Recommended Reading

17 Apr 2010, by Brian in Culture

We’ve been doing a lot of research for the trip and have enjoyed most of the reading and some video during our prep.  You all might enjoy these as well, and have a better sense of what we’ll be experiencing along our route if you pick up some of this stuff.

Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell was an entertaining and educational read. He adeptly blends history with his own experiences traveling through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on his way to report on the Aral Sea disaster. Bissell plays himself as a self deprecating Peace Corps dropout returning to the region on assignment, somewhat haunted by the ghosts of both his own past and the region’s. Now I’m inspired to visit “The Bug Pit” at The Ark in Bukhara (if you want to know, you’ll either have to read the book, do your own research, or wait until we are there to report back on it!). This was a great gift given to me by Kim’s sister, thanks Christina!

The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron, also a gift, was not quite as compelling as Bissell. Maybe I just didn’t identify with the older, more English Thubron, but what really was missing for me was *why* Thubron was there. It’s a simple well written travelogue, but it’s only reason for being seems to be that it is well written. I know this is non-fiction, but it’s kind of missing a plot that makes it interesting to follow. That said, it is, as I said, very well composed, and gives a detailed sense of the region.

Mongolia: Travels in the Untamed Land by Jasper Becker and In the Empire of Genghis Khan by Stanley Stewart were gifts from Kim’s parents at the outset of our plan to go to Mongolia. I can’t recommend both of these excellent books highly enough. Much as Bissell blends his experience with history, Becker takes the reader west into Mongolia from Beijing as one of the first journalists to cross the border after Mongolia’s democratic revolution in the early 90’s. Stewart comes from the other direction, taking a route similar to the Mongol Rally, from Europe through Central Asia and Russia across Mongolia’s western border… and that’s just the beginning of the journey! He crosses over 1,000 miles of Mongolia on horseback, also weaving history into his narrative. Both of these books left me with a better understanding of Mongolian culture, increasing my anticipation for departure.

Long Way Round is both a book and a DVD boxed set that is pretty much required material for every Mongol Rally team. I am sure we have all been inspired by Ewan McGregor’s and Charlie Boorman’s fantastic trek from London through Mongolia, eventually to New York, all by motorcycle. I think the inaugural Mongol Rally happened the same year as the Long Way Round, so I don’t think one was necessarily inspired by the other… but following the same route, with motorcycle engines as big as the cars in the Mongol Rally, and Ewan and Charlie’s fundraising work for UNICF throught the trip, there is much for Rally teams to identify with. You’ll be hard pressed to find a team who hasn’t watched or read this influential story.

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo is another great book/TV combo. The production on the video content is not as well funded or well produced as Long Way Round, but Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell pioneered travel in this region when most of the former Soviet Republics were *just* opening up their borders, and they documented this with barely any budget on consumer grade equipment in 1994-95. The pair retrace the supposed route of Marco Polo from Venice to Mongolia and back, taking them through war torn Afghanistan, by boat throughout Southeast Asia, and through Persia as some of the first Americans ever to receive tourist visas for post-revolution Iran. This two year epic journey is beautifully captured in the companion book to the PBS documentary. The program doesn’t appear to be available on DVD yet, but if you can’t find it on your local public television station it’s available online here.

And of course, no travel research would be complete without a Lonely Planet library! We’re constantly referencing the following:

These are all highly recommended on the above links, if my recommendation isn’t enough, but be careful… when you are done reading all of this you will be packing your bags for next year’s Mongol Rally!

  • Very interesting guys – thanks for the heads up!
    Long Way Round is our bible. Also have watched the series where Jack Osbourne does the Mongol Rally – you can find it on the internet somewhere – let me know if you need me to hunt out the link.

  • Good stuff, you should take a look at The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk. It gives a thorough account of the first mapping expeditions launched in central Asia by Europeans.

  • brian Reply

    Thanks Ross. Bissell talks about the Great Game as well… specifically my reference to The Bug Pit has to do with some British officers who were poor players and unfortunate losers at the game (look up Stoddart and Conolly). I’ll have to check out Hopkirk.