Author: William Dalrypmple.
Xanadu, now Shangdu, is located in Inner Mongolia, northern China. It was the first capital and the summer capital of the Mongol Empire in the 1263. Xanadu was famous for its palaces, gardens and waterways and was Kublai Khan’s favourite summer palace.
Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan and the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century China. He was the ruler of the Mongol Empire for 30 yrs. During his reign, Xanadu flourished, making it one of the richest kingdoms. After Kublai Khan’s death, however, Yuan Dynasty started to decline, thus changing the face of the once prosperous city to shambles. Xanadu was believed to be so beautiful, that ‘Xanadu’ term is still used as a metaphor for opulence or an idyllic place.
In 1270s Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, explorer and a writer travelled along the Silk Route with his father and his uncle and reached Xanadu where he served the court of Kublai Khan for 17 years. Though he was not the first European to reach China, Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience. His travel book inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travellers. Author and his companions are one of the many who decided to retake this path once taken 7 centuries back. They started from Jerusalem to reach a tedious route with multiple ethenic diversities, landscapes and overcame diplomatic complications, struggled for basic comfort to finally reach Xanadu. This travelogue takes us through two timelines, 1270s and 1980s with the glimpse of the history compared to the present . He has collated his observations with that of Marco Polos, adding his own version about the aspects which were either not present or overlooked by the later.
It does take a moment to get into the book if you don’t know the background of the topic. I had to do my own research to understand the scene. Nevertheless, it improved my knowledge and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hilarious travelogue. It has its ups and downs but never a dull moment.