The Silk Road is an ancient trading route that stretches over high mountains and arid deserts to connect Europe with China. Just the words Silk Road conjure up visions of fearless nomads, dauntless explorers, isolated villagers, exotic cities, extraordinary landscapes and rare treasures.
It is still possible to follow the storied course; you can fly to Rome and go East, or start in Beijing and head westward. But if a long, expensive journey isn’t possible, you can find a small sample some of the sights and sounds found along Silk Road without leaving the city.
Tonight’s journey began in a curtained niche at Khyber Pass, an Afghani restaurant on St. Mark’s Place, where diners sat on tapestry-covered cushions. While sitars, ouds and drums played, the low table was covered with fragrant, steaming platters of mantoo (steamed dumplings filled with minced beef, onions, herbs and spices, served with a yogurt and meat sauce), fesenjan (boneless pieces of chicken cooked with walnuts and pomegranate juice), boulanee kadu (turnovers filled with pumpkin and served with a creamy yogurt dip), quorma sabzee (spicy spinach, coriander, scallions, lamb and rice), a basket of dense, golden Afghani bread and cups of Turkish coffee and shir-chay (a traditional pink tea brewed with mik, sugar, cardamom and rose petals).
Dinner was followed by a short walk to Chelsea. There the Rubin Museum of Art, dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, offered another step along the Silk Road: an exhibition entitled I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion. The show presents the history, art and culture of the Sikh religion, which was founded in northern India in the 15th century.
The museum, located in a 70,000 square-foot building that once housed a chic department store, opened less than two years ago. It includes a steel and marble staircase that spirals dramatically through the seven-story gallery tower and, surprisingly, a dimly-lit cocktail lounge on the ground floor.
Admission to the Rubin Museum of Art, normally $10, is free Friday evenings from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Dinner at Khyber Pass is about $20 per person. Budget tours of the Silk Road start at about $1,700, not including air fare from New York to China.