When I boarded the plane in Istanbul, that is, Constantinople, to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, my thoughts turned to a book I read in grade school about the adventures of Marco Polo who embarked from Constantinople on the beginning on his journey through Central Asia on what is now the so-called Silk Road. Of course a flight from Constantinople would prove far less strenuous than the long and dangerous overland journey he undertook to travel east. Marco Polo would have first set out from Venice to Constantinople and then through the Levant, Iran and on to Merv in present day Turkmenistan. From there he would have continued his journey through Bukhara and Samarkand, Kokand in present day Uzbekistan.
He continued east to Fergana Valley whose horses were well sought, then beyond the mountains to what is today the border of China and Kyrgystan. Through a series of passes into and over the Pamirs to Kashgar where a decision had to be made: whether to go north or south of the severe Taklamakan desert to the Jade Gate which then leads to Xian, China.
There were so many trade routes crisscrossing Central Asia connecting east to west. As my plane was landing in Ashgabat, I was eager to embrace the adventure of exploring modern day Central Asia, a land totally foreign to me while at the same time reconstructing in my mind the rise and fall of ancient civilizations whose interactions enriched the culture in which I live today. This rich encounter was truly exceptional and a gift to our shared humanity.