An ancient caravan route linking China with the West, used from Roman times onwards and taking its name from the silk that was a major Chinese export. By this route Christianity and (from India) Buddhism reached China. A ‘North Road’ skirted the northern edge of the Taklimakan Desert before heading westwards into Turkestan (and thence to the Levant), while a ‘South Road’ followed a more southerly route through the high passes of the Kunlun and Pamir mountains into India. A railway (completed in 1963) follows the northern route from Xian to Urumchi and into Kazakhstan.
Silk roadCrossing Asia from eastern China to the Mediterranean, the Silk Road was pioneered by the Chinese in the 2nd century BC. Bactrian camels carried many goods besides silk on the Silk Road, but only a small proportion of the goods, and few merchants, ever travelled its whole length. The route began in the old capital, Chang'an (now Xi'an) and skirted the Taklimakan desert, in north-west China, north and south, before climbing into the Pamir Mountains from Kashi (Kashgar) and continuing through Persia to the Mediterranean. From Shache (Yarkand) another route led to India.