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Archive for June 2014

June 30, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

My most loved travel destination, and answers to other questions

DSC_4616Many thanks to those of you were able to attend my Reddit AMA live. For those who were unable to attend, I’ll be sharing a selection of questions and answers over the next couple of weeks. To view the entire AMA, please click the above link.

Q. I believe you spent time in Japan. Can you tell us about your time there?

A. Japan is a magical Twilight Zone all of its own. I lived there for a year and was completely broke – twenty years ago. I only survived by stealing ceremonial cabbages from Ueno Park and taking them back to my friend Robert Twigger’s apartment — I was living on his floor — and cooking them into very thin soup.

Q. Could you comment on Zigzag travel?

A. I just wrote on my Facebook page this:

“If there’s a key-word to my life it’s ZIGZAG… because in life the best roads are never straight.”

Zigzag travel is what opens doors. And takes you on adventure. Never plan too much. Go without maps and without a phone, and listen to your gut… because I’s trying to tell you something.

Q. In “In Arabian Nights” is the idea that the wise person knows they are a fool. Can you comment on “knowing you are a fool” in relation to successful travel or living in a new country?

A. I have heard it said that in order to know a place or write about it — you must write about it immediately or not until after thirty years. Living in Morocco I have found that with each passing day a little more of the magic is revealed. But, at the same time, I have also found myself increasingly confused… and in awe. I think the condition of a fool, however wise, is a delight. And were we all wise, we should all wish to be fools.

Q. If you haven’t already answered this, what lost cities do you want to find?

A. Paititi is still out there.

Go and look for it!

Madre de Dios jungle.

Take vaseline for your feet. because all the skin’s going to come off when you’re in the river.

Q. How do you overcome despair in journey, or for that matter, the despair of your crew?

A. Hot food. And lots of it. That’s the biggest builder of morale. That, and gut-rot alcohol. And to lead from the front — never expecting the men to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. The only time I go last is to eat. I never eat until the men have all eaten. It’s an easy demonstration of my respect for them.

Q. Have ever had to deal with mutiny? and whats the best way to deal with it?

A. I was in the Madre de Dios jungle for 16 weeks. No skin on our feet. All the men had had dengue, as well as I. The rain lashed down relentlessly. Cold rain. The food stores were rotting. There was no hope. And, yes, at this point, the porters started to mutiny. I had to get them back on track and it wasn’t easy. I did it with a mixture of coercion, rest, singing, humour, and spiced hot food. (The only way to eat the food by that point was to spice it).

Q. Have you ever undertaken any epic walks, (500 miles or more) would you, and where would you?

A. I want to, I want to, I want to!

My old friend and in my ways my mentor, Wilfred Thesiger, used to tell me that walking was the only way to travel… he said that if you walked the chance of missing anything interesting — people, animals or things, was immensely reduced.

I dream of walking or cycling (Thesiger frowned on bicycles because they were too fast), across Africa, or Cairo to cape.

I must do it. I WILL do it.

Q. In all your travels/adventures, have you ever visited a place where the inhabitants live in harmony with their surroundings? Thank you for this opportunity and all the wonderful books (each one an adventure).

A. I think that to answer the question we have to consider, or reconsider, the idea of harmony and what it is. What you or I regard as harmony isn’t necessarily what others take it to be.

I’m actually in India right now — in Mumbai — and I’d tell you (my opinion) that there’s nothing harmonious about this city. it’s wonderful but it’s mad mayhem, a wild rumpus of a place. But to my wife , Rachana, and to millions of others here, it’s total 24 carat harmony.

Q. Of all the places you’ve been and things you’ve seen, what place did you love the most and hope to see again (to maybe move one day or bring the family with you)? What’s been the most dangerous location, a place you’d never want to go again under any circumstances?

A. Most dangerous: Afghanistan. At one point during filming of our Afghan lost treasure documentary, the director (David Flamholc) was shot in the thigh. And that was after getting out of a torture jail.

Most loved: wow, such a hard one. I try and avoid questions like that because I love so many places, and going back to loved places time and again. It depends on my mood. And right now I’d say the Rift Valley in Kenya. I love it, i dream of it, I worship it.

And my favourite thing in all the world is to be in Africa when the first rain comes, and to smell the earth as it rains.

That, my friends, is magic.

June 27, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

An Incident on the Border

photo (1)Sofia’s railway station must once have made a great many party men proud.

