2019: Turn east toward X’ian

March 18th 2019

This year I’m not traveling alone, exactly. I’m bringing along Colin Thubron (The Shadow of the Silk Road; The Lost Heart of Asia; Behind the Wall) as a talisman against all those complaints I got about last year’s writing, which I have internalized as ‘lose the hapless whimsy and let’s have more Insight’. Fortunately for me, Colin is only here in virtual format – I have a suspicion that as an actual companion he might be rather trying. Still, insight being his specialty, it seems right to let him have the first word:

‘A hundred reasons clamour for your going. You go to touch on human identities, to people an empty map. You have a notion that this is the world’s heart. You go to encounter the protean shapes of faith. You go because you are still young and crave excitement, the crunch of your boots in the dust; you go because you are old and need to understand something before it’s too late. You go to see what will happen.

            Yet to follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost. It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished, leaving behind it the pattern of its restlessness: counterfeit borders, unmapped peoples. The road forks and wanders wherever you are. It is not a single way, but many: a web of choices.’*

So with Colin’s permission this year’s web of choices will start, not where I left off deep in the south of Iran, but close to where I began, in Kazakhstan. But this time instead of turning right at Almaty, we’ll go east toward X’ian.

*‘The Shadow of the Silk Road’ My Kindle tells me 43 people have highlighted this quote (44 now presumably) and I have the feeling that at least 10 of them may have resulted in Joanna Lumley using the second part in her BBC series. If it’s good enough for the BBC, it’s certainly good enough for me.

On the road again

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