Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The latest excursion on the Marco Polo trip was to Xanadu, the long lost summer capital of Khublai Khan, which Marco wrote about in his Travels. There's not a lot left to see, certainly not the khan's marble palace or yurt made from laquered bamboo but you can see the concentric 13th-century city walls, the depressions of the former palace lakes and the central foundations of the khan's palace. It was great to ride through the site on horseback with a local Mongolian singer who looked like Khublai's grandson. This is the place that inspired the opium-addled poet Coleridge to write 'In Xanadu did Khubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree', allegedly after reading about Marco Polo's travels. The site is about 19km from Zhen Lan Banner (Zhenlan Qi, or Shangdu city), in Inner Mongolia and the town boasts a great statue of Khublai on horseback.
Another highlight of the trip was flying about the sand dunes of Dunhuang in a powered hanglider (after checking the small print of my travel insurance). Felt like the opening scenes of The English Patient, where the plane is flying above the Sahara. Nice. One thing Marco Polo didn't do...
Sunday, October 4, 2009
This winter I'm working on a new edition of Lonely Planet's Central Asia guide. This is the more normal part of the job, stuck in my studio in front of the computer screen and typing up the new guide. Research was earlier this autumn in Tajikistan, one of my favourite places. I entered Tajikistan from the Afghanistan side, spent a couple of weeks in the high Pamirs checking out the latest homestays from META, the excellent community tourism organisation there, and then finally managed to catch the white-knuckle flight from Khorog to Dushanbe. I've been to most of Tajikistan before but this time managed to hitch and hike up to the Zerafshan and Yagnob valleys, where there are new homestays. Did some hiking in the hills, visited all the homestays and enjoyed being away from the lowland heat of Dushanbe which was punishingly hot in August.
I always come away from a trip with one great place to visit next time; this time it's Zarosh-Kul, an incredible looking Pamiri lake on a 6 day loop trek out of Barchadiev, near the Pamir Highway. That's my tip for an adventure to do right now in Tajikistan.
In the meantime I'm stuck at my desk over the winter, tweaking Central Asian history and food sections. Gives me a chance to be normal. Well.....
Autumn is firmly here in Montana with snow expected tomorrow, so it's lucky that I'm headed off in a few days on the latest leg of my Marco Polo trip. This section concentrates on Gansu and Beijing, from the Buddhist caves and desert sands of Dunhuang down the old Silk Road through the Hexi Corridor to Lanzhou and then on to Beijing to track down the old Mongol capital of Xanadu, to the north in what is today inner Mongolia. I'll post some pictures when I get back.
Current Favourite Sounds (click on them to hear)
- Daughter - The Wild Youth
- The Tallest Man on Earth - There's No Leaving Now
- Peter Gabriel - New Blood
- Leonard Cohen - String Reprise / Treaty
- Lisa Hannigan - We, The Drowned
- Gillian Welch - The Harrow & the Harvest
- The Tiger Lillies
- Radiohead - Present Tense
- Angus & Julia Stone - Down the Way
- Ethiopiques - The Very Best Of
- Tabu Ley Rochereau - The Voice of Lightness: Congo Classics 1961-1977
- Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
- Choying Drolma - Cho
- A Single Man Soundtrack
- Bruce Springsteen - Stray Bullet
- Sigur Ros - ()
- Kate Rusby - Sleepless
- Elegy - Soundtrack
- Yuck - Yuck
- Eric Agyeman - West African Gold