Cycling the Silk Road
Hundreds of years ago people (specifically traders) made the overland journey along the Silk Road. The Silk Road was (and arguably still is) a network of ancient trade routes that connect Europe (or the West) to the ancient Mongol empire in the Far East. These long journeys were usually made using horses and carriages, though sometimes the journey was even made on foot.
Unknown to most, the Silk Road is actually still alive and well – only it’s evolved over time. Now instead of convoys of horses and carriages making the long journey, truck drivers travel the route, taking considerably less time. The route is now mostly paved, and some of the small trading posts have been replaced with gas stations. Though this modern version of the Silk Road probably doesn’t sound as romantic as the ancient paths, fragments of the ancient ways can still be seen along the route.
The ancient city of Merv still lies in the Turkmen desert. Caravansaries still remain throughout Turkey and Iran. There are still many markets or bazaars throughout Persia that have barely changed over the pass hundred or so years, and still sell tradable goods such as saffron, silks, pottery and carved sculptures. And of course, the Persian hospitality itself is something worth experiencing.
I’ve always admired great explorers such as Marco Polo; so retracing the ancient Silk Road was something that had always appealed to me. It was something about the adventure, getting off the tourist trail and exploring the “unknown” that filled me with excitement.
We didn’t have a convoy of horses or carriages, but we did have a couple of bikes – a slightly more modern way to explore the Silk Road, it almost made complete sense.
Why travel by bicycle?
I love traveling and what I love about travelling the most is seeing the world, visiting new places, meeting new people, getting off the tourist trail, experiencing the real culture of a place, not just the tourist attractions. Most of all I love having amazing, unique experiences. Cycle touring ticks all these boxes, plus more.
A few other reasons to embrace cycle touring as a way as travel includes; travelling on the cheap – I travelled on about $5 a day in Iran, constant exercise, which also means, eating as much burek (a spinach pastry found in Eastern Europe) or baklava (a Turkish or Persian dessert) as you want and complete freedom. Cycle touring also allows you to take as little or as long as you like and to venture to places that otherwise might be too difficult to access. You also notice the little things when travelling by bicycle – things often missed when you’re flying past in a car or bus. Cycle touring also breaks down the barrier between you and the locals – even if you don’t speak the same language. When travelling by bicycle you’re more likely to be approached my curious locals, invited in for tea or sometimes even a traditional, home-cooked meal and most of my best experiences while travelling involves the interaction I had with locals.
So while backpacking might be the most common way of travelling around the world, cycling is definitely a good alternative. If you are interested in reading more about cycle touring you should check our experienced friends from Cycletrekkers.