Inner Mongolia have very low population densities.
Inner Mongolia is a northern province in China bordering on the country of Mongolia. Mongolia itself shares land borders with China and Russia.
Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia, and is a vast city with heavy traffic, bohemian counter-cultural scene and a great nightlife. Its chaotic lifestyle juxtaposes with quiet squares and monastery courtyards.
Hohhot is the capital of the autonomous Inner Mongolia region and despite having only an 11% population of indigenous Mongols you’ll find Mongolian culture is well preserved. There are not many historical sites, but it serves as a base for exploring Inner Mongolia and the Silk Road sites surrounding it.
Eat & drink
Khuushuur is a Mongolian dish made from a friend pancake stuffed with onion and mutton. You can also get steamed dumplings with the same filling called “buuz”.
Boodog is a goat or marmot barbecue, a nomadic dish where the animal is cooked using hot stones inserted in the skin without a pot, sometimes vegetables and water are also added inside.
Airag is a traditional Mongolian drink made from fermented mares milk.
The Gobi Desert is not the wasteland pictured in popular culture, but it’s rather a diverse landscape dotted with ice-filled canyons, rock formations and oases. You’ll still find sand dunes, but these only cover 3% of the desert.
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is located on the most Western part of the country. The mountainous national park borders on both China and Russia, and has views over to Kazakhstan, where the Altai Mountain Range crosses into the three countries. You’ll find historic petroglyphs here that are part of a World Heritage Site, dating back to 11,000 to 6,000BC.
Pakistan is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and home to a stunning landscape of snow-capped mountains and vast glaciers. The gardens of Shalimar and the Khyber Pass conjure up the image of the Silk Road’s glorious past.
The Southern Route traversed Pakistan down into India or towards the Arabian Sea. Traces of the country’s ancient heritage still exist in the ruins of Moenjedoro, Taxila, and the early Mogul and Muslim civilizations. For those looking for adventure can go hiking or mountaineering.
Pakistan shares a coastline with the Arabian Sea and land borders with Iran, Afghanistan, China and India.
Islamabad is the current capital of Pakistan and was built mostly in the late 20th century. It’s a city with a highly educated population and a neatly laid out capital set into straight lines and right angles.
Karachi was once Pakistan’s historical capital, and is still the country’s economic center. Karachi is a diverse and cosmopolitan city, with the stunning mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam, made from white marble and lined with North African style arches.
Lahore is the country’s cultural heart with an eclectic mix of architecture drawing from different cultures, styles, and times. You can also find the beautiful Shalimar Gardens, the Badshahi Mosque, the Royal Fort, and the Tomb of Jehangir here.
Eat & drink
Naan is a spongy flatbread cooked in a tandoori oven. It’s often used to pick up sauces and soft foods in place of knives and forks.
Kebabs are commonplace in Pakistan and come in a wide variety, from lamb and beef, all flavored with spices.
Charga or Roasted Chicken is a Pakistani specialty where a whole chicken is cooked on rotisserie. You’ll see them on the street sides of big cities like Lahore.
Kashmiri Chai is a milky tea with ground almonds and nuts added to enhance the flavor.
The Hunza Valley in the north of the country as been used by traders making their way between India and China. The valley is striking in its natural beauty and famed for its Ganesh Rocks.
Taxila is called the “Lost Link of the Silk Road” and once housed a Buddhist seminary that pulled in students from China and Greece. The city is worth seeing for the Greco-Buddist mix of styles known as “Gandara”.
The Khyber Pass and Peshawar links the Silk Road into the country from Afghanistan. The pass brought the traders down from Central Asia onto the Indian Sub-Continent and was a key part of the trade. Peshawar has some of the more interesting bazaars in the region. However, the Khyber Pass is closed to tourism right now due to the conflicts in nearby Afghanistan.
Marred by war and religious extremism, Afghanistan doesn’t have a very good reputation in the Western world, however this country straddling Central Asia and the Middle East is home to an ancient civilization that flourished on the southern branch of the Silk Road, and was once a part of Alexander the Great’s empire. The ancient city of Balkh and its lowlands around the Bactrian Plane were a hive of caravans heading down south to the Indian sub-continent.
Afghanistan is located in the heart of Asia, sharing its southern and eastern border with Pakistan, flanked to the west by Iran and Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, and even shares a land-border with China in the far north east via an inaccessible terrain.
