The Silk Road by Nick Middleton 

Silk Road deals with a small part of the author’s Travelogue. He is following the same route which was known as the Silk Route or the Silk Road in ancient times. It was a trade route that linked China with the West. It came to be known as the Silk Route because of the valuable items, wool, silk, gold e.t.c was being transported to the west. It also plays a vital role in spreading religions like Christianity, Buddhism e.t.c.

Introduction of the Narrator:

Nick Middleton (born 1960) is a British physical geographer and supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He specializes in desertification. Nick Middleton was born in London, England. As a geographer, he has traveled to more than 50 countries. ‘Going to Extremes’ is a television programme for Channel 4 about extreme lifestyles, in which Middleton experiences life in hostile conditions. He won the Royal Geographical Society's Ness Award in 2002. He has appeared on BBC 2's ‘Through the Keyhole’. The extract ‘Silk Road’ has been taken from his book ‘Extremes Along the Silk Road- Adventures off the World’s Oldest Superhighway (2005)’

Brief introduction of the chapter:

The narrator describes a small part of his journey from Ravu to Darchen. He intended to do the Kora pilgrimage(A Kora is performed by the practitioner making a circumambulation around a sacred site or object, typically as a constituent part of a pilgrimage, ceremony, celebration or ritual. In broader terms, it is a term that is often used to refer to the entire pilgrimage experience in the Tibetan regions) to Mount Kailash. He has read many writers who describe their view as breathtaking while the narrator had a disappointing experience. 


1) The Author: He is a Professor of Geography at Oxford University and an environmental consultant. 

2) Tsetan: He is the owner of the car hired by the author for the journey as well as a tourist guide. 

3) Daniel: He is an interpreter from Lhasa who traveled part of the time with the author. 

4) Norbu: He is a Tibetan working at an academy in Beijing who wants to complete his ‘kora’ (pilgrimage) at Mount Kailash. 

5) Lhamo:   The lady who gives a farewell present to the author and also advises him to carry warm clothes while traveling to Mount Kailash.

Departure from Ravu:

The author left Ravu along with Daniel, an interpreter, and Tsetan, who was a tourist guide. Before leaving, Lhamo, the lady who had provided them accommodation at Ravu, gave the author a gift of a long-sleeved sheepskin coat, as they were going to Mount Kailash, where it would be very cold. Tsetan knew a shortcut to reach the mountain. He said the journey would be smooth if there was no snow. They Saw ‘Drokbas’ on the Way As they passed through the hills, they saw individual drokbas (nomad shepherds) looking after their flocks. Both men and women were seen. They were wearing thick woolen clothes. They would stop and stare at their car, sometimes waving to them as they passed.

 Encounter with Tibetan Mastiffs

As they passed the nomad’s tents, they saw some Tibetan mastiffs, the dogs used by the shepherds. When the car came close to their tents, they would bark furiously and fearlessly. They would chase the car for some distance and would calm down only after they had seen the car off their master’s property. In earlier days, Tibetan mastiffs were popular in China’s imperial courts as hunting dogs. They were brought along the Silk Road as a tax payment from Tibet. Ice Blocks the Road The turns became sharper and more difficult as they climbed. The author started getting a severe headache. Suddenly there was a snow fall that blocked the route. Daniel and the author got out of the car to reduce its load on sharp bends. The altimeter on the author’s wrist indicated that they were at a height of 5210 meters above the sea level. The icy top layer of the snow was dangerous, as the car could slip off the road. When they reached a height of 5515 meters, which was the top of the pass, the atmospheric pressure became so low that Tsetan had to open the lid of the petrol tank to release the evaporated fuel. 

Back on the Highway

By late afternoon, they had reached the small town of Hor on the shore of Lake Manasarovar, which was on the old trade route between Lhasa and Kashmir. Daniel returned to Lhasa from there. Tsetan got the flat tire of the car repaired there. Hor was a grim, miserable place. There was no vegetation whatsoever, just dust and rocks. There was accumulated rubbish everywhere. Unlike the past, the place no longer appeared holy. By 10.30 PM they reached Darchen, where they found a guesthouse to stay in. It was the end of the road. The author had a very troubled night. His nostrils were blocked, and he was not able to get enough air into his lungs. Most of the night he sat up, as he was unable to sleep. 

Next Day: The next day Tsetan took the author to the Darchen Medical College. The doctor told him it was just the cold and the altitude which were giving him trouble. The doctor gave him some Tibetan medicine and that night the author was able to sleep well. Tsetan left the author in Darchen and went back to Lhasa. He did not mind if the author would die in Darchen. He was a devout Buddhist and believed in life after death. However, he was worried that the author’s death could affect his business, as he may not get more tourists who were required to be accompanied till where the road ended. 

The Author Looks for a Companion:  

He Meets Norbu.  Like Hor, Darchen was dusty and a lot of rubbish could be seen all around. The town appeared to be sparsely populated. There were no pilgrims there, as the pilgrimage season had not yet started. He had reached there too early. He actually wanted to reach Mount Kailash to complete the ‘kora’ and get a feel of what a pilgrimage was like. But he didn’t want to do it alone. He was looking for someone who could speak or understand English. When he was sitting in the only cafe at Darchen, Norbu, a plump Tibetan working in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in the Institute of Ethnic Literature, saw him reading an English book. Norbu introduced himself to the author. He also was there to do ‘kora’, although he was not a religious person. So, both decided to do the ‘kora’ together. 

Theme: This chapter is part of a travelogue (a book, piece of writing, film, etc. about travel) about the author’s travel along the ancient trade route called ‘Silk Road’. This account of the Silk Road, with its contrasts and exotic detail, describes the challenges and hardships the author faced while undertaking his journey to Mount Kailash on a pilgrimage. 

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