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Travel the Silk Road with Jonathan Tucker

This spring we are delighted to be releasing over two volumes – The Silk Road: Central Asia and The Silk Road: China and the Karakorum Highway – a portable version of Jonathan Tucker's acclaimed The Silk Road: Art and History, with new forewords by Paul Theroux. Replete with fascinating details of the main historical sites, works of art, accounts by ancient and modern travelers, legends, poetry and other literary references, this will be essential reading for all those interested in or planning to travel the ancient Silk Road.

‘This book is a Silk Road 'bible', a well constructed and beautiful collation of a mass of information and knowledge on a truly fascinating corner of the world. But be warned: read The Silk Road and you'll want to experience it for yourself’

The Silk Road - China and the Karakorum Highway: A Travel Companion


Paul Theroux on The Silk Road

I wish I’d had Jonathan Tucker's The Silk Road 33 years ago when I was first in China, and on subsequent trips, when I was trying to understand the scattered remnants and tumbled walls of the ancient city of Turfan in remote Xinjiang, and the caves at Dunhuang and the (then vandalised) Buddhas in the Yungang caves outside Datong. As for the monumental Buddhas hewn from rock at Bamiyan, ‘among the greatest artistic creations of the earth’, Tucker does those full justice, though they have been destroyed by fanatics. Many of the towns and cities still exist, yet some of what remains of the Silk Road befits the hubris of Ozymandias. I am thinking of Turfan and the Peshawar valley, and the dusty foundations of Merv, in present-day Turkmenistan, an enormous set of interlocked cities, now little more than an elegant crater.

Since the Silk Road was not one road, but many, it represented a series of suggestive directions, taking in – not cities, since cities are a recent phenomenon on earth – but a multitude of bazaars. Many of the bazaars still f lourish, the Tolkuchka Bazaar – just outside Ashgabat in Turkmenistan – is a desert encampment retailing camels and carpets and silver, and the Silk Road Bokhara remains a venerable and busy town, and Xian (resurgent Changan) is a metropolis once more. The presence of mosques, synagogues, temples and Christian churches in such places demonstrates the complexity of belief on the road. Jewish travellers from the Levant found their way to Changan and Luoyang, and not only became involved in the production of silk, but their Chinese descendents, the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, are still living in Henan province. There may be Nestorians in China too. Nestorians found their way to China when they expanded to the East – the Silk Road was thick with schismatics.

Recognising this back-and-forth of believers and thinkers, Tucker makes one of his shrewdest judgements when he describes the arrival of Buddhism in China along the ancient routes: ‘one of many instances of the passage of ideas (one of the Silk Road’s most important commodities)’. We take for granted objects, sculptures, terracotta, textiles, instruments, weapons and finery, and the excesses of Qin Shi Huangdi in his desire for immortality; but it was the exchange of ideas – faiths, beliefs, and songs and poems too – that gave the Silk Road its vitality.

The Silk Road is a good companion in all respects, a history that is readable, a guide for the traveller that is invaluable, a handbook for the seeker of antiquities, an essential vademecum for the puzzled and bewildered tourist; and for the chair-bound person who does not wish to experience first-hand the howling Taklamakan Desert, or the upsets of Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan, or the exotic cuisines en route, it is a wonderful reference book and an enlightening journey in itself.

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