July 19, 2019
In days of yore, camel caravans would arrive in Samarkhand or Bukhara with heartfelt relief. If traveling west, they had survived the dangers of the Taklamakhan desert, battled the robbers in the passes of the Hindu Kush and traveled the dry high deserts of the Pamirs. They would arrive in Samarkhand to find shelter and safety and here they would stay for a long while. To trade and to recoup from the rigors of the journey and to revel in the comfort. It might have been weeks or months before they headed out again into the deserts of Turkmenistan.
Today, the old Silk Road may be gone, but it seems to me that a new Silk Road is thriving. This part of the world traditionally sees the most travelers going overland from Europe to Asia or vice versa. Some hitchhike, some ride bicycles, some are on their motorbikes and some even walk. They carry not jewels and silk, but a willingness to try the road less traveled and a penchant for unusual. And just as weary, they come to Samarkhand to rest awhile before heading out again.
We stay not caravan serais, but hostels and inns. We are as diverse a crowd, from as many nations, as before. We carry not silk, but tales. Many a day is spent in telling tales, both tall and short. Of exchanging news of borders, of tricky visas and gossip of travelers met on the road. News of hostels or eateries down the road is exchanged as readily as leftover currency. Hostels are the new caravan serais and the travelers, the new traders. There is as much a sense of community now, as there was in the old days. This is the new Silk Road.
But change is in the air. A changing political climate, relaxing of regulations and easier visas have made huge strides in the past couple of years alone. Travel too is made easier now with super-fast trains, fancy hotels, even slick hostels. Where once only the intrepid would venture, now see more and more tourists of all stripes. Package tourism is now interleaved with two- or three-week holiday makers. I can see the writing on the wall; it is only a matter of time before it becomes as tiresome as South East Asia. Inevitable I suppose, but I cannot help feeling nostalgic for the old days. Some might accuse me of peculiar form of snobbery, and they could well be right.