Kabul is the war-torn capital of Afghanistan, but since the Taliban fled the capital, it’s a city that has been slowly making a comeback. The rubble has been cleared away and new buildings are springing up in the ancient capital, although reconstruction is still taking its time.
Balkh appears to be little more than a local market town, but it once bared the name “Mother of Cities”. The city is the oldest in the country, and it is the birthplace of Zoroaster, the founder of the first monotheistic religion, the hometown of Alexander the Great’s wife Roxanne, whose father was the king of Bactria, and it was also the hometown of Sufi poet Rumi. The city was a hub on the southern strand of the Silk Road where even Marco Polo passed through in his time.
Herat is situated in the country’s heart of the Silk Road. The city once flourished in history, even becoming the capital of the Timurid Empire. It was also a popular stop off point on the Hippy Trail in the 1970s.
Eat & drink
Obi Non is a thick bread similar to the Uzbek style, thick and circular, often made with white flour.
Chalao and Palao are local rice dishes. Chalao uses long grain rice that is parboiled and baked in an oven with oil, butter, and salt. Palao is almost the same, except meat and stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination of the above are blended before baking the rice.
Qorma is a stew with a caramelized onion base, with meat and vegetables also included. You can find more than 100 of varieties of this Afghan dish, which is served with chalao most of the time.
Bamiyan is set to the backdrop of a wide, rocky valley and a network of mountain rivers. It’s known for its giant Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban, however the town is still a World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape.
The Khyber Pass was once the main network road between Pakistan and Afghanistan and a top attraction for visitors, but now the current political situation makes it rather a dangerous place to visit. It was once the main route for the southern branch of the Silk Road.
The Panjshir Valley is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with its natural beauty, orchards, and rivers. It served as the starting point entry towards two passes leading over the Hindu Kush.
Turkey served a strategic point in the Silk Road as the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Historically known as Asia Minor or Anatolia, Turkey has always been a link between civilizations over history, so it is understandable why Turkey became the Western end of the Silk Road. The country’s position means that trade has been flourishing since ancient times, and Anatolia has always had a good network of roads and highways running across it, making it attractive and easy for caravans to traverse the country. Under the Seljuk rule in the 13th century, the value of the Silk Road was noted and a network of caravanserais was built across Turkey within a day’s trek. 200 of these caravanserais still survive to this day, and some are still used by modern Silk Road travelers. Turkey shares land borders with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Syria and Iraq.
Ankara is Turkey’s current capital city, and might not have Istanbul’s grandeur, but it’s a young city that has shown progress over the decades. Now its full of sidewalk cafés and a young student population. Istanbul has seen a rich history and a variety of cultures pass into its streets. Straddling two continents, Istanbul is an exciting city filled with rich museums and impressive city monuments. Once the Byzantine capital of the region and then the seat of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul captures the melting pot ethos of the Silk Road cities. Antalya on Turkey’s southern coast became the seaport hub for the Silk Road goods being shipped further west into Europe, like the ports in Italy. Now it’s the Turkish Riviera and sees an influx of tourists annually. Konya used to be a Silk Road junction and one functioned as the Seljuk capital and trading center. It still houses a number of caravanserais from the Seljuk and Ottoman era. Trabzon is a port city on the Black Sea coast towards the Georgian border. It is an ancient trading center and a key port for Black Sea trade.
Eat & drink
Imam Bayildi is a vegetarian dish made from eggplants and tomatoes. It’s a fragrant dish accented with cilantro and spices. Meze is the name of a collective platter of small dishes. This can consist of yogurt sauces, stuffed vine leaves, salads, olives, hummus and meatballs. Dolmas or Sarma are stuffed vine leaf packages often filled up with rice and spices, sometimes meat. Güveç is a stew, often made with lamb that is made with vegetables aromatic spices and served either with rice or spongy bread. Turkish coffee is a small coffee with sediment left in the bottom that is often brewed with sugar. This coffee is served black and really packs a punch.
Cappadocia is a network of natural rock chimneys with cave churches, houses carved into the rock and underground cities, dating back to the Hittite Empire and the Bronze Age. Nevshehir was an old Silk Road junction that served as the gateway to Cappadocia. You’ll find Caravanserais and Byzantine monasteries in the region. Ani is an ancient Armenian city, now abandoned on an eerie plane overlooking the modern Armenians border. Once a vast city and a hub of the Silk Road, Ani’s scale can still be seen today. Ephesus is one of Turkey’s most impressive Classical cities on the Western Coast. Rich in Greek and Roman architecture.
