East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Little Mysteries

Peter Fleming Ella Maillart AsiaWe have been on the road for less than a week and already we have met some interesting mysteries.

The little Cantonese man in spats is the most obvious.
While both Maillart and Fleming worry that he might be a spy, the British is quick in dismissing him as a poser. With the change of lorry, he will be soon forgotten.

But two other interesting bits come from Fleming – bringing up two facts about Maillart that she does not include in her memoir. Continue reading


The Leica III

Both Fleming and Maillart carry a Leika camera.
Based on the writings of Peter Fleming, the camera has been identified as a Leica III (also known as a Leika F), a model produced between 1933 and 1939.

leica III

It has been argued that Maillart (that carried two cameras) had discovered the Leica – a very advanced camera, for the time – through her photographer friend (and possibli lover) Annemarie Schwarzenbach, and had later suggested the same model to Fleming1. Continue reading


The train leaves at midnight

And so it begins.
On the night of the 16th of February 1935, Peter Fleming and Ella “Kini” Maillart leave Peking in the company of the Smigunov, Stepan and Nina, two Russians that will act as guides and interpreters for a part of the trip.
Both Fleming and Maillart are journalists, and they both want to see what’s goin on in Sinkiang, or Chinese Turkistan, a region that was last visited almost ten years before by Owen Lattimore and has been sinking in civil war and chaos ever since.


Their plan is to travel from Peking to British India, following a southern route through Western China – the hardest route, but also, they hope, the least guarded.
The two journalists are officially going to Koku Nor to shoot some game. They are traveling light1, and they are not exactly friends.
Or are they? Continue reading


Announcing the Karavansara Reading Challenge 2016

OK, we discussed this in a few previous posts, but now let’s try and make this official.


The first Karavansara Reading Challenge will start on the 16th of February 2016.
On that day, I’ll start posting about three books, as I read (or re-read) them.
The books are…

. Ella Maillart’s Forbidden Journey, 1935
. Peter Fleming’s News from Tartary, 1936
. Stuart Stevens’ Night Train to Turkistan, 1988

I’ll go slow, cross-referencing the books and in general tracking the progress of Fleming & Maillart, that in 1935, on the 16th of February, started their adventure along the Silk Road, heading from Peking to Kashmir. Continue reading

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Peter Fleming

“São Paulo is like Reading, only much farther away.”

imageI admit a long-standing fascination for espionage at its most basic – not james Bond ultratech but Deighton spycraft, in other words.
Espionage as people, not gadgets.
From the Elizabethan Secrert Service to the black ops of recent years, I’ve collected books, handbooks, stuff.

And in terms of espionage, one has to wonder at the personnel of the WW2 British secret outfits.
David Niven and Christopher Lee working with commandos and Information Services…
Occult bestseller author Dennis Wheatley churning out plans and fake papers to be leaked to the Germans (including a complete plan for the invasion of Europe, written on a single weekend, fueled only by champagne and turkish cigarettes)…
Rosita Forbes travelling the world and taking notes, Elizabeth David (the food writer) wandering through the Mediterranean and Southern France…
John Blofeld, sure, and of course the Fleming Brothers, Ian and Peter.

Continue reading


Ella K. Maillart

She was the best man of the coupple

ella and peterI met her for the first time in Peter Fleming‘s News from Tartary, in which the English journalist and adventurer relates his experiences as a happy-go-lucky traveller in Chinese Turkestan (or Sinkiang, or Xinjan, or Tartary).
There was a certain amount of curiosity, at the time – this being 1935 – about what was happening in those territories.
So off Fleming went.
And with him, went Ella “Kini” Maillart, a young Swiss woman that, according to Fleming’s account, was the true man in the outfit.
And it is not hard to believe.
Practical, organized, strong, and fearless, Maillart was the perfect companion for Fleming. Continue reading