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The Wanderlust guide to the best of the Silk Road

The Silk Road can be a massive undertaking or a great focus for a fortnight’s trip to Central Asia. Get out the map and start scheming!

Camels on the Silk Road (Shutterstock: see main credit below)

BBCThe Silk Road is the greatest travel route of all time. Spanning roughly 8,000km from Istanbul to Beijing, the Silk Road isn’t even one distinct highway, but rather a network of spidering tributaries once used by ancient traders to get their goods to and from the Orient, tying the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

Those tributaries take in some of the most fascinating sites of Asia – leaving Turkey to pass through, among others, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and China. Other Silk Road stalwarts – Iraq, Syria, and much of Afghanistan – are sadly off-limits for now.

Planning is indeed key. Crossing this much ground, and this many countries, you will need to have all of your documents in order, which means negotiating a mountain of red tape: practically all of the Silk Road countries require you to have visas, with varying restrictions imposed.

Which route to chose? You could do a small chunk (say Bukhara in Uzbekistan to Kashgar, China) in a couple of weeks for an atmospheric taster; spend three months plotting a course from Istanbul to Xi’an; or take six months for a full-on Istanbul-Beijing jaunt, allowing plenty of time for trekking and riding detours en route.

Contemplating Samarkand (Shutterstock.com)

Woman contemplating Samarkand (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration?

Just as in days of old, it is tales of treasures and adventure that inspire intrepid travellers to travel along this fabled route. Nick Boulos pops behind the silk curtain in Uzbekistan and finds a land still blessed with natural and man-made wonders and an unexpected fixation with love. Lyn Hughes tracked the nomads of Kyrgyzstan by horse, foot and helicopter. And Caroline Eden traversed some of the world’s highest mountains along Central Asia’s wildest road, home to awesome peaks, ancient art and warm Tajik hospitality.

Meanwhile, Pete Oxford discovers an isolated village where ancient Kazhak traditions are alive and well with the Berkut Eagle Association. On the Silk Road, it seems adventure is still there for the taking.

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3 stories from the Silk Road

Uzbekistan: Behind the silk curtain – Nick Boulos

Nomad's land: Kyrgyzstan by horse, foot and helicopter – Lyn Hughes

The Pamir Highway, Tajikistan – Caroline Eden

Where eagles dare – Pete Oxford

Kyrgyz nomad and camel (Shutterstock.com)

Kyrgyz nomad and a camel (Shutterstock)

Hard won advice

Mark Middleton has been leading overland tours through Central Asia for over 11 years. He knows all the 'stans like the back of his hand, and has out together a handy cheat sheet of five essential tips for crossing Central Asia. Don't know what plov is? Not sure that you even want to? Mark will set you straight as well as where to find food, water and accommodation – and the wherewithal to impress recalcitrant border officials.

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How to remember the 7 'stans – Wanderlust Team

5 essential tips for travelling overland in Central Asia – Mark Middleton

Camels on the road (Shutterstock.com)

Camels on the Silk Road (Shutterstock)

Capturing it all on film

Much of the Silk Road passes through desert. And taking pictures in desert can be difficult. The light must be right, composition needs to be balanced and the sheer scale of the landscape should be reflected – all while you're being blasted with dust and seared by extreme heat. But follow this tips on shooting sand from Steve Davey and you could capture some incredible shots.

If it's inspiration you're after, check out the photos taken by our readers on their travels along the Silk Road. They are incredible.

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Photography tips: shooting sand – Steve Davey

Readers photos from the Silk Road

Old Burana tower (Shutterstock.com)

Old Burana tower, Kyrgyzstan (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Silk Road Travel Guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by the Silk Road travel tips page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from the Silk Road too.

If you have a particular question about the Silk Road, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about the Silk Road. The answer to yours might already be there.

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Silk Road travel guideWanderlust team

Silk Road travel tips Wanderlust team

Latest travel news from the Silk Road

Forum posts about the Silk Road

Community content about the Silk Road

Contemplating another part of Samarkand (Shutterstock.com)

Contemplating another part of Samarkand (Shutterstock)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From two-week journeys that take you to the heart of the Silk Road to 78 day expeditions that closely follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and Marco Polo, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

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Our Trip Finder can help you find adventures along the Silk Road

The Silk Road on TV

May 2016 sees the screening of two new fantastic series about the Silk Road on the BBC in the UK.

The Silk Road is a new three-part series for BBC Four, where the historian and writer, Dr Sam Willis, traces the story of the most famous trade route in history. More details here.

Handmade On The Silk Road is a three-part series about traditional crafts along the ancient trade route of the Silk Road. Each film follows a day in the working life of a weaver, woodcarver and potter in China, Uzbekistan and Iran. More details here.

Main image: Camels on the Silk Road (Shutterstock)

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