Travel literature review: The Hall of a Thousand Columns

Hall of a Thousand ColumnsThe Hall of a Thousand Columns by Tim MacKintosh-Smith

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3.5 star

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Claire Beyer

Claire Beyer is a complete Indiophile  and works as part of the sales team at Lonely Planet's office in Melbourne.

Related article: Travel literature review: The Upgrade (A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations)

Tim MacKintosh-Smith’s journey in The Hall of a Thousand Columns may at first appear futile. Relocating relics and monuments from a 13th century traveller’s journal seems loaded with difficulty and disappointment. However our author remains undeterred and as this is also the follow on book from Travels With a Tangerine there is no doubt that following this ancient, possibly world’s first, travel lit writer, is an all consuming passion, nigh obsession, for MacKintosh-Smith.

Moroccan traveller Ibn Battutah, IB (as our author refers to him) spent the best part of 30 years wandering the globe after initially setting out to make the fated journey to Mecca. From 1325 to 1355 he traversed an area from Morocco to China. It is his ten years in India which (we will retain the authors flavour here) MS covers in this entertaining and highly researched book.

What sets IB apart, as he was by no means the only Arab traveller of his time, were his detailed writings (penned in retrospect) known as the Travels. His trials and tribulations were written with humour, honesty and it seems a complete acceptance to what befalls him along the way. As a trained jurist IB found himself as the newly appointed judge of Delhi in the court of an Islamic Sultan, was the victim of many ambushes which always left him penniless and just a little red faced and drawn into the mystic worlds of ascetics, cave hermits and shamans.

However discrepancies between IB’s writings and MS’s discoveries prove to be more than frustrating not only for the author but for the reader also. Excitement builds for the next fact or monument to be authenticated, only to be deflated by yet another question mark on IB’s stories. Yet it is related in such an entertaining fashion (also accompanied by the wonderful drawings of Martin Yeoman that the reader almost feels part of the expedition.

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