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Chinese container cargo trucks after crossing the Kulma pass at the Tajik-China border. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

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This is arguably the ultimate road trip on earth. Marco Polo did it. All the legendary Silk Road explorers did it. Traveling the Pamir Highway back to back, as a harsh winter approaches, able to appreciate it in full, in silence and solitude, offers not only a historical plunge into the intricacies of the ancient Silk Road but a glimpse of what the future may bring in the form of the New Silk Roads.

This is a trip steeped in magic ancient history. Tajiks trace their roots back to tribes of Sogdians, Bactrians and Parthians. Indo-Iranians lived in Bactria (“a country of a thousand towns”) and Sogdiana from the 6-7th centuries BC to the 8th century AD Tajiks make up 80% of the republic’s population, very proud of their Persian cultural heritage, and kin to Tajik-speaking peoples in northern Afghanistan and the region around Tashkurgan in Xinjiang.

Proto-Tajiks and beyond were always at the fringe of countless empires – from the Achaemenids, Kushan and Sogdians to the Greco-Bactrians, the Bukhara emirate and even the USSR. Today many Tajiks live in neighboring Uzbekistan – which is now experiencing an economic boom. Due to Stalin’s demented border designs, fabled Bukhara and Samarkand – quintessential Tajik cities – have become “Uzbek.”

Bactria’s territory included what are today northern Afghanistan, southern Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan. The capital was fabled Balkh, as named by the Greeks, carrying the informal title of “mother of all cities.”

Sogdiana was named by the Greeks and Romans as Transoxiana: between the rivers, the Amu-Darya and the Syr-Darya. Sogdians practiced Zoroastrianism and lived by arable agriculture based on artificial irrigation.

Western Pamirs: Road upgrade by China, Pyanj River, Tajikistan to the left, Afghanistan to the right, Hindu Kush in the background. Photo: Pepe Escobar
Western Pamirs: Road upgrade by China, Pyanj River, Tajikistan to the left, Afghanistan to the right, Hindu Kush in the background. Photo: Pepe Escobar

We all remember that Alexander the Great invaded Central Asia in 329 B.C. After he conquered Kabul, he marched north and crossed the Amu-Darya. Two years later he defeated the Sogdians. Among the captured prisoners was a Bactrian nobleman, Oxyartes, and his family.

Alexander married Oxyartes’s daughter, the ravishing Roxanne, the most beautiful woman in Central Asia. Then he founded the city of Alexandria Eskhata (“The Farthest”) which is today’s Kojand, in northern Tajikistan. In Sogdiana and Bactria, he built as many as 12 Alexandrias, including Aryan Alexandria (today’s Herat, in Afghanistan) and Marghian Alexandria (today’s Mary, formerly Merv, in Turkmenistan).

By the middle of the 6th century, all these lands had been divided among the Turkic Kaghans, the Sassanian Empire and a coalition of Indian kings. What always remained unchanged was the emphasis on agriculture, town planning, crafts, trade, blacksmithing, pottery, manufacture of copper and mining.

The caravan route across the Pamirs – from Badakshan to Tashkurgan – is the stuff of legend in the West. Marco Polo described it as “the highest place in the world.” Indeed: the Pamirs were known by the Persians as Bam-i-Dunya (translated, appropriately, as “roof of the world”).

The highest peaks in the world may be in the Himalayas. But the Pamirs are something unique: the top orographic crux in Asia from which all the highest mountain ranges in the world radiate: the Hindu Kush to the northwest, the Tian Shan to the northeast, and the Karakoram and the Himalayas to the southeast.

Ultimate imperial crossroads

The Pamirs are the southern boundary of Central Asia. And let’s cut to the chase, the most fascinating region in the whole of Eurasia: as wild as it gets, crammed with breathtaking peaks, snow-capped spires, rivers ragged with crevasses, huge glaciers – a larger-than-life spectacle of white and blue with overtones of stony gray.

This is also the quintessential crossroad of empires – including the fabled Russo-British 19th century Great Game. No wonder: picture a high crossroads between Xinjiang, the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan and Chitral in Pakistan. Pamir may mean a “high rolling valley.” But the bare Eastern Pamirs might as well be on the moon – traversed less by humans than curly-horned Marco Polo sheep, ibex and yaks.

Countless trade caravans, military units, missionaries and religious pilgrims also made the Pamir Silk Road known as “road of Ideologies.” British explorers like Francis Younghusband and George Curzon hit the upper Oxus and mapped high passes into British India. Russian explorers such as Kostenko and Fedchenko tracked the Alai and the great peaks of the northern Pamir. The first Russian expedition arrived in the Pamirs in 1866, led by Fedchenko, who discovered and lent his name to an immense glacier, one of the largest in the world. Trekking toward it is impossible as winter approaches.

And then there were the legendary Silk Road explorers Sven Hedin (in 1894-5) and Aurel Stein (1915), who explored its historical heritage.

Chinese container cargo trucks negotiate the Western Pamirs. Photo: Pepe Escobar
Chinese container cargo trucks negotiate the Western Pamirs. Photo: Pepe Escobar

The Pamir Highway version of the Silk Road was actually built by the Soviet Union between 1934 and 1940, predictably following ancient caravan tracks. The name of the region remains Soviet: the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). To travel the highway, one needs a GBAO permit.

