As far back as the second century, the Silk Road was an important link between the east and west, connecting China to the Roman Empire. While there’s a long history of using horses and camels to traverse the trade routes of the famed Silk Road, some intrepid fitness vacationers are now completing this epic journey on bike.
It sounds crazy, but the popularity of Silk Road bike tours like the one offered by Tour d’Afrique suggests there’s something utterly compelling about it. For some people, maybe it’s the idea of tackling a challenge just because they can. For others, it may be about killing two birds with one stone—getting into amazing shape while seeing stunning sights. For still others, it might be to see a part of the Asian continent that they may have missed out on (or failed to fully appreciate) if they chose any other mode of transportation.
Whatever reason people have for cycling the Silk Route, they’ll face some of the most strenuous stretches of road along with some of the most unforgettable locations in the world.
Although cyclists have plenty of stretches of peace and quiet on the open road, they meet up and start off in the bustling city of Shanghai. The culturally diverse urban area gives visitors the perfect opportunity to experience the food, drinks, art, shopping, and people of modern China. Many people arrive in Shanghai several days before their trip leaves so that they get a chance to immerse themselves in city life.
Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an
In 1974, workers digging a well outside of Xi’an, China got much more than they bargained for when they uncovered a life-sized clay soldier. As it turned out, that soldier wasn’t alone. Government archeologists uncovered an entire terra cotta army lined up in underground trenches, protecting the tomb of the first emperor of Qin. Excavation is still going on today, and archeologists estimate there could be 8,000 or more clay figures. Today, visitors who are traveling the Silk Road can visit the Museum of Qin, which has been built around the pits of the eerie and impressive terra cotta warriors.
The Tian Shin and Pamir mountain ranges put cyclists’ climbing abilities to the test, while the Taklimakan and Karakum deserts present an entirely different challenge—biking in the scorching heat. If riders don’t like the high temperatures, they can also see how they fare against biting headwinds and extremely cold nights. Sure, the trip isn’t for everyone, but past participants have said that the obstacles made them appreciate the natural beauty of the land, the opportunity to relax after their ride in the evening, and their fellow riders.
Ishak Pasha Palace
A remnant of the Ottoman empire, the Ishak Pasha Palace in Turkey is an architectural marvel set on a small plateau against stark cliffs. Visitors can explore several courtyards, decadent living quarters, and an ornate room. The palace is also a great place to take a break from riding and get a good look of Mount Ararat and the green Anatolian plains.
Like Shanghai, Istanbul is a city with an extensive history but a thoroughly modern feel. The juxtaposition is extreme; visitors can check out historical sites like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern, then explore the diverse restaurants, bars, and boutiques in districts like Beyoglu and Nisantasi. While some cyclists might be ready to crash at a hotel and fly home after four and a half months on the Silk Road, Istanbul is well worth exploring for anyone who is craving even more adventure.
The sites along the Silk Road prove that it’s still a vibrant and essential link between diverse cultures, and even though adventurers are now trading in four-legged pack animals for the two wheels of their bikes, the spirit of the route is still intact.
About the Author:
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is a passionate traveler. This is her first contribution to the Travefy blog.