Silky smooth: Resident travels Asia’s Silk Road

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By Kirsten Laskey

A bus ride in London, England pushed Los Alamos resident Frances Richey to make herself a promise.

While traveling with her then-husband to Russia and Europe in 1959, Richey found herself sitting next to a woman on a London bus who had visited China.

As they compared stories, Richey discovered that the woman’s stories of a sunny country filled with smiling people contrasted with her own stories of Moscow drenched in clouds and depression. It was then at 30 years old, Richey decided someday she would visit China herself.

In 1998, Richey fulfilled that promised.

As a graduate at MIT, Richey traveled to China on a tour she refers to as “China I.” She saw the big sites, such as the Great Wall, the Yangtze River and Beijing, but it didn’t satisfy Richey’s desire. She wanted to see more.

So in 2001, she toured the Western Province of China.

“That’s what stimulated my interest in western China and the Silk Road,” she said.

So from Sept. 19-Oct. 6, Richey journeyed through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan through the Archaeological Institute of America Tours.

In Uzbekistan, Richey — along with nine other travelers — toured Tashkent, Smarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. In Turkmenistan, Richey visited Ashkabad and Merv.

The plane ride took 26 hours and the two weeks were jammed packed with constant sight-seeing and traveling.

“This was not for the weak of heart,” Richey said.

At the beginning of the trip, Richey encountered several surprises.

One was the huge number of tourists and second was the affluence of the area. The third surprise was the number of “gorgeous” tiled covered buildings.

The Silk Road is more than just a pretty face, however. It has an incredible history.

“You get swamped by the history,” she said. “You just get lost in it after awhile.”

This is the place where Ghengis Kan and his armies marched, where cities were destroyed and trade and enormous wealth was generated.

Richey said at one point, Central Asia was the wealthiest region in the world.

For Richey, one of the highlights of seeing this region was crossing the Oxus River.

There was so much to see and absorb, that she said it was difficult to pick her favorite parts.

“It was the overall experience,” Richey said. “(It was) a chance to learn about a significant part of the world.”

Knowledge was the reason why Richey took the trip.

“I’m interested in learning,” she said.

Her drive to learn was what drove Richey to choose Archaeological Institute of America Tours, “Because they do history,” she said. “I wanted the history. It was a small group and it was expensive but it was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Not only did she learn a lot, she said after traveling to this region of the world, “you come back with a completely different view point of things.”

Just how the trip impacted Richey is still yet to be determined. She explained it takes a while to determine a trip’s effects.

Richey, a retired physicist, moved to Los Alamos in 1990. While it is obvious that Richey has seen a good portion of the world, it seems clear that home is truly where the heart is.

“This place is heaven,” she said.