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‘One of the best travel books produced in the last 20 years’
In the summer of 1986, a 21-year-old student left Jerusalem with a phial of holy oil. His task was to carry it overland to Xanadu, Kubla Khan’s legendary palace in Mongolia, retracing the voyage of Marco Polo some 700 years before. William Dalrymple’s oil, however, was housed in a Body Shop bottle and his companions were a fellow student, Laura, ‘as impulsive as she was formidable’, and in the latter part of the journey, his former girlfriend, Louisa.
Published in 1989, his account of this journey, In Xanadu, was a bestseller, won numerous awards and remains one of the best-loved travel books of recent times. Dalrymple travelled across some 16,000 miles of changing landscapes – from the luxury of a palace in Lahore, to a broken down bus in Chinese Turkestan packed with ailing pilgrims. With great wit and learning he compares and contrasts his experiences to those of his predecessors, from Ibn Battutah and Alexander the Great, to Richard Burton and T. E. Lawrence. Above all, he relishes each human encounter, whether teaching Scottish reels to Turkish villagers or attempting to explain the dubious concept of a travel writer: ‘It’s a man who travels for his living.’ ‘Like a bus driver?’ ‘Yes, like a bus driver.’
This edition contains previously unpublished photographs from the author’s own collection. Eight integrated maps have been redrawn by the author’s wife, the artist Olivia Fraser. In a fascinating new introduction, Dalrymple reflects on how much has changed since he wrote the book, and why travel writing remains essential, even in the age of Google Maps. Endpapers depict his route to Xanadu.
William Dalrymple is the author of nine books about India and the Islamic world, including City of Djinns (Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Prize), White Mughals (Wolfson Prize for History and SAC Scottish Book of the Year Prize), The Last Mughal (Duff Cooper Prize and Vodafone Award for Non-Fiction) and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Asia House Literary Award). He recently curated a major show of Mughal art for the Asia Society in New York, Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707–1857. His latest book, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839–42, published in 2012, won the Hemingway Prize and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper and PEN Hessell-Tiltman History Prize. He writes regularly for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the Guardian, and is one of the founders and a co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival. He has honorary doctorates of letters from the universities of St Andrews, Aberdeen, Bradford and Lucknow, and recently took up a visiting fellowship at Princeton.
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