Silk Route: Center of the World


Ptolemy (AD 90-168), in his Geography, Chapter 15.3A, refers to Kashgar as “Kasia” (sometimes also called Kashi). The name is Middle Iranic in its origin, meaning “Kush Mountains” (from Pashto: gar/ghar <غر>, “mountain”, and Kush/Kâsh) being the same as the ethnonym of the Kushan Empire and the Hindukush mountains in the neighboring Afghanistan.

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Interestingly, also the same name Varanasi was once known by – Kashi. Before Islam took over this area of the world, the people in Kashgar were mostly followers of  Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. Currently it is part of China and it’s neighbors include Gansu province and Qinghai province, Tibet Autonomous Region, Russia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirghizia, and Pakistan. Kashgar is truly, and has always been, a crossroad. So you will understand why I vote that we change GMT to KMT and consider this the center point of the world.

Of course this means that the Prime Meridian would go through Delhi, in which case, in reality, we might  be working on IST in stead of KMT. If you don’t know what IST is, let me illustrate: When I asked my friend if she thought it was too late to invite her friends from Seattle to her wedding in India three weeks before the wedding day, she replied, “We’re Indian. Ergo, it’s never too late.”

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Even the food you find in Kashgar is reflective of being timeless and universal. Common dishes are reminiscent of Chinese, India, Persian, Russian and even a bit of Mediterranean cuisine. Here is a sampling of things you might find in Kasgar:

Laghman (lamian in Chinese): Noodle wallahs artistically work dough balls of high-quality wheat flour and water into continuously thinner ropes until something like spaghetti emerges.

Suoman gush siz: A pile of laghmannoodles smothered in peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, green beans and spices. A dependable vegetarian Xinjiang dish. For meat-eaters, it’s often served with mutton (called simply suoman).

Nokot: A light chickpea-based salad served with shredded carrots, a tangy vinegar dressing and topped with piles of fresh herbs.

Serik ash: Bright yellow, handmade noodles rolled into rounds and cut into wide strips for cold noodle soups and noodle salads. You’ll often find them served with a combination of tangy vinegar and chili sauces and beautiful fresh herbs.

Green and herb dumplings: Chopped greens, herbs and a touch of mutton tucked into a dough ball which is cooked on a flat skillet. Slightly crunchy on the top and bottom, soft everywhere else.

 Kawa manta (manti): Pumpkin-stuffed Turkish style steamed dumplings. Great with thick plain yogurt and roasted red pepper sauce.

Girde nan (a.k.a the Uighur bagel):  Not quite a New York bagel (or bialy), but full of flavor. Served hot and fresh with a perfect crunchy bottom crust. You can find them across Kashgar’s old town.

MantangPressed nougat featuring combinations of fresh honey, nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios) and raisins. The equivalent of a natural power bar.

(from http://www.uncorneredmarket.com)

So, here is some food for thought today. First consider this map of modern human genetic migrations and think about the Silk Route:

5852377760_fc4ba25598Next consider these:

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Step Pyramid, Egypt

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Rendition of temple in Mesopostamia

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Kanchipuram, South India

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Tikal, Southern Mexico

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Canary Islands

Scientists believe that the ability of early humans to adapt to changes, especially to environmental changes, helped the early humans a lot to evolve into modern human species and in turn, be able to venture out of their first home. Other theories say that humans experienced a huge change in brain function, which caused them to gain more abilities and the capability to go out of their known world which was Africa.

I don’t know what this suggests to you, but to me it suggests that humans have been traveling the Silk Route since before we figured out how to make silk. There is evidence that were were not only traveling out of Africa, but also back to Africa and mostly we were in search of food. It also suggests to me that civilization is much older than we suspect and that ideas and civilization were, indeed, the primary commodities along this well traveled route. It also emphasizes the fundamental necessity of social and personal relationships, mythic thinking, and their ancient associations with food.

The need to survive also forced our ancestors to move out of Africa. This includes the population expansion which would cause a higher demand for food, and in turn, its lower supply. Maybe early humans needed to find other sources of food, on with a more abundant supply, in order to provide everyone in the population something to eat.

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