Silk Road

About the Author

Nick Middleton is a British physical geographer and supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He specialises in desertification. Nick Middleton was born in London, England. As a geographer, he has travelled to more than 50 countries

Synopsis

This chapter deals with a story about the challenges and hardships faced in the Silk Road regions. Here the author is an adventurer but also an academician. He tries to research on the altitude sickness, and he realises that it can lead to swelling in the brain or lungs, slowly filling with fluid. The author has no religious inclinations yet starts to speculate on Tibetan Buddhism as a prerequisite for survival at that great altitude. This chapter gives exotic details of the Silk Road and also describes the challenges faced in the travel.

Character List

  • Nick Middleton – Author. He is adventurous and at the same time considers the travel a chance to research on various topics like altitude and its effect on the human body. He describes the journey and the hardships faced on the Silk Road.

  • Daniel – Author’s friend who accompanied him on the journey to Mount Kailash.

  • Tsetan – He was a driver hired by the author. He was a very good and efficient driver. He drove the car very carefully considering the safety of the passengers. During the journey, he spoke to the author and gave important details of the places they were passing by. When he found the author was not well, he took him to Medical College and cared for his health. He was a good Buddhist and believed that death is not the end of life.

Theme

 

The author Nick Middleton, left Ravu in the company of Daniel and Tsetan. Before leaving the place, Lhamo gave him a gift. She gave him a long-sleeved sheepskin coat. Their next destination was Mount Kailash and Tsetan said he knew a short cut. He said the journey would be smooth if there was no snow. As they passed by the hills, they could see the lonely ‘drokbas’ tending their flocks. They were men and women who would pause and stare at their car, occasionally waving as they passed.

As they passed the nomad’s tents there were the Tibetan mastiffs. They would start barking as they neared the tents; chased the car for some distance and then go silent. The turns became sharper and bumpier, and sudden and unexpected snowfall started blocking their way. The author and Daniel got out of the car for Tsetan to drive it safely. The icy top layer of the snow was very dangerous; the car could slip off the road, and the snow continued blocking their way.

They reached a guesthouse in Darchen. The author had a very troubled night. His sinuses were blocked, and he was not able to get enough oxygen and he could barely sleep. The next day Tsetan took him to the Darchen Medical College. The doctor told the author that it was just cold, and the altitude was causing him troubles. He gave him some medicine and that night he was able to sleep well.

Tsetan left the author in Darchen and went away to carry on with his work. He was a good Buddhist and believed in life after death. However, Tsetan was worried it could affect his business, as he may not get more tourists and may cause his business to fail terribly. The author was worried as Tsetan left, he felt lonely and deserted in Darchen.

The author wanted to reach Mount Kailash to do kora, but he did not want to do it alone. He was busy looking for someone who could speak English as it would be easier to communicate. In a cafe, Middleton met Norbu, originally a Tibetan who was working in Beijing at The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He too was there to do the kora, but he was not religious. The author decided to accompany Norbu to climb Mount Kailash.

Summary

Leaving Ravu:

The author left Ravu in the company of Daniel and Tsetan. Before leaving the place, Lhamo gave him a gift. She gave him a long-sleeved sheepskin coat. Their next destination was Mount Kailash and Tsetan knew a short cut. He said the journey would be smooth if there was no snow.

The sight of Drokbas:

As they passed by the hills, they could see the lonely drokbas tending their flocks. There were men and women well wrapped. They would pause and stare at their car, occasionally waving as they passed

The Tibetan Mastiff:

As they passed the nomads tents there were the Tibetan mastiffs. They would explode into action as they neared the tents. They barked furiously and completely fearless. They would chase the car for some distance and would then go back.

Ice blocking their way:

The turns became sharper and bumpier. The sudden and unexpected fall of snow started blocking their way

Both the author and Daniel got out of the car for Tsetan to drive it safely, taking sharp bends They were at 5210 meters above the sea level. The icy top layer of the snow was very dangerous, the car could slip off the road. The snow continued blocking their way. As they reached 5515 meters above the sea level, the atmospheric pressure became very low and Tsetan opened the lid of the petrol tank to release the evaporated fuel. The author experienced severe headache.

The town of Hor:

By late afternoon, they had reached the small town of Hor. Daniel returned Lhasa and Tsetan repaired the flat tyre of the car Hor was grim, miserable place. There was no vegetation whatsoever, just dust and rocks There was the accumulated refuse everywhere. Unlike the past, the place no longer appeared holy.

Reaching Darchen:

By 10. 30 p. m., they reached a guesthouse in Darchen. The author had a very troubled night His sinus were blocked, and he was not able to get enough oxygen and finding it difficult to sleep. Most

of the night he sat and was not able to sleep

Visiting the Medical College:

The next day Tsetan took him to the Darchen Medical College. The doctor told him it was just cold and the altitude giving him troubles. He gave him some medicine and that night he was able to sleep well.

Tsetan leaving for Lhasa:

‘Tsetan left the author in Darchen and went away. He did not mind if the author would die in Darchen. He was a good Buddhist and believed in life after death. However, he was worried it could affect his business, as he may not get more tourists to be accompanied.

Dry Darchen:

Like Hor Darchen was dusty and heaps of refuse could be seen all around. There were not many shops in Darchen the town appeared to be Sparsely populated. He felt lonely, as they were not any pilgrims. He had reached there very early in the season.

Meeting Norbu:

The author wanted to reach Mount Kailash to do kora. But he didn't want to do it alone. He was looking for someone who could speak or understand English. One day he was sitting in a café. When Norbu saw him reading an English book he came and introduced him to the author. He was a Tibetan but worked in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He too was there to do kora. But he was not a religious person. Both of them decided to climb Mount Kailash.

Points to Remember

1. The author left Ravu for Mount Kailash in the company of Daniel and Tsetan.

2. Before leaving the place Lhamo gave him a long-sleeved sheepskin coat.

3. The journey would be smooth if there were no snow.

4. As they passed by the hills, they could see the lonely drokbas tending their flocks.

5. As they passed the Tibetan mastiffs would explode into action.

6. They barked furiously and completely fearless. They would chase the car for some distance and would then go back.

7. The turns became sharper and bumpier.

8. The sudden and unexpected fall of snow started blocking their way.

9. By late afternoon, they had reached the small town of Hor.

10. Her was grim, miserable place. There was no vegetation whatsoever, just dust and rocks.

11, There was the accumulated refuse everywhere. Unlike the past, the place no longer appeared holy.

12. By 10.30 p.m., they reached a guesthouse in Darchen.

13. The author had a very troubled night because of cold.

14. The next day Tsetan took him to the Darchen Medical College.

15. The doctor told him it was just cold and the altitude giving him troubles.

16. He gave him some medicine and that night he was able to sleep well.

17. Tsetan left the author in Darchen and went away.

18. Like Hor Darchen was dusty and heaps of refuse could be seen all around.

19. There were not many shops in Darchen.

20. He felt lonely, as they were not any pilgrims.

21. He had reached there very early in the season.

22. The author wanted to reach Mount Kailash to do kora.

23. He was looking for someone who could speak or understand English.

24. later he met a Tibetan