Along the Silk Road from Islamabad to Beijing

A Journey in pictures

In 1988, young archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones, armed with her camera and several rolls of 35mm colour slide film, journeyed by bus, boat, plane and train from Islamabad, Pakistan to Beijing, China. She recorded sites, cultures and landscapes with an inquisitive archaeologist’s eye, taking in some of the key places associated with the ancient ‘Silk Road’ to China.

HEIR 67347: Islamabad. The state funeral of General Zia, August 1988
67922: Pakistan – a sudden landslide in the Hunza Valley blocks the road. In 2010, a major landslide on this route created Attabad Lake, inundating the highway.
Prehistoric petroglyphs on the Karakoram Highway at Haldiekish, on the Sacred Rock of Hunza in Gilgit Baltistan. The site is threatened by recent flooding events.
60723: Altit Village, lying just below Altit Fort in Gilgit Baltistan.
60439: The Pakistan/China border on the Karakoram Highway
60751: Lake Karakul, the highest lake of the Pamir plateau, on the Karakoram Highway.
60757: Nomadic yurt life
67962: Taking down and packing up a yurt.
67948: A Kirghiz family. A woman borrows a tourist’s camera to capture and share an image of her community.
68013: The Karakoram Highway between the ancient oasis cities of Karshgar and Turpan.
60747: One of the street markets at Kasghar, Xinjiang, China. Kashgar has been a trading post on the Silk Road for over 2,000 years.
67987: A local Uyghur community outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang. The mosque was demolished in 2019.
67975: Islamic cemetery, Kashgar, Xinjiang
60432: Gaochang, Xinjiang, China, the ruined oasis city on the edge of the Taklamakan desert. Once an important trading centre on the Silk Road, it was destroyed in the 14th century…
68043: The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, a complex dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries, not far from Gaochang.
68085: Lanzhou, Gansu, China, on the banks of the Yellow River. It was a major city on the northern Silk Road.
60421: Children observe the demolition of traditional houses to make way for new architecture in Beijing, China

It’s sobering to realize how much has changed since these images were captured. Landscapes, communities and sites have been altered or lost, or are under threat.

For more photographs from this journey, visit HEIR . There’s no need to log on, just enter your keyword and press ‘search’.

This image collection was digitized thanks to a generous grant from the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. Many thanks to Caroline Wickham-Jones for sharing her wonderful slides with us. She is more usually found working on Scottish prehistory: visit her blog here to see her latest adventures.

Further reading: Peter Frankopan (2016) The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

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