At the height of the Silk Road, Persia played a key roll in the trade of Chinese Silk and goods that made it along the famous trade route. Iran’s position between Central Asia and the Middle East made it the main link in the road, with a number of feeder routes that also networked across the country.
Iran’s position has also seen various cultures and conquerors come and go, turning it into a civilization that is diverse and sophisticated. Its vibrant history is echoed in the numerous palaces, temples and blue-domed mosques and madrasahs that arose with the advent of Islam.
Iran might have an image problem in the Western media, but it’s a country rich with ancient history from the ancient city of Persepolis over to its varied and beautiful natural landscapes.
Iran borders Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Tehran is Iran’s current capital, and while it may not have the historic beauty of its older cities, it’s a chaotic and dynamic.
Esfahan is one of the most beautiful cities in the Islamic world with blue tiled buildings, expansive bazaar and lush gardens. The city is a testimony to the wonders of the country’s Persian past and a must see for anyone visiting Iran and one of the important cities on the historic Silk Road.
Tabriz was once the brief capital of Iran, and is the provincial capital of the region known as “Iranian Azerbaijan”. It’s a welcoming city, and a good stopping point for travelers coming in and out of the Caucasus.
Eat & drink
Fragrant Rice is a staple in Iranian cuisine. It is boiled and then steamed, colored and spiced with saffron and other spice. It can sometimes make a main course when flavored, like “shirin polo”, which gets its aroma from orange zest, young cherries and honey glazed carrots.
Chelo Kabab is a typical dish that comes in a number of varieties. It often takes form of a grilled skewer of meat that is served on a bed of rice with a selection of condiments. You can tailor your rice to your taste by adding butter, tomatoes, and even a local sour spice called “somagh”. Some eateries even give you a raw egg yolk to add to it. You’ll find the locals use raw onion or fresh basil to cleanse the palate in between bites.
Iranian Soups are a core part of the local cuisine, and make up a meal in their own right. The vegetarian “ash reshteh” is the most popular variety, made up from thick noodles, herbs, chickpeas, and topped with fried onions and yogurt.
Doogh is a local drink made from yogurt, salt and water and is very refreshing in the summer heat.
Persepolis is an ancient Persian city that was once the ceremonial capital in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The ruined city is one of the wonders of the country, demonstrating the level of skill found in Achaemenid’s empire.
The Citadel of Bam is over 2000 years old and appears to have been stopped in time. The impressive citadel houses towers, a mosque and fortifications.
Nagsh-i-Jahan Square in the downtown Esfahan is one of the Silk Road’s most beautiful squares on the Silk Road marking the entrance to the city bazaar.
China is the starting point of the historic Silk Road. The Chinese were the first to discover silk and cultivated it for commercial purposes. Eventually this luxury commodity became the main reason behind on of the world’s most important trade route linking Europe to the most eastern reaches of Asia.
The Chinese portion of the Silk Road, according to historians, runs 4,000 kilometers from Changan, known today as Xian, and split into two routes to avoid the Takla Makan Desert before continuing onto Kashgar and Samarkand.
China is a vast country sharing land borders with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, North Korea, Myanmar, Bhutan, Laos and Vietnam.
Beijing is China’s capital city and the second largest in the country after Shanghai. It was once the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties, home to the Forbidden City and close proximity to the Great Wall of China.
Xian is the modern site for the ancient city of Changan, the original staring point of the Silk Road. This housed China’s ancient capital for 11 dynasties. You can find a Silk Road Exhibit at the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum, along with sites heralding back to the city’s ancient heritage.
Eat & drink
Yang Rou Pao Mo is local signature dish in Xian, made from a piece of thick bread and a kettle of mutton soup, it’s eaten by shredding the bread into small pieces by hand and then adding to the soup. This is often accompanied by pickled garlic and chili.
Biang Biang Mian is a special noddle dish from Xian that is served with spiced broth, egg, tomatoes, beef and other toppings.
Rou Jia Mo is another local dish native to Xian, which is close to a sandwich since it is filled with meat, and one of the typical dishes you must try in the area.
