The Northern Silk Road is a historic inland trade route in Northwest China and Central Asia (historically known as the Western Regions), originating in the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'an (modern day Xi'an), westwards through the Hexi Corridor (in what is the modern Gansu province) into the Tarim Basin, going around north of the Taklamakan Desert along the two sides of the Tianshan Mountains, and then past the Pamir Mountains to reach the ancient kingdoms of Bactria, Sogdia, Kushan, Parthia and eventually the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. It is the northernmost branch of the several Silk Roads providing trade, cultural exchanges and military mobilizations between China and the outside world.
The route was first developed by the Han dynasty in the latter part of the 1st century BC to secure diplomatic alliance against the Xiongnu confederacy, with whom China had been having escalating conflicts, and was progressively transformed into a major trade route during the subsequent dynasties to project Chinese influence towards the west.
The route travels northwest through the Chinese province of Gansu from Shaanxi Province, and splits into three further routes, two of them following the mountain ranges to the north and south of the Taklimakan Desert to rejoin at Kashgar; and the other going north of the Tian Shan mountains through Turpan, Talgar and Almaty (in what is now southeast Kazakhstan).
The routes split west of Kashgar with one branch heading down the Alay Valley towards Termez and Balkh, while the other traveled through Kokand in the Fergana Valley, and then west across the Karakum Desert towards Merv, joining the southern route briefly.