The evil spirits that play tricks along the old Silk Road

On his four-month walk across Uzbekistan, Paul Salopek encountered superstitions—and suspicious police.

The deserts of Uzbekistan are said to be haunted by devious spirits who send travelers off course and pinch their supplies.

While tracing the ancient Silk Road through Central Asia on foot, National Geographic writer Paul Salopek was regaled with tales of these jinn. One night, under clear skies in the sprawling Qizilqum desert, Salopek and his guides discovered they were not immune to the spirits’ mischief: A cache of water drums buried in advance of their arrival had been emptied.

“Fortunately, with modern technology like satellite phones, I knew my parched Uzbek walking partners and I wouldn’t suffer the same fate as so many earlier Silk Road travelers who tried to cross the Qizilqum and didn’t make it,” Salopek says. “As for jinn, I think we carry such spirits—called impulses, good and bad—within all of us.”

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