Our Silk Road
The story of our initial journey on the ancient routes and how it has encompassed to our decade-long quest.
Early summer of 2016 we stepped into western China for the first time.
It was a totally different world than what we were accustomed to. Lamb kabobs were staples, donkey carts brought us to and fro, and layers upon layers of history interspersed with everyday life. A seemingly endless train journey through the Hexi Corridor served as a basin of the trip, with an offshoot into the Tibetan Plateau to the first time. Upon returning to our simple apartment in Shanghai and back to teaching English, we dreamed of that freedom experienced out in the wild west. Sure enough, a newfound passion kicked off- one of the Silk Roads, where hours upon hours of researching crept into my free time. And a quest formed - to overland the route, chronicling the experiences along the way.
However, the more I researched, the more I realized it was not just a single road stretching from China to Europe, but rather interconnected veins crossing over all the highs and lows of Eurasia. Several main branches had numerous offshoots, connecting towns and villages, ideas and treasures. A simple journey from point A to point B was out of the books; this will be an investment of time, resources, and many years to traverse the ancient highways.
And it was a challenge we were willing to take on.
Just a few months after our first venture, we overlanded the historic Tea Horse Road in the autumn of 2016, a branch of the Silk Roads crossing the Tibetan Plateau through the three parallel rivers region into southwestern China. We trekked through Earth’s second deepest canyon, visited historic towns in Yunnan, joined pilgrims circumambulating around a holy mountain and bunked with a Tibetan monk in a simple monastery.
It was a journey unlike anything we have done prior and further plunged us in our quest, one that we are just beginning to scratch the surface.
A series of smaller excursions into the Tibetan Plateau and Southeast Asia ensued, where we even moved to Sichuan province in west-central province as a base camp for exploring the Tibetan Plateau. Six-months was spent in the “small” town of Jiangyou in Sichuan, the lone foreigner out of 800,000 people. Working on weekends in an English training center, the income more than supported our lifestyle of exploring Monday through Thursday ($75 rent a month sure helped).
The summer of 2017 was our first real test.
It was a trip founded on the culmination of months of planning, and occasional recklessness, where we traversed the entirety of Xinjiang. This journey tested us in many ways but the experiences were wholesome and unforgettable. Sharing tea with a nomad in the Pamir Mountains, exploring historic Silk Road ruins, wandering around the point farthest from any ocean on earth, haggling in ancient bazaars, and making lasting connections with the local population.
Read our story of this journey:
The years that followed we went all-in our endeavor.
Three months were spent in the former Kingdom of Nepal, a hamlet of historic treasures and mighty peaks. We came with no plan, but left with lasting relationships. A slice of life was experienced in that country where it will always be a part of us. And it also taught us the value of slowing down and not focusing on ourselves. From Nepal it was a natural transition to explore the Silk Road branches of India where five weeks were well spent. The ancient routes linked legendary cities along with spices and stories that can’t be believed. Taj Mahal met expectations, but it was the opulent Rajasthan Forts and the ancient caves of Ellora that transformed the country from interesting to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Read our story of our time in Nepal:
Some of our most meaningful, yet brief, travels was through the Caucasus region of Armenia and Georgia. Armenia, in particular, stands as one of our fondest experiences. Seemingly everyday we were there we were treated as family, whether from a simple family picking us up from the side of the road to the Father of a monastery going above and beyond helping us. The natural beauty and hospitality of Georgia also surprised us. It is no small wonder that this region is where we envision ourselves setting up a ‘base.’ (More on that later)
Read one of our favorite experiences:
And then there were the weeks spent traversing the ancient routes of Turkey, east to west. Walking the ruins of Ani, exploring the foothills of Mount Ararat, seeing the worlds first temple of Gobekli Tepe, and wandering the region known as the Fertile Crescent, eastern Turkey overwhelmed and delighted. As we crept west, the branches of the Silk Roads seemed to shoot out in every possible direction. Both Mediterranean and northern/Black Sea branches were followed, all leading to Istanbul. What better way to start, or end, the Silk Roads.
What are our upcoming explorations?
Well I'm glad you asked! Our most ambitious trip yet (yes we said that before, but this one really is) commences in June. We will be back exploring the Silk Roads for half a year, stopping by the grandest cities to ruins unheard of. The Middle East and the Caucasus we will return to, but the real adventure is an entirely overland route across all of Asia, from the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan to the Pacific Ocean in eastern China. Oh, and may I add, with two kids. We are not sure how the journey will unfold, but we plan on approaching it with open minds.
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How are we able to travel this much?
All of our travels have been self-supported by working in between, often at inopportune times. For instance, during our two year stint in China, I worked as an English teacher, but still exploring every opportunity we can. During our seven month long trip through Nepal, India and Turkey, we were supported by a very small income ($800 a month) through teaching English online. During Covid we were put in place much more than we would have liked, but I made my way to becoming a licensed geologist in California, which has allowed us to save some money for future explorations - including this summers 4-month traverse through Asia.
It probably doesn’t make sense to some, and likely many assume we are rich. The reality is that we have a passion for this region, and it has ended up working out so far!
Here are a few of our favorite stories from the road
Our 7 Historical Wonders of the Silk Roads
Ellora Caves, India
The Ruins of Ani, Turkey and Armenia Border
Jiaohe Ruins in Turpan, China
Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey
The Hagia Sophia, Turkey
Bhaktapur Old Town, Nepal
Jaisalmer Fort, India
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