"Seyyah: A 20,000 km journey along the Silk Road" | Symbol of a glorious past
Here’s an extract for travel lovers from the latest book Seyyah, by Gautham Reddy Nallavari, based on the 20,000 km journey along the Silk Route.
It all starts in Athens - Acropolis – The symbol of a glorious past – Alexander is not Greek? – The saga of the ‘European Dis-Union’
As I walked into the visa control, I was the only one in the non-EU line. There were hardly any people in my flight and I started to wonder, if I
had gotten down at a different airport - maybe a domestic one? This couldn’t be Athens international airport. But indeed it was. My first steps on my long journey were not as melodramatic as I would have imagined. It was rather intriguing and inquisitive. Even as I put my first step into Greece, it was obvious - the effect of EU crisis was very palpable.
After a bit of asking around, I got onto the right bus, heading to central Athens. The afternoon sun parched the ancient land – the empty highway cut through the brown and dusty surroundings. The streets in Athens seemed semi-filled that hour. I did not know if people were off taking their afternoon siesta, like their neighbouring countries or was the emptiness due to the recession. After about an hour on the bus, I step foot into central Athens.
When I first read about the Greek civilization, I was probably 10-years old. Listening attentively to my grumpy history teacher and watching documentaries on National Geographic about Greek mythology, architecture, the 10-year old me wondered in amazement,
‘So far away there exists an ancient advanced civilization, is it really true? It looks and sounds so incredible?’
And finally here I was; almost after two decades of questioning.
But it did not exactly fare out as what I expected. Wandering in the tiny streets emanating from the ‘Monastiraki’ Square of Central Athens, I started to get a sense of what it meant to be in Athens – the people, the food and the architecture all seem to intermingle between the ancient verses the modern; the conservative verses the cosmopolitan; the traditional verses the international – it was difficult to see which side was prominent. Still a bit confused, I found my hostel, dropped my bags and went back to the square.
There, I waited for a Greek classmate from the B-school, Nikos. We went together to what Nikos said that it served the best Gyros and Souvleki in all of Greece. The food indeed was amazing, but I was not sure on his lofty praise of it being the best in Greece. Little did I know that day, that the food I ate – meat on skewers with bread, will also travel with me along the Silk Road – ever slightly changing names, styles and spices until I reach the eastern Sea of China.
Later that night we met more of Nikos friends and our university alumni, Antonis and Peter. The upscale pub named the Library bar, seemed like the neo avatar of an Agora, where the Greeks met and debated on various topics. The fervor in the debates perhaps remained unchanged from the ancient times.
My Greek hosts were very curious about my journey. This was the first of numerous times I explained what my journey was about and why I was doing it.
‘I am trying to travel along the entire Silk Road over land from the west to east, and by the most economic means possible. Among the many crisscrossing paths along the Silk Road, I chose a path that best cuts through the most major cities along the Silk Roads, but also had to consider the political and safety situations of countries that I intend to cross.’
‘I see, interesting, why starting in Greece?’ asked Antonis, while gulping his beer.
‘I wanted to start in Europe. For all intensive purposes, I wanted it to be Greece and loosely call it ‘starting from Europe.’ The Greek civilization had profound impact on the Roman Empire, and later on all of Europe. Secondly, there is the Alexander’s route from Greece to India that I am also to follow as much as possible overlapping with the Silk Road. Travelling through Asia Minor and Persia, I intend to re-explore Alexander’s conquest path and how it affected the diverse cultures along the Eurasian plains. Importantly, I want to assess if Alexander’s unified cross-continental Empire helped in starting the first of the many intercontinental trade routes, which later emerged into full-fledged Silk Roads?
‘Also, Greece is in a very particular position in its history. Presently it represents the worst-case scenario of the EU debt crisis and would be interesting to observe how it is dealing with it. All these factors made me choose Athens to start my journey. For me it is fair to assume that if a Silk Road trader from the east reached Athens by sailing off the Turkish coast, he was technically in Europe and all of Europe is accessible, may it be Rome, Venice or Paris.’
My Greek friends, as I realized, were a pint more passionate about their history than others; especially after a few rounds of drinks. Antonis said, ‘Speaking of whom you are going to stalk after 2000 years or so, some people are claiming that Alexander is from Macedonia and not from Greece, right? You know Greece is not one country, but made of several city-states, such as Athens, Sparta. But we consider it to be one – Greece. We call the culture as the Greek culture and call all the people as one – the Greeks. Now the new country Macedonia, once part of former Yugoslavia, started claiming Alexander as solely theirs and made him their some kind of national hero, and calling him as Macedonian and extending it by saying non-Greek. Worst is that they released these unofficial maps of a larger Macedonia that includes most parts of interior Greece. This is not acceptable, for us Greeks and especially to the people who belong to the northern Greek province that is also named Macedonia.’
I did not know how much of it was true or how much of it was truly unbiased. I did not comment. I nodded in comprehension and disapproval of such petty political games. What I definitely understood was both history and territory are something very close to the heart for a lot of people - even to people who may or may not share the same history and living in territories even far away from the conflict.
My journey along the ancient Silk Road was not only to follow ancient traders and conquerors, but also to understand how people of different cultures and regions felt and acted when faced with similar conflicts like that of Antonis’. I hoped not to find a consistent trend. I hoped not to see that people irrespective of their cultural diversity and economic position, would still react in the same way when confronted with such conflicts.