The Silk Road

“In Xanadu did  Kublai Khan a stately Pleasure Dome decree”  Thus did Coleridge start his epic poem about the land controlled by the Mongol Great Khan, as visited by Marco Polo.

I’d often heard while growing up that the renaissance in Europe was spurred by trade from the far east, which was, Ironically kicked off by the Crusades.

Turkey, Kurdistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan, China.  These are the countries of the Silk Road. I find it amazing that we are so focused on many of these countries at this point in time, when so many of them were bypassed by history for such long stretches.

We claim that there are seven continents.  There are six.  Europe and Asia are one land mass, with nothing marking the change from one to the other but a set of mountains that are not even the largest on the continent.  Don’t feel bad, Urals.  No mountain range on the planet can compete with the Himalayas. The Urals certainly were not enough of a barrier to keep the Mongols out of Europe, nor the Russians out of Siberia.   Maybe they really shouldn’tbe the dviding line between continents.

So we have Eurasia.  Let’s face it, Eurasia is the world scene.  They only really notice America when we come over there.  Yes, humanity came from Africa.  But things really got interesting when people spewed all over Asia.

the Silk road connects the cradle of wester civilization, Uruk, with the cradle of Easter Civilization, the Central Kingdon. In both cases, founded on not one but two rivers.  The tribes that migrated from Africa to China did so by this ancient silk road, or at least vaguly followed it.  I dout any tread too far north, as the equatorial nurturing of the homo-sapiens was not very likely drawn to the cold siberian heights before encountering the far more hospitable Yangtze basin.  Farm more likely that they actually came trhrough India and southeast Asia, but that still means they traversed the  majority of the silk road before meandering off down the Khyber pass.

I’ve been reading a lot about this region lately.  Right now, I am reading a book on Afghanistan, alough stricly speaking it is mostly a book on Afghanistan’s encounters with outside powers. Aghansitan is U shaped in its lowlands, looping around the southern end of the Ural Mountains.  To use a military term, the major avenues of approach are:  From the East, via the passes in the mountains from Pakistan, from the west in a corridor between the Caspian Sea and the mountains of the Iran center, and from the north basically the whole frontier is exposed to the Transoxian countries clear up to the Siberian steppes. Adfghasnistan has been invaded via all of these approaches.  Alexander the Great and later the Persians and Caliphates came from the West.  The British came up from India, twice, not a passage I would recommend.  The Mongols, the Soviets, and the America backed Wester Alliance came from the north.

The mountains in the center of the country are the Hindu Kush.  To get from Kabul, the capitol, to Mazar e Sharif , the largest city in the north, one traditionally had to cut through various passes.  The Soviets funded a highway through the mountains, along with a two mile tunnel.  That should give a sense at how hard communication must be in this place.

I have to wonder what it would have been like to be on a merchant caravan shortly after Marco Polo published his travels and the flood from the West began.  Set sail out of Venice, land somwhere in Turkey, travel across to Mesopotamia, down the Tigris and the cut over into Iran.  Skirt the Caspain sea, and by now you are in a land that vaguely remembers Greeece, and knows nothing of the west except reports of distant wars .  You keep going to a place where Islam only has a tenuous hold, and there only in the lowlands.  Do you stay north, risk the mountains and the dester to make it to distant Cathay, or go south do Hindustan where the people are even more exotic, the languages are more diverse.  Oh, and to get there, you have to travese steep moutain ravines overwatched by tribes that demand bribes at every juncture, and even then might not leave you alive.

Growing up in America, you realize how shallow our histories are.  We have no written record of the aboriginal tribes here, just scattered remains viewed through the dubious eyes of the christian missionaries.  Yes, there were greater civilizations to the south, but that is a long way from my native Massachusetts.  I am often jealous of the history clinging to the peaks and valleys of these places, places that were old when Techonctilan and Machu Pichu were young.  Idon’t envy the citizens of those realms the hardships they face either today, nor through the centuries.  I know that many of my own ancestors spent the bulk of their lives not so very far away in the  regions of Ukraine, Russia, and Polond.  I know that my Jewish heritage comes from the Jordan rivere civilizations.  I know that there must be the blood of at least a few wild horsemen from the Asiatic steppes intermingled with my semitic and Rus bloodlines.  I think it would be fascinating to be able to view the entirety of my family tree.

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