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Tag: Peru

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April 3, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

New Releases from My Backlist

TS ebook series backlist

I’m very pleased to share with you the release of my travel backlist as ebooks. Each book has been updated with a new introduction, with the exception of Travels With Myself, my 2011 release. Trail of Feathers will also be available very soon.

Get your copy now: Read more

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A Price on Their Heads

Ever since my aunt lifted me up to a glass case at the back of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, at the impressionable age of eight, I have been hooked on shrunken heads.

Like so many schoolboys before me, my lower jaw dropped as I gazed in awe at the array of miniature human heads, correctly known as tsantsas. There was something wholly captivating about their gnarled features, the sewn lips, little hollow necks and manes of jet black hair.

I longed to learn the secret processes, known to a tribe deep in the South American jungle, which enabled decapitated human heads to be shrunk to the size of a grapefruit.

Despite an ongoing debate about whether museums should harbour human remains, the Pitt Rivers Museum still holds five, and the British Museum has at least ten. Interest in the gruesome exhibits remains strong. A roaring private trade in the illicit handicraft has developed, with heads being snapped up by wealthy collectors, many from the Far East and Japan.

The genuine article comes from the Upper Amazon, a region on the Pastaza river between Peru and Ecuador.

To continue reading, please see my article at Explorers Connect.

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Tahir Shah's top ten do's & don'ts for expeditions

10 Key Things on a Jungle Expedition

1. Lead from the front. Never ever ever ever expect someone to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.

2. Make sure that you have plenty of food — good food — and that the team eat before you do.

3. Think ahead. Never march on too late into the afternoon without taking into account that a storm could sweep in. So, build a camp when it’s not raining, even if you haven’t marched very far on a given day.

For more of my top tips on how to manage an expedition, please see my article over at Explorers Connect.

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My Top Ten Favourite Museums

My top ten list of museums around the world.

  1. Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. Fav object: the shrunken heads.
  2. Sir John Soane Museum, London. Fav object: the sarcophagus of Seti I
  3. Hunterian Museum, London. Fav object, the giant’s skeleton.
  4. Mutter Museum, Philadelphia. Fav object: Hyrtl Skull Collection.
  5. Dog Collar Museum, Maidstone. Spiked hunting collars from 16th century .
  6. Parasite Museum, Tokyo. Fav object: all of them.
  7. Sedlec Ossurary, Czech Republic. Fav object: the chandelier fashioned from human bones.
  8. Barbed Wire Museum, Kansas. Fav object: the selection of razor wires.
  9. International Toilet Museum, Delhi. Fav object: the Japanese toilets.
  10. Avanos Hair Museum, Turkey. Fav object: the caverns full of hair.

 

What are your favourite museums? Have you been to any of these?

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April 26, 2012 Posted by tahir in Travel

Ten Worst Travel Moments

1. Being arrested, blindfolded, stripped, and flung into solitary at a Pakistani torture prison.

2. Being given the ‘rubber glove’ treatment on the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone when passing innocently through ‘Blood Diamond’ country.

3. Having dengue fever in the Madre de Dios jungle in Peru. That, along with having stomach problems, no skin on my feet, and worms burrowing out of me.

4. Having the most indescribably bad food poisoning in a locked down military area in Baluchistan, having eaten the sushi platter for four in Karachi the night before (a huge mistake).

5. Swallowing a live murrel fish in Hyderabad, a supposed cure for asthma.

6. Being lost and alone in a storm in a Cessna 152 somewhere above the Florida Panhandle, when I was aged 17 and learning to fly.

7. Being robbed of all my money, my travel documents and my luggage in the night on a train from Madrid to Algeciras.

8. Waiting for five days in a remote village in western Ethiopia for a truck to drive through so that I might have a chance to hitchhike to the next town and get stuck there.

9. Being on an organized tour of northern Namibia with retired workers from a ball-bearings factory in Dusseldorf (managed to escape, luckily).

10. Being lost at night on the live Niryagongo volcano in Congo with the threat of it erupting very likely.

How about you? What are your worst travel memories? Please share in the comments.

