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  Journeys on the Silk Road  

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Silk
Road

The Silk Road

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The Silk Road, or roads, was a network of overland trade routes that linked China with the Mediterranean. From the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'an, now Xi'an, the Silk Road went through China's narrow Hexi corridor, before spreading south to India, present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, or further west to Samarkand, Bukhara, Persia and the eastern Mediterranean.

For about a thousand years, caravans of camels loaded with rubies, jade, amber, musk and of course silk made their way along it.

But silk was not the only treasure to travel the ancient trade route. Ideas, too, made their way along the Silk Road, the original information superhighway. The most influential of these was Buddhism.

Dunhuang was one of the Silk Road's most important oases. Near the town, on the edge of today's Gansu Province, the Silk Road split in two to skirt the rim of the Taklamakan Desert. The roads met again 2200 kilometres away at the oasis of Kashgar. But between these two oases lay the Silk Road's most dangerous terrain.

Starvation, thirst, bandits and ferocious sandstorms that were known to bury entire caravans, among its threats. For those travelling west, Dunhuang was the last stop for caravans to rest and stock up before they faced the desert. For those heading east, it was the first oasis on Chinese soil.

Any traveller would want to express gratitude for surviving such a journey or pray for safe deliverance before embarking. The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, just outside Dunhuang, became a place where travellers could do this and it became one of the Silk Road's most sacred sites. The 500 surviving painted caves contain the world's greatest gallery of Buddhist art.