The Terracotta Soldiers are located close to Xian and are one of the world’s archaeological wonders. From the Qin Dynasty 2000 years ago, these 8000 terracotta warriors were supposed to protect the first emperor in the after life.
Dunhuang is one of the Silk Road’s ancient cities, and known for its nearby network of caves called the Mogao Grottos, offering some of the most stunning work of Buddhist art, manifesting in 2400 painted sculptures and 45000 square meters of frescoes.
Kashgar was one of the biggest Oasis cities in Western China, linking the Silk Road with Central Asia. The city has a strong Muslim character these days, echoing its links with Central Asia via its bazaar.
Azerbaijan’s position on the Caspian Sea and its proximity to the Middle East and Europe made it an important trading hub on the Silk Road. One of the major routes coming from Turkmenistan crossed the Caspian Sea into Azerbaijan, which continued into the Caucasus and Turkey.
The country is currently rich with oil from the Caspian Sea, with cosmopolitan Baku as its capital. It shares land borders with Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and also shares a border with Turkey with the Nakhivachan exclave (separated by Armenia), and has connections by sea to Central Asia.
Baku is not only the capital city of Azerbaijan, but it is also the largest city in the Caucasus region. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Maiden Tower and the Palace of Shiryanshahs. You’ll also find the Atashgah Fire Temple located just outside of the city.
Ganja is one of the oldest cities in the Caucasus, rich with medieval sites, an old caravanserai, a 15th century mosque and historic bathhouse.
Eat & drink
Ayran is a drink made out of yogurt, with salt and chilled water and highly popular all over Azerbaijan.
Sherbet: This is a sweet, nectar type drink made from either saffron, rose petals, or fruits, and often boiled with sugar of Persian origin.
Plov is a rice dish with many different toppings, such as mutton, dried fruits, and eggs, and while it’s also found in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, it’s considered to be one of Azerbaijan’s most important dishes.
Sheki: Situated on the green slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, the city of Sheki is located in the north of Azerbaijan close to Georgia’s south-eastern border and was once an important town on the Silk Road. Its caravanserai testifies to is trading history, and still operates as an inn. The Khansarai, once the summer palace of the Sheki Khans, is noted for its beauty.
Qoubustan: The site of the rock petroglyphs in Qoubustan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily done as a daytrip from Baku. The oldest petroglyph dates back as far as the 12th century BC, but has been settled since the 8th millennium BC.
Mud Volcanoes: Azerbaijan has over 300 mud volcanoes (there are 700 in the world), most of which are located on the eastern part of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea.
Armenia offers a tapestry of rich and ancient culture, beautiful landscapes, and friendly people. The country was the first to become a Christian State, and its language was even studied by Lord Byron himself.
Goods destined for the Near East and Asia Minor coming from Central and South East Asia traversed Armenia, using the old Lapis Lazuli and Tin routes, made their way into Armenia via one of the major branches of the Silk Route.
Armenia borders on Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran.
Yerevan was a city on the Silk Road, but today it is a cosmopolitan city with a Soviet aftertaste. Rich in modern art and vibrant summer nightlife, Yerevan feels like a young capital city. It makes for a good base to visit the rest of the country, due to its accessibility, and has a Western feel in its downtown area.
Eat & drink
Brandy: Armenia is famous for its brandy, and even Winston Churchill said he favored it above French Cognac. Ararat is the most famous brand, and you can visit the distillery at the Yerevan Brandy Company.
Khorovats is a form of grilled meat that is similar to a kebab. It can be made from a variety of meats, including pork, chicken, beef, or even lamb. It’s often flavored with onions and local spices and often served alongside eggplants, bell peppers, and sometimes lavash bread.
Lavash is a very thin flat bread with a chewy texture that you’ll find served at any good Armenian meal.
Fruit: Armenia is known for its fruit, and apricots are said to have originated here. It’s best to sample some fresh apricots and pomegranates from the market or in dried fruit leather form.
Monastery Hopping: Armenia’s early Christian heritage has gifted it with a number of historic monasteries, worth visiting either for architectural reasons or natural ones. The most famous and spectacular monasteries are the Geghard Monastery carved into the rock, Khor Virap with views of Mount Ararat and the location of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s imprisonment, Noravank, a monastery built with iron-red rock from the surrounding gorge, and Echmiadzin, Armenia’s own Vatican City.
