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While most of us have heard of the ancient Slik Route, unfortunately very few of us might know about its history and its modern-day significance. The term Silk Route is first introduced to children in schools in their history lessons. In both NCERT and ICSE books, the famous Silk Route is first taught in class 6. The concept is later expanded in class 9 books. In this week’s classes with News18, we will talk everything about the silk route from its old and modern-day relevance.
What is Silk Route and why it is called the Silk Route?
Around, 5,000 years ago, silk was first invented in China, but the methods of its making were kept a high secret for several years. However, some Chinese traders started to take silk along with them during their world journey and the popularity of silk increased. Everyone got attracted to it because of its fine texture and soon wearing silk became a fashion.
When the rulers and rich people around the world got to know about the Silk, they also demanded the same and that is when the trading of the silk started. So, the ancient route through which the traders carried silk with them started to be known as Silk Route. The trade over the years only expanded and from China, it reached to Rome. The Silk Route became so vast that it is more accurate to talk about the Silk Roads in the plural instead of the singular. The network stretched from East Asia to Europe and parts of Africa, covering almost half of the globe.
Now, as the people had discovered a route to travel around the world and along with Silk, trading of other materials, such as ivory, tea, spices, fabrics like wool and cotton, and precious metals also started.
How difficult was the route?
The Silk Roads began in several parts of Eastern China. They extended south into the Pacific and Indian Oceans and included several major maritime trade routes to India and Ethiopia, among other places. Overland, the roads passed through what are now Mongolia, Tibet, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, and Italy; many other countries were significant stops along the Silk Roads. Overall, the Silk Roads covered more than 4,000 miles of land from end to end across some of the world’s most formidable landscapes, including the Gobi Desert and the Pamir Mountains. With no one government to provide upkeep, the roads were typically in poor condition.
On this route, traders had to cross dangerous Himalayan ranges, desserts and many other obstacles due to which this trade became expensive. So, in order to earn money from this expensive trade, many tribes and rulers on the way the route started to collect money from the traders in exchange for them to use their roads.
In India too, the rulers tried to control the Silk Route. This was because they could benefit from taxes, tributes, and gifts that were brought by traders traveling along the route. One such kingdom that largely benefited from controlling the Silk routes was Kushanas, who ruled over most of the northern Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia at the time of 1st century AD.
Silk route from land to water route?
Till this time the traders only were able to travel on road and used camel or horse caravans, but during the Kushanas period, one of the branches of the route was extended to a coastal route through which the trade became easier.
Now, travelers could choose among several land and sea paths to reach their destination. The opening of the Silk Route brought many products that would have a big impact on the West. Some of the most major roads had formal names, like the Persian Royal Road which spanned from the ancient Persian capital of Susa to the Aegean Sea. Like the Darb Zubayda that ran from Kufa to Mecca, other roads were used both for trade and as religious pilgrimage routes. Many of these commodities had their roots in China and included gunpowder and paper. It was in the 13th century when the decline of the silk route started to happen.
The fall of Silk Route?
It was not just the trade of silk and other good that made the route famous. Other things including Buddhism and diseases like small pox also spread along the lines of silk route. However, the speed of sea transportation, the possibility to carry more goods, and the relative cheapness of transportation resulted in the decline of the Silk Road.
What We Learn So Far
The Modern Silk Route
In 2013, China announced plans it would revive the Silk Route, connecting it with more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In 2013, China began to officially restore the historic Silk Route under president Xi Jinping with a $900 billion strategy called “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). The project was a way to improve China’s interconnectivity with more than 60 other countries in Asia, Europe, and East Africa.
In 2018, China had invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and six cabinet colleagues to its “new Silk Road” summit. The following year, China started a massive infrastructure program, The report by the US-based research group C4ADS questions China’s portrayal of the trillion-dollar program, called the “Belt and Road Initiative,” as strictly meant to promote economic development.