East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Three on the Silk Road


51DHEESMHZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_OK, so I decided to complicate my life some more.
And this time I’m complicating my life for you, dear Karavansara readers.
I hope you are moved byย  this.

As I mentioned, one of the “minor” (but not minor at all) gifts I got for Christmas is Stuart StevensNight Train to Turkestan.
That is an attempt at retracing the road followed by Peter Fleming and Ella Maillart in their famous China-to-India (by way of Afghanistan) journey, in 1935.

Now, the interesting bit is – both Fleming and Maillart wrote about their experiences on the road.

News from Tartary - Peter FlemingElla Maillart wrote Forbidden Journey – From Peking to Cashmir (in French, Oasis Interdits, 1935), while Peter Fleming wrote News from Tartary, a Journey from Peking to Kashmir (1936).

I have my second-hand copy of News from Tartary here on my shelf.
So I was browsing Stevens’ book and the thought struck…

Why not read the three books in parallel, to get three different perspectives on the same places and peoples and incidents?
Now that would be cool.

9788870635157_200As luck would have it, I found the Italian translation of Ella Maillart’s book – Oasi Proibite – for 8 euro including postage on the local Amazon. It should be here in a few days, post service permitting.

Then… then I’ll have a hell of a lot of stuff to do, really… but I’ll try and find time to read these three books back to back.
Fleming’s will take the back seat – after all I already read it.
But I’ll go thgrough the three volumes, and then… I’ll do something.
I’ll take notes, make a Google map or some web 2.0 whatever. I don’t know if I’ll post my impressions in chunks, by chapters, every 100 pages or what.
While still pretty much shapeless, it feels like a nice project for Karavansara in 2016.
Should it be a success (how to gauge that? Ah!) it might even make it a sort of annual event.
The Karavansara Challenge, 2016.
Or something.

adventureAnd if you out there would like to join in, why not? Sounds like fun, right?
I’m not trying to make this into some kind of book-reading club. Actually, I don’t have the slightest idea of how a book reading online club is handled, but what the heck, no barriers between thought and action or whatever.
If you’d like to join, please do so in the way you find best. You don’t have to read all three – choose one (maybe the one you find in your local library), and go with it. Let’s see what happens.
Let me know what you think. Or, if you know how a book reading club is managed, please post your suggestions. Thank you!

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

10 thoughts on “Three on the Silk Road

  1. Once, several years ago, I was preparing a trip through the South of the Takla Makan, and I found a small note about the city of Lanzhou. The guide said that Mr. xxx (I forgot the name), an american traveller found this city, in 1925 the ugliest and dirtiest city in China but “famous travelers, Ella Maillard and Peter Fleming found it quite romantic in 1935”. I never hear about these “famous travelers”, I found interesting that a man and a woman that did not know each one before this trip find romantic the same city that was ugly 10 years before, so I bought the two books, and I read them, starting by Forbidden Oasis, although not in parallel as you are planning to do. By the way, in one of the last interviews of Ella, when she was 90 and lived retired near a lake in Switzerland, her country, she talk to the young journalist about Peter and the trip. Interesting.

    And, when reading Forbidden Oasis, of course, I went to Google Earth, I thought it was easy… well, China started a unification of its names in the forties, and before this date people used approximate names. In China sounds are what they are, but then they may write the same sounds in different ways (with an alphabet of 3.000 symbols there is a certain choice, because you may combine ideograms differently). But, this was not all, in the Takla Makan places have three names, the Chinese, the Mongol and the Uigur !!

    And Westerners must transcript the Chinese sounds and/or ideograms to our limited alphabet, so, until unification, their translate Chinese sounds / ideograms phonetically, except for the well known places as Beijing (Pekin) and Guangzhou (Canton) or Shanghai.

    But phonetic transcript depends on your original language, a French will translate the sound U as OU and an English will have extreme difficulty. And Ella used the French phonetics. So…. Toun Kouan (Ella) is Tungguan (Google Earth) and Gorumu (Peter) is Golmud

    Finding the correct name of the place as put it in Google Earth was a challenge, but it was really fun (by the way, I have this work done, so, probably I can export and send it to whoever may be interested). Finally, I found a geographical name database and from that point on (and if you know French) things became easy.

    So, I will read the book that you just “Night train to Kurdistan”

    BTW, thanks for your blog


    • Thank you for reading me.
      Yes, the names thing is a disaster – but we’ll try and manage ๐Ÿ˜‰
      BTW, I just got the Maillart book, so now I’m all set.
      Watch this space for further developments of this reading challenge of sorts.


      • I was unable to find Dzounchia. I have an approximate position, but that’s all

        BTW, I just bought the Night Train to Kurdistan ๐Ÿ™‚


        • I hope you like it – I read divergent opinions on it, and I’m impatient to see for myself if it’s as good or as bad as other reviewers claim ๐Ÿ™‚
          As for Dzounchia…
          Well, if I’ve been able to get the address of the Italian consulate in Shanghai in 1936, I think I’ll try my luck with Dzounchia this time ๐Ÿ˜€


  2. somewhere near 97.10543361205724,36.17547648601735, ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Well, this might help ๐Ÿ˜€


      • I have the full track, from Beijing South Railway Station to Srinagar, including the non-named places where they slept, taking into account camel’s pace and water points (which are visible on Google Earth).

        I can send them to you, but that would take eliminate half the fun :).

        So, if you follow Elsa and Peter tracks and you put them on Google Earth, afterwards we may compare our findings ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. I love the “The Karavansara Challenge, 2016” idea!
    Count me in, I’m going to read at least one of the books…
    Oh well, ok, I’ll go for all of them, it is a challenge after all. ๐Ÿ™‚
    But I’m afraid I won’t be of any help for Google Map… Sigh!


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