The Great Silk Road was never a single-path route. Its system included some branches of caravan roads which passed across different mountain passes bypassing deserts.
The Great Silk Road highway had a lot of branches, scattering from Ispidjab, Otrar and Yangikent to the North and East, leading to the central and eastern regions of Kazakhstan: to the Desht-i Kypchak steppe later renamed Saryarka, the banks of the Irtysh River, the Altai and further to Mongolia.
The steppe regions of Kazakhstan were inhabited not only by nomadic people. The Middle Ages brought the development of soil cultivation and settled life to the valleys of the Sarysu, Kengir, Djezdi rivers, the foothills of Ulutau and the banks of the Irtish. Rich deposits of copper, tin, lead and silver in Central Kazakhstan had been mined as far back as the Bronze Age. Later, these places gave rise to the settlements of miners, furnaceman, braziers, and silversmiths.
The regions of Central Kazakhstan had been famous by their bountiful natural resources as well: pasture lands gave enough food for the numerous herds of horses and sheep. That is why these regions were included to the system of the Great Silk Route.
Taraz was the starting point of another trade road, leading via the towns of Adahkes and Dekh-Nudjikes towards the Irtysh River banks, where the residence of the Kimak ruler (khakan) was situated, and further on — to the land of the Kirghiz, who dwelled on the Yenisei banks.
The road, connecting Central Kazakhstan with the Ili valley lay along the foothills of the Chu — Ili mountains, leading to the lower reaches of the river Chu and then — to the banks of the Sarisu.
There was one more important road, branching from the north — Ili route near Chingildy. It followed the Ili River sound Ortasu up to Balkhash; then it lay across Uzun-Aral peninsula, which jutted out deep into the lake, almost joining its southern and northern shores, leaving the strait about 8 kilometers wide. It may be only conjectured, that caravans forded the strait, reached the river Tokrau mouth and ascended the foothills of the Ulutau mountains.
The north-Ili route, leading to the Jungar Gate, had a branch, which skirted Alakul Lake in the west, passed over the Tarbagatai mountain range and stretched towards the Irtysh River banks via Bandjar, Khanaush and Sisan. Numerous trade roads connected these towns with those on the Yenisei, in Mongolia and the oases of eastern Turkestan.
These were the routes of the Great Silk Road on the territory of Central and Eastern Kazakhstan.
Karl Baipakov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.
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