In the second-fifth centuries A.D. the Silk Route started from Chanang and lay north-westwards across the river Hwang Ho near Lanzhou and further along the nothern spurs of Nan Shan to the Great Wall and the famous Jasper Gate. Here it divided, skirting the Taklamakan desert in the north and in the south. The northern trail struck out across the line of oases, passing through Hami, Turfan, Beshbalik and Shikho to the Ili river valley. The central route passed through Chaochang, Karashar, Aksu and then over the mountain pass Bedel it led to the southern shores of lake Issyk-Kul. The southern route threaded its way through Dunhuang, Khotan, Yarkend to Baktria, India and the Mediterranean coast. The northern branch continued via Kashgar, Fergana, Samarkand, Bukhara, Merv, leading to Kamaden and Syria. Blazing of the new trails was tightly connected with the process of urbanization, which began first in the southern regions of Central Asia and then spread to centraI and neighbouring northern and steppe regions.
Therefore, it is thought to be expedient to distinguish three main routes lying across the territory of Central Asia: southern, central and northern.
The southern route started from the town of Amul on the Oksa river and then, dividing into three branches, ran in different directions: first — via Bukhara, Kasan, Kerki, Termez, Baktri; second — via Bukhara, Samarkand, Shalchrisabz, Kerki, over mountain pass Akrobat-to Termez, Baktri; third- through Bukhara, Samarkand, Uzunkir, Daratepe, Budrach, Haitabadtepe, Termez-to Baktri. The central route lay through Amul on the river Oksa to Paikend, Bukhara, Samarkand, Dizak, Zaomin, Samgar, Hadjistan, Turmukhan, Bab, Akhisket, Osh, Uzgend and further over mountain passes to Kashgar.
The northern route struck via Amul to Bukhara, Dimas, Tavavis, Karmana, Dabusia, Rabidjan, Zarman, Samarkand, Abarket, Rabad, Saeda, Harkana, Dizak. Leaving Dizak, it then divided into two branches: from Zaoman to Hawas, Harashkat, across the river Yaksart, to Benaket, Binket; via Hussein and Humeid wells to Vankend, Undjaket, Chinanchiket and further to Shutukert, where it joined the southern branch and led to Binket, the capital of Shash.
In the sixth-seventh centuries a.d. the route, passing through China to the west via Semirechie and southern Kazakhstan, became the busiest one, although that, lying through Fergana, was shorter and more convenient. This shift of the route can be explained by the following factors. Firstly, Semirechie was the land of powerful Turkic kagans, who controlled trade routes, passing through Central Asia. Secondly, in the seventh century a.d. the way via Fergana became dangerous because of internecine dissension. Thirdly, wealthy Turkic kagans became large-scale consumers of foreign goods. Thus, the route became the major one and it was there, that important embassy and trade caravans passed in the seventh —fourteenth centuries a.d. It should be noted, that branches and roads of the Silk Route didn’t remain unaltered in the course of time — they changed depending upon different reasons: some of them became significant and flourishing, others ceased to exist, causing the decay of towns and settlements on their way. In the sixth — eighth centuries the main route was that, leading from Syria, through Iran, Central Asia, southern Kazakhstan, the Talas and Chu valleys, Issyk- Kul area to eastern Turkestan. This route had a branch, connecting Byzantium via Derbent, pre- Caspian steppes, Mangyshlak and the pre-Aral region, with southern Kazakhstan, where it joined the main route. This branch skirted the territory of the Sassanian empire, in what is present day Iran, because of the trade and diplomatic alliance between Turkic Kaganat and Byzantium against it. Later, in the ninth — twelfth centuries a.d. , this branch wasn’t as widely used as that, lying across Central Asia, Middle and Near East and Asia Minor, leading to Syria, Egypt and Byzantium.
However, in the thirteenth -fourteenth centuries the significance of this branch increased again. Very often the state of political affairs on the continent determined the choice of the route not only for envoys and merchants, but also for other travelling people.
Karl Baipakov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.