Lake Sevan is one of the world’s highest fresh water lakes, and Armenia’s largest body of water. You’ll find the monastic complex of Sevanavank and Noratus, a cemetery filled with Armenian gravestones called “khackars”.
The Debed Canyon combines natural beauty with history, along with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries.
Georgia is located in the northwest region of the South Caucasus, with Russia bordering its Caucasus Mountains to the north, and Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the south. It’s a small country, but you’ll find the country is very diverse, with some of the highest mountains in Europe, a subtropical coastline, grassy steppes and even a desert. With the architecturally eclectic Tbilisi, the Black Sea playground of Batumi, as well as medieval mountain villages and cave monasteries, you could spend months in Georgia and not get bored.
The Caucasus might appear slightly off track from the main route of the Silk Road, however archaeologists have found many sites attesting to its role in the Silk Road, with goods found originating as far as India and remnants of Chinese silk from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Tbilisi was still a hub on the Silk Road as late as the 17th century.
Tbilisi offers an eclectic array of architecture, with conical roofed churches dotting the city, dilapidated and restored galleried houses that wouldn’t look out of place in New Orleans, flaking art nouveau buildings, and even post-modern steel and crystal structures. Its sulfur baths echo Samarkand’s Registan and its Caravansarai, which was rebuilt many times, nod to its connection to the Silk Road.
Kutaisi is located halfway between Tbilisi and the Black Sea, and according to mythology, sits in the heart of Ancient Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece. Kutaisi contains two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Bagrati Cathedral and the Gelati Monastery, located 9km outside of Kutaisi.
Batumi is a former 19th century holiday resort that has reclaimed its former grandeur. Filled with art nouveau buildings, a tree-lined promenade over looking the Black Sea, and open plazas, Batumi is an attractive destination in the summer.
Eat & drink
Georgian wine: Archaeologists have concluded that Georgia is the birthplace of wine, with vini- and viticulture dating back to 6000BC. Here, the crushed grapes are placed in amphora type jars called qvevri, and are then buried for six months to make a young wine. There are over 500 varietals that are indigenous to Georgia, but only 38 are used in commercial wine making.
Khachapuri is a typical Georgian bread dish that is filled with white, tangy, creamy cheese and sometimes topped with an egg and slivers of butter. Each region has its own brand of the dish.
Khinkali are small boiled dumplings that are usually filled with a spicy meat filling, although they’re also available with mushroom, cheese, and potato filling.
Lobio is a fragrant stew made from red kidney beans, flavored with fresh cilantro, fenugreek, and sometimes even plum.
The Caucasus Mountains are rich with rugged peaks, green forests, white water rivers, and medieval fortresses. These border the north of the country, straddling the Russian states of the North Caucasus. The main mountain regions are Svaneti, known for its defensive towers, Kazbegi, with its view of Mount Kazbek and the Gergeti Church, Khevsureti is a remote region that has hardly changed since medieval times on the Chechen border and Tusheti, a mountain community, is accessible by terrible mountain roads.
The Cave Cities. Georgia is the home to some of the most interesting cave cities, each with something different to offer. Vardzia is a complex network that goes 13 stories high and was built in the medieval times, Uplistsikhe was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Iberia, where the smooth white rocks were worn down over the centuries, and Davit Gareji on the Azeri border on a desert ridge houses some spectacular frescoes from the 10th-13th centuries.
Mtskheta is one of the world’s oldest cities and on the Georgian branch of the Silk Road. Located just outside Tbilisi, it’s easy to visit Mtskheta as a daytrip from the capital. There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the town: the Svetitskhovloba Cathedral and the Jvari Monastery, with views over the city and the Mtkvari River.
Kazakhstan is the size of a small continent, and as a result it is a country with vast natural landscape from the steppes through to mountains and arid lands. The northern branch of the Silk Road passed through Kazakhstan in the southern part of the country.
The country has a rich cultural melting pot of numerous nationalities and ethnicities within its borders. You can still find archaeological pathways tracing the northern silk route around Almaty.
Kazakhstan has Russia bordering it to the north, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan to the South, and China to the East.
