Tash-Rabat… A stop on the silk road. Let me remind you what where those roads in a few paragraphs, and you will understand how mythical this place is…
Parthia, on the Iranian plateau, was the most voracious foreign trader and consumer of Chinese silk at the close of the 2nd century BC, having supposedly traded an ostrich egg for its first bolt of silk. In about 105 BC, Parthia and China exchanged embassies and inaugurated official bilateral trade along the caravan route that lay between them. With this the Silk Road was born – A fragile network of shifting intercontinental caravan tracks that threaded through some of Asia’s highest mountains and bleakest deserts.
The network had its main eastern terminus at the Chinese capital Ch’ang-an (Xi’an). West of there, the route reached the oasis town of Dunhuang and exited China through the Jade Gate. Here it divided, one branch skirting the dreaded Taklamakan Desert to the north through Turfan, while the other headed south via Khotan. The two forks met again in Kashgar, from where the trail headed up a series of passes into and over the Pamirs and Tian Shan (two such passes in use today are the Torugart and Irkeshtam, on the Chinese border with Kyrgyzstan).
Traffic ran both ways. China received gold, silver, ivory, lapis, jade, coral, wool, rhino horn, tortoise shell, horses, Mediterranean coloured glass (an industrial mystery originally as inscrutable to the Chinese as silk was in the West), cucumbers, walnuts, pom- egranates, golden peaches from Samarkand, sesame, garlic, grapes and wine, plus – an early Parthian craze – acrobats and ostriches. Goods arriving at the western end included silk, porcelain, paper, tea, ginger, rhubarb, lacquerware, bamboo, Arabian spices and incense, medicinal herbs, gems and perfumes.
In the middle lay Central Asia, a great clearing house that provided its native horses and camels to keep the goods flowing in both directions.
Rabat (caravanserais) grew up along the route, offering lodgings, stables and stores.
The Silk Road was delivered a major body blow when China turned its back on the cosmopolitanism of the Tang dynasty (618–907) and retreated behind its Great Wall. The destruction and turbulence wreaked by Jenghiz Khan and Timur (Tamerlane) dealt a further economic blow to the region, and the literal and figurative drying-up of the Silk Road lead to the abandonment of a string of cities along the southern fringes of the Taklamakan Desert. The metaphoric nail in the Silk Road’s coffin was the opening of more cost- effective maritime trading routes between Europe and Asia.
So here I am, entering the Tash-Rabat caravenserail, 25 km from the Torugart pass, on the boarder with China, at 3000 meters of altitude. When entering the place, going through this corridor, entering the different small rooms, the three of us were very moved.
The snow is starting to fall. From the caravenserail roof, I have an amazing 360° horizon view. a few hundreds meters from here, a yurts camps. The snow is starting to fall…