The Silk Road stretches 5000 kilometres west to Kashgar, just 400 kilometres from the border of Pakistan.
The beginning of the road is marked by Xian, China's oldest city and the start of a route travelled by merchants, bandits, pilgrims and soldiers.
In the second century BC, Xian was the centre of the Chinese world. The Han Empire rivalled that of the Roman Empire which existed at the same time, yet they knew nothing of each other.
The empires were separated by mountains and vast wasteland, until one day the Emperor sent out a special envoy to recruit new allies to protect themselves against the surrounding warring tribes. Jung Xan rode off and returned 13 years later, not with people to help him fight but with those who wanted to trade, creating the Silk Road.
Xian was China's capital, on and off, for 1100 years, and today has a population of over 7.5 million people. It is home to great treasures like the 7000 Terracotta Warriors which guard the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi.
Xian was where the east met the west. Horses, gold, ivory, precious stones and glass came along the Silk Road from Europe, Persia and Arabia. The Chinese traded in iron, bronze, jade, ceramics and the most exotic item of all, silk. The Chinese discovered how to make silk around 2000 years BC and after that, inventions such as paper, books, gunpowder, cast iron and even the wheelbarrow followed.
By the eight century, Xian was the biggest city in the world. Travellers came to China and exchanged ideas, philosophies and faiths, such as Buddhism and eastern religions from the Arab countries.
The influence of this cultural exchange is still evident in the city. The Xian Great Mosque appears more Chinese then Arabic, but in 742 it was the religious centre for Arab merchants in China. There is now an entire Muslim quarter where around 75,000 Hui people live after their ancestors arrived on the Silk Road trading goods. For visitors, this is a great place to start your shopping.
In its 1400 year history, the fortunes of the Silk Road rose and fell, as did the prosperity of Xian. The history constantly surrounds you (quite literally!) with the complete city walls guarding the town where the Silk Road began.The Greater Wall of China is wider than the Great Wall itself, although it is only 14 kilometres long compared to 10,000 kilometres. The gardens are perfectly maintained, everything is incredibly cheap and despite all the many markets and traders, you'll be left in peace to shop as you please.