For more than 5000 years, a widely ramified network of paths between Beijing and Rome, between Orient and Occident trade and knowledge transfer has been practiced. This is not just one single road, but a network of main and secondary routes on which the caravans not only transported goods but also provided for the exchange of cultures and religions. With their ramifications in Central Asia, their routes to India and Japan, the total length of the silk trails is likely to have been well over 20,000 kilometres.
In addition to silk, China’s most important export commodity until the 10th century, jade, carpets, tea and rhubarb were also transported westwards. In the opposite direction, caravans carrying horses, precious stones, coral or gold work went in reverse.
The name of these ancient trade routes is, contrary to all suppositions, still quite young. The name Silk Road first appeared in Berlin in 1877 and has since become so common that it has been adopted in many languages – even Chinese.
As a forerunner of globalisation, however, it is not a thing of the past – although at present a large part of the flow of goods is handled by shipping, today the former caravan routes are being systematically developed as asphalt roads, pipelines or railway lines to form a new axis between the economic areas of Europe and Asia/India.
The Pamir is a high mountain plateau with a mttlere height of 3.600 – 4.400m. The 120,000 square kilometres of folded mountains belong to the countries of Kyrgyzstan, China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and connect the large mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush, the Karakorum and the TianShan mountains with the highlands of Tibet.
The Pamir-Highway is the main road that runs through the Pamir. It crosses a series of passes that rise to an altitude of 5300m. The main route of the Pamir-Hwy’s is asphalted except for short interruptions – the secondary routes are mainly sand and scree paths.
The inhabitants of this rough and extremely inhospitable area are nomads and cattle breeders throughout, who live from sheep and yaks in large family groups in their yurts.