ARABIAN SANDS BY WILFRED THESIGER PDF

Now that I have, I can sheepishly join the chorus of those who revere the book as one of the half dozen greatest works of modern English travel writing. While most travel writing today is essentially journalism, Arabian Sands is an epic poem: A cloud gathers, the rain falls, men live; the cloud disperses without rain, and men and animals die. In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm to the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the years. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or easeā€¦. Men live there because it is the world into which they were born; the life they lead is the life their forefathers led before them; they accept hardships and privations; they know no other way.

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Shelves: Wilfred Thesiger was born a few centuries too late, given his enterprising spirit and his thirst for the pristine lands, untouched by human development. His is the temperament and the dogged determination that had led men to reject the comfort of home and the perks of civilized society and prefer to sweat and toil in the harshest climates for no other reason that the maps showed a blank space in that region.

Empires were built by men like Thesiger, driven by the need to claim to be the first to Wilfred Thesiger was born a few centuries too late, given his enterprising spirit and his thirst for the pristine lands, untouched by human development. Empires were built by men like Thesiger, driven by the need to claim to be the first to set foot on that mountain peak or that Southern Pole or that uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.

It is also true that one of the less endearing characteristic of these British explorers is their ability to ignore the local populations that lived in those same places for millenia.

Only the European foot counted in their history books. Wilfred Thesiger is the exception to the rule, as his explorations were concerned almost as much with getting to know and becoming integrated with the local tribes as they were about the physical distances travelled. I will get back to this. Thesiger set his sights on the desert. A childhood spent in Abbysinia and a few years exploring the Sahara and the Horn of Africa prepared him for the biggest challenge of all : Rub al Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter, the most desolate land on the whole planet.

In Africa he learned how to spend a whole day perched on the high and uncomfortable saddle of a camel, how to endure the heat and the thirst and the frozen nights, how to speak Arabic - the common language across the whole Muslim world.

Arabian Sands is the account of his five years, between and , spent crossing the Empty Quarter in the traditional way, guided by local Bedu tribesmen, without mechanized transport or modern communication devices, carrying all the water and the food on the back of camels. For me exploration was a personal venture. I did not go to the Arabian desert to collect plants nor to make a map; such things were incidental.

At heart I knew that to write or even to talk of my travels was to tarnish the achievement. I went there to find peace in the hardship of desert travel and the company of desert people. Left out of the narrative, but rather obvious from the wiki page of he author, is that his travels were most probably sponsored by the British Foreign Office, who was interested in the possibilities of moving around the Arabian Peninsula in case of future conflicts, and by the big oil companies who were beginning their involvmement in exploration and exploitation of the valuable resource.

The memoir is important to me for two reasons : - firstly, Thesiger is not only a daring explorer, but also a suprisingly articulate and lyrical writer. I believe only St Exupery surpasses him when it comes to the spiritual joy the desert awakens in the a man who finds himself hundreds of miles away from the nearest inhabited land. He has included in his present memoir not only the hardships of the travel and the dry enumeration of places and distances and weather reports, but the history of the peninsula, the way the climate and the economic issues had shaped the culture of the nomadic herders, the political changes brought about by the liberation from the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent creation of national Arab states, the balance between personal vendettas among the tribes and larger mmovements by the most powerful sheiks.

Last, but not least, Thesiger is a good photographer, working well with black and white film to capture the desert landscape, the pure-bred camels, the faces of the tribesmen and the cities on the coast. Next morning while we were leading our camels down a steep dune face I was suddenly conscious of a low vibrant hum, which grew in volume until it sounded as though an aeroplane were flying low over our heads. The frightened camels plunged about, tugging at their head-ropes and looking back at the slope above us.

The sound ceased when we reached the bottom. This was he singing of the sands. The Arabs describe it as a roaring, which is perhaps a more descriptive word.

During the five years that I was in these parts I only heard it half a dozen times. It is caused, I think, by one layer of sand slipping over another. I realized that the Bedu with whom I had lived and travelled, and in whose company I had found contentment, were doomed. Some people maintain that they will be better off when they have exchanged the hardship and poverty of the desert for the security of a materialistic world. This I do not believe. I shall always remember how often I was humbled by those illiterate herdsmen who possessed, in so much greater measure than I, generosity and courage, endurance, patience, and lighthearted gallantry.

