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Symbol of Exotic Splendour

Khush-Hal Lagdhyan

By Mohammad Monir Alam and Willayat Ali
Lancers Books, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 178, Rs. 495.00


Ferdinand von Richthofen’s catchy meta- phor for an ancient trade route crisscrossing Asia and Europe symbolizing mystery and exotic splendour, the Silk Route seems to have returned to political consciousness today. Historically, this trade route facilitated not only movement of goods, but also linked various civilizations: transmitting cultures, traditions, beliefs, religions, languages and technologies.   The concept of the Silk Route received serious intellectual attention as globalization intensified in the wake of the Cold War and after the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since then, there has been an increased accent on ‘reconnecting’ and ‘reimagining’ the Silk Route by the international community. 9/11 and America’s war on terrorism further reinvigorated western interests in Eurasia, particularly Afghanistan and Central Asia—the notional locus of the Silk Route.   As a result, the route, which was once an artery for exchange between the East and the West has once again become an obsession in what appears to be a new ‘Great Game’. However, unlike the earlier ‘Great Game’ wherein the Russians and the British competed for supremacy, the main foci of this newly found ‘obsession’ are of course, geopolitics and resource mobilization in oil and gas. This time the main players pursuing rival political and economic goals are the US, China, Russia, India, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the EU and Japan. It is now believed that the main actors’ economic interests in the region and revitalization of the route could promote security, prosperity, and connectivity within Eurasia.   The focus of the book by Monir Alam and Willayat Ali is on cultural legacy, geopolitical and strategic advantages, transport corridors, trade and commerce, oil and gas pipelines and tourism. The authors attempt to understand the elements of ‘reconnection’ by looking at the motivations, aims and appeals of the main actors ‘imagining’ the New Silk Road.   While determining the historicity of the Silk Route, the authors vividly describe it as being established during the ‘first millennium BC and the middle of second millennium AD’. Detailing the complex divergences from the Haxi corridor and further skirting of the route towards the northern, southern, eastern and western ends, the authors describe how the Silk Route penetrated into India, Central Asia, Iranian plateaus, Mediterranean cities, and so on. The chapter further retraces cultural interactions, development and stability along the route under the Han, Tang and Song dynasties of China. It highlights the plying of caravans of goods and ...

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