For no less than 2,000 years – from 500 B.C. to the early 16th century – camel caravans carried not only silk from East to West, but goods made of bronze, porcelain, wool and cobalt, also from West to East. There are no fewer than four different branches of the Silk Road in Tajikistan. The ancient Silk Roads were an apotheosis of connectivity: ideas, technology, art, religion, mutual cultural enrichment. The Chinese, with a keen historical eye, not by accident identified “common legacy of mankind” as the conceptual/philosophical base for the Chinese-led New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative.

Afghan village by the Pyanj River, Hindu Kush in the background. Photo: Pepe Escobar
Afghan village by the Pyanj River, Hindu Kush in the background. Photo: Pepe Escobar

Have China upgrade, will travel

In villages in Gorno-Badakhshan, stretched out along stunning river valleys, life for centuries has been about irrigation farming and seasonal-pasture cattle farming. As we progress toward the barren Eastern Pamirs, the story mutates into an epic: how mountain people eventually adapted to living at altitudes as high as 4,500 meters.

In the Western Pamirs, the current road upgrade was by – who else? – China. The quality is equivalent to the northern Karakoram Highway. Chinese building companies are slowly working their way towards the Eastern Pamirs – but repaving the whole highway may take years.

The Chinese are coming: upgrading the highway in the Western Pamirs. Photo: Pepe Escobar
The Chinese are coming: upgrading the highway in the Western Pamirs. Photo: Pepe Escobar
The 3rd century BC Yamchun fortress, known as ‘The Castle of the Fire Worshippers.’ Photo: Pepe Escobar
The 3rd century BC Yamchun fortress, known as ‘The Castle of the Fire Worshippers.’ Photo: Pepe Escobar

The Pyanj river draws a sort of huge arc around the border of Badakhshan in Afghanistan. We see absolutely amazing villages perched on the hills across the river, including some nice houses and owners with an SUV instead of a donkey or a bike. Now there are quite a few bridges over the Pyanj, financed by the Aga Khan foundation, instead of previous planks jammed with stones suspended above vertiginous cliffs.

From Qalaykhumb to Khorog and then all the way to Ishkoshim, the Pyanj river establishes the Afghan border for hundreds of kilometers – traversing poplar trees and impeccably-tended fields. Then we enter the legendary Wakhan valley: a major – barren – branch of the Ancient Silk Road, with the spectacular snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush in the background. Farther south, a trek of only a few dozen kilometers of trekking, it’s Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan.

The Wakhan could not be more strategic – contested, over time, by Pamiris, Afghans, Kyrgyz and Chinese, peppered with qalas (fortresses) that protected and taxed the Silk Road trade caravans.

ORDER IT NOW

The star of the qalas is the 3rd century B.C. Yamchun fortress – a textbook medieval castle, originally 900 meters long and 400 meters wide, set in a virtually inaccessible rocky slope, protected by two river canyons, with 40 towers and a citadel. Legendary Silk Road explorer Aurel Stein, who was here in 1906, on the way to China, was gobsmacked.The fortress is locally known as the “Castle of the Fire Worshippers”.

Pre-Islamic Badakhshan was Zoroastrian, worshipping fire, the sun and spirits of ancestors and at the same time practicing a distinct Badakhshani version of Buddhism. In fact, in Vrang, we find the remains of 7th-8th century Buddhist man-made caves that could have also been a Zoroastrian site in the past. The early Tang dynasty wandering monk Xuanzang was here, in the 7th century. He described the monasteries and, tellingly, took notice of a Buddhist inscription: “Narayana, win.”

Ishkoshim, which Marco Polo crossed in 1271 on the way to the upper Wakhan, is the only border crossing in the Pamirs into Afghanistan open to foreigners. To talk of “roads” on the Afghan side is audacious. But old Silk Road tracks remain, negotiable only with a study Russian jeep, delving into Faizabad and farther into Mazar-i-Sharif.

Here are the parts the 18-year-long, trillion-dollar, Hindu Kush-of-lies-told American war on Afghanistan never reaches. The only “America” available is Hollywood blockbusters on DVDs at 30 cents apiece.

I was very fortunate to spot the real deal: a camel caravan, straight from the ancient Silk Road, following a track on the Afghan side of the Wakhan. They were Kyrgyz nomads. There are roughly 3,000 Kyrgyz nomads in the Wakhan, who would like to resettle back in their homeland. But they are lost in a bureaucratic maze – even assuming they secure Afghan passports.

These are the ancient Silk Roads the Taliban will never be able to reach.

 

Traveling the Pamir Highway, we’re not only facing a geological marvel and a magic trip into ancient history and customs. It’s also a privileged window on a trade revival that will be at the heart of the expansion of the New Silk Roads.

Khorog is the only town in the Pamirs – its cultural, economic and educational center, the site of the multi-campus University of Central Asia, financed by the Agha Khan foundation. Ismailis place tremendous importance on education.

