Forbes did, in fact, break new ground for women... She was an irrepressible and independent traveler who took risky and difficult trips, braved the hostility of the colonial officials and bureaucrats of the British empire, and invaded the male sphere of exploration, using charm, chutzpah-and her extensive network of establishment connections-to get where she wanted to go. (From the Sahara to Samarkand: Selected Travel Writings of Rosita Forbes, 1919-1937)
My travels inevitably begin with copious research and planning. I began this kind of planning long ago when I was very young and anxious to hit the road. Hours were spent pouring over junior encyclopedias memorizing the names of exotic-sounding cities-Addis, Ababa, Samarkand, Damascus. Lengthy lists were written detailing the most minute necessities: three pairs of socks, two pencils. spare batteries, rope.
We have great cities to visit: New York and Washington, Paris and London; and further east, and older than any of these, the legendary city of Samarkand, whose crumbling palaces and mosques still welcome travelers on the Silk road. Weary of cities? Then we'll take to the wilds. To the islands of Hawaii and the mountains of Japan, to forests where Civil War dead still lie, and stretches of sea no mariner ever crossed. They all have their poetry: the glittering cities and the ruined, the watery wastes and the dusty; I want to show you them all. I want to show you everything.
Every age has its dreams, its symbols of romance. Past generations were moved by the graceful power of the great windjammers, by the distant whistle of locomotives pounding through the night, by the caravans leaving on the Golden Road to Samarkand, by quinqueremes of Nineveh from distant Ophir . . . Our grandchildren will likewise have their inspiration-among the equatorial stars. They will be able to look up at the night sky and watch the stately procession of the Ports of Earth-the strange new harbors where the ships of space make their planetfalls and their departures.
Arthur C. Clarke
One of the first books of travel, giving European readers some insight into the unfamiliar world of the Orient, was published in 1356-67 in Anglo-Norman French. Called simply Travels, it was said to be by Sir John Mandeville, but a French historian, Jean d'Outremeuse, may well have written the book. It is a highly entertaining guide for pilgrims to the Holy Land, but goes beyond, taking the reader as far as Tartary, Persia, India and Egypt, recounting more fantasy than fact, but containing geographical details to give the work credence. Mandeville's book whetted the Western European reader's appetite for the travel book as a journal of marvels: dry scientific detail was not what these readers wanted. Rather it was imagination plus information. Thus, myths of 'the fountain of youth' and of gold-dust lying around 'like ant-hills' caught the Western imagination, and, when the voyagers of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries found 'new worlds' in the Americas, these myths were enlarged and expanded, as Eldorado joined the Golden Road to Samarkand in the imagination of readers concerning distant lands.
Our life is like a journey... ' - and so the journey seems to me less an adventure and a foray into unusual realms than a concentrated likeness of our existence: residents of a city, citizens of country, beholden to a class or a social circle, member of a family and clan and entangled by professional duties, by the habits of an 'everyday life' woven from all these circumstances, we often feel too secure, believing our house built for all the future, easily induced to believe in a constancy that makes ageing a problem for one person and each change in external circumstances a catastrophe for another. We forget that this is a process, that the earth is in constant motion and that we too are affected by ebbs and tides, earthquakes and events far beyond our visible and tangible spheres: beggars, kings, figures in the same great game. We forget it for our would-be peace of mind, which then is built on shifting sand. We forget it so as not to fear. And fear makes us stubborn: we call reality only what we can grasp with our hands and what affects us directly, denying the force of the fire that's sweeping our neighbour's house, but not yet ours. War in other countries? Just twelve hours, twelve weeks from our borders? God forbid - the horror that sometimes seizes us, you feel it too when reading history books, time or space, it doesn't matter what lies between us and it. But the journey ever so slightly lifts the veil over the mystery of space - and a city with a magical, unreal name, Samarkand the Golden, Astrakhan or Isfahan, City of Rose Attar, becomes real the instant we set foot there and touch it with our living breath.