Jonathan Dyson finds out how much it costs to travel along the ancient Silk Road
Next month, a team of four plan to tackle the 4,300-mile northern Silk Road from Turkmenistan to China to raise money for the disaster relief charity Merlin. Alexandra Tolstoy (daughter of Count Nikolai), Lucy Kelaart, Sophia Cunningham and Victoria Westmacott will travel entirely by horse and camel, setting off 700 years after Marco Polo returned from his Far Eastern expedition.

The northern Silk Road passes through some of the most inhospitable areas of the world, such as China's Taklamakan Desert which, translated, means, "If you go in you won't come out." The Silk Road was initially developed over a thousand years ago for military purposes, to help safeguard China's western borders against raiders from the Central Asian Steppes, but was soon put to use for trade. It was also a conduit for the spread of ideas, from paper-making to Buddhism.

Nowadays, dozens of holiday companies offer Silk Road `experiences', but few people ever traverse the whole length, and certainly not using traditional forms of transport. The Merlin team are making some concessions to modernity - taking with them a satellite navigation system, a supply of tomato ketchup and Clinique sunblock - but otherwise it's back to basics. Here's the bill for their 10-month journey, excluding sponsored freebies from clothing and camping companies. And if you want to back their fundraising efforts, write to Merlin, 14 David Mews, Porter Street, London W1M 1HW.

Taking flight Outward to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and return from Beijing, China, pounds 3,600

Stamp duty Visas for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, pounds 1,000

Medecine sans frontieres Wilderness medical training, pounds 458.25; medical equipment, pounds 500

Bare-back essentials (not sponsored), jodhpurs, pounds 400; chaps, pounds 140; walking boots, pounds 400; satellite phone, pounds 2,500; two Global Positioning Systems and compass, pounds 300; maps, pounds 100; extra kit, ranging from ropes to ground-sheets, pounds 4,000

Saddle up For Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, 10 horses, horse and human food, guides, back-up car and driver, pounds 30,000

Last legs For China, 10 camels, camel and human food, guides, back-up car and driver, pounds 29,000

Total pounds 72,3498.25

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