For information on the background of this series see The Introduction.
Xuanzang meets the Khan of the Western Gokturk Empire in his palatial tent, is well-received and given permission to proceed to India.
After crossing Central Asia he arrived amongst the Sogdians of Samarkand, who were Zoroastrians at the time, but there he managed to convert the King in one night, and the citizens also then took up Buddhism.
Crossing the mountains through the Iron Gate Pass he emerges in Tirmidh (Termez), where we see the ancient monasteries of Fayehzi-Tepe and Kara-Tepe, where he stayed.
In this episode Xuanzang makes his way down through Afghanistan and into the region that was once Gandhara (near modern-day Peshawar), which was once the heart of Buddhism, and from where the religion was taken into China. But by Xuanzang’s time the whole empire had disappeared and Buddhism was no longer to be found in the region.
The documentary recounts Xuanzang’s visits to see the Buddha’s skull relic, a cave where the Buddha’s shadow was supposedly preserved, and the monasteries of Takht Bahi, which was the largest Buddhist monastery in Pakistan, and Sahr-i-Bahlol, both of which were deserted.
Up and till this time Xuanzang had been on his travels for one year and had reached the river Indus which marked his entry into India proper. The episode very quickly skips over the next two years, which he spent studying in Kashmir, before he descended 1,500km into the Gangetic basin and onto Chinabhukti, where he spent the next half a year.
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Some Stills from the Documentary