After I visited the palace I went to the nearby Jokhang Temple. It dates
from the 7th century and houses statues of the Buddha, including the revered
Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha. Pilgrims flock there from all over Tibet and beyond
to perform the ritual journey of walking round the temple. I watched them for
some time and recalled that my friend Kangri’s mother had expressed a
desire to make the pilgrimage to Lhasa before she died. Despite the modern
buildings and tourist cameras, Lhasa remains one of the holiest places on
12 Silk Road
Two silk roads cross eastern China. One hugs the mountains of Tibet to
the south. The other takes a northern route and skirts the mountains of
Mongolia and the Tien Shan. Both routes pass though some of the most
desolate and forbidding country on earth . If you like deserts then you
will like the Silk Road.
The northern route is favoured by the tourist industry and this is the one I'll
talk about. The southern route isn't geared for tourism and travel permits are
sometimes difficult to obtain.
You can travel the northern route by bus or train. The city of Xian ... of
Terracotta Warriors fame ... is a frequent starting point. Sleeping carriages
are available on the trains but you'll miss the scenery if you sleep through it.
The track traverses country that becomes increasingly arid. You pass through
the southern corner of the Gobi then enter the Taklimakan Desert.
My preference is to cross the desert during daylight hours. Deserts
fascinate me. The geology is laid bare for all to see and the people are
different from city folk. That observation applies to my own country (Australia)
and everywhere else I've been ... deserts are different.
In the old days, the Silk Road was the east-west highway for merchants
and soldiers of the Chinese Imperial army who policed the route and manned
the western extension of the Great Wall. The beast of burden was the two-