It's a long and winding Silk Road, and you can explore its sinuous twists and turns through Sunday at the National Mall in Washington.
The Silk Road is the name given to the historic trade route that connected the peoples and traditions of Asia with those of Europe, and it's being featured at the Smithsonian Institution's 36th Folklife Festival. Musicians, dancers and craftsmen from more than 20 nations are represented, including Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Mongolia and Japan.
Before we list a few highlights, there are some facts you should know: The festival runs daily from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., although one event - an evening concert - will be held today, tomorrow and Saturday when the exhibits shut down. Admission to all events is free.
Given the crowds - 640,000 people filed through the gates during the first week - the most hassle-free form of transportation probably is the Metro. Either drive to an outlying station such as Greenbelt or New Carrolton with ample parking, or take the train to Union Station in Washington, and walk or catch the Metro (or a taxicab) to the Mall. The Smithsonian and Federal Triangle stops on the blue and orange Metro lines disgorge passengers near the Mall. (The Smithsonian stop is closed today only.)
Finally, a full schedule of events can be found at www.silkroadproject.org/smithsonian/schedule/020706.html. Whenever you go, there are some events you won't want to miss:
Attend a throat-singing workshop. Throat-singing, which originated in Central Asia, allows a singer to simultaneously vocalize with up to four voices of varying pitches. Workshops will be held at the Kashgar Teahouse at 12:45 p.m. today and Saturday; and at the Aitys Stage at noon tomorrow and Sunday.
Iranian Spiritual Bodybuilding. It's worth stopping by just to find out what's involved. Demonstrations are held at Xi'An Tower at 11 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. today and Saturday; and at 1:40 p.m., 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday.
Puppet shows have kept the kids entertained and entranced their parents with the artistry of the elaborate, colorful creations. The Kathputli Indian Puppet Theater appears today at the Family Oasis at 12:30 p.m. and at the Kashgar Teahouse at 2:45 p.m; tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the Teahouse; Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the Oasis and at 2:45 p.m. at the Teahouse; and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the Oasis and at 2 p.m. at the Teahouse.
The Uzbek Puppet Theater performs today at 1:30 p.m. at the Teahouse and at 3:30 p.m. at the Oasis; tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Teahouse and at 3:15 p.m. at the Oasis; Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at the Teahouse and at 4:15 p.m. at the Oasis, and Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Oasis and 1 p.m. at the Teahouse.
Demonstrations of ancient crafts with a very modern cachet. For instance, cooking exhibitions in Armenian, Indian, Persian, Turkish and Uzbek foods will be held throughout the day in the Paper Garden Kitchen. And you can watch skilled artisans weave priceless Oriental carpets all day at the Family Oasis.
Finally, you don't want to miss performances by the Silk Road Ensemble, the musical group created by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, which mixes Western classical idioms and instruments with those of the Eastern nations. The cellist himself performs roughly once daily with the group he founded, but catching him is strictly a matter of luck. Because Ma doesn't want to draw attention away from other performers and stages, not even festival organizers know in advance when and where he will show up.
Performances today are at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. at the Venice Piazza; tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the Piazza; Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at the Piazza and at 4 p.m. at the Freer-Sackler Galleries; and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at the Piazza and at 2:45 p.m. at the Nara Gate.