Around 2,000 years ago, a loop of the ancient silk route, called the southern silk road, linked Yunnan province of China to the northeastern parts of India, says travel writer Sunita Dwivedi in her forthcoming book. Titled "In Quest of Buddha: A Journey Along The Silk Road" and to be published by Rupa & Co, it chronicles Dwivedi's journeys along the route in China, Central Asia and India.
For travellers, the stretch that once formed the busiest trade route between the Orient and the West is still a source of awe, as Dwivedi, a former journalist, says in her travel book, which tries to focus on India as an important hub on this ancient caravan route.
"We learn from various sources that a loop of this important Asia-Europe route called the southern silk road arose in the southern provinces of China running through Burma (now Myanmar), India and through the Uttarapath or the northern highroad to Taxila onwards to Central Asia and Europe," Dwivedi told IANS.
It is believed that "2,000 years ago, this southern silk road linked the Yunnan province of China to the northeastern provinces of India," she said.
"India was the hub of this southern silk route because of its links not only with East and Southeast Asia but also because of its close ties with Tibet and the Pamir region," Dwivedi said.
Apart from these external links, India had "well-established internal routes that criss-crossed its length and breadth as feeder roads to the silk routes", she said.
"India could also provide important sea routes on its eastern and western coasts at the Bay of Bengal and the mouth of the Indus," the writer said.
Dwivedi was inspired by Jonathan Tucker's book 'The Silk Road: Art and History'.
"I felt that I had to see this ancient road after reading the book. Though the route has lost itself in the mists of time in India, the Chinese government has restored it as a tourist attraction. I visited almost all the tourist destinations along the route in China and Central Asia," Dwivedi said.
Dwivedi began her journey in early 2000.
"I made at least four journeys. I travelled across thousands of miles from Turfan, Kuga, from Kashgar to Khotan, from Xian to Dunhuang - through the dreadful deserts of Gobi and Taklamakan, over the snowy mountains of Pamir, to the innumerable oases dotting the foot of the Tienshan and Kunlun ranges and the beautiful river valleys. I have visited all the grottos and Buddhist monasteries on the route to study their art and heritage," she said.
Dwivedi's first travelogue - "The Buddhist Heritage Sites of India" - covered the entire Dhammayatra of the Buddhist circuit in India and Nepal.
The silk route, Dwivedi said, "was the conduit between the east and the west".
"It was the oldest and greatest international route that sowed the seeds of the present globalisation," said the writer, who belongs to Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Highlighting the importance of India along the route and in its history, Dwivedi said, "It is recorded that many Indian scholars were invited by the ruling houses of Tibet. Of these, the guru Padmasambhava, Sant Rakshita and Dipamkara Atisa were famous. King Sron-tsan-Gampo (600 AD-627 AD) sent his minister Sambhota with 16 companions to Varanasi in eastern India. They were instructed to devise a written language for Tibet by adopting Sanskrit alphabets," she said.
Even now, arrival of Indian travellers generates goodwill in areas around Khotan, the writer said.
"Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta are very popular in the region," she said.
The southern silk route ran from Xian through the province of Szechuan into Tibet and then through several river tracks and mountain passes along the 4,000-km border stretching from east to west into India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Mynamar, Dwivedi said.