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Author: Tahir


The future of libraries, Paris Syndrome, and more...

The treasure of TimbuctooMany 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. Do you have any thoughts about the future of libraries to share?

A. On nights when I cannot sleep, i dream that I’m stepping into a massive, ancient enchanted library. Cobwebs everywhere. Candelabras, too. And that for me is the greatest human achievement — a massive ancient library. As for their future: I hope libraries will continue forever. i’m certainly collecting books with as much zeal as ever.

Q. From what I understand Paris syndrome seems to mostly affect Japanese visitors to Paris. Does this happen with other cultures and people visiting other cities often? Has there been enough research in this area to determine that? Read more

July 9, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

Photojournalism, and which type of equipment I use

DSC_3397aMany 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. Any advice for a photojournalist student whose dream is to work for National Geographic?

A. Develop a body of work that is original. Never ever ever follow the pack. And remember that most people in their teens and early twenties (not sure how old you are) don’t go out and do stuff. They often sit about, waiting for someone to give them an idea, a ticket, a job. Well that’s wrong – -you have to get out and set yourself goals, challenges, find work and then sell it. And don’t expect Nat Geo to take you on round one… spiral upwards towards it. You WILL get there. Don’t listen to anyone who holds you back or suggests you can’t. Because you CAN!

Q. What kind of camera and equipment do you have in your arsenal of shooting? Just wondering because all Nat Geo movies are always beautiful shot and I want to know what it takes!

A. Until very recently we were shooting on Ariflex Super-16. Film… and doing some video. I LOVE film because as a presenter it gets you concentrated because it’s so expensive, and because it looks so wonderful. With video — most people these days are using SLF cameras or high end video cameras (like RED). We’ve just shot something on a Nikon D800. The great thing is that you can change the lenses, and they are of such high optical quality.

July 7, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

Top Tips for Interrailing Around Europe

TOP TIPS FOR INTERRAILING AROUND EUROPEGet seat reservations. They don’t cost more than 3 or 4 Euros, and they save you the misery of having to stand in the corridor when a train is full.

Buy food in a supermarket before going to the train station. Some stations have supermarkets. Never buy food on trains unless you have to.

Check which is the greatest train web site of all.

Download the Interrail App, which is great because you can check train times off-line.

Don’t plan more than Read more

July 3, 2014 Posted by tahir in Travel

My thoughts on jinn, observation, imagination, and dreams

Granada, SpainMany 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. Let’s say you pissed off a Jinn. Big-time. He says: “I intend to punish you. But before I do, I’ll let you choose who or what you are going to be next. You can be anyone or anything except you.” Who or what would you choose to be?

A. I’d want to be transformed as a man on a journey with a magic ring on his finger. The ring can’t create wealth of any kind, but can lead to fabulous adventure.

Q. Are there any things one can do by one self that would help one to concentrate and observe better or can that only be helped with special training?

A. I think it’s a question of learning to focus in a new way. I’m so against Read more


My Top Ten Favourite Films

Big-fish-movie-posterIn response to a recent request, here is a list of my top ten favourite films:

1. Big Fish
2. Cinema Paradiso
3. Fitzcarraldo
4. The Red Violin
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
6. Wag the Dog
7. Apocalypse Now
8. Catch Me if You Can
9. Amelie
10. Being There

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.