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The Road well traveled: Silk Road

The World's First Information Superhighway that influenced trade, culture and livelihoods of people living in three different continents

By Pashchiema Bhatia

The Silk Route or the Silk Road, which extends to more than 6,500 kms, is a network of ancient trade routes connecting Asia, Africa and Europe which also became central to cultural interactions. But from where did it derive this name? From 2nd Century BC, this route was majorly used to transport Chinese Silk to Europe through Central Asia. Although, there were many trade routes connected to the main Silk Route which existed in much earlier times and traded in various commodities ranging from salt. But the greatest contribution of Silk Route to world history was beyond trading few entities. It facilitated the exchange of ideas, art and science between Asia, Africa and Europe. The South West Silk Route is one of the most ancient parts of the route connecting the Yunan Province of China to Tibet and finally to India but interestingly silk was not the major entity traded in this part of the route- It was horses and tea.

Contribution of Silk Route

Macro Polo, a Venetian merchant traveller, travelled through the silk route and witnessed the opulence of the Chinese civilization. The bubonic plague (the ‘Black Death’) also travelled through this route. Buddhism from India extended to the world and Greek art from Europe procured into India through Silk Route. New sciences like Algebra were brought up when the Arabs acquired the understanding of mathematics from India and China. Gradually, new cities and empires started emerging along the route and it enhanced the exchange of ideas and culture to great extent which re-shaped the world history. Also, it is not just about trade and cultural exchange. Many times, India and China had to send troops to Central Asia to fight military alliances.

History

The political centres of Mongol Empire, the largest continental Empire, looped around the Silk Road but soon after the Empire was fragmented, the political, cultural and economic unity was affected. After the disappearance of Silk Route, the Europeans had to visit the prosperous Chinese Empire through alternate routes, especially by sea route. Direct trade connection with Asia would result in tremendous profits and hence finally a direct ocean route from Europe to the East was opened by the excursions of Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama in 1499 through Atlantic and Indian oceans. The assets of the ancient Silk Road are now scattered around museums of various countries.

In the end of the Nineteen century, the interest to renew the Silk Road arose when various countries started to explore the region. The “New Silk Route” is sometimes referred to the “Eurasian Land Bridge” railway route. In 2013, the President of China Xi Jinping introduced a plan of establishing a New Silk Road from China to Europe and the project was named as ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR), which includes land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road.

The Silk Road on the sides of Indus river, Wikimedia Commons
The Silk Road on the sides of Indus river, Wikimedia Commons

The Present Day

The route had fallen into disuse but eventually after a long period of hibernation, the importance of Silk Road is increasing again. The project seems to be put high on the China development priority list. Many places are opening up for tourists to visit. However, the authorities do not allow the visitors to wander wherever they like. Also, there are traces of ruined cities but there is still much to see. In 2014, the Chang’an-Tianshan corridor of the Silk Route was titled as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The initiatives would help to improve the business environment of the region and contribute to greater connectivity. Also, China is ready to expand its investment in India. The OBOR project might not only re-shape the continental geography but also the regional politics and security.

Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram and a student of journalism and mass communication. Twitter: @pashchiema5

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