An ancient stone fortress dominates the ethnic Tajik town of Tashkurgan, and to the north the imposing hulk of 7,000-meter Muztagh Ata sends it glacial fingers down steep clefts to the dry valleys below. This is Silk Road country, and traders have plied these routes for centuries as they shuttled costly goods between China and Europe. Things have changed, however. Silk and gunpowder are not longer the treasured commodities — now it is minerals and water. And, thanks to climate change, less water every year.
Tashkurgan — a surprising comfortable town for being so deep in the wilderness — and its regions find themselves torn between the interests of three billion people and their governments. The headwaters of eight important rivers are the new silk and gunpowder, and the diverse peoples of the region find themselves, as before, bystanders in a new struggle for resources.