The future is mapped out
My frame of mind lately could be described in one of two ways, depending on how generous you wanted to be. You could call it research & planning, although it could equally be called fantasy. Whatever it is, it stems from a huge amount of enthusiasm and the feeling that I could be getting closer to doing this journey.
Since reading Edward Fox’s The Hungarian Who Walked To Heaven, and discovering the Csoma’s Room Project (as reported my last entry), I’ve been on a bit of a Tibet kick, reading Patrick French’s wonderful history, travelogue and memoir all rolled into one, Tibet, Tibet and A Year in Tibet by Sun Shuyun, director of the documentary series of the same name that aired on the BBC a couple of years ago.
This morning my reading material was seemingly less relevant (Amin Maalouf’s quite superb The Crusades Through Arab Eyes), but talk of the Middle East, and Turkey in particular, reminded me of a suggestion from a friend of mine who will soon be living in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. He’d already put it to me that I should come and visit, and then dropped the bombshell that we could take a train to Tehran!
Of course I’m not one to shy away from some travelling, and my experience of the Middle East is so far restricted to just to Jordan, but it suddenly occurred to me that I could start Alexander’s journey.
This afternoon I’ve used all the information I’ve gathered so far to create a pretty comprehensive map of his route in Google Earth, my first since the very rough and incomplete one of 2007 that accompanies my first blog on the subject.
He never made it to Istanbul (what was then Constantinople) because of an outbreak of plague, but he did skirt parts of Turkey before a jaunt through the mediterranean to Egypt and Cyprus, then onwards through modern Lebanon, Syria, southern Turkey, Iraq before arriving in Tehran and staying for four months.
This is one section that causes me some problems. At least he conveniently managed to miss out what is now Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but the 200-mile trip by boat from Mosul to Baghdad is probably not the safest right now, but we can hope for the future. Indeed, mapping it out painstakingly with all the loops and meanders of the Tigris shows how daunting it must have been back then, let alone now.
This raises questions about how I am to make my film (for I am decided now that this jaunt will definitely be a film, primarily). I’ve always considered this project to be “Following in the footsteps…” but not only am I going to have to make numerous trips, I’m also going to have to miss out sections because of safety concerns, but also those of budget and ease. Do I therefore make a Michael Palin “Himalaya” style programme that just doesn’t mention the gaps and piecemeal approach, or do I make my own travelogue with Alexander as the reason for the trip, but the side-focus while on the trip?
What is certain is that if I am to do this trip, I have to take any opportunity I can to get as close as possible to Alexander’s destinations, and preferably his potential routes. Taking a train from Istanbul (that he never visited) to Tehran misses a huge chunk that I’ll have to return to on another visit, but allows a wonderful opportunity to visit a major stopping-point on his journey. And who could turn down the chance to take a train from the edges of Europe to the heart of the Middle East?