On Human Thinking

King.   Exhibit to me, if you please, this motion from left to right.

I.   Nay, that I cannot do, unless you could step out of your Line altogether.

King.   Out of my Line? Do you mean out of the world? Out of Space?

I.   Well, yes. Out of your World. Out of your Space. For your Space is not the real Space. True Space is a Plane; but your Space is only a Line.

King.   If you cannot indicate this motion from left to right by yourself moving in it, then I beg you to describe it to me in words.

I.   If you cannot tell your right side from your left, I fear that no words of mine can make my meaning clear to you. But surely you cannot be ignorant of so simple a distinction.

King.   I do not in the least understand you.

– Edwin A. Avbbott, Flatland

Four Reasons Why Robert Byron’s “Road to Oxiana” is The Ultimate Traveler’s Companion (4)

“It is cold. The sun has gone down. The mullahs have gone in, and their pupils with them. The lustre has gone from the blue towers and the green corn. Their shadows have gone. The magic scent has gone. The summer has gone, and the twilight brings back the spring, cold and uncertain. I must go.

Goodbye, Gohar Shad and Baisanghor. Sleep on there under your dome, to the sound of boys’ lessons. Goodbye, Herat.”

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.

Four Reasons Why Robert Byron’s “Road to Oxiana” is The Ultimate Traveler’s Companion (2)

There are two kinds of police: the Nasmiya, which controls the towns; and the Amniya, which controls the roads and such of the hinterland as admits the law. On the advice of the chief of the Nasmiya, I called on the Chief of the Amniya, since his men must be responsible for my journey to Firuzabad. He was a fat, jocular fellow, and was anxious to help me.

The Governor had already telephoned to him, explaining my purpose and identity. His first act, therefore, was to telephone to the Governor enquiring my purpose and identity. Havibg received a satisfactory answer, he bethought himself, and the Governor concurred, that the matter would be simplified if the Governor were to set forth my purpose and identity in a letter.

Before going to fetch the letter, I asked him if I ought to have an escort, since there were rumours of thieves on the road. Quite unnecessary, he replied, quite unnecessary. Hurrying in a cab to the Ark, I rattled off the polite formulas, complimented the Governor on his orange trees, and asked if the letter was ready.

“Dont you think”, he said pensively, “that you ought to have an escort for the journey?”

“Really, Your Excellency must advise me on that point. The Reis-i-Amniya says it is unnecessary.”

“I will telephone to him. …”

“Certainly,” answered the Reis-i-Amniya over the wire, “certainly he must have an escort. He cant possibly go without.” But there was a difficulty. The local Finance Minister had just started on a tour of land assessment (to include, among others, the property of the Kavam-al-Mulk) and had taken 100 mounted huards with him; thus there were no horses left, and any escort with me would have to go on foot.

“In that case,” I said, “let me hire horses for them.”

The Governor and the Reis-i-Amniya thought this an excellent solution.

Meanwhile, the secretary in the next room was writing the Governors letter to the Reis-i-Amniya. When the Governor had approved it, a fair copy was made. This he signed and sealed and handed to me. I jumped into the cab, and was back at the Amniya within two hours of leaving it.

“Do you think, perhaps,” asked the Reis-i-Amniya blandly, “that you ought to have an escort to take you to Firuzabad?”

“Really, Your Eminence must advise me on that point.”

“In my opinion, you ought. Will one man be enough?”

“Certainly. I am not a millionaire to hire horses for a troop.”

“Of course not; who is? Five men will be enough, I imagine. Naturally, they will all be mounted on Government horses; we have plenty to spare. And it may facilitate the matters if you take an officer with you in the car as far as Kavar. He will arrange your own horses there. I will tell him to call on you at the hotel at five oclock, to arrange things.”

“Your Eminence is too kind. Could he come at eight instead of five, as I am going out to tea?”

“Just as you wish. I will tell him to come at seven.”

Four Reasons Why Robert Byron’s “Road to Oxiana” is The Ultimate Traveler’s Companion (1)

On hearing I have been to Afghanistan, the educated Persian draws a deep breath, as though to restrain himself, expresses a polite interest in Afghan welfare, and enquires with feline suavity whether I found any railways, hospitals, or schools in the country. Hospitals and schools of course, I answer; all Islam has them; as for railways, surely steam is old-fashioned in a motoring age. When I told Mirza Yantz that the Afghans discussed their political problems frankly, instead of in whispers as here, he answered: „Naturally; they are less cultured than we Persians.“

– Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana