New paths forward

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?


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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.

 

The dude of dough

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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.

 

The littlest update

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Where at least part of the book (perhaps two pages) was written. The cafe outside Woody’s Guesthouse, Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Hello folks! I’m pleased to note that A Eurasian Diary has reached now reached a truly magical milestone, having sat in the Amazon e-book shop for precisely 3,720 hours (aww). What other figures can I throw at you, thanks to the weird and wonderful world of web wanalytics?

  • 79 kissable people (and 0 unkissable people) have now downloaded A Eurasian Diary since it launched, which averages out to one book punted every two days. But averages lie, of course. In reality, there have been long, quiet spells where the book idles in ignominious nothingness, then, suddenly, blam! There’s this passionate flurry of, like, three downloads in an hour. Proof positive that praying works.
  • Last month, the book was chuffed to be counted among Amazon.co.uk’s Top 20 most popular travel books about Central Asia. Of course, only 20 have ever been written. Still, #16, woo hoo!
  • The British have gobbled up the most copies so far, followed by Canadians. The fact my family is split between these two fine countries is sheer coincidence! The coincidence literally couldn’t be sheerer.
  • One book has been sold in India. That amounts to reaching 1/1.237 billionth of ALL INDIA.
  • A Eurasian Diary clocks in at 75,721 words. Interestingly, if you search 75,721 in Google Maps, you come to a bizarrely griddled-looking bit of desert in western Saudi Arabia!

I’m running out of fun figures here, folks. But, if you too would like to become just another statistic, please dive in head first! Brits and Canucks are most welcome, as usual, but there’s also room for another billion Indians 🙂

One month old!

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?

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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

A Eurasian Diary: out now!

CoverA Eurasian Diary is now available on Amazon! The book’s ready for download to Kindles, PCs, Macs and all your favourite Virtual Reading Machines.

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!

Continue reading

The countdown begins!

This coming Sunday, however wet, dreary and miserable the weather might seem, a warm light will suddenly ignite in the sky. A chorus of cherubic angels will lend harmony to the scene – doves and bunnies shall assemble with wolves, a double rainbow shall streak across the horizon, and volcanoes will spontaneously erupt chocolate mousse.

What event could possibly herald such wonders? A Eurasian Diary is gonna be launched – that is what!

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The posters are ready, the typos are cleared away, and I think I understand the difference between .htm, .doc, and .png files well enough to finally send this infant tale soaring into the big bad world of Virtual Reading. Once it’s live, you’ll get the link to my Amazon page, and the necessary, details right here on the blog (so don’t go unsubscribin’!). 

Exciting times indeed. Thanks for being a part of it out there – see you Sunday!

Sounds, glorious sounds!

The great thing about being a bit of a luddite is I get quite excited about new discoveries long after everyone else thinks they’re perfectly ordinary. My newfangled bread-toasting machine is the best thing since, well, you know!

Besides discovering toasters, I’ve also just discovered SoundCloud  – and I’m getting stuck in by posting some lovely musical sounds I picked up during my Eurasian travels.

And here’s one of them!

One of my favourite memories from the trip was happening upon a big Uyghur milonga that takes place each afternoon in Renmin Park, in central Urumqi. Three or four dozen patrons assemble in a concrete plaza in the middle of the park, set up big speakers playing the best of the Uyghur pop universe, and set about dancing and twirling till the sun goes down. Partners flow in and out of the circle as the music plays – amongst the dancers, you see Chinese profiles and Uyghurs profiles alike; the young join the old; there was even an off-duty soldier taking the time to boogie with the best of them.

This song was one of the ones played on the day I happened to show up. One year later, I still get this catchy ditty stuck in my head from time to time – something I must admit I don’t mind in the slightest. And I love the fact I can infect your own beautiful brains with some musical earworms from the trip as well…. 🙂

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Tea Time

Tea Time

A small teahouse hangs over the banks of the Ak-Buura River in Osh, Southern Kyrgyzstan. These fine gents were gathered here on a typically brisk November morning, sipping hot black tea, and all decked out in their white felt Kyrgyz caps – except, of course, for Michael Jackson in the background, as his friends liked to refer to him.

Facebookin’

…across the universe. Ladies and gents, if you’ve been aching for the chance to start liking, poking, and playing FarmVille with A Eurasian Diary, your waiting days are over 🙂 The Facebook page is up and running, and looks pretty good if I do say so myself!

Come by to Face Book and say the hellos.

Some may ask, what’s the blog for if now there’s a Facebook page too? Should WordPress get jealous? Should it plot an ill-advised revenge?

No, my dearest WordPress … in my heart of hearts, you are irreplaceable. For you are where I will continue to post photographs with long captions, and where I will launch excerpts from the finished book. It is where I will make the full book available, via the Amazon People, and where I will reflect on travel, writing, and all of life’s great mysteries. 

Facebook? It is where I will cheer and fist bump, make announcements and share miscellaneous bits of bobs that relate to the Silk Road, the Stans, and the People’s Republic in general. There will be a whole lotta likin’ goin’ on, but the bigger stuff will always live here on the blog.

So, do pop by, don’t be shy, bring some pie, and stay a whi. Look forward to seeing you there!

The end of the lines!

I’m currently as happy as a very happy thing. Take your happiest emoticon – the one with the smile that takes up the entire lower half of the face, and squeezes the eyes tightly shut. Now imagine that emoticon swollen up and plunked on the torso of a real live human being. Hi. That’s me.

After reaching the end of A Eurasian Diary, then working through a handful of edits, I’m happy (as noted) to say that I’ve saved the file as “Final v1” … in other words, it’s done.

…at least until “Final v2” comes along, and perhaps “Final v3.” But, nevermind that… it’s done!

(dances on desk)

(steps on keyboard)

(accidentally types gobbledygook with dancing feet)

(hjsdsdksdksdiuewuhksdsdsdsdkdsksdkskskjsd)

(likes it)

What are some initial reflections on this big, bad, great little experience? One thing that stands out is how different travel writing feels to me now, compared with either fiction or journalism. At first, I’d expected that writing about a journey would feel like blending these two forms into a kind of storified biography, which is indeed how it felt at the very start. As the writing went on, though, the manuscript took on a new life – travel writing is very much a form in its own right, which I suppose I’d never completely appreciated before.

My favourite aspect of it is that you get to be (well, you have to be) objective about your own subjectivity. Continue reading