Badakhshan was always world-famous for lapis lazuli and rubies. The Kuh-i-Lal ruby mine, south of Khorog, was legendary. Marco Polo wrote that in “Syghinan” (he was referring to the historical district of Shughnan) “the stones are dug on the king’s account, and no one else dares dig in that mountain on pain of forfeiture of life”.

Shughnan worshipped the sun, building circular structures with the corresponding solar symbolism. This is what we see in Saka graves in the Eastern Pamir. As we keep moving east, the settled Pamiri culture, with its profusion of orchards of apricots, apples and mulberries, gives way to semi-nomadic Kyrgyz life and irrigated villages are replaced by seasonal yurt camps (not at this time of the year though, because of the bitter cold.)

At Langar, the last village of the Wakhan, rock paintings depict mountain goats, caravans, horse riders with banners, and the Ismaili symbol of a palm with five fingers. Archeologist A. Zelenski, in fascination, called the historical monuments of the Wakhan “the Great Pamir Route.” Aurel Stein stressed this was the main connection between Europe and Asia, thus between the whole classical world and East Asia, with Central Asia in between. We are at the heart of the Heartland.

Last stop before Xinjiang

Following the Wakhan all the way would lead us to Tashkurgan, in Xinjiang. The Pakistani border, close to the Karakoram Highway, is only 15 km to 65 km away, across forbidding Afghan territory.

It’s the Koyzetek pass (4,271 meters) that finally leads to the Eastern Pamir plateau, which the Chinese called Tsunlin and Ptolomy called Iamus, shaped like a giant shallow dish with mountain ranges at the edges and lakes at record altitudes. Marco Polo wrote, “The land is called Pamier, and you ride across it for twelve days together, finding nothing but a desert without habitations or any green thing, so that travelers are obliged to carry with them whatever they need. The region is so lofty and cold that you don’t even see any birds flying. And I must notice also that because of this great cold, fire does not burn so brightly and give out so much heat as usual, not does it cook effectually.”

Murghab, peopled by Kyrgyz – whose summers are spent in very remote herding camps – revolves around a mini-bazaar in containers. If we follow the Aksu river – once considered the source of both the water and the name of the Oxus – we reach the ultimate, remote corner of Central Asia: Shaymak – only 80 km from the tri-border of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.

The Little Pamirs are to the south. As I reported for Asia Times way back in 2001, it was in this area, crammed with the most important Silk Roads passes of both China and Pakistan, that Osama bin Laden might have been hiding, before he moved to Tora Bora.

From Murghab, I had to inspect the Kulma pass (4,362 meters high), a New Silk Road border. The road – made by China – is impeccable. I found lonely Chinese container truck drivers and businessmen from Kashgar driving made-in-China minivans across the Pamirs to be sold in Dushanbe.

The deep blue waters of Lake Karakul, not far from Xinjiang. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times
The deep blue waters of Lake Karakul, not far from Xinjiang. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

On the High Pamirs we find around 800 ancient lakes created by earthquakes, tectonic activity and glaciers. Yashilkul lake (“Blue Water”), at 3,734 meters frozen this time of the year, sits in a plateau scouted by Stone Age hunters. Tajik archeologist V. Ranov found rock paintings of horses and carts, attributes of Mitra, the Persian god of the Sun. During the 10th to 3rd centuries B.C, the plateau was inhabited by nomadic tribes of the Persian-speaking Sakas.

From Shughnan to Ishkoshim, here we are in what the ancients called “The country of the Sakas.”

From Scythians to containers

The vast Scythian steppes that range from the Danube all the way to China were inhabited by a vast confederation of tribes. Then, in the 2nd to 1st centuries B.C., the tribes started moving to the east of the Greco-Bactrian state. Some of them settled in the Pamirs and became the ethno-genetic component of the Pamiri ethnicity. Alex, my driver, is a true Pamiri from Khorog. He’s also the real Pamir Highway Star with his badass black Land Cruiser. (“It’s a killing machine/ it’s got everything,” as Deep Purple immortalized it.)

Alex, Pamiri from Khorog, the Highway Star. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times
Alex, Pamiri from Khorog, the Highway Star. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

The highlight of the Eastern Pamirs is the spectacular blue inland, saltwater Karakul Lake, formed 10 million years ago by a meteor. Under the sun, it’s a radiant turquoise; this time of the year, I saw it deep, deep blue, not really the “Black Lake” that its name implies. Karakul because of its slight salinity was not frozen. This is chong (big) Karakul, the older brother of the kichi (small) Karakul across the border in Xinjiang, which I had the pleasure of visiting in my Karakoram Highway travels.

The High Pamirs are right behind Karakul, concealing the 77-km-long Fedchenko glacier. East of the lake, if you could survive a trek in Arctic conditions, is Xinjiang. The early Tang dynasty wandering monk Xuanzang was here in 642 (he thought the lake was people by dragons). Marco Polo was here in 1274.

It’s a tough life at Bulungkul, with the atmosphere of an Arctic station. Temperatures can drop as low as -63C in winter. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times
It’s a tough life at Bulungkul, with the atmosphere of an Arctic station. Temperatures can drop as low as -63C in winter. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

Our base to explore Yashilkul and later Karakul was Bulungkul – this time of the year a sort of Arctic station, with only 40 houses served by solar panels in the middle of nowhere, and temperatures hovering around minus 22 Celsius. It’s the toughest of lives. They told me that in winter the temperature drops to -63C.

