Nov 14, 2020 in History

A Travel Diary: From Yemen to China

A Travel Diary: From Yemen to China

I have no doubts that my journey from Yemen to China was amazing (see figure 1). I have never used a camel before, but during this trip, I had an opportunity to use this nontraditional mode of transportation. The reason for using this noble animal for traveling was due to the hot climate of the desert region and the affordable price of such a means of transport. I could feel the smell of dead animals in the desert. The sun was high in the sky scotching the shiny sand soil so that one might think that the journey was in an ocean.


Figure 1. Silk road map from Yemen to China

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I was using the Incense Road of Antiquity, which is one of the routes that have been connected to the Great Silk Route. Just like the name of the route, incense, I have learnt that the name came due to the commodities that were exchanged in this route, ranging from incense, precious stones, pearls, and silk, to list a few (Lymer, 2009). Arabs were selling Frankincense and myrrh to other people from other nations who passed through this route. I came across the tree where Frankincense was obtained from. I learnt that the Frankincense was used as a source of income by most Arabs. I was lucky to see Arabs obtaining myrrh from the trees in a form of sap. I was eager to know what the substance was used for. According to Omar, an old Arab man, the substance was used as perfume, medicine as well as embalming ointment.

Palmyra, located in the Syrian Desert, was a beautiful city over the sun. I could hear drums beating and women singing for a visiting governor. The sun here was hotter than in Yemen. Everyone was wearing light sun dresses. My funny camel driver was wearing a vest and a shirt which he kept telling me was his new swag. The city was very busy with everyone buying, selling and mingling. The city grew as a result of business of Frankincense and myrrh as the camel driver explained to me. From the look of the place, it seemed the meeting point where Arabs came to display their commodities, while Africans and Asians came to buy the items (Hull, 2008).

Although Frankincense and myrrh were the major commodities sold in this city, I could also see glassware, silk and jewelries. After buying a few necklaces and camel milk, , we were going to Damascus with my kind driver. I learnt from a person that I met on the route that the Incense Route was important as ideas, technology and skills were exchanged in this way. In addition, my new friend told me that the technology of silk-making has come to Arabs from China due to people travelling from China to Arabic countries using the route. Despite it was exciting, the journey from Yemen to China was not as simple as I thought it would be. I faced the challenges of the dry weather conditions in the desert. The 20 liters of water we took for drink finished in less than 30 kilometers of the travel. The water that we got in Damascus was hot and salty. I was dehydrated and the water here could not satisfy my thirst.

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Anatolia, or how the dwellers call it the Underground City, was my next destination. The locality was mostly occupied by the Seljuk. At first glance, the people here seemed very friendly. We were greeted by a young man who asked us why we had a camel. After telling us that the Seljuk were initially nomadic pastoralists but later have become farmers, I understood why he asked about the camel. They have changed their lifestyles to farming due to the local fertile soil which made it easier for people to cultivate and grow plants rather than lead a nomadic way of life using animals. Agriculture was the primary reason why Anatolia has grown to become a city. Agriculture has also made Anatolia a business hub that was very important in the Silk Route (Vandeput & Karakatsanis, 2013). The business of selling firm produce has really flourished here. Other items, such as carpets, are also sold in this busy place (see figure 2).


Figure 2. Carpets in Anatolia (Hull, 2008).

From Anatolia, I moved to Bursa, Konya, Izmir, Tartus and Palmyra. After a journey of more than 5 weeks, I reached my final destination, Yuan, China, and observed Silk Road statues on my way (see figure 3).


Figure 3. Statue of the silk route (Lymer, 2009)

On reaching China, I was extremely tired, hungry and dehydrated. The skin rashes made me feel uneasy. Thanks to my doctor, the camel driver, who adviced me to take ointment from the leaves of a wild tree, I felt a little better. He laughed at me as the ointment increased the itching on my skin, but promised that I will be fine the next day. We took a nap after having supper.

It was another bright morning in China. The weather was not hot as compared to the desert across which we have traveled during the last few weeks. It was cool, and the birds are singing sweet melodies promising a good day. As the production of silk continued to grow, there was a need to control who made silk, as well as who were the sellers and buyers of the same commodity. This was how Yuan Dynasty came into being before selling of the silk: it was a big secret of the Chinese people only. Anyone that was found selling silkworm eggs, mulberry or cocoons could be sentenced to death. I saw the silkworms in my own eyes (see figure 4).


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Figure 3. Silkworms grinding (Maroney, 2011)

The first garments made by silk were only worm by the emperors and royal family representatives (Yuan, 2007). The Chinese people learnt how to bleed silk for moths and feeding them with mulberry until they produced cocoons. This culture of bleeding silkworms was only in China but due to the Silk Routes, the culture spread to other nations in Arabic and African regions who traded with China (He, 2011). This was a story that has been narrated to me by a Chinese old woman who looked be very knowledgeable about the history of China. I was closing my notebook believing that I will not forget this journey for my whole life.


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