Built in the days when concrete was all the rage, its lines may be strewn with graffiti now, but they’re still razor sharp. These days it’s all but derelict – a tired vestige of cultural embarrassment, waiting for the wrecking ball.

We took the morning slow train towards Bucharest, arcing through countryside more lovely than any I can remember.
Pine forests with green young leaves, and streams swollen with late spring rain, ramshackle farmsteads, their terracotta roofs all forlorn and caved in. Sunflowers stretching from one horizon to the next, a million heads turning slowly as midday looms.

We feasted on sausage and on black bread, and listened to the old laughing men who came and went – from one unknown stop to the next.

And then, all of a sudden, the carriage slowed at an empty station.

A guard from the Bulgarian border force climbed up energetically, looked at our passports, grabbed them, and vanished across the tracks. He was gone a long while, as we wondered anxiously what was going on. Read more

June 26, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

Sea Trunks and Sausages

photoIstanbul’s Sirkeci Station could not be more atmospheric if it tried.

Close your eyes, and you can smell the scent of billowing coal smoke, and hear the roar of the Orient Express charging in like an iron stallion from western climes. There’s still such a tremendous sense of anticipation there, the rawest thrill of travel.

But, with modern Istanbul raging all around it, Sirkeci Station is a backwater these days, one that flipped from grandeur to rack and ruin without anything in between. Patronised by a great many ginger tomcats, it’s yet another relic of the city’s past – a treasure trove of finished journeys and of memories.

We turned up early for the train to Bulgaria, only to be told by the glum station manager that trains were few and far between. In fact, he hinted darkly, there hadn’t been one in months.

‘They will close us down,’ he exclaimed in a voice haunted by melancholy, ‘it’s only a question of when.’

‘I’m sure they’ll see sense,’ I replied, optimistically.

The manager’s expression soured.

‘They will Read more

June 25, 2014 Posted by tahir in Writing

My thoughts on writing and time management

Many thanks to those of you were able to attend my Reddit AMA live. For those who were unable to attend, I’ll be sharing a selection of questions and answers over the next couple of weeks. To view the entire AMA, please click the above link. 

Q. How do you get started with writing a book?

A. I come from a family in which everyone was writing books. And I grew up knowing a lot of successful writers. And that was like a magic wand in that it showed me that there was nothing special in writing books, no mystery, just grind. Do the grind and the book gets written. Write 3000 words a day, every day, for 30 days and you’ll have a 300-page book. It’s a fail-proof method. Plan it though.

To answer your question – I went on a load of random travels and then sewed them later into a rather weak narrative, when I was 22 years old. It’s called BEYOND THE DEVIL’S TEETH. I’m not so pleased with it, but I am pleased that I did it — as it led to other stuff.

Q. I am finding it difficult to market this work and write new stuff. How do you juggle your time – you are so prolific?

A. Time juggling: I find that I’m good at doing total-focus, a kind of deep immersion. That’s how I blot everything else out and that works for me. But at the same time I drown everyday in emails and stuff. There’s too much of it and it’s crazy. We all drown in it — especially because email is so immediate. I just counted my outgoing emails today. i have already written 85 outgoing today. Some of them are long; others shorter. And I’ve had 290 incoming. I miss letters and the days when time was less compressed.

June 24, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

My thoughts on enthusiasm

Tahir story 129 sMany thanks to those of you were able to attend my Reddit AMA live. For those who were unable to attend, I’ll be sharing a selection of questions and answers over the next few weeks. To view the entire AMA, please click the above link. 

Q. What I love about your writing is, how you are able to describe a scene or scenario so vividly. My questions are, what are the criteria when you are choosing your crew for an adventurous exploration journey? and, are you going to embark on another journey like “In Search Of King Solomon’s Mines” ?

A. It’s so simple. I look for one thing. One quality.


That’s all I want from anyone. If they can’t survive in the jungle, I’ll teach them. Or will show them how to rope climb, or how to do anything else… but I want people who will beam with laughter when the skin’s come off their feet and they have dengue fever… again.

Q. I have found the enthusiasm for life that you express in your books to be quite infectious. Is it something that just comes naturally to you, or are there any tricks or techniques that you use to maintain it?

A. I am enthusiastic. Yes, yes, yes. And, yes, yes, yes… I sometimes get really depressed… mostly when I hit a mountain and can’t seem to get over it. But in my own way I’ve learned to tunnel through.

