Friday, 20 April 2012


It fascinates me to think of the thousands of years people in different parts of the world spent isolated, unaware of each other's existence.

The multitude of 'known worlds' that must have existed then, more than one on each continent, large and fascinating enough, but just a fraction of an amazingly diverse world.

I think of an isolated bunch of plucky men, walking, riding or sailing out into the 'unknown', forced out by the need to find food and land, or maybe just because they wanted to see more, know more.

I see them huddled in a group around a fire at night, listening to a wayfarer telling them stories of new places, strange people, beasts never seen before, hardships and joys unimaginable.

Some sit silent. Some brazenly denounce the fear of the unknown. But they are one in their hunger for discovery.

I think of great sailors who traveled for month after month on the open sea, hoping to sight land, quelling mutinies by their crewmen, ruthlessly crossing the great waters and finding a new world beyond Land's End.

I see people walking in new surroundings as they break out of their homelands from the earliest days of man, the stars in the sky being only constants in their lives.

I see Vikings treading wastes of ice as they move north, their longboats a bubble against a world that is hard, cold and cruel. I see nomads hemmed in by mountains, riding beyond.

I see men who live in huts startled by man-made mountains of stone, I see the first composite settlements as people learn to live with those who do not look or speak like them.

I see a world full of curious, expectant and eventually, startled faces. People determined to cross land and sea, mountains and deserts, and maybe one day, the stars.

I also see the world of today, laid out in full splendor to us by the achievements of Columbus, Dias, Magellan, Cortes, Da Gama, Peary, Amundsen, Polo, Ibn Battutah and so many others, and I wonder, is there much left to discover?

Of course there is. Discovery is a very personal thing, and there is no end to how much can be discovered by a person eager to take delight in all that is new.

The storyteller sitting at the fire, talking to the young people who drink in his words, is not necessarily a man who has seen the wide world. He has probably seen the tip of the iceberg, or stood at the edge of his world, building enticing, yet forbidding images.

What those images do to him, depends.

A man like Roald Amundsen, Robert Scott, George Mallory would want to race to the ends of the Earth before any other.

Some others like Ibn Battutah or Hiuen Tsiang would want to see all the places they could manage in a lifetime, to live and learn from the diverse peoples living across the known world, its boundaries expanding everyday.

There were also others, like the man I will tell you about in my next post, a man whose world grew to the size of a gigantic island, bounded by vast seas to the East and the West. A man who decided that the best way to honour a world so great and diverse was to conquer it.