Chinese silk was so prized as a trade good coming to Europe from the Far East that the route became known as the Silk Road. The Chinese section of this ancient trade route that linked Asia to the outside world offers a fascinating glimpse into the nation's history. Beijing--home to the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace of emperors from the Ming through the Qing dynasties--is a convenient place to pick up the trail.
The first stop along the Silk Road's northern route is Urumqui, which means "beautiful pasture" in the Mongolian language of the local Dzungar people. Nearby Heavenly Lake, rimmed by majestic snowy peaks, is known for its spectacular views. Less known is the Xinjiang Regional Museum's mysterious collection of 21 Caucasian mummies.
A key Western trading hub on the route is Kashgar, considered the best-preserved traditional Islamic city in Central Asia. The Sunday bazaar, the Fragrant Concubine Mosque, and the grand Id Kah Mosque reflect Kashgar's past glory. The magnificent Mogao Grottoes near Dunhuang contain thousands of Buddhist murals, paintings, and manuscripts--a remarkable record of Silk Road civilization. …