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Highlights of the Silk Road

Image: Getty

Sophie Williams goes in search of the legendary route’s top attractions – from Xian to Kashgar


China’s Silk Road was a vital trading route between the Middle Kingdom and Europe. The 2,000 year-old route was given its name as the first oriental silk reached Europe via the road. At the time, silk was only reserved for the imperial court. With a length of over 2,400 miles in China alone, there are many tourist hotspots along the route, including the Terracotta Warriors and the Zhangye Danxia landforms. For those wanting to take the entire route of the traders to Europe, the journey will cover some 4,300 miles. The Silk Road still carries importance today, with the Chinese government resurrecting the route to help boost Asia’s economy.

Terracotta Warriors
The Terracotta Warriors are located at the start of the Silk Road in the city of Xi’an. Over 2,000 years old, they were discovered by a group of farmers in 1974. Built to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 – 210 BC) in the afterlife, 8,000 warriors, chariots and horses can be found in three large pits on the outskirts of the city. It’s said that every warrior has slightly different facial features making them completely unique. The pits are numbered in order of their discovery, however when visiting make sure to see them in reverse order and save the largest and most spectacular pit for last.

Maijishan Grottoes
The Maijishan Grottoes in China’s Gansu province can be found some 260 feet high on the side of Maiji mountain. Filled with buddhist statues and murals thought to be over 1,600 years old, the grottoes are considered to be one of the four most famous grottoes in China. Construction began in the Qin Dynasty (384 – 417 AD) but is thought to have continued through 12 further dynasties all of the way up to the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) which is why there are a variety of designs. Inside the caves there are around 7,000 buddhist statues carved into the rock. The caves are connected by a wooden plank walk so those with a fear of heights, beware.

Zhangye Danxia landforms
Known as China’s Rainbow Mountains, the Danxia landforms in Zhangye span an area of some 200 miles. The Geopark was formed by rocks piling on top of each other. Some billions of years later, they now resemble the steep mountains that we see in pictures today. The mountains are best viewed at sunrise, however it’s a good idea to spend a while at the park to see the colours of the stones change from yellow to grey over time.

Moon Crescent Spring
A literal oasis in the desert, Moon Crescent Spring, also known as Yueya Spring, is around 2,000 years old. Located around five miles from the nearest town of Dunhuang, the spring is right in the Gobi desert on China’s Silk Road. As temperatures rose, the spring was at risk of disappearing, but in 2006 the government decided preserve it and fill it with water. Its location makes it a good spot for photographing the stars at night, and the lake can be accessed by car or the more traditional method of a camel.

Kashgar old town
A major hub along the Silk Road, Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province is a bustling trade area that is home to the Uyghur people. Due to influences from countries along the Silk Road, Kashgar feels a million miles from the large Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Take a walk around the old town’s alleyways and see goods such as hats, woodwork and traditional Uyghur instruments for sale. And be sure to try some local foods such as Xinjiang kebabs and LangMian, the local version of spicy noodles.

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