Among no other people have I ever felt the same sense of personal inferiority. Most of the remaining bookmarks I have from the memoir deal not so much with the beauty of the desert but with the respect and the admiration of the author for the integrity, the endurance and the hospitality of his companions on the journey.

I would encourage any reader who wants to really understand the culture of the Gulf Arabs, the importance of religion, of traditions and of family ties to pick up the book and read it before applying the usual labels of religious fanaticism and blind hatred. He is one of the first to admit that their culture is a violent one, that their temperament is fiery and suspicious of strangers, that they are prideful, quick to anger and unforgiving to their enemies. He knew how to fight.

I thought he would kill us all. But the same people are unequal in the world when it comes to loyalty, generosity, integrity. A Bedu would give the shirt on his back to another man, just because he thinks the other needs it more than him, he would cut down a camel for visitors and feed them even if he knows he may starve in the next weeks, he would never turn away a traveller from his campfire at night. The nomads would chat all day about their favorite camel, would laugh and joke about their empty waterskins and rice bags, would burst into song when you least expect it: God endures forever.

The life of man is short. The Pleiades are overhead. Thesiger finds peace and contenment and spiritual solace among some of the poorest people in the world. He looks at his civilized compatriots with a critical eye for taking life for granted and feels more at home shivering under a thin blanket with an empty stomach and lips parched by thirst.

I wondered why people ever cluttered up their rooms with furniture, for this bare simplicity seemed to me infinitely preferable. These people still valued leisure and courtesy and conversation.

They did not live their lives at second hand, dependent on cinema and wireless. He finds praise even for the style of leadership in the tribes: A Bedu sheikh has no paid retainers on whom he can rely to carry out his orders. He is merely the first among equals in a society where every man is intensely independent and quick to resent any hint of autocracy.

His authority depends in consquence on the force of his own personality and on his skill in handling men. His position in the tribe, in fact, resembles that of a chairman of a committee meeting. Not all of the the pages in the book deal with the Empty Quarter. In between forays into the sand dunes, salt marshes and rubble plains, Thesiger spends some time in cities and more accomodating places.

I;ve been to one of them myself on a day trip by car: Taif in Saudi Arabia is a mountain town where they have now some very good farms and orchards and even some tourist attractions. The land is less arrid than usual for the region, and the people are still hospitable and talkative. The other place I recognized is Abu Dhabi, but the town of today has little similarity withthe one in the book: We stayed for twenty days in Abu Dhabi, a small town of about two thousand inhabitants. Each morning the Sheikhs visited us, walking slowly across from he castle - Shakhbut, a stately figure in a black cloak, a little ahead of his brothers, followed by a throng of armed retainers.

The last picture is one I took on my return from Taif:.

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Arabian Sands

Thesiger in the Horn of Africa in In Thesiger returned to Africa, having received a personal invitation from Emperor Haile Selassie to attend his coronation, and joined the Order of the Star of Ethiopia. He returned again in as the leader of an expedition, funded in part by the Royal Geographical Society , to explore the course of the Awash River. During this expedition, he became one of the first Europeans to enter the Aussa Sultanate and visit Lake Abbe. He lived for many years in northern Kenya. In , an entomologist , O. He rode camels in the company of Bedu guides through remote areas that were potentially dangerous on account of tribal tensions and the opposition of local rulers to the presence of foreigners.

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Wilfred Thesiger

Shelves: Wilfred Thesiger was born a few centuries too late, given his enterprising spirit and his thirst for the pristine lands, untouched by human development. His is the temperament and the dogged determination that had led men to reject the comfort of home and the perks of civilized society and prefer to sweat and toil in the harshest climates for no other reason that the maps showed a blank space in that region. Empires were built by men like Thesiger, driven by the need to claim to be the first to Wilfred Thesiger was born a few centuries too late, given his enterprising spirit and his thirst for the pristine lands, untouched by human development. Empires were built by men like Thesiger, driven by the need to claim to be the first to set foot on that mountain peak or that Southern Pole or that uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere. It is also true that one of the less endearing characteristic of these British explorers is their ability to ignore the local populations that lived in those same places for millenia. Only the European foot counted in their history books. Wilfred Thesiger is the exception to the rule, as his explorations were concerned almost as much with getting to know and becoming integrated with the local tribes as they were about the physical distances travelled.

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