Yes, I did it! I walked most of the way across China, starting at Kashgar, a city near China’s western border. Although I walked the miles actually (really, truly), I accomplished the trip virtually (not really, not truly), tracking my progress on a spreadsheet and a map, putting one foot in front of the other wherever my feet happened to be, which was not China. I have never been to China. I would like to go there someday, but in the meantime walking is good exercise, and for me the exercise is more meaningful—i.e., less boring—if I feel I’m getting somewhere.
My walk from Kashgar to Xi’an was the third leg of my great Silk Road adventure. Part one, which I started on August 1, 2018, took me from Istanbul to Tehran, a distance of 1994 miles. I completed that journey on November 24, 2019, and immediately started part two, a 1948-mile trek from Tehran to Kashgar. Heading still farther east, I left Kashgar on March 12, 2021, and arrived at my destination last Sunday, September 25, 2022, having walked (virtually) 2582 miles of deserts and orchards and glacial waterways. That’s 6524 miles in five years, one month, and twenty-five days. I didn’t rush.
Bernard Ollivier, a retired French journalist, did me one better by walking approximately the same route as mine back at the turn of this century—an in-person walk—and then writing about his experiences in a three-volume set of books: Out of Istanbul, Walking to Samarkand, and Winds of the Steppe. I was more than halfway through my own journey when I learned about his books; I haven’t read the first two, and I’ve only dipped into the last one.
Kashgar, which was a major stop along the Silk Road, is famous for its Sunday market and for its varied citizenry. According to Ollivier, “every single Central Asian ethnic group is represented. Local Uyghurs wear Western dress. but the others—Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Mongols, Tjiks, Uzbeks, and Afghans—are often in traditional garb.”
After Kashgar, I hiked through the deserts and mountains of the Xianjiang region, stopping in Aksu and Korla to eat (in my imagination) the delicious apples and pears that those cities are famous for. You can read about that part of my trip here:
And finally, as they say in the GPS world, I have reached my destination: Xi’an, capital city of Shaanxi Province and the oldest surviving capital of ancient China. More specifically, I have arrived at Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum. Although the buried army of clay soldiers was constructed from 246 to 206 BC, it was uncovered relatively recently. The soldiers, each with individual facial features, were designed to guard First Emperor Qin in his afterlife. More than 700,000 workers were required to construct them. The artisans used molds for heads, limbs, and torsos, assembled the parts, and then applied more clay to the surfaces of the heads so that artists could add individual features to faces and hairdos. In 1987 UNESCO designated the tomb as a World Cultural Heritage Site. I would love to visit that museum in person, but I am grateful to all the wonderful photographers who have made their images available on the internet.
Having reached my goal, what should I do next? I could check out the famous Bell Tower and the city’s crenellated fortifications. Or I could spend a couple of days sampling the fare at Xi’an’s best restaurants—after doing laundry, of course, and washing my hair. But no, the world is big and full of wonders. I have other places to go and other things to do. In fact, I have already mapped out my next journey, which I’m excited about, and I’ve started walking. More about that next time. However, before I left Xi’an I couldn’t resist paying a quick visit to First Noodle Under the Sun—this delightfully named restaurant does exist in Xi’an, and it gets good reviews!—for a nourishing (imaginary) meal to sustain me as I set off for new adventures.