Traveling on Central Asia’s Silk Road

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SHANGHAI — Just the mention of the Silk Road conjures up images of trade caravans making their slow and plodding way across China on their way to Central Asia and Europe.

The road was first mentioned in ancient Chinese travelogues and in the diaries of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims who went westward from the city of Xian, the ancient capital of the Qin (pronounced Chin) dynasty. They left detailed accounts of the places they visited and the roads they traveled.

The idea to travel the Silk Road in China continuing on to its southern extension into Pakistan has always intrigued me. To travel on the northern fringes of the massive Taklamakan Desert and visit the storied cities of Xian, Urumqi, and Kashgar is something I have wanted to do for years.

The ancient stories of old caravansaries of yore drew me in. Tales of travel-weary caravaneers unrolling their bedrolls, sipping tea, and gazing at the crackling fire while sharing tales of their travel and talking about the perils that lay ahead, intrigued me.

Then I received a surprise phone call from KM Ali of Seattle. Mr. Ali is a soft-spoken aeronautical engineer who recently retired from Boeing. I know him from his adventurous forays into the deserts and northern mountains of Pakistan. He said he had put together a group of eight explorers for an expedition along the Silk Road and invited me to join them.

Others in the group include Mr. Ali’s wife, Yasmin, a veteran of many adventures. 

From Karachi, Pakistan, come Sabiha Omar and her daughter, Mahera, a videographer and a writer who is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Also on the expedition is Babar Ali, a Harvard-educated executive at Liberty Mutual in Boston, who is an experienced photographer and like his father, KM Ali, has an adventurous spirit. 

The other three members to join us from Karachi are the husband and wife team of Drs. Imran and Nasim Chaudhry, and writer Lubna Khan.

The team met in Shanghai to get acquainted and to explore the city. Once a small coastal village, Shanghai has over the centuries and particularly in the past 70 years become a megacity with a population of 25 million. It is the financial nerve center of Asia and the fashion capital of China. The city is studded with high-rise buildings and old neighborhoods.

Colonial occupiers of China left their mark on the city architecture. An evening walk…

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