One of the first things that comes to my mind when I hear the words “Silk Road” is an image of a yurt. A yurt is a portable cylindrical structure with a collapsible wooden frame and removable wool covering, commonly used in the time of the khans centuries ago.
The first time I ever saw a yurt was near Urumqi at the Heavenly Lake. Back in the early 1980s when I traveled around Xinjiang province in northwest China, also known as East Turkestan, it was not uncommon to come across a yurt now and then. It is believed that the concept of the yurt came from Mongolia, a nation of nomads who made their living as sheep herders in the rich grasslands. In Mongolia, unlike other places, the structure, known as a ger, is made with straight pieces of wood as opposed to a curved lattice. I was told by the yurt owner at Heavenly Lake that a yurt can be dismantled in a few hours and the camp moved to another location. If you want to see some pictures of a yurt and how it is constructed, visit this website: http://www.farwestchina.com/2012/03/what-is-a-yurt-and-how-can-i-stay-in-one.html.
The Silk Road, after a long period of limited use, has begun to increase in importance again in recent years. For centuries thousands of caravans traveled this road. At night the weary travelers slept in yurts or a caravansary. The trip meant suffering and hardship for people and animals. Mind you, this fact never reflected in the silk worn by beautiful Mediterranean odalisques. Nowadays those who travel the famous route are not traveling with mule, horse and yak and are not sleeping in yurts, like those in the past.
In this quote from Sven Hedin’s “My Life as an Explorer,” although he doesn’t mention a yurt, you can learn about this intrepid Swede who traveled across the Taklamakan Desert in 1895 and get an idea of the hardship he experienced. Hedin writes: “Crossing a dead-flat plain of yellow-grey dust -- nothing but dust, so fine that it blew like powder at every breath of the wind, and so soft and deep that driving over it was like an adventure on a feather bed. The wheels of their wagons were almost sucked into it, the horses labored endlessly; the men, walking alongside, saw their feet sink into the dust ankle-deep with every step. The tracks they left behind were nothing but lines of dimples in the dust. The dust got into everything, the men and horses and every wagon became plastered with greyish-yellow dust.”
I have done a lot of camping in my life. See my piece “Memories of Camping” (Feb. 8, 2010) for some fond memories of my first trip to Turkey in 1979 and camping in Florya. As I mention in the article, the next best set of memories I have are those from when I was a young girl and my family used to go camping at Brady Mountain on Lake Ouachita. Of course, it was safe and easy, because I had three brothers and they were all boy scouts. We had everything: packs full of small frying pans, spoons, canned goods, canteens of water, a hatchet to a box of matches to sheets of plastic -- just in case it rained. Leaky tents and baked beans were common.
Today if you are looking for an exotic experience you do not need to travel as far as Central Asia or Mongolia. There is a new trend called “glamping.”
Maybe you have not heard the term yet and are wondering what it is. Glamping, in short, is glamorous camping. It appeals to those who like the luxury and comfort of a hotel but are keen to experience the great outdoors. Those who are glamping stay in a mobile home, a log cabin, a large tent or even a yurt. In Woman’s Weekly magazine (June 12-24, 2012) some ideas for great adventures are suggested with companies such as Les Ranchisses in the Ardeche, France; Hidden Valley Yurts, South Wales; Ashlack Yurts, Cumbria or Cuckoo Down Farm Yurts, Devon. Each of these operators provides an opportunity to sleep under the stars while avoiding sleeping bags and leaky tents and cold baked beans! You can Google these places to learn more about a holiday in a luxury yurt in France or England.
So the Silk Road continues to have far-reaching influences on the culture of China, Central Asia and the West!
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]