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An Historic Expedition

Stuti Kuthiala

By Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 236, price not stated.


Lhasa,Tashkent, Gobi, Xian, Samarkand, Syr-Darya, Kashgar, Heaven Lake, Taklaman, Bukhara. Names that instantly evoke visions of adventure, mystery, antiquity, remoteness, bygone civilizations and trail blazing rulers and travellers. Tracing Marco Polo’s Journey : The Silk Route, is a record of the historic expedition undertaken by Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia and his team in the summer of 1994. Titled ‘The Central Asia Cultural Expedition’ (CACE), it comprised twenty members and set out from Delhi on 17th May. In the Major’s own words, ‘The mission was one of peace, friendship and brotherhood and for people-to-people contact’.   The ambitious idea of traversing this ancient trade route first struck the Major as he stood on the summit of Mt. Everest in May, 1965, gazing at the snowy expanses of Central Asia stretching out as far as the eye could see. The dream born on that day took close to three decades to materialize. Although in his memoirs Major Ahluwalia does not dwell on the trials and tribulations he had to undergo in order to acquire permission from the countries through which the expedition had to pass, one can guess at the incredulity and surprise of officials who had never before been approached with such a daring request.   Written in a format that is similar to that of a daily diary and complemented with some breathtaking photographs, the account has been put together as a coffee table book which is both captivating to read as well as view. Divided into three sections, Major Ahluwalia’s detailed tale makes the reader feel as if he too is embarking on a fabulous journey through these fabled lands. The first section covers the travels through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, beginning in Tashkent. Historic though the cities, towns and valleys they travelled through were, the expedition members sensed a modern mood in the air of these recently created countries. Architectural remnants in the capitals of Timur, Babur and Ulug Bek stand testimony to the past right next to Russia-inspired institutional buildings. In the old bazaars and villages it appeared as if ‘Time’ had not moved on at all. Here, much of the old exists—in the customs, clothing, food, transportation and the quotidian cycle of the lo¬cal people. The juxtaposition between the mile upon mile of brand new roads and don¬key carts and the brand new factories operated by a work force that looked and dressed ...

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