Farther down the road, I took a diversion east to observe the Kulma pass, at 4,363 meters the official Tajik border with China, reached by a – what else? – made-by-China road, opened in 2004 following the ancient Silk Road.

The Tajik-Kyrgyz border at the Kyzyl-Art pass looked like a scene from Tarkovsky’s Stalker, utterly Soviet-style desolate except for a shared taxi loaded with Kyrgyz going to Khorog. From there, it’s a spectacular drive all the way to the crossroads of Sary Tash, and through the head-spinning, 3,615 meter-high Taldyk pass, towards Osh, the gateway to the Ferghana valley.

The Taldyk pass in southern Kyrgyzstan, all the way to Osh. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times
The Taldyk pass in southern Kyrgyzstan, all the way to Osh. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

All across this mesmerizing Central Asia/Heartland journey, especially in the bazaars, we see in detail the crossroads of pastoral nomadism and irrigation culture, fertilized century after century by cross-cultural Silk Road trade involving herders, farmers, merchants, all of them part of commodity trading and provisioning for the caravans.

We delve into the vortex of immensely rich social, religious, scientific, aesthetic and ideological influences – especially from Persia, India, China and Iran. The shift from overland to sea trade in the 16th century – the start of European world domination – in fact never erased the traditional routes to India via Afghanistan, China via Xinjiang and Europe via Iran. Trade remains the top factor in Central Asian life.

Today the Pamir Highway is a privileged microcosm of what is slowly but surely evolving as the intersection between the New Silk Roads and Greater Eurasia – with its main hubs configured by Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and – it may be hoped – India.

The ultimate crossroads of civilizations, the Heartland, is back – once again at the heart of history.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. Back1 says:

    Wow! Pictures are also fascinating, especially first one. There are sort of roads like this in North America. Wonder though, why it’s a heartland? Seems more like scenic drive over mountain passes than a productive heartland like US Midwest. Yes, this is a polite challenge to the idea that this region is anything more than a long drive from China to Europe or Russia.

    • Replies: @Hodd
  2. Back1 says:

    Sorry, 2nd picture. A real masterpiece due to close and far vision. Thx.

  3. Biff says:

    Nice photo set.

    More please.

  4. What it needs is some McDonalds and Walmarts and stuff.

  5. Thanks for bringing us along, Pepe!

    I read a book years ago, “Meetings with Remarkable Men” by G.J.Guirdjief (sorry about the spelling). Anyway, it was a tale of a seeker/wanderer who went to those places (the difficult ones).

    Had fun with Google maps trying to suss out the spots, and it occurred that you are forming the narrative for a “new” frontier, and I am re-enforcing the algorithm’s spelling and interest, etc. as I copy and paste your place names. Language, huh!

    REALLY dug the trip, thanks again!

    • Replies: @Morton's toes
    , @Clyde
  6. Wow, your photos are getting even better! As for the text, I read some of it. It is a welcome change from the somewhat heavy stuff that Unz publishes (which I read as well, hahaha). I am saving the rest for the afternoon (it’s 10 in the morning in your birth country now).

  7. Pepe Escobar’s writing can be informative and wise – as with this piece – bringing us on a “trip steeped in magic ancient history.” Peoples “always at the fringe of countless empires” are the most interesting and tell a moral lesson: that have seen empires come and go, from Alexander the Great to the USSR.
    “The ancient Silk Roads were an apotheosis of connectivity: ideas, technology, art, religion, mutual cultural enrichment.” And that no doubt applies today with the New Silk Roads. But with this came the lows of wars. The journey holds the hope of the future: also the warnings of the past.
    https://www.ghostsofhistory.wordpress.com/

  8. Renoman says:

    Loved the article, please publish a good map and an historical line graph so we can better understand.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  9. @zendeviant

    Tobias Churton had a great take on Gurdjieff that he probably got from somebody else but I don’t know who. First, there is not a singe document which confirms G’s whereabouts before he set up school in Moscow in 1914. Churton said that simplest story is that all of his sources which supposedly came from beyond the wilderness were derived from mosque schools which were all within a mile of stations on the Trans-Caspian Railroad.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Caspian_railway

    Churton claims he took the train to Bokhara and never set foot in the Pamirs, Himalayas, or the Gobi Desert and made that part up.

  10. Brown boi says:

    Herat is older than Alexander.

  11. Beautiful! Thanks!

    (Could you give some infos about the equipment you are using?

  12. Kim says:

    Beautiful and interesting, of course, but also principally propaganda, as with anything we read or hear about today. In this case, it is propaganda for the Belt and Road ( B & R) initiative which we are meant to both admire and fear. But neither would be the proper response.

    The B & R is a project that is touted as a way to undermine the strategic power of the great sea powers by unifying the World Island and its idiosyncratic western peninsula (Europe).

    But this can never happen. Because of energy. The sea routes from West to East were formerly and still are (relatively) cheap. Their historical energy sources were entirely solar and renewable – currents and winds and the highways of the sea require no maintenance. And today sea cargo remains the cheapest way to transport goods.