Almaty is Kazakhstan’s largest city and is located at the south of the country, close to the Kyrgyz border. Its cosmopolitan atmosphere and European architecture make it en par with European cities. It’s leafy streets come with a pleasant backdrop of the Zailivsky Alatau, part of the Tian Shan Mountains. It’s a great travel hub for those looking to explore Central Asia, but its Western lifestyle makes it a popular city with Westerners.
Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan, despite being just a medium-sized provincial city, replacing Almaty in 1997. It boasts a fantastical and futuristic skyline that has completely changed the profile of the city in the space of a few years.
Eat & drink
Beshbarmak is a pasta dish that’s been made with horsemeat, potato and onion. It’s often served up for special occasions, but you’ll find most Kazakh restaurants will serve a portion for a small group of people or a couple.
Kazy is a handmade sausage that’s made from horsemeat. Sometimes it’s served with Beshbarmak, but otherwise it can be served as a cold meat appetizer.
Laghman is another noodle dish that’s served as a soup. It mostly contains meat, onions and carrots, but it can also include other ingredients.
Kvas is a Kazakh root beer, which can be store bought, but for authenticity buy it from the vendors with the giant yellow colored tanks on the street.
The Khodzha Akhmed Yassawai Mausoleum. This 14th century monument is one of the most visited Islamic sites in the world, and was even rebuilt by Tamerlane, turning it into one of the largest complex of palaces and temples in the region.
Otrar was a major trade center between Europe and China on the Silk Road between the 10th and 12th centuries. It flourished again in Tamerlane’s time, even though the Mongols had previously sacked it. You can still see the city’s walls, gates and citadels today.
Taraz is an ancient city that is over 2000 years old and became a great commercial center on the Silk Road, trading in silk, gold, silver, bronze and leather. Now an archaeological site, you can still garner an idea of the quality of life this city once had with its cobbled streets and sophisticated plumbing system.
With sprawling deserts and its coastline on the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan is a country that played a vital role in the history of the Silk Road. Home to the ruins of the city of Merv, which was once the largest city in the world for its time, Turkmenistan’s Silk Road heritage is impossible to overlook.
The Parthian tribes, whose capital was established in Nisa, once populated Turkmenistan and also controlled the Silk Road in their territory. Most of the cities of Turkmenistan’s Silk Road history are now in ruins, but today, many of them have been excavated and can still be visited.
Turkmenistan borders Iran to the south, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to the North and Afghanistan to the Southeast.
Ashgabat is the capital city of Turkmenistan and is known for its lavish palaces, golden domes and parkland. The city boasts Turkmenistan’s abundant oil money from the Caspian Sea. Ashgabat’s heritage mostly lies in the late 19th century when it became a Russian town on the Trans-Caspian railroad. Most of the city was destroyed during an earthquake and was rebuilt under the Soviet Union.
Eat & drink
Ku’urma is a Turkmen dish made from lamb, which has been cooked in its own fat.
Ichlekli is a traditional pastry that has been made from meat and onions that are cooked in a pie.
Gutap is another Turkmen pie that has been filled with potatoes, spinach, pumpkin and meat.
Gok Chai is a popular green tea drink, spiced up with dried fruits, mint or other herbs.
Nisa was once a Parthian capital in the region dating back to the 3rd century BC and was inhabited until the 19th century. It was a huge complex with an extensive palace and residences.
Merv was one of the most important cities on the Silk Road and one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia. The desert-based city was a hub of trade and cultural activity, with a melting pop of cultures, but it was eventually razed by the Mongols and despite attempts to revive it, the city now lies in the desert in ruins.
Serakhs lay en route between Merv and Nisapur in Persia, and was an oasis stop off between the 10th and 12th centuries. The city was known for its architectural beauty, but even now you can still see its mausoleums.
Darvaza Flaming Crate is known affectionately as the gate of Hell. An oilrig accidentally struck a pocket of natural gas in the late 20th century and the rig collapsed into the cavern, filling it with fire. It still burns today and has become one of the big tourist attractions in Turkmenistan.
Kyrgyzstan’s varied landscape of grassy steppes and forested mountains attracted the traders of the Silk Road with to its pleasant, cool climate, and abundance of lakes and green valleys. The abundance of ruined cities all over the country testify to its role on the Silk Road, which once saw a range of travelers from China, Central Asia and Europe of all religions.
