Here's a great essay about the Silk Road city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan. The author, Annalee Newitz, notes that "its culture was a hybrid of Iranian and Chinese influences, its religion a mix of Zoroastrianism and other traditions, and it belonged to a now-vanished ethnic group called the Sogdians."
Newitz explains how the city became so multicultural and why the Silk Road was so vital to trade. For example, she notes that slaves and horses were some of the most valuable items that were traded.
The Silk Road is important not because it brought silk to the west but, according to Newtiz, because "it brought immigrants to and from all parts of the world. And with them came new ideas, new scientific discoveries, and new political alliances between far-flung groups."
This is a great story to assign students when covering the Silk Road's development.