- This article is an itinerary.
The Silk Road crosses Asia from China to Europe. It is not really a single road, rather a sea & land network of related ancient trade routes. One poem calls it "The Golden Road to Samarkand".
Caravans have been travelling the Silk Road for over 2000 years, and Chinese silk was reaching Rome before the time of Christ.
Ideas also travelled this road. Both Islam and Buddhism reached China by this route and some Silk Road areas have important relics of those religions. Various ideas from the East also reached the Islamic countries and sometimes Europe.
Marco Polo followed this route, reaching China overland via Khotan and beginning his homeward journey with a ship on the Maritime Silk Road from Quanzhou to Iran.
Many travellers today follow all or part of this ancient path by train, bus and private car. Some Wikitravel itineraries partly follow the Silk Road.
This is not an easy route or one for the novice traveller. Consult a travel medicine specialist about vaccinations and about medicine to take along. See also Tips for travel in developing countries.
If you are doing the full route, bring phrasebooks for at least Chinese, Russian and Persian.
Note that parts of this route may be difficult or impassable in winter, and various borders may sometimes be closed for political reasons. Check country listings for details.
You could start a Silk Road journey from anywhere in Europe or China, but the obvious jumping-off spots are the two ends of the historic road, Xian and Istanbul.
To explore just the central part of the road in Central Asia, it would be easiest to fly into a city in that area with good air connections — Tashkent, Almaty, Urumqi or Kashgar.
Xi'an to Dunhuang
The main caravan route from China to the West
Around the Taklimakan Desert
The caravan route splits in two around the Taklimakan Desert. The northern route has much better infrastructure compared to the southern route and is therefore the recommended route. The southern route is also called the Jade Road. It was from this road that the famous Hotan Jade was imported into China. Two cross-desert Highways bisect the Taklimakan connecting the northern and southern rim of the desert; they can be used for those who want to get a taste of both routes. (More likely you've had enough of the dirt tracks of the Southern Route and just wanted to get back to civilization.)
The two routes rejoin at Kashgar in the far west of China. Generally, the journey from Xi'an, Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang to Xinjiang Kashgar belongs to The Silk Road in China. 
After Kashgar, the main route goes across the Pamirs into Central Asia.
There are 2 border crossings between China and Kyrgyzstan, The Irkeshtam Pass (easier) and the Torugart Pass (harder).
Irkeshtam is the main caravan route while Torugart is more scenic.
Once in Kyrgyzstan, cross the Pamirs to reach the Ferghana Valley.
The key cities are all in Uzbekistan.
They are Kokand, Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara.
Continue on to Turkmenistan, stop by Merv before crossing into Iran for the holy city of Mashhad. From Mashhad, Tehran is 1 night's train ride away.
From here on, the Silk Road branches off again.
- The southern route crosses through Baghdad,Iraq into Damascus,Syria before eventually ending up in Alexandria,Egypt. (Given the currently situation in the Middle East, the route is not recommended)
- The northern route involves crossing into Turkey to reach Istanbul. The fastest overland option is the aptly named "Trans-Asia Express" train between Tehran and Istanbul. Interesting stops in between are: Tabriz and Cappadocia.
There were also
- alternate routes — for example:
- crossing into Central Asia further North from Urumqi into Kazakhstan
- passing North of the Caspian Sea instead of through Iran
- reaching the Mediterranean in what is now Lebanon or Israel rather than via Istanbul
- branches off the road for example:
- a Maritime Silk Road — from Chinese ports like Nanjing and Quanzhou to India and the Arab countries
- a "Tea and horse caravan" route  much further South, from Chengdu through Yunnan and parts of Tibet to Northern India
The traditional inns of the area are called caravanserai. They are built around a walled courtyard and have stables for the horses and camels. Some still exist; anyone travelling this road should try to stay in them at least once.
The whole area is Muslim which implies at least:
- a tremendous tradition of Muslim hospitality and wonderful treatment of visitors
- some conservatism, especially in matters such as womens' clothing
- risk of foreigners who do not understand Islam giving offence
- complicated politics, mixed with religious issues
- considerable hostility toward both Western and Russian influences
Some of the people are still nomadic herdsmen, and even in
the cities tribal loyalties may run strong, which implies at least:
- tremendous hospitality again
- suspicion of outsiders, even from neighbouring tribes. Foreigners are sometimes exempt
- many of them are heavily armed
That said, with a bit of common sense and goodwill and a lot of flexibility
on the part of the traveller, the risks are moderate.
See individual country and city listings for more.
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