The last secrets of the silk road : four girls follow Marco Polo across 5000 miles.
Wow !!! I said and picked up the book from public library because the title itself speaks about the world which one can only dreams about. The Silk road allures travellers from across the globe and its secrets have been told in the legends and folklore.
As I cruises through the pages, it seems that one fine day, four British girls all in their early 20’s decided to cross Central Asia on horseback following on the footsteps of great Marco Polo crossing the rugged terrains of Central Asia, the monotonous desert of Taklamakan and finally culminating the eight months long journey in Xian of China.
At the end the book disappoints me, because the title is heavily misleading and no secrets were revealed.:( The author Alexandra Tolstoy is one of the rider and who prefers to talk about herself, her other three friends, her relationships, horses rather than looking out at the beautiful and exotic world, the central Asia which is known for its heavenly landscapes, its rich architecture, customs and traditions and a world which they were so privileged to be riding through. (She refrain from showing her perspective, till the end).
This is quiet clear because the book has no outstanding and exotic photographs of Central Asia, a lacklustre travelogue and seems to be a very superficial narrative. It’s actually not a travel book but her day-to-day account of the journey, which she could have made it more fascinating and at places the challenges, practicalities were all oversimplified. May be they didn’t feel the heat because everything was being taken care off by the people of back-up trucks who travels with them.
But the book still scores because it is an extra ordinary journey of four girls through Central Asia covering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, braving through the desert of Kara-kum, Gobi and Taklamakan, coping with adverse climatic conditions, dealing with the bureaucracy of post Russian era, the beautiful cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, willingness to encounter danger and adaptability to rationing of water while crossing the Taklamakan and overall their adventurous spirit and courage to travel 5000 miles on Uzbek stallions and Bactrian camels which finally wins you over.
This book has no doubt disappoints me and am still hunting some good travelogues on Central Asia, meanwhile, you can enjoy the sweet bell pepper pilaf, which is native to Middle east and Central Asia, where it is also known as plov. But how plov or pilaf originates in those rugged terrain of Asia which is mostly desert in part is itself very intriguing and will write about it in another post.
Basmati rice / any long grain rice : 1 cup
Sweet bell pepper (red, yellow and orange cut into slivers) : 1 cup
Spice mix of cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and white pepper (whole)
Bay leaf : 1 or 2
Ginger cut into julienne : few sticks
White onions : 1 cut into slices
Sugar and salt to taste
Black pepper powder : 1 tsp
Nutmeg powder : 1 tsp
Oil : 1 tbsp
Water (warm) : 2 cups
Wash the rice and soaked it in water for 30 minutes.
Heat some oil in a deep bottom vessel and add the spice mix and bay leaves, fry for a minute and add the sliced onions. Saute the onions till they turn translucent and add the ginger, continue fry for couple of minutes. Add the bell peppers, and fry on medium heat for few minutes till they release some of their juices. Add the salt and sugar, followed by soaked rice.
Saute for few more minutes, check the seasonings and sprinkle the nutmeg powder over it.
Add 2 cups of warm water, cover and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes till done.
Serve the sweet bell pepper pilaf with your choice of sides, I have served it with mideastern white beans and they seem to be a perfect match for it.
Have a good day
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