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May 19, 2014Posted by Tahir in Travel

Top 10 Reasons Why People Don't Set off on the Journey of Their Lives



  1. Because family and friends say they’re stupid to even contemplate it.
  2. Because they don’t think they have enough cash.
  3. Because they don’t know where to go.
  4. Because they think they’ll get sick.
  5. Because they’re afraid.
  6. Because they have a mortgage to pay.
  7. Because their spouse is keen on a beach or ski trip instead.
  8. Because they can’t get time off work.
  9. Because they think people will judge them.
  10. Because they’ve thought about it far too much.
May 13, 2014Posted by Tahir in Books

Finding Miki

Aiko Horiuchi as Miki Suzuki of Paris SyndromeWhile I was writing Paris Syndrome, I got a picture of the protagonist, Miki Suzuki, rooted deep in my head.

I saw her as ingenuous and kind, a woman who was passionate and self-effacing, and awed by the simplest of things. Petite, with small hands and a slim form, a little overly tense, I imagined her as the sort of person who gave far more to the world than she took.

And all the while I wondered whether I might ever meet her in person.

Miki Suzuki…

My Miki Suzuki.

When Paris Syndrome was ready – written and edited – I set about thinking how I could find Miki as I had thought her. One night I found myself slipping off to sleep, dreaming of a much-loved place I had known so well more than twenty years ago…

Fujisawa… a beach town an hour or so outside Tokyo. I was living in Japan, lured by the thought of what seemed to be the most exotic of cultures, and by my obsession for the Ainu people on the northern island of Hokkaido. Completely impoverished, and living mostly on ceremonial cabbages stolen from Ueno Park (which I made into a thin wretched broth), I was taken in by the Taketani family.Aiko Horiuchi as Miki Suzuki of Paris Syndrome

In many ways I was the soup of the soup – the friend of a friend. The Taketanis sucked me in without asking who I was or where I was from… or indeed why my luggage was almost exclusively made up of sacks filled with cabbage, ripped hastily by night from the flowerbeds of Ueno Park.

They fed me, and laughed with me, and revealed to me a kindness that has almost never been matched since in all my travelling days. Ototsan, the father, would sit up all night with me. Through broken English, he would describe the marvels he had seen, and others of which he had only heard. He had thought of them so often that through a curious alchemy they had become real memories of his own.

Years passed, and I left Japan after living there for a year and more. I pined for it – for the plain details and the oddities, but most of all for the Taketani family, who regarded me as one of them.

Aiko Horiuchi as Miki Suzuki of Paris SyndromeWaking from my dream, I found myself sitting upright in bed, thinking of Shintaro Taketani, the brilliant musician-son, who had moved to London many years before. Separated by the enormity of the English capital, and by layers of culture and convention, we had lost touch.

Clambering out of bed, I found Shintaro on Facebook, and sent him a message. Towards the end, a little anxious quite how to phrase it, I asked if he had ever heard of the condition that had so intrigued me – Paris Syndrome.

By the end of the next day, Shintaro had replied. But beyond that, he had connected me with Aiko Horiuchi – a svelte, gentle Japanese woman who was living in Belsize Park. An actress, Aiko, and her friend Kaya, were currently the front line in Shintaro’s alternative ‘Girl Horror Band’ – The Pompoko Sisters.

I flew up to London from Casablanca, roped in my old friends, film makers David and Leon Flamholc (with whom I had been in a Pakistani torture jail), and all together we set about creating Miki from the limits of my mind.

Aiko Horiuchi as Miki Suzuki of Paris SyndromeThe morning of the shooting, I had found myself at a questionable address in London’s Soho. A basement shop, it specialised in whips and harnesses, batons, and all manner of rubberised goods. It wasn’t so unlike the Pakistani jail, I suppose. Just a whole lot cleaner.

The woman behind the counter asked gruffly what I’d come for. Looking her in the eye, I replied: ‘I have never before had cause to say the question I am about to ask.’ The sales woman cocked her head at a pile of rubber clothing at the edge of the counter. ‘Rubber, love?’ she asked. I shook my head. ‘No, not rubber.’ The sales woman seemed a little disappointed. I blinked. ‘I was wondering whether you sell straight jackets,’ I said.

And hour later, Aiko was strapped in tight, arms trussed up, her face damped down with grey makeup, hair teased out. The lights were turned on, then the camera began to roll and, before I knew it, Miki Suzuki came alive…

…and Paris Syndrome was born.

May 12, 2014Posted by Tahir in Travel

Top 10 Great Bits of Kit for an Expedition



  1. Rubble sacks from a hardware store.
  2. Used US Army Altama jungle boots.
  3. Anything from a military outfitters – especially if cheap and used.
  4. A British army rubberized poncho.
  5. Parachute cord, because you can never have too much of it.
  6. A sharp knife – preferably a short machete.
  7. British army kitbags with a D-ring clasp.
  8. Plastic sheeting.
  9. A cheap tin cup.
  10. A brain drip.
May 6, 2014Posted by Tahir in Travel

The Man Who (Almost) Found the Treasure of Timbuctoo

The treasure of TimbuctooWhen I was searching for a place to hide my treasure of Timbuctoo, I wanted to stash it somewhere that was (a) totally cool… and (b) had a link with Timbuctoo. As I’d decided to bury the first head in the US, it was proving remarkable tricky to find anywhere with a plausible Timbuctoo link.

Then, late one night I Googled Timbuctoo+USA and, within a moment, I had the answer and the perfect place to hide a golden treasure:

…Timbuctoo, California.

…An old mining ghost town not a million miles from Saracamento.

Grabbing the black Peli case containing the treasure, a shovel, and an old friend named Kelly, I set out on a mission worthy of a pirate hoard.

