Driving the modern Silk Road

Posted by Justin Fox on 12 September 2019

Each year, a South African-led expedition traces the ancient trading route from Europe to China. It’s a guided, self-drive tour through the heart of Asia that lasts three months.

Justin Fox captured a journey filled with magnificent photographic opportunities.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Image credit: Justin Fox.

Arriving in Ashgabat, the bizarre capital of Turkmenistan, we drove up deserted boulevards  lined with white marble high-rises, gold statues and ornate fountains.

The Forbidden City. Image credit: Justin Fox.

Home to 24 emperors over the course of half a millennium, Beijing’s Forbidden City has the best-preserved collection of Chinese national architecture.

Xi’an, China. Image credit: Justin Fox.

Wandering the back streets of Xi’an, the ancient capital of Shaanxi Province, can be a jolly exhausting business.

Silk Road, China, Mao Zedong, Forbidden City, Beijing, Tiananmen Gate

Tiananmen Gate. Image credit: Justin Fox.

A giant portrait of Mao Zedong adorns the facade of the Forbidden City’s Tiananmen Gate.

Khiva, Uzbekistan. Image credit: Justin Fox.

Uzbekistan’s three great Silk Road cities – Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand – epitomise the romance of the ancient trading route. This is Khiva, with the turquoise-tiled base  of the ‘unfinished minaret’ of Mohammed Amin Khan.

Armenia. Image credit: Justin Fox.

Driving through the Caucasus mountains in Armenia, we visited a series of churches, cave chapels and monasteries, some of them dating from the 4th century.Unadorned interiors were lit by hundreds of candles; the devout poured through cavernous spaces that echoed with the chanting of priests.

Mount Ararat, Armenia.Image credit: Justin Fox.

Mount Ararat, where Noah is said to have grounded his ark, rose to 5 ,137m before us. Once an Armenian mountain, it’s now part of Turkey – a symbol of all that Armenia lost in the wars of the early 20th century.

Tbilisi, Georgia. Image credit: Justin Fox.

Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, has a lovely medieval heart of cobbled lanes and fretwork wooden buildings, dominated by a rambling fortress.

Land Rover, Kyrgyzstan, Silk Road

Kyrgyzstan. Image credit: Justin Fox.

One of our ‘Drive the Silk Road’ Land Rovers negotiates a rickety bridge across a snowmelt torrent in  western Kyrgyzstan.

How he got the shots

Every few years Justin joined the ‘Drive the Silk Road’ tour to do one of its legs, and has now covered the entire route: Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. ‘Photographically, it has been a remarkable experience. Where my photography in Africa usually features wildlife, landscapes and seascapes, on the Silk Road I found myself focusing on architecture and people. As tourists are a rarity along much of the route, locals are only too happy to have their picture taken.’

Travel planner

Each year AAST Inc (Asia Adventures & Study Tours) offers a unique package: Drive the Silk Road. The tours are run by dynamic husband-and-wife team Yue Chi and David Visagie, who hail from KwaZulu-Natal. This guided, fully catered, self-drive journey covers the length of Asia using Land Rover Discoveries provided by the company: three months, 11 countries, 20 ,000km and no more than a dozen travellers in the group. It’s the journey of a lifetime. Most of us can only dream of going on a trip this long, but you do have the option of flying in to join the expedition for one of its legs. Each year, the route is slightly different; the 2019 departure is on 6 September from Istanbul, and the expedition will be taking a more southerly route that includes Laos and Vietnam. 0662250951, drivethesilkroad.com

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