    Land routes, whether by truck or train, require and will continue to require massive investments of fossil fuels. Rails. Roads. Bridges. Pipelines. Power distribution networks. But this is completely unaffordable as we are already in the twilight of the fossil fuels age. Fossil fuels are becoming more expensive to dig up, refine, and to transport. 80% of oil that has been added to global production since 2008 has been US shale oil – a clear Ponzi that is losing money hand over fist and has done since it began.

    No, there are limits to growth and the grand limit is the availability of cheap energy at the margins. And that cheap energy no longer exists.

    And it doesn’t matter how much debt China and other governments around the world pump out to try to cover up that fact – to cover for declining demand, killed by the too-high cost of oil, meaning prices too high for consumers yet too low for producers.

    So this is all very pretty but in the end it is still just a Japan-on-steroids, bridge-to-nowhere, build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle by Chinese communist party oligarchs addicted to gigantism in the face of a post-fossil-fuels age that is going to bring only shrinking economies to the entire world.

  13. @Kim

    The Chinese propaganda will only increase in the coming years my friend, some will be based on reality, most of it isn’t.

    To the naked eye, what China has done is remarkable, but ultimately it was treacherous Western CEOs and politicians who allowed China to rise up by exporting all of our manufacturing there.

    A lot of people seem to believe the fake Chinese IQ statistics, they think that Chinese IQ is the reason they are doing well, the implication being that somehow Chinese IQ went from below Western levels to 110 in a generation, of course this is laughable and what really happened was the West was sold out.

    I was recently talking to a Chinese friend, he told be the Chinese government has always touted the “Four Great Inventions”, the compass, paper, gunpowder and printing (even though it was Europeans who actually made use of these technologies in a meaningful way) but now they are outright lying and pushing the propaganda of “Four Great New Inventions”, high-speed rail, electronic payment, bike sharing and online shopping, even though all of these things were invented by Japan in the case of high-speed rail or the West for the other three.

    Sadly you will have useful idiots pushing the Chinese propaganda, even on sites like Unz were the readers are meant to be well-informed.

    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
  14. padre says:
    @Kim

    It is so un-American to say that New Silk Road would be good, isn’t it!

  15. @Renoman

    AGREED. I enjoyed the pictures, both photographic and verbal, but yes, writing like this NEEDS a map.

    • Replies: @Republic
  16. @Kim

    The Belt and Road is misunderstood in its details.

    Transcontinental corridors is the self-presented image of the BRI to generate excitement about a super continent. However railway freight and truck lines are a small component of the overall activity in building the Belt and Road.

    Take the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, one of the main corridors and the one most prioritized in the sequence. The entire package of investment and financing is around $60 billion. About $25 billion is planned for new power plants to solve Pakistan’s chronic load shedding. CPEC has been quite successful since 2015 at building power plants (even though Pakistan’s economy isn’t growing). CPEC is in the next phase, rehabilitating Pakistan’s trunk railway (which serves something like 80% of all passenger activity). Very little of the CPEC has anything to do with a cross-border activity via Kashmir.

    The BRI is mainly about electricity and transportation projects across Eurasia. Only a fraction of BRI construction concerns cross border connectivity even if there is a special emphasis on enabling it. BRI emphasizes the trans continental corridors because it’s a symbolic publicity boon. Without daily railway cars cross multiple routes across Eurasia, people wouldn’t be able to see a tangible manifestation of this huge abstract idea.

  17. @obwandiyag

    And some sub-Sahara African “TRADERS”.

  18. Moi says:
    @obwandiyag

    As they say, there goes the neighborhood 🙂

  19. @obwandiyag

    Once Mickey Ds arrive, the ghetto (w)rappers will surely follow…

  20. A very good travelogue… as to missing India, perhaps the rioting Muslims in numerous cities in India (saw that on the news last night) can provide reasons for joining in the China led feast with Pakistan…

  21. Sparkon says:

    I enjoyed this excellent article and travelogue, with great photographs by Mr. Pepe Escobar!

    As for maps, it seems many people complain about Google, but few use it fully. Using the Google search engine with the argument “Pyanj River,” as pictured in Mr. Escobar’s 2nd photograph, yields a great map at the click of your mouse. You don’t need even a “a study Russian jeep” to visually traverse that remote and mysterious region.

  22. Mefobills says:
    @Kim

    But this can never happen. Because of energy. The sea routes from West to East were formerly and still are (relatively) cheap. Their historical energy sources were entirely solar and renewable – currents and winds and the highways of the sea require no maintenance. And today sea cargo remains the cheapest way to transport goods.

    Interesting point. This is a key feature of how Western Atlantacism coupled with Finance Capitalism came about. Goods are moved about by ships, and finance centers in London and Wall Street “create the credit.” A double entry ledger in London can hypothecate new bank money against a ship’s bill of lading, while ship is enroute. This is not trivial, as finance oligarchs have been pulling strings to start wars and control the world, to keep Atlantacism and its component parts alive and producing for them. The component parts are naval power projection, rim theory, and of course private corporate banking (finance capital at usury).

