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Desert, Mountain and...

The book has a collection of excerpts taken from his classic travelogues, Arabian Sands (1959) and The Marsh Arabs (1964).

india Updated: Jun 07, 2006 17:10 IST

Desert, Mountain and Marsh
Wilfred Thesiger
Price — £ 6.59
Publication — Flamingo

Wilfred Thesiger was arguably the 20th centuries greatest explorer. He was a man who journeyed across some of the world’s harshest and most inhospitable terrain for the simplest and yet most profound joy a human being can proffer himself—the triumph over hardship.

He was perhaps the last specimen of his generation, a generation of great, dauntless travellers driven by the primeval urge to discover, to cross, to traverse.

Thesiger, born in colonial Ethiopia, spent a majority of his remarkable life living amongst the indigenous peoples of Arabia and Africa. His collection of writings and his incredible stock of photographs detail the many journeys that he undertook.

The evocatively titled Desert, Mountain and Marsh is a collection of excerpts taken from his classic travelogues, Arabian Sands (1959) and The Marsh Arabs (1964). It also includes a description of his early life and travels, including his first major expedition mapping the Awash River in Ethiopia.

From the beginning, Thesiger’s descriptive writing presents the reader vistas into worlds long extinct. It is mercifully bereft of the imperialistic overtone that so often clouds the writing of his contemporaries.

Thesiger aimed not only to live amongst the tribes with whom he travelled, but to live like them. He had a penchant for enduring hardship, exposing a masochistic streak that evidently values the worth of a journey in the amount of adversity faced in its completion.

The grand thing about Thesiger is his sincere belief that his journeys are anything but grand.

In an age where television tie-ins and sponsorship deals accompany modern travellers from their doorsteps, it is refreshing to read of a man who endured the most austere landscape on the planet with only a drink of fresh water for reward.