Four Reasons Why Robert Byron’s “Road to Oxiana” is The Ultimate Traveler’s Companion (3)

We also have with us a work by Sir Thomas Holdich called The Gates of India, which gives a summary of Afghan exploration up to 1910 and describes the journey of Moorcroft, who died at Andikhoi in 1825. In this I find, on page 440: “Moorcroft’s books (thirty volumes) were recovered, and the list of them would surprise any modern traveler who believes in a light and handy equipment.”  What surprises me if that considering he was away five years, there should have been so few. A light and handy equipment! One knows these modern travelers, these over-grown prefects and pseudo-scientific bores dispatched by congregations of extinguished officials to see if sand-dunes sing and snow is cold. Unlimited money, every kind of official influence support them; they penetrate the furthest recesses of the globe; and beyond ascertaining that sand-dunes do sing and snow is cold, what do they observe to enlarge the human mind?


Is it surprising? Their physical health is cared for; they go into training; they obey rules to keep them hard, and are laden with medicines to restore them when, as a result of the hardening process, they break down. But no one thinks of their mental health, and of its possible importance to a journey to supposed observation. Their light and handy equipment contains food for a skyscraper, instruments for a battleship, and weapons for an army. But it mustn’t contain a book. I wish I were rich enough to endow a prize for the sensible traveler: £ 10,000 for the first man to cover Marco Polo’s outward route reading three fresh books a week, and another £ 10,000 if he drinks a bottle of wine a day as well. That man might tell one something about the journey. He might or might not be naturally observant. But at least he would use what eyes he had, and would not think it necessary to dress up his results in thrills that never happened and science no deeper than its own jargon.

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