    China does use some atlantacist mercantile methods, by shipping in raw materials and exporting (by ship) finished goods – thus earning the increment of production. So, China is not using a pure land and air bridge connectivity strategy.

    Land routes, whether by truck or train, require and will continue to require massive investments of fossil fuels. Rails. Roads. Bridges. Pipelines. Power distribution networks. But this is completely unaffordable as we are already in the twilight of the fossil fuels age. Fossil fuels are becoming more expensive to dig up, refine, and to transport. 80% of oil that has been added to global production since 2008 has been US shale oil – a clear Ponzi that is losing money hand over fist and has done since it began.

    Fossil fuels may be a “forever” source of energy. Russia has pioneered deep wells that self renew. See Engdahl, Confessions of an ex peak oil believer. There is also nuclear power distributed over high tension lines.

    http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/Geopolitics___Eurasia/Peak_Oil___Russia/peak_oil___russia.html

    There are additional “fourth dimensional” ways of looking at China/Russia land-bridge strategy. 1) The need to power project with an expensive blue water navy is obviated. 2) Inexpensive area denial military means can be employed, along with short supply chains of men/material to the hinterland. Note: Russia has already dropped to fifth in military expenditures, yet has an effective close-in area denial military. The Western way of war is now defunct.

    Win-Win economic linkages among nation states connected to the land bridge means that large standing armies are not formed and friendly co-dependent relations are maintained. It remains to be seen if China becomes a “debt fueled” aggressor. My guess is not, since China has kept their state banks, and has the ability to easily erase debts. In other words, China is not controlled from behind the scenes with predatory privateer string pullers maneuvering the polity (((finance oligarchs))) intent on world domination.

    My opinion… the West has met its match, and lost. The West just doesn’t know it yet.

    Industrial Capitalism (the former American system of economy of Henry Carey) combined with Sovereign money – will win every time.

    • Agree: bluedog, Daniel Rich
    • Replies: @S
  23. Republic says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    https://caravanistan.com/tajikistan/pamir-highway/

    also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M41_highway

    The above two links has maps which shows the route that Pepe took

    An excellent article by the great traveler and geo-political analyst ,Pepe Escobar.
    China builds/paves roads while American destroys them.
    America makes enemies while China makes friends.

    Pepe is a intrepid traveler, while I have only been in 4 out of the 7 “stans,” in the world

  24. Clyde says:
    @zendeviant

    Gurdjieff…..I read that book many times. I was also thinking of Gurdjieff when I read Pepe’s masterful account and photos.

  25. Agent76 says:

    Nov 29, 2019 The Great Game: US vs China Part 1

    Recently there have been a number of articles focusing on the growing competition between an emerging China and a waning United States. We take a look at this growing US-China competition in a two-part series.

    Aug 14, 2019 Is China Weaponizing Its Currency? | US China Trade War

    The US and China are in a trade war and China is weaponizing its currency to fight back. But who will be the real loser? American businesses and farmers? Or Chinese companies and real estate developers?

    • Replies: @Sam Coulton
  26. Very informative. Previously, the extent of my knowledge of this region came from the 80’a comedy “Spies Like Us”.

  27. TKK says:

    More travel writing and photos such as this- what a great piece!!!

    It does beg the question: where aren’t the Chinese plotting and digging?

    Better learn to say Boss in Mandarin…..

  28. d dan says:
    @Kim

    “Beautiful and interesting, of course, but also principally propaganda,…”

    LOL. It is totally the opposite. It is mainly a travel article and little propaganda. Apparently, a few mentions of the word “Chinese”, even in area that is very close to China, is sufficient to ruffle the feathers of some hyper-sensitive persons.

    Let’s call it Chinese Hyper-allergic Disease. Warning: It is infectious through reading western mainstream media.

  29. @Agent76

    Obviously China loses, as real estate and companies never win (long term).

    What we’re witnessing now is just a repeat of what we saw in the 1980s with Japan. Inevitably, real estate’s bullshit ‘value’ crashes, companies go bust and the playhouse gets sold off to the next shooting star (or is it a firefly?).

  30. Hodd says:
    @Back1

    The ‘heartland’ refers to Mackinder’s reference to the heartland of the world. Mackinder presented a talk to the Royal Geographic Society in London about 1905 pointing out the heartland of the world was roughly defined by Moscow in the West, Tehran in the south, and western China in the east. He suggested that it was impossible to invade from the sea because all the major rivers ran inland.
    He pointed out that whoever holds this heartland controls the world and that everyone outside this area are second rate powers, essentially.
    So the US, the UK, the EU, Africa, South America etc are peripheral and at a disadvantage to the heartland powers which today are Russia, Persia and China!
    Google Mackinder and find out for yourself. The British Library has a copy of this speech.

    • Replies: @Back1
  31. @Kim

    Why can’t China and its trading partners generate the energy for all this with nuclear power? Why do they need to rely mainly on fossil fuels?

    • Replies: @Kim
  32. Hodd says:
    @Kim

    If you were to do proper research rather than present another piece of propaganda you would find sending goods by train from China to Germany today not only takes less time (16 days) but also costs only 20% of what it does by sea.
    Your views are US propaganda based upon terminological inexactitudes.

