The Great Silk Road glows in the imagination as the world’s richest exchange of trade and culture. Caravans of camels, men  and horses bore lazurite, silver and spices across thousands of miles, but the unseen interaction of ideas and religions was perhaps its greatest glory, enlightening civilisations from Beijing to Rome. Then as now, Kyrgyzstan stood at a crossroads, China’s gateway to the west.

The great moving bazaar was  a complex labyrinth of trails over some of the world’s most perilous deserts and mountains. Caravans a hundred strong survived the treacherous Taklamakan Desert in present-day China and the onslaughts of bandits and slave raiders, only to risk the steep climb over the icy Torugart and Kok Art Passes into Kyrgyzstan.

Here, the Tash Rabat caravanserai bears solitary witness to these extraordinary feats of blood, sweat and bravery. The current structure dates to the 15th century although  the said is said to have been occupied since the 10th. Extraordinarily atmospheric, the valley now welcomes a new wave of visitors – tourists – but still echoes to the ghostly footsteps of Silk Road traders.

From here, important trails ran west through Osh to Samarkand and beyond, while minor routes swung to modern-day Kazakhstan and Russia. In their wake sprang up a string of oasis towns – Bukhara, Khiva, Merv – whose domes and minarets shimmered with gold and turquoise. Trading routes and relations forged in these vibrant earlier centuries waxed and waned until the area was isolated under the Russians in mid-1800s.

Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s oldest city was always a crossroad trading centre. heralded as a charmed and cultured place, rich in fruit and nut forests, it flourished during the heyday of the Silk Road Its courts, palaces and academies were razed in the 13th century by Jenghis Khan, but the pulse of 3000 years of trade can still be felt in its vibrant bazaars.

Tangible evidence of Central Asia’s medieval glory stands at Ozgon, known as Yu in Silk Road times, Ozgon reached its pinnacle as Mavarannahr, capital of the Karakhanid Dynasty which brought Islam to the Kyrgyz in the 10th century. here, three mausoleums and a minaret, all exquisitely carved in terracotta, are the lone relics of this sophisticated ancient epoch.

For two millennia, the Great Silk Road was the key trade route linking the pinnacles of eastern and western civilization. Caravans, laden with people and goods, crossed mountains, deserts, rivers and continents, spreading ideas, technologies, religions, and wealth to people and cultures along their path.

A primary artery of the Great Silk Road passes through the Land of the Kyrgyz, whose hospitality and mountain springs offered respite from the deset lands of neighbouring people. The dales and valleys of the Tien Shan provided shelter for the merchants, workers, clergy and soldiers who journeyed the 6500 kilometres between east and west. At the height of the Silk Road’s significance, three trade routes traversed Kyrgyzstan, prompting UNESCO to name the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor a World Heritage Site in 2014. The well-preserved Tash Rabat Caravansarai, at 3200 metres above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s Naryn Province, is a classic example of 15th century lodging for Silk Road travellers. Tourists can revisit these historical routes and World Heritage Sites by horseback, off-road vehicle, bicycle or motorbike, some of which are served by yurt camps.