NYU Shanghai: A Silk Road Taste on a College Budget
What happens when my five broke best friends and I plan a trip? We take a 3000-mile adventure across China, traversing the Silk Road in the cheapest way possible.
I spent over 150 hours on six different trains to six different Chinese cities with my best friends Matthew Cline, Evelyn Patrell-Fazio, Madison Peletier, Sofia Shockman and Eleanor Wade. Our ultimate goal? To have an authentic experience of the Silk Road without going over our intended budgets.
Our group of six began its journey during NYU Shanghai’s fall break, spanning across a 10-day period. We split up for the first stop, one group starting in Lanzhou and another in Jiayuguan. We later converged in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, via a 30-hour train ride. Most of our nights were spent on seated or sleeper trains, allowing us to save money and spend most of our resources on experiences at our travel destinations.
We wanted not just to see but to experience the beauty of China. After trekking to the end of the Great Wall, finding the beauty of nature in Jiayuguan, camping out in the Gobi Desert, paragliding in Dunhuang and wandering around the markets of Kashgar, we can now say that we’ve explored China to an extent we didn’t think possible. We all believe that the entire experience brought us closer than ever before.
However, the trip wasn’t always easy. The train rides were excruciatingly long and painful.
Each of us had only one backpack, which presented a challenge: we needed to carry attire necessary for the range of temperatures we experienced. This included a freezing 20 F in the desert to a scorching 90 F in Turpan. An unexpected language barrier also made traveling through Western China more complex. As NYU Shanghai students, we all know varying levels of Mandarin since we have to learn it as part of the curriculum. However, in Western China the majority of the locals speak Uyghur instead of the national language, Mandarin. Uyghur is a dialect much closer to Turkish than Mandarin. With the help of kind souls we met, we managed to find our way in and around the city.
The trip culminated in Kashgar, a Muslim-majority province in Xinjiang. We ventured into mosques and interacted with the locals, trying to immerse ourselves in the incredible history and culture of the city. While over 150 hours on a train may not have been glamorous, we all agreed that seeing the country that way was an incomparable experience. It allowed us to watch the Chinese landscape change from city to desert and from desert to snow! The train, while packed with people traveling for the holiday, fulfilled our desires for an authentic experience. Back on campus, we shared the experience with the rest of the NYU community and expressed our love for Western China. The experience brought us closer to one another.
Written by: Benjamin Tablada II
Photographed by: Madison Peletier