I hadn’t seen Kelly since we were students together in the 80s, when we both had big hair and shoulder pads. Oh how time has passed.

Along the way Kelly took little bursts of video, and eventually edited a little film.

The clues to finding the treasure may have been concealed in the book, but they were not what eventually led another friend, Matt Roberts of Media, Pa., to locate the treasure.

As Matt describes in the video, he worked out where to treasure was located after watching the short film Kelly and I had made… watching it over… and over… and over… and over…Map of Timbuctoo CA

Having recently seen the new Walter Mitty movie, Matt had been inspired. If Walter Mitty could decode a series of blurred shots on a contact sheet then, he reasoned, he could decipher clues hidden in a shaky video concerned with the Timbuctoo treasure.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Firstly he noticed that in the background of the opening shot, there was a Marriott Hotel with trees. Taking a screenshot of it, Matt posted it on Reddit and asked if anyone knew which Marriott it could be.

The answer came back immediately: FISHERMAN’S WHARF, SAN FRANCISCO.

Next, Matt, watched the video a zillion times more and noticed that the treasure was concealed very close to a rather ramshackle bridge. A bridge that had been closed to traffic as it was unsafe. He got onto and started looking at bridges in a circle radiating out from San Francisco.

Many many many many bridges later, Matt saw a name that caught his eye: TIMBUCTOO.

And, knowing how I think, he took advantage of a business conference he had to visit in Las Vegas. After the conference, he flew up to San Francisco, then rented a car (and bought a shovel), and drove to the bridge.

MATT ROBERTS AND TAHIR SHAHThe unfortunate thing was that (a) the bridge was being ripped up by construction workers (b) a psycho with a shotgun shot into the air to frighten him away (c) he wasn’t able to get me on the phone because I was travelling in India.

And so, this all means that Matt Roberts deserves a special award for problem solving, and possibly a job with CSI as well.

It also means that the treasure is still out there…

Buried in Timbuctoo, California. It’s up for grabs. If you feel like going to try your luck I’ll even guide you in once you’re there.

Not tempted?

Don’t fear… I’m going to hide the second head this summer.

Matt tells his story in this video:

May 5, 2014Posted by Tahir in Travel

Top 10 Things I Learned From My Travels



  1. The journey is the best destination.
  2. Trust your gut.
  3. A hair’s breadth stands between absolute failure and utter success.
  4. Don’t plan because zigzag travel reveals the best marvels.
  5. Set a huge goal. Even if it’s not reached, it’ll lead to a fabulous journey.
  6. You don’t need fancy equipment, just raw enthusiasm.
  7. Don’t ever listen to anyone who doesn’t tell you to GO! GO! GO!
  8. You arrive home a different person than when you set out.
  9. Every moment of a journey contains a lesson.
  10. Leave at once.

Top 10 Tips About Writing

Power of Words


  1. Write, write, write.
  2. Follow your gut.
  3. Finish writing the book at all costs, then shape it.
  4. Don’t show a work in progress to anyone.
  5. Don’t take bad reviews personally.
  6. Hone your skill.
  7. Use the simplest words and structure possible.
  8. Enjoy what you’re writing.
  9. Write what you know.
  10. Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t encourage you.

Top 10 Strangest Foods I've Eaten

Giant Tapir Leg, On the River of God, Peru


1. A monkey’s arm, Peruvian Amazon.

2. A live murrel fish, Hyderabad.

3. A soup bowl filled with fried unidentified insects, Bangkok.

4. Baby camel cooked in its mother’s milk, the Jordanian desert.

5. Giant tapir, Madre de Dios jungle, Peru.

6. A peccary rodent, Peruvian Amazon.

7. Stewed scorpions, northern Cambodia.

8. Yak-meat momos, Tibet.

9. Bumblebee soup, Beijing.

10. Chocolate-covered ants, Hong Kong.


Top 10 Absolute Favourite Books

The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux


  1. THE SONGLINES, by Bruce Chatwin
  2. THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, Richard Burton’s translation
  3. IRON & SILK, by Mark Salzmann
  4. THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF RELIGION & ETHICS, edited by James Hastings
  5. WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham
  6. UTZ, by Bruce Chatwin
  7. ARABIAN SANDS, by Wilfred Thesiger
  8. MOSQUITO COAST, by Paul Theroux
  9. WORKERS by Sebastiao Salgado
  10. DANGER MY ALLY, by F. A. Mitchell-Hedges

Top 10 Strangest People I Have Interviewed

Queen of the KKK, dolls in Pulaski, Tennessee


  1. A dwarf dealer in Cairo.
  2. A Kali godman in West Bengal.
  3. The last storyteller, Damascus.
  4. The snake handlers in Appalachia, Tennessee.
  5. Toureg healer in Jma al Fna, Marrakech.
  6. An Aissawa exorcist in Meknes.
  7. Linda Block, on Alabama’s Death Row.
  8. The official hangman of Calcutta.
  9. The grave robbers at Paracas, on the Peruvian coast.
  10. Rachel Pendergraft, leader of the Ku Klux Klan, Pulaski, Tennessee.

Top 10 Most Dangerous Travel Experiences

Tahir Shah swallows a live murrell fish in Hyderabad, India


  1. Spending 16 days in a Pakistani torture jail.
  2. Every moment of my search through Afghanistan for treasure.
  3. Getting lost in a storm while flying myself over northern Florida.
  4. Being swept away in a storm in the Madre de Dios River, Peru.
  5. A journey without maps through Baluchistan.
  6. Staying at the illegal gold mines of Shakiso, Ethiopia.
  7. Being arrested on the border of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
  8. Almost being hit by lightning in the Namibian wilderness.
  9. Swallowing a live fish in Hyderabad.
  10. Being lost at night somewhere in the Ethiopian Highlands.