    • Replies: @Kim
  33. Back1 says:
    @Hodd

    Many thanks! I’ll check it out, even though I live in a peripheral to a border region in the outer borough of a semicivilized region of a declining power adhering to obsolete views.

    If anyone who is a Silk Road shot caller reads this, pls add hiking/bicycling trails to Silk Road, so that future adventurers can traverse in peace and safety. This would be an eternal gift to the future. Look at C&O and GAP for example.

    • Replies: @Back1
  34. Back1 says:
    @Back1

    Hiking/bicycling trail space could be allocated now, but not built right away, thereby lowering up front cost.

  35. Great photos, but for spectacular panoramas it’s hard to beat the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
    https://www.shutterstock.com/search/meadowlands+new+jersey

  36. Biff says:
    @Kim

    And today sea cargo remains the cheapest way to transport goods.

    Low brow, and terribly bad at math.

  37. S says:
    @Mefobills

    This is a key feature of how Western Atlantacism coupled with Finance Capitalism came about. Goods are moved about by ships, and finance centers in London and Wall Street “create the credit.”

    A well thought out and insightful post.

    There was a very Atlanticist orientated book linked below (entry 11 in the comments below it’s OP specifically) which more or less said this very same thing in 1853. It went even further, and described how a US centered future US/UK bloc would, in addition to dominating the seas, would also dominate the air by way of its great air power.

    The thing is, even though the book mentioned was written well over a 150 years ago, it matches almost literally word for word Alexander Dugan’s geo-political writings. The big exception is while this mid 19th century US published book states sea power is first in importance, Dugan reverses this and says land domination (namely of Eurasia) is most important.

    And while Dugan claims a future rejuvenated China/Russia combination will ultimately triumph over the United States via this domination of the land, the aforementioned book by Poesche and Goepp has it that it is the future US/UK combination which is to triumph over Russia via it’s domination of the sea, and most importantly of all, the air.

    My opinion… the West has met its match, and lost. The West just doesn’t know it yet.

    Wish it were so, or the West triumphed, or better yet, live and let live.

    I hope I’m entirely mistaken, but my concern is that East and West are both being set up, after maximum profits have first been taken of course, to largely destroy each other in first a conventional, and then a quickly escalated, nucleur war…ie WWIII.

    Afterwards in that scenario, sans seven billion or so ‘surplus’ population who are alive now, most of what remains today of the world’s distinctive nationalities, civilizations, and cultures, will have deliberately been largely destroyed, while the global economic infrastructure such as newly built up and already existing roads, railroads, and ports, will be left mostly intact or readily rebuildable.

    [The end of WWII, with it’s sixty million dead in Europe and Asia, and the corresponding massive civilizational destruction, was a microcosm of something like this.]

    Then with the five hundred million ‘survivors’ the long sought after truly global empire…umm, the ‘United States of the World’ (or some such) rather, can then be ushered in.

    As stated, hope I’m mistaken.

    https://majorityrights.com/weblog/comments/the_new_rome_or_the_united_states_of_the_world_1853

    • Replies: @Kim
  38. Kim says:
    @RadicalCenter

    Nuclear power plants produce electricty but the mining of nuclear fuels, the delivery of nuclear fuels, and the construction, servicing and maintence of electrical grids all depend on oil, diesel oil in particular.

    The usual response to this observation is to say that certain of these activities can be replaced with the electricity produced by nuclear power.

    There are a few arguments against this but the big one is that replacing oil with nuclear generated electricity will drive down the price of oil which will make it impossible for oil producers to stay in business. Because oil eplorationa nd drilling is expensive and the oil business cannot be run as a niche busness providing niche products (look up ” The Cubic Mile of Oil” on wikipedia to get some perspective on exactly what it would take to replace just oil – not coal, just oil – in the world economy) .

    Oil producers are already having big problems with low prices caused by falling marginal demand – caused in part by low consumer wages, in turn caused by the high price of oil caused by the cheap oil having already been found and exploited.

    Low demand – too low to pay the prices that producers need to maintain capex and production – is why today we have massive global debt, negative interest rates, and 2% interest rates even after 9 years of expansion. It is why China has created $US 40 trillion of dent since 2012. It is why they must build these gigantic Ozymandian infrastructure projects…to compensate for demand that doesn’t exist.

    But in short, expanding nuclear means replacing fossil fuels that are already having demand problems. That would kill the oil industry and that in turn would kill all of us. Unfortunately , what we are facing with all of this isn’t a problem. It’s a predicament. Cheers.

    • Agree: Marshall Lentini, Clyde
  39. Kim says:
    @Hodd

    There are prices – what is charged on a menu – and there are costs – what the system must bear.

    Once all of the subsidies have been accounted for, how much does anything in China or under any government system “cost”? How could we possibly know?

    The only way to account for these things is in a genuine market. I am pretty sure that the CCP does not have access to that kind of information, nor do you, nor does anyone else – but I do know that communists have historically always been monumental liars.

    • Replies: @denk
  40. Those evil mass murdering commies! Always building and creating things. We gotta go bomb the shit out of it and restore democracy! Yee haw!

