Secret Threads of the Old Silk Road - Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and Far West China

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BACKGROUND

Since our first trip to Tibet, central and far west China in 2007 (Travelpod publication "The Distant Chinas"), the fascinating history and mystique of the Old Silk Road has continued to lure my husband Alan and me into exploring further west along the ancient trading routes of Central Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East

In 2009 we journeyed to the wonderful and exotic Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then back through far west China and into Pakistan (Travelpod publication "Painted Faces of the Silk Road"). These travels were simply fascinating and so evocative of the Old Silk Road history.

This year the seduction of the Silk Road history led us even further west to the lesser travelled trading routes of Turkmenistan, Iran and the north-west regions of Pakistan, closely bordering the war troubled countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our travels concluded with an extraordinary trip along the Southern Silk Road routes of central western China and through the centre of the fearsome Taklamakan Desert.

Our expectations and experiences in each country have been entirely different. And each has been a fabulous destination. The common secret thread of our journeys was the magnetism of the Old Silk Road and its raw, yet romantic history.

OUR JOURNEY - 2011

Our previous travels along the various Old Silk Road routes were wonderful journeys but not without the considerable degree of organisational problems that seem to occur as a matter of course during overseas travel. In fact, we often laugh that we now just expect a lot to go haywire, usually without too much fault of our own. And we are resigned that it is, after all, part of the unexpected and complex fabric of travel in these less tourist frequented countries. For all our travels we plan the framework of our itineraries ourselves, then sub-contract our travels through local companies as private tours for just the two of us. For the beginning of this particular trip it seemed that at long last all the organisational work we had put in before our travels had finally paid off. Everything was going just like clock work - flights were on time, our air e-tickets worked wonderfully, our internet accommodation bookings were miraculously in place and hotels were more than satisfactory. We were happy.

Little did we realise so early on that it was to be political events and not organisational problems that almost overturned at least half of our travels and tossed our carefully scripted trip plans into total chaos. We were of course not to anticipate the assassination of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, near Islamabad the day before we were due to fly to Pakistan. To describe our trip from here on as a roller coaster would be an understatement. For two self confessed control freaks, we were well and truly out of our comfort zone.

Throughout our journeys we were to experience a kaleidoscope of emotions. Like a series of parabolic curves, the highs and lows were often overwhelming.

We marvelled at the 8,000 year old archeological site of Gonur, Turkmenistan; absorbed the sensational atmosphere and history of the great sites of Susa, Shusta, Bisatoun and Persepolis in Iran; were fascinated by the colourful Kalasha people of the North West Frontier Province Kalash Valleys, Pakistan; experienced the euphoria of the solitude at dawn in Duikar, Pakistan gazing up at some of the highest mountain peaks in the world; and were overwhelmed by the unexpected friendliness of Chinese oil workers at Tazhong, a desolate mining camp - smack bang in the middle of the mighty Taklamakan Desert.

Our lows were fortunately fewer but some were more than significant. We were disturbed and confronted in the holy city of Mashad, Iran with the suffocating power of the mullahs and the overwhelming proportion of women and girls cloaked in full black chadors; angry with the gender inequality and the repressive religious Iranian regime; totally confused and bewildered about our decision to travel on to Islamabad after the assassination of Osama bin Laden; and in despair for the poor Pakistani people with their terrible natural disasters and their not so natural problems of a failed government and a shadowy Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, the never ending problems of the Taliban and the external pressures of the USA with its "war on terrorism" and China's thirst for a corridor through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.

At the end of our travels however, we had to admit that our entire trip was just one big extraordinary adventure, with life experiences that will stay with us forever. And although many of the cities and historical sites were breathtaking, it was the genuine friendliness of the people and their fascinating cultures, together with the immense geographical scale and stark beauty of the landscape that made our trip so very special.

On our return home our heads were spinning from our remarkable experiences. We felt a certain empathy with the great Marco Polo and his famous quote "...But I have only told you half of what I have seen".....

NOTES

We were very happy with the travel agents that we contracted to take us by private tour through Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and far west China. We used the fabulous services of North Pakistan Adventure, Silk Road Adventures, Advantour and China Travel Service for our travels in 2009 as well as for this trip. All were professional and we would highly recommend them. Our travel agents for this trip were:

China Travel Service, Australia : China visas, air travel to and from China and accommodation in Shanghai Travel Consultant: Mr David Hu Email: ctsdavid@chinatravel.com.au

Advantour, Tashkent, Uzbekistan - partner company with Owadan Travel, Turkmenistan: Organisation of travel itinerary in Turkmenistan. Travel Consultant: Mr Odil Akhmedov* Website: www.advantour.com

*Our excellent travel agent Odil Akhmedov is now managing a Tashkent based company Stan Journeys which organises tailor made tours in the Central Asian Region. Website: www.stanjourneys.com Email: tashkent@stanjourneys.com or oakhmedov@stanjourneys.com

Owadan Tourism, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: All travel in Turkmenistan and assistance with the land border crossing into Iran. Travel Consultant: Ms Anjelika Adamyan Email: trowadan@online.tm

Paritour, Tehran, Iran: Assistance with visas and organisation of all travel in Iran Travel Consultant: Ms Pari Nikzad Email: info@paritour.ir

North Pakistan Adventure, Islamabad, Pakistan: Organisation of all travel in Pakistan and into China. Travel Consultants: Mr Ishaq Ali and Mr Sadruddin Ali Email: northpakistan@dsl.net.pk Email: ishaq_jan@yahoo.com and sadruddin2001@yahoo.com

Silk Road Adventures, Urumqi and Kashgar, China: Travel in far west and south-west China. Travel Consultants: Mr Abdullah Khaliq (Urumqi Office) and Mr Abdul Rahman (Kashgar Office) Email: ilyar@china.com

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  • HISTORICAL TIMELINE
  • A Remarkably Unremarkable Journey Home
Trip Start Apr 11, 2011
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49
Trip End May 24, 2011


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