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On the Silk Road. . . Literally

We have a section in our weekly newsletter that we call 'On the Silk Road with June Cashmere' because we travel this ancient trade route in southern Kyrgyzstan to reach, work with, and purchase from the shepherd families who provide the exquisite and precious cashmere fiber for our yarn. We think it fitting that a region filled with a centuries-old textile and trade history would today allow us to honor a new generation of herders through their natural resource of cashmere.

While the ‘Silk Road’ causes us to think about much more than just physical trade routes (we’ve recommended books on the topic at the end of this post), we thought it might be interesting to talk about the road itself as found in Kyrgyzstan.

As you likely know, the Silk Road is made up of many trade routes connecting East to West.

Historically, two roads passed through Kyrgyzstan to connect modern-day Uzbekistan (west of Kyrgyzstan) with China (east of Kyrgyzstan) – a northern route through Kyrgyzstan reaching the modern-day Chinese city of Urumqi and a southern route through Kyrgyzstan reaching the modern-day Chinese city of Kashgar.

Our June Cashmere fiber comes from along the southern route of the Silk Road.

As locals have described to us, during the non-winter months, the original path of this southern route followed a direct, linear line starting from where today’s asphalt road crosses from China into Kyrgyzstan, leading to Osh. This path runs alongside the face of the mountains.

During the winter, however, a more passable route followed the main river descending from the high valley down towards the lowlands. This created a longer route than the mountain path, so it was used more when winter weather required it.

This arch was erected on the Silk Road in the early 1990s during a festival at this spot commemorating the birthday of Kurmanjan-Datka, a Kyrgyz leader from the late 1800s. Falling in disrepair, the arch was mended and repainted in Winter 2021.

Today, the modern road follows the river, guiding you along the "bottom" of the mountains as you travel through the region. There are two windy sections along the road to navigate. One large, serpentine pass gets you through the large mountains encircling the Chong Alai valley, which then continuously descends on its way to Osh. Closer to Osh, a smaller serpentine pass leads to open expanse, eventually flattening out into the Ferghana Valley. 


 The larger serpentine path. Quite imposing!


The smaller, serpentine pass closer to Osh . . . and the difference of terrain as you get closer to the Ferghana Valley.

And of course, you never know what you might find along your Silk Road travels!

If you’d like to learn more about the history surrounding the Silk Road, Peter Frankopan has two books on the subject: The Silk Roads: A New History of the World and The New Silk Roads: The New Asia and the Remaking of the World Order.

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