The country has a lot to offer the modern visitor today with its natural beauty, hiking paths, and adventure travel opportunities, like white water rafting. Kyrgyzstan is known for its nomadic culture, and even today many yurt dwelling families on the steppes will still take in guests.
The landlocked country borders Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the south, and China to the east.
Bishkek is a young city and a capital when compared to the rest of its Central Asian neighbors. Bishkek is a city that holds a lot of potential, but it is one that welcomes foreigners in with open arms.
Osh is the country’s second city and administrative center for the Fergana Valley region. It’s an ancient city, unlike capital Bishkek, dating back to the 5th century BC, but it still has a more Soviet feel than other historic Silk Road cities, however it does capture the Central Asian trade-route heritage with its huge outdoor market, one of the biggest in Central Asia.
Eat & drink
Besh Barmak is a traditional Kyrgyz soup made from a sheep or a horse that was slaughtered and boiled in a large pot. This is often served as a first course and usually divided between those at the table, where the head and eyes are often reserved for the guests of honor. Sometimes the leftovers are mixed in with noodles and onions.
Lepeshka is a circular loaf of bread that is torn apart and served to everyone on the table.
Kymys is a drink made from fermented mares mile and often ladled from barrels brought from the mountains. It is a pungent drink with a smoky aftertaste and a challenge for Westerners to get used to.
Cognac. The Kyrgyz have their own cognac distiller, and Kyrgyzstan Cognac, as it is often branded, is a sweet and excellent cognac.
Lake Issyk-Kul is said to be one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, and its geographical position just across the Chinese border means it was a hub of activity along the Silk Road. You can still find traces of former cities and temples around it.
Lake Song-Kul is considered to be one of the country’s more beautiful spots. It is popular with herders who come up from the Kochkor Valley with their animals. The area is free from urban contamination, which means fresh air, clear night skies, and endless views.
The Talas-Chi Corridor is one of the Silk Road’s transition points, since archaeologists have found ruins of towns, caravanserais and mausoleums that pre-date the 15th century.
This mountainous country sits at the heart of Central Asia and connects the Silk Road with China in the East and India in the South via its neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three of the major Silk Road routes ran through the current territory of Tajikistan, making it a key player in the historical caravan route. The Northern Route connected the Silk Road to Samarkand and Kashgar, the Karategin Road linked Termez and Kashgar and the Pamir Road linked up with Balkh and Tashkurgan. Like most of the countries at the heart of the Silk Road, Tajikistan became a multicultural hub with Persian, Greek, Chinese and Arabic visitors, who wrote about the Tajik contributions at the time between the 5th and the 12th centuries. Tajikistan is a country that is sometimes dubbed as being the roof of the world, thanks to its Pamir mountain range, along with parts of the Hindu Kush, the Karakorams and the Tien Shan touching Tajikistan in some way.
Dushanbe is Tajikistan’s capital city and by far the largest urban settlement in the area. Set to the dramatic mountain backdrop coupled with neo-classical buildings on tree-lined streets, Dushanbe is one of Central Asia’s more beautiful capitals. Khujand is the second city in the country and dates back to the 7th century BC, It was one of the important cities on the cross-roads of the Silk Road, since it marked a point where the route would branch off into a number of directions. The former grandeur of the city can still be seen in its citadel and its mausoleum to Sheikh Muslihitdin. Khorog may be a small mountain valley town, but it is actually the capital of the autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan region. The city boasts one of the brightest and best-educated populations in Central Asia and has three campuses of the University of Central Asia on its premises. It’s also serves as the gateway to the famous Pamir Highway.
Eat & drink
Qurotob is a traditional dish eaten from a communal plate. The name refers to the preparation method, where “qurut”, dried balls of salty cheese, are dissolved in water and poured over thin and flaky flatbread, which is then topped with fried onions and vegetables, and no meat is added to the dish. Plov is a dish you’ll find all over Central Asia, and Tajikistan is no exception. This national dish is made from rice, carrots and meat, all fried together in mutton fat or oil in a “quzan”, a wok-shaped cauldron over an open fire. It is often served communally from a large plate. Green tea accompanies every meal and a small amount is poured out and then back into the pot three times.
The Pamir Highway is a spectacular road that was build by the Soviet military engineers in the 1930s, running between Khorog and Osh. It was off limits to travelers recently, but has reopened again, offering the brave the chance to explore the remote high-altitude road that traverses a high plateau populated by yaks and yurts, punctuated by deep lakes. Istaravshan is one of Tajikistan’s best-preserved towns. Istaravshan has seen its fair share of historical characters, including Alexander the Great.
