Marco Polo’s legendary journey overland from Xanadu in China to his home in Italy has fired the imaginations of travellers for 700 years. Even today, traversing the 20,000km Silk Road between Europe and the Far East is a perilous undertaking. But it sounded like just the challenge for Wellington economist Gareth Morgan and his intrepid wife Jo.
With five friends, they set off to travel the ancient route by a very modern mode of transport — motorcycle. Starting from the historic port of Venice, the Silk Riders crossed some of the most remote, inhospitable and politically unstable terrain in Eurasia, from the Balkan states, Turkey and Iran through various ‘stans to the isolated western reaches of China, and along the Great Wall to Bejing.
The unfolding Silk Riders adventure kept radio listeners and website watchers entranced. Here, for the first time, is the story of the entire journey, told with the Morgans’ characteristic humour and eye for detail, and accompanied by an extensive selection of photographs.
The Silk Rider trip was conceived after three biking trips of shorter duration two in the Himalayas and one in the Andes. It was very clear that month-long trips are great but there is another level u a number of countries to navigate and borders to negotiate; a trip without any pre-arranged accommodation; a motorcycle journey without support vehicles so each rider is self-contained; and finally a theme to ride bikes by. That theme was In the footsteps of Marco Poloo and it set a backdrop to this traverse of Eurasia. Marco (1254-1324) was born on Korcula, an island in the Adriatic off Split in Croatia. But he was raised in Venice and in 1271 set out with his two uncles for Cathay. The return journey took 24 years u outbound by land alone taking 3 years, in China for 17 years and then home by sea, dictating his book, "The Travels of Marco Polo", from a Genoa prison cell 3 years later in 1298. As he lay on his deathbed he confessed, "I have not told half of what I saw". Gareth, Jo and friends also started their trip in Venice and ended in Xanadu (Shangtu) u north-west of Beijing u where the summer palace of the Mongol (Tartar) leader Kublai Kan was located and where he met Marco Polo in 1275. Their timeframe (3 months) was a mere 1/12th of Marco's for the one-way land traverse and while most of it was along the route he took, they had a few diversions to take in points of interest u such as the dried-up Aral Sea.