Walking around in the Taklamakan takes a bit of work. This vast desert that sprawls over Gansu and Xinjiang Provinces is dubbed “the place from which you cannot return” – so what on earth makes people want to dive in?
The Silk Road used to fork around this enormous desert, snaking along its northern and southern fringes, to reconvene in the town of Dunhuang. I’d arrived at Dunhuang at about eight in the morning, in order to spend the next two days exploring its dunes, slipping down their sides, and pushing myself to imagine what it might be like to be lost here.
The desert is more sea than land – more of a void than a geographic space – and, as legend seems to insist, it can threaten to pull you deeper inside itself through charm alone.
One big cauldron of goodness
The alleyways of Kashgar’s Sunday bazaar stretch and twist and steam like so much, well, kneaded dough. And, however hot the work, this baker keeps cool as a cucumber throughout.
Here he spins and knots his savoury dough into big, thick braids, ready for boiling up bagels – a chewy, savoury variety you’ll find all over Xinjiang. And that’s not the only carb-a-licious snack available, either – down every high street, and even every alley, you’ll find options for bagels, seed-speckled naan breads, gooey pork-filled dumplings, or even deep-fried straw bread coiled into delicious wreaths. You can take your pick of bready delights, a pot of strong, black tea, and lunch is utterly sorted.
It is a veritable yum-a-thon of tasty proportions.
In Osh, Kyrgyzstan, this gentleman is pleased to learn of the book’s new low price
In celebration of nothing in particular, I’ve decided to drop the price of A Eurasian Diary on the UK Amazon shop! In fact, I’m more than simply “dropping” the price. I’m slashing it. Mashing it. Liquefying it. I am literally microwaving the price.
That’s something to smile about!
Download now for one pound and fifty-four pence (after tax!)
What have people said about A Eurasian Diary?
“Funny and observant!” – Amazon reviewer
“Both informative and entertaining, and makes for easy, happy, hilarious reading. Superb!” – my mother
The list goes on! Take a peek now, or share with Silk-Road-loving loved ones.
It feels like a hundred years ago, but it’s only been a month. I’m not talking about babies (although we’re expecting one of those too!), but instead I’m talking about the anniversary of publishing A Eurasian Diary. What better occasion to release a free excerpt?
A Fergana woman packs taut cellophane tubes full of goodness. These portable lunches of lemon-dressed carrot, cucumber, cauliflower and coriander are delicious – pleasing both the palate and the arteries.
I’ve been humbled and honoured by the interest in this little travel tale so far, and I’m pleased as punch that so many of you have taken the time to take a wee gander. The experience of travelling the old Silk Road is difficult to put into words – that’s why I relied so much on others to do the talking for me. However repressive, bureaucratic, and generally bonkers the governments in Central Asia might be, you nevertheless find loads of incredible people who are friendly, open, honest, and hilarious in equal measure. Time spent with them felt more important (and more illuminating) than any bit of sightseeing, or any studious reflections on the region’s tumultuous history. So, I’m giving up a little example here. This passage from the book comes from a day spent in Fergana, an eastern Uzbekistani market town under vast reconstruction, under the guidance of the country’s authoritarian leader, Islam Karimov. His daughter is famous on Twitter – his subjects, in their millions, are much less well known – but, almost certainly, they’re more interesting. Thanks again for all the interest so far, and thanks for exploring this part of the world with me! To read the excerpt, click “continue reading” … obvs…. Continue reading
Covering six-thousand miles over sixty-eight days, A Eurasian Diary is the travelogue of a roundabout kind of reunion. Journeying through China’s Far West, onto the Silk Road and onwards to Europe, we encounter lands that are complex, beautiful and exceedingly friendly – leading us into some welcome (and, at times, a little bit unwelcome, if we’re honest) diversions from Best Laid Plans.
Pick up the story today for $2.99 in U.S. or Canadian money (or £1.99 in the UK). And, with 10% of the proceeds going to support the Community Based Tourism programme in Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan, you’ll be helping me give a little something back as well – bargainsauce!
(Sorry, posted this originally without a photo! Kind of defeated the purpose…)
The entrance to the Ulugh Beg Medressah in Samarkand is not really an entrance at all – it’s a monument in its own right. This enormous portal seems to suggest that simply approaching this ancient centre of faith and science will fill you with wonder. Just wait till you get inside.
A happy Hallowe’en Eve to all (or is that a “Hallowe’en’en”?)
More than any other holiday in the year, this is the one that reminds me most of being a kid. Sticking your hand into the cold, stinking innards of a freshly-opened pumpkin. Fake-blood caking on your skin. Toffee that required a half hour’s chewing. Being a kid was a bloody nightmare.
These pumpkins were photographed one year ago now, virtually to the day. This bazaar in Fergana, Uzbekistan, was piled high with dried figs and apricots, naan breads and lambs’ legs, and squashes of every shape and size.
This selection have had the rinds sliced open to expose the bright fruit inside – they’re fresh, orange, and just about ready to go – all they really need is to be hollowed and carved into gruesome faces, obviously.
O.K., so there are no melting clocks or elephants on stilts, but we aren’t talking that kind of Dali.
The beautiful town of Dali, Yunnan Province, seemed designed for contemplation – a series of brooks, originating in the nearby Cang Shan mountains, meander through the town’s purpose-built, terraced creek beds, burbling over stones, arriving at ornamental ponds, and then flowing onward to the town’s centre.
There, you find a satisfying hybrid of symmetry and chance – four interconnecting square ponds flank the four corners of a large, central gateway, all of it anchoring a larger square of pathways and pavilions, everything equidistant and precise.
Between the carefully balanced features, large trees and water plants sprout haphazardly, like an organic tide on the cusp of rending the design back to rubble. This was nature wrapped around reason.
Saskatchewan isn’t in Eurasia, not is it particularly famous for its towering mountains. So, what on earth is this picture all about?
The source of the Saskatchewan River in the Canadian Rockies is simply too gorgeous a spot to keep off this little blog – however badly it messes up my tagging system.
We traipsed from Jasper to Banff last month in a memorable trip home that included all manner of wildlife – woodpeckers, picas, chubby old chipmunks, elks, one black bear, and mosquitoes that could actually lift me into the sky.
We returned to London invigorated by the space and the scenery, and happy memories of stepping stones – for all the wobbled crossings we made, nary a toe was misplaced!
…well, “express” is probably the wrong term. A three-day train from Tashkent to Saratov takes you through lunar deserts and frosted swamps, everything enigmatic and alien. Most scintillating of all, though, is the company.
I was bunked with these three Uzbeks and a Chechen over the course of the journey – sharing strong beer, pungent yoghurt balls, and lots of broken conversation. The journey was among the least comfortable (and certainly the least hygienic) of the whole trip – but it still stands out as one of the best three days of all.