For Uzbekistan tourism, the future is its past, historical architectural wonders dotted throughout the country which sprung up as a result of the wealth generated by its central role as a trading centre on the Silk Road.
Uzbekistan Tourism – Defined by History and Historical Architectural Wonders
Currently, for Uzbekistan tourism plays a small but growing role in terms of the economy, it is a country that is often overlooked and it’s sad to see how many people still struggle to place it on the map. However, those who know of Uzbekistan will think of the lapis and turquoise blue-hued madrasahs immortalized by Samarkand’s Regsitan and the country’s central role in the Silk Road.
The Central Asian country is located in the heart of the countries affectionately known as the Stans, with Kazakhstan to the north, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan to the south and Kyrgyzstan to the east.
Uzbekistan may appear to be a remote destination in the 21st century, but once it was a trade hub and a center of cultural exchange, with travelers coming to its cities from Europe, China, Persia, Arabia, Mongolia, and the Caucasus back in its heyday.
Uzbekistan’s Tamerlane set out to conquer much of the Eurasian continent and brought the most gifted masons and craftsmen back to his country. Other famous figures connected to Uzbekistan include Alexander the Great and the world’s original travel writer Marco Polo.
Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s current capital and has been around since the 1st century BC. The city boasts a number of excellent museums and sites, including the Zangi-Ata Mausoleum complex. Tashkent might be grittier when compared to Uzbekistan’s other famed cities, but its eccentricity arising from the eclectic blend of Soviet era architecture and a labyrinth of mud-walled houses in the bazar, along with its Islamic architecture, adds to its charm.
Samarkand is a city of legend and one that is synonymous with the Silk Road itself, since it is located as the central position between China and Europe. Known for it’s breathtaking blue-hued domes of its Registan, lined with madrasahs and mosques, Samarkand has earned its iconic status in literary and cultural history. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage City, and noted not only for its beautiful landmarks at its ancient center, but also for the preservation of its ancient crafts.
Bukhara spans thousands of years of history, and its old center has remained mostly unchanged for centuries. The city is rich in old architecture that is mixed in between modern townhouses, making Bukhara rich in madrasahs, a royal fortress and mosques. There are approximately 140 architectural monuments in Uzbekistan’s fifth-largest city, which was once the hub of the Silk Road trade.
Khiva has made its mark as one of the key Silk Road cities, but it’s also earned a darker reputation in history due to its association with the slave trade and bandits, right up until the 19th century. The historic heart of Khiva is perfectly preserved, but has lost its former squalor and character, but even then, its tight network of mud brick houses, madrasahs, mosques and palaces still retain its original mystique.
Eat & drink
Plov, also known as Osh, is Uzbekistan’s national dish. It’s a rice dish that is made from a mix of mutton, carrots, onions, but can also feature other ingredients like dried fruit and peas. It’s often spiced up with peppers, spices and tomatoes.
Manti are local dumpling filled up with lamb and onion, often spiced and mixed up with onions, peppers and mutton fat.
Somsas are pockets of pastry that are stuffed with meat, pumpkin or even potatoes, sometimes these come in a “green” variety when “yalpiz”, a type of grass from the rural mountain regions is used. You can find somsas being sold by street-side vendors.
Tea is a big part of Uzbek culture, and you’ll find it in all kinds of variations, like black and green, that is often drunk in the place of water. It is often served in the traditional manner where the tea is poured into a cup from a teapot and poured back again and repeated about three times.
Wine. Uzbekistan hardly makes it onto the map as being one of the global wine regions, but the country has won a number of awards for its high quality wine. The terrain is perfect for viticulture and even though Uzbekistan is predominantly Muslim, wine is still a big thing in the country.
Muynaq was once one of the major fishing ports in the Aral Sea, and now stands 150km from the little water that remains. Ghostly hulls of Muynaq’s fishing fleet lie on the sand, as well as other tragic reminders of the ecological disaster of the Aral Sea.
Fergana Valley. This is a fertile valley lined with orchards and vegetation, marking the point where the Silk Road passes into neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Hike in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park, one of the oldest nature reserves in the country, rich in a variety of fauna and flora.