Uncovering Ancient Knowledge Along the Silk Road

At the turn of the 20th Century, the great race was on to uncover ancient knowledge on the Silk Road.

| January 2013

  • Journey On The Silk Road Cover
    "Journeys on the Silk Road" tells the story of archaeologist Aurel Stein and the ancient knowledge he seeks in the deserts of Central Asia.
    Cover Courtesy Lyons Press

  • Journey On The Silk Road Cover

The Silk Road once linked China with the Mediterranean. It conveyed merchants, pilgrims and ideas. But its cultures and oases were swallowed by shifting sands. Journeys on the Silk Road (Lyon’s Press, 2011) tells the story of Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born scholar and archaeologist whose expeditions in Central Asia uncovered hidden ancient knowledge along the once lost Silk Road. In this excerpt from chapter 1, “The Great Race,”, follow Stein through a desert sand storm on the eve of a planned, two-year expedition. 

An unforgiving wind blew clouds of dust and sand as if every grain were aimed at one tired man astride a weary pony. He urged his mount forward, determined to keep a promise. He had set out long before dawn, leaving behind his team of men and pack animals, knowing he would have to cover in one day ground that would typically take three. Traveling through the heat and glare of the Central Asian desert, he now looked on his vow—to arrive that day on the doorstep of friends in a distant oasis—as uncharacteristically rash. But for seventeen hours he pressed on across parched wastes of gravel and hard-baked earth.

As dusk approached, the sting of the day’s heat eased, yet the failing light compounded his struggle to keep to the track amid the blinding sand. His destination of Kashgar could not be far away. But where? He was lost. He looked for someone—anyone—who could offer directions, but the locals knew better than to go into the desert at night during a howling wind storm. He found a farm worker in a dilapidated shack and appealed for help to set him back on the path. But the man had no desire to step outside and guide a dirt-caked foreigner back to the road, until enticed by a piece of silver.

The rider still had seven miles to go. He groped his way forward as the horse stumbled in ankle-deep dust. Eventually, he collided with a tree and felt his way along a familiar avenue until he reached the outskirts of the old town. Then, as if conceding defeat, the wind abated and lights could be glimpsed through the murky dark. He crossed a creaking wooden bridge to reach the mud walls that encircled the oasis. The guns that signaled the sunset closing of the iron gates to the old Muslim oasis had been fired hours ago.

The only sound was the howling of dogs, alert to the clip-clopping of a stranger on horseback passing outside the high wall. He continued until he reached a laneway. He had covered more than sixty miles to reach Chini Bagh, the home of good friends and an unlikely outpost of British sensibilities on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert.

Its gates were open in anticipation. He shouted to announce his arrival. For a moment, silence. Then surprised voices erupted in the darkness as servants recognized him. At last Aurel Stein had arrived. They moved closer to greet the man they had not seen for five years. At forty-three, he was no longer young, but his features were as angular as ever, and his body—though just five feet four inches tall—still deceptively strong.

Paul Levinson
2/2/2013 9:49:07 PM

Looks like a good book. Many of these themes were also treated in The Silk Code http://paullevinson.blogspot.com/2012/08/authors-cut-kindle-edition-of-silk-code.html

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