    -Typical Merican

    Nice scenery by the way

  41. Kim says:
    @S

    There is no doubt that the West is being deliberately divided, weakened, and impoverished.

    Linked below is an interesting talk on the Australian electrical grid and how it has been destroyed over the last couple of decades, decommissoning coal power plants, subsidizing solar and wind, and so on. From having the world’s lowest electricity prices in 1995, Australia now has the world’s most expensive electricity. Like the goings on with PG&E in California, and in the German electricity market, these processes mean brownouts, breakdowns, high prices, and the handicapping of industry.

    One person recently (2017) appointed to oversee this ongoing sabotage in Australia – as CEO through the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) – is Ms Audrey Zibelman , a former New York lawyer with connections to Hilary Clinton.

    One wonders why this creature got this plum job. Does Australia lack lawyers – or for that matter professional engineers?

    And who does she really work for?

    Of course, the same process of destroying Western industrial power is ongoing throughout Europe. I believe that this week Wales has decommissioned its last coal-fueled electric generation plant.

    Yet while we destroy important infrastructure, China builds coal and nuclear plants apace.

    We are being destroyed from within. No doubt about it.

    • Replies: @S
    , @Wizard of Oz
  42. @Just passing through

    I have just had come to stay two young university students from UK and the mother of a Columbia student who agreed in reporting how Chinese students are accommodated to the detriment of the education provided to all. In Australia I’m afraid the greed of universities – not only the minor ones – probably makes it even worse in the direction of providing degrees for those with negligible English but I was really shocked to learn of Columbia no longer giving any credit for participation, because it was “culturally unfair” and providing a Chinese History course only in Chinese.

  43. S says:
    @Kim

    Thanks for the linked and informative video about the Aussie electrical grid. Looking at these things from a global perspective they begin to make a lot more sense.

    In this I’ve found it quite useful to study as much as possible the history of the British Empire, as well as to read up on the exact nature of it’s relationship with the United States, something of a long term project.

    The better one understands the Anglosphere, the better one’s understanding of the modern world will be.

  44. @Kim

    I don’t think Audrey Zibellman has anything to do with the causes of your complaint. It is just fashionable green tinged politics in a country where politicians have been given the luxury of being able to waste money on giving in to fashion by Australia’s hood fortune, so far in making money out of China and the Chinese. I was horrified to discover at a recent preselection convention for our governing right of centre Liberal Party that none of them could answer questions satisfactorily about opportunity cost which I later defined for thd winner as “not being able to spend on X what you have already promised to waste on Y”.

  45. Mr. Hack says:

    A beautiful, really stunning photo. Who wouldn’t be tempted to wind it out in their Porsche or Maserati climbing up and down, twisting through these scenic vistas……..

    • Replies: @Daniel Rich
  46. denk says:

    In Xinjiang…….

    CCP is demolishing mosques,
    Burning KOrans,
    KIlling off IMams,
    Rounding up UIghurs men into gulags,
    Hans are moving in, taking over the women,

    This is the kind of shit the mofo in Washington are making up.
    The sheer audacity of it,
    It make my blood boil,. !

    Following NBA’S Morley ,
    Arsenal soccer star Ozil is the latest flag bearer for this smear campaign, it’s gone viral.

    Achtung achtung….
    THIS IS AN OPEN InVITATION FOR JIHAD !
    This is open season for all Chinese,
    folks.

    The scenery is awesome,
    but look out for danger lurking at the next corner.

    Sixty years after the CIA/MI6 orchestrated genocide of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, the perpetrators are back with a vengence.
    This time [[[they]]] dont even bother to hide their hand.
    Impunity breeds contempt.

  47. @Mr. Hack

    Who wouldn’t be tempted to wind it out in their Porsche or Maserati climbing up and down, twisting through these scenic vistas……..


    I’ll give you to the 1st curve, and then this majestic picture will look a lot less majestic :o]

    I didn’t read anywhere whether Mr. Escobar took these pictures himself, so, if my assumption he did is wrong, I happily stand corrected, but the composition of these shots/pictures is breathtaking, professional and plucks all the right emotional strings inside my heaving chest.

    Well done, Mr. Escobar [both article & pics]!

    • Replies: @Sparkon
  48. denk says:
    @Kim

    communists have historically always been monumental liars.

    This remark makes you out as the
    monumental liar….

    Exhibit 1
    https://www.unz.com/pescobar/pamir-highway-the-road-on-the-roof-of-the-world/#comment-3618779

    Tip of an iceberg…

  49. Sparkon says:
    @Daniel Rich

    I didn’t read anywhere whether Mr. Escobar took these pictures himself

    Credit for each photograph here is given with a cryptic notation cleverly hidden beneath each photograph:

    Photo: Pepe Escobar

    Driving at top speed through beautiful country is like speeding through sex.

    • Replies: @Daniel Rich
  50. @Sparkon

    Thank you.. I checked and indeed missed Pepe Escobar’s credits.

    Driving at top speed through beautiful country is like speeding through sex.

    Also, thank you for a long lasting and hysterical outburst of laughter :o]

  51. Sergey says: • Website

    Interesting article!

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