“It is said that head concubine of the legendary Chinese Emperor Huang-Ti got the idea of making silk while contemplating a caterpillar spinning.” Luce Bulnois, The Silk Road
I remember a camel caravan passing through the heart of the city in Adana (it must have been 1967 or 68) when I was 9 or 10. One detail I remember vividly is a man trying to grab one of the camels’ balls as the animals were stuck in the city traffic jam. I still have not idea why he tried to do it, but I recall how he was thrown up in the air and swung down meters away with the camel’s incredibly gentle but just as strong kick. According to what I found out later, the caravan belonged to a Turkmen tribe living in the Taurus Mountains.
In the 70s, we were almost chained to the TV screen, watching the Silk Road documentary, produced by the Japanese NFK TV station and mostly renowned for Kitaro’s soundtrack, though only in black and white. When I ended up in Central Asia towards the end of the 80s, I was fascinated to find out that I could easily speak Turkish, especially with the Uyghur people in Kashgar. So what we had learned from school textbooks was true, the people living in Turkey –at least a part of them- had come from these regions. But how did these people travel so far when they set out west a thousand years ago? The route we have come to know as the Silk Road, how many months did it take to walk it, how did one walk it, what did one eat or drink on the road, how did one pass the mountains the deserts? I asked myself these questions many times during my multiple trips to Central Asian countries and China.
One night in İstanbul, as we were sitting around drinking with my assistants Necat and Murat and our girlfriends at my house in Galata-Kuledibi and discussing the question “what should we do?” I said, “Let’s take a trip on the Silk Road!”
“Yeeess! Let’s do it with Land-Rovers,” said one.
“No let’s do it with those motorcycles with side-cars, the ones the Nazis used!” said the other. One could find these motorcycles in China --and they were very cheap.
“No, no! Let’s do it on camelback, it would be an actual Silk Road trip; a once in a lifetime experience.” I remember everyone throwing out different ideas well into the night.
We ended up doing what I proposed! Between the preparations, search for sponsors, the trip, the book and TV film, we dedicated the best five years of our life to this project.
An eighteen month trail on foot; six countries from Turkey to China (China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey), 12000 kilometers… The 10 double humped Baktirya camels we bought from Mongolia and four men as stubborn as camels. Countless life and death situations, unbelievable degrees of exhaustion and unfathomable adventures throughout… An Odyssey of lunatics which we had claimed could be done for 50000 dollars, and ended up spending a million five hundred thousand for!
The most tasteless joke we told each other when the journey was over was: “Fellows! You have one month to pack up your bags, upon our sponsors’ request, we have to take the camels back to China through the same route!”
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