- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Trotamundas Press; Revised ed. edition (June 26, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1906393125
- ISBN-13: 978-1906393120
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #785,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Gobi Desert - The Adventures of Three Women Travelling Across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s Revised ed. Edition
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Mildred Cable and Francesca French wrote this remarkable travel book about their esperiences of many years (1923-1936) in the Gobi Desert. They were the first English women to cross the Gobi Desert after twenty years of working as missionaries in the Shansi province of China. This is the kind of travel book which is the result of 13 years of continous travel and thorough knowledge of the region. They describe the Chinese Inns, the monasteries, the archaeological sites, the abandoned cities and the life in the oasis towns. This book brings alive the Gobi Desert and shows how relevant it is still nowadays for those wanting to discover this fascinating part of the world.
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The excellence of the book stems from the expertise of the authors who spoke Chinese and had decades of experience in China. They were not casual travelers describing their impressions of places seen once. "We ... spent long years in following trade-routes, tracing faint caravan tracks, searching out innumerable by-paths and exploring the most hidden oases," say the authors. "Five times we traversed the whole length of the desert, and in the process we had become part of its life." What they produced is a vivid picture of life in the oases and along the caravan tracks of Chinese Central Asia
They describe in great and fascinating detail their travel by oxcart caravan from one oasis to the next. We learn of the culture of the oxcart drivers, what they eat, how their food is cooked, and how they pack their carts. Similarly, we learn about Chinese inns, monastaries, archaelogical sites, abandoned cities, and the settled life of oasis towns. Near the end of the book we also see that the life and ancient culture they portray is coming to an end as civil war, communists, and the motor age encroach.
I am awed by the audacity of these three women and their hardiness in continuing their lonely work year after year. However, this is not a book about hardship and sacrifice; the authors are cheerful. The trio is tolerant of the diverse people they meet, respectful of Buddhist monks and Muslims, and they seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves.
Because they spoke fluent Chinese and were unarmed, they were welcomed everywhere. Because they showed good judgment hiring carters and took local advise, they were able to get over life-threatening terrain. And although they were constantly handing out bibles, they were surprisingly tolerant of forms of spirituality different from their own. This enabled them to converse and make friends far and wide, high and low - and to appreciate the exotic religious cave art along the Silk Road.
These women had incredible adventures. They passed days of unquenchable thirst in a stony, shadeless wilderness, tormented by mirages and sandstorms. They were welcomed as guests in a Mongol yurt, a Muslim harem, a camel-driver's tent, a rebel military camp, and the summer palace of the Khan. They drank tea with young Chinese prostitutes and befriended a Living Buddha trained in esoteric practices. They dressed the wounds of a brigand chief. They dined on imported royal delicacies one day and dough strings and bitter water the next.
The missionaries traveled at three miles an hour through the desert however, and the reader goes not much faster. This is no page-turner. Sometimes I found it fatiguing to get through the wealth of detail, especially the long passages on local uprisings. But the journey was well worth taking. Any reader who loves tales of adventure in exotic realms should find this book a delight.
And even in this day and age, this book is a good preparation for a trip to the Silk Road. It was recommended to me by a frequent traveler to China who's an expert on the Silk Road cave paintings.
When reading about the sad plight of so many in the desert, it breaks your heart. But Mildred had the answer and apparently shared freely, and cheerfully gave out from her cart of New Testaments and Bibles. Case in point: "Meeting" a Russian lady (she never saw her face) in the dead black of a night travel, and having to converse in French, and giving her sympathy and a New Testament that contains the words of life that all need to hear and receive.
It would have been helpful if the author had included some place maps as she traveled, but all in all it is a great book, and that was published in 1943 in the middle of WWII!
Almost a companion book (and also great reading)is the modern (about 2007)version of Gobi travels entitled "China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power" by Rob Gifford