Magazine article Geographical

Journey to the End of the World

Magazine article Geographical

Journey to the End of the World

Article excerpt

In 1957, when I was on my way to Ceylon in a battered old World War II Jeep with an Irish friend, I heard, while in Tehran, about an oasis in the middle of the Persian desert. My informant was the diplomat, Hugh Carless, who had been travelling with Eric Newby in Nuristan the year before. The resulting classic, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, would not be published until the following year. Hugh told me that Tabas, which he assured me meant "the end of the world" in Persian, had only been visited by four Europeans in the last 200 years and he urged me to try and get there.

We decided to find and follow a causeway built in the 16th century by Shah Abbas, greatest of the Safavid rulers, whose capital was Isfahan. The "Carpet of Stone" runs between the vast and impassable deserts which occupy the centre of Iran: the Dasht-e-Kavir and the Dasht-e-Lut. Our starting point was Yazd. Most of the town turned out to wish us well on our dangerous journey as we headed east into the desert. For two days we drove through an empty wasteland, broken only by occasional ruined caravanserai, great square enclosures with round corner towers dating from when this was part of the Silk Route. All around were realistic mirages above the shining white glimmer of the bottomless salt marshes lying in wait on either side for the unwary.

At last we saw ahead the gateway and the town of Tabas, dominated by an 11th century castle, once captured by the Assassins. It was there that Nadir Shah, the warrior king who plundered the Mogul Empire, sacked Delhi in 1739 and brought back the Peacock Throne. He also blinded and imprisoned his son when he began to go mad at the end of his reign.

Tired and dusty, we were welcomed like heroes and taken to the charming blue and white tiled and domed gateway to the public gardens, where we were lodged. …

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