When I was a child I had a book called THE TRAIN TO SPAIN. It’s for kids and I think it’s out of print (alas)… and that book taught me that there’s always a way forward: and if there is a way forward, there’s a smile on my face. To find the way forward you may have to think in new ways.

June 23, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

On Istanbul Time

IstanbulFor the sheer magnificence of its geography, and the layers on layers on layers, there’s nowhere like it on earth.

Perched at the cultural crossroads of north, south, east and west, Istanbul is so utterly mesmerizing that, were you to try describe it to someone in a land far away, they simply wouldn’t believe such a place really existed at all.

I first visited the city twenty years ago, and soon found myself obsessed. I’ve travelled back and forth many times since then – seeking out secret corners and alluring characters for my collection.

The most important thing about Istanbul is to take it slow.

I like to sit all day in cafés.

Take unhurried ferries.

Amble around Sinan’s mosques.

Eat baklava.

Eat more baklava.

And while away the hours, the days and the weeks in cafés – pondering grand questions.

Most of which never really had a certain answer.

One thing is for certain though: Read more

June 19, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

When the Ground Moves

photoFor as long as they could walk, I have told Ariane and Timur that they must travel.

The ground beneath them must be moving, I say. Because, if it is not, then they are stagnating. I have told them that it doesn’t really matter where you are going, so long as you don’t plan too much, and that you absorb the hidden details of a place…

The smell of a bread warming on a street-side stall.

The sound of a knife-sharpener calling up at apartment blocks.

The sight of three old friends sitting in the shade, comfortable in silence.

I tell them that school is important.

But, that travel is a fast track to Read more


My top 3 achievements, and my top 3 on my wish-list

Dar Khalifa, CasablancaMany thanks to those of you were able to attend my Reddit AMA live. For those who were unable to attend, I’ll be sharing a selection of questions and answers over the next couple of weeks. To view the entire AMA, please click the above link. 

Q. What are your top three achieved aspirations, and what three sit at the top of your list to do before your swan song?

I am pleased to have:

  1. Lived a decade in a Jinn-infested home in a Moroccan shantytown.
  2. Been able to write books I want to write (a rarity).
  3. Watched the sun rise at Machu Picchu

And, on my wish-list:

  1. Go into the vast Chinese cave system at TIAN XING.
  2. Cross Africa East to West.
  3. Spend a month living on an Indian pavement.

How to get a job in travel writing

TS6Many thanks to those of you were able to attend my Reddit AMA live. For those who were unable to attend, I’ll be sharing a selection of questions and answers over the next couple of weeks. To view the entire AMA, please click the above link. 

Q. It’s a dream of mine to be able to make a living off traveling and exploring like you do. What would you say is the best first step in getting a job writing about exotic locations for a magazine or travel website?


  1. Get enough money to go somewhere far away.
  2. Believe in yourself.
  3. Find a strange, quirky, moving, or downright interesting angle on a person/thing/event at that place. Try to find a news angle or what’s called a ‘peg’, which gives an editor a reason for using it.
  4. Do a blog and get a following on that – also offer guest blogs to established bloggers.
  5. Reuse good material.
  6. Offer good material to editors (web sites, magazines, newspapers etc.) in other countries which wouldn’t be so likely to be offered strange stuff. They usually handle the translating and they often pay well.
  7. Don’t give up.
  8. Remember, the more work you do, the bigger your footprint.
  9. Again, believe in yourself.
  10. Don’t ever ever ever listen to anyone who tells you to can the idea and get a ‘real’ job.
June 9, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

The Scent of Sweat

I don’t like danger.

I really don’t.

It’s always me who’s telling Ariane and Timur to be careful when doing the simplest thing. And, as I fret about their safety, I sometimes find myself thinking about danger — and my preoccupation with it.

But, while I bounce around the world as I tend to do, I have at times found myself staring cold, raw danger squarely in the face.

On my travels there have been so many hair-raising trips in the back of clapped out buses and pick-ups in the Hindu Kush, or on zigzag pistes through central Africa, or Latin America. And, there were those 16 days spent in a Pakistani torture jail — a tightrope walk between life and death.

And, last week, I found myself in the danger zone once again.

I really thought it was the end.

‘Game Over’, as Timur would say.

I had flown up to Delhi to Read more