 

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March 3, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Transitions

Something I find tremendously interesting is the way icons and ideas pass from one culture to another. And, as they do so, the society in which they arrive believes quite ardently that it has originated them. Let me give you a couple of examples. To the French there is nothing more, well, French, than the Croissant. There are various lines of history on these puff pastry crescents, but the most likely is that they arrived in France from Constantinople, where the pastry is a much-loved favourite. And, of course, the crescent is a known symbol of Turkey as well as Islam. But the star and crescent symbol was not originally Islamic. It was adopted by the Turks when they conquered Byzantium, from the Christians (i.e. the same people who now claim the crescent croissant as their own… so it’s come full circle in a way). The Christians didn’t create the crescent form as an icon though, they merely borrowed it from their Near-Western pagan ancestors. Another wonderful example of such a transition that lives in the Madre de Dios jungle in Peru, and elsewhere in South America. I have been warned by tribesmen there to watch out for the so-called ‘Mal de Ojo’, the ‘Evil Eye’. The superstition was actually taken to the New World by the Spanish Conquistadores, whom in turn acquired it from Morocco.



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All Around Us

OK, so you thought I got carried away with the thrills of the jungle journey… well you ain’t seen nothing yet. The subject of the Arab world’s influence on the Occident is one of my favourites. It’s a matter that constantly amazes me. I guess the amazement stems from the fact that the majority of people have no clear idea of how massive, how utterly dynamic, the legacy of Eastern knowledge and culture is, within Western society. Where to begin…? Why not start with a few facts and fallacies. Here’s one that’s all around us: The English language is peppered with Arabic words, and from others which came to us through the matrix of the Arab world. There are hundreds of them, each one giving a clue to the links between East and West through past centuries. They include… alcohol, tariff, magazine, cheque, admiral, algorithm,alchemy,  adobe, amber, assassin, algebra, alembic, barbican, carafe, chemistry, cork, chess, cotton, crimson, camphor, calico, gazelle, gerbil, giraffe, harem, lilac, lemon, orange, lute, lime, racket, safari, sash, satin, sequin, sugar, syrup, talisman, zenith, zero, tarragon, tambourine and tabby — as in cat.



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Bridging East with West

You’ve probably had enough of my obsession for jungle expeditions. And so for the next few days I’m going to write on facts and fallacies of the Arab World and Middle East. Living in Morocco as I do, I am often amazed that there is such a sprawling gap between East and West. One small way to bridge it would be to correct some of the misconceptions that are all-pervading when it comes to the East. I hope a little of what I have planned will be of interest or even insightful.



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Recognising the End

Every journey has an end. As the expedition leader, it’s your responsibility to decide when to call the team together and to give the order to retrace the steps, and venture back to the starting point. The obvious time for return is when you have come upon your goal — when you’ve found the lost city and had a good look around. But, as is so often the case, the goal tends to slip away. And what of it? To me, the goal is so important because it’s the magnet that pulls you forward, the beacon of hope… but at the same time it’s without much meaning within itself. Sure, it would be amazing to find the ruins, or whatever you’re searching for, but it’s equally valuable to have endured the unendurable for so long, and to have been part of the team. When you eventually get back to the base camp, have a feast prepared with remaining food. Then divide up equipment and hand as much of it away to the men as you can. Remember, if they live on the periphery of the jungle, they’re far more likely to have use for it than you. And, taking just the bare essentials, you can slip back into the world you came from… disappear with your memories, and start thinking of another expedition.



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Morale

Rain, more rain, intestinal worms, dengue fever, sores, scurvy, fatigue: it all spells one thing… plunging  levels of morale. Once morale has dipped below optimal levels it’s very hard to drag back up. The worst problem is a sense that the expedition is going nowhere and that, as leader, you are forcing the team on towards unknown perils for no reason at all. As I have said previously, a good way to counter low morale is hot food and plenty of it. Another way is to have a football, or rest days, or an unexpected party. It’s true that parties and the jungle don’t go hand in hand particularly well… but you can stash some sugary food and party hats (and aguardiente of course) in a sealed bag before leaving. There’s another trick that I usually resort to at some point. Anyone who has read my books may have guessed. I take a crystalline white powder and sprinkle it on the tongues of the men in the most miserable conditions — when they’re all down with fever and general lethargy, or when the rain hasn’t stopped for weeks. They drool at the taste of it, and get a feeling that they’ve eaten a delicious meal even when they’ve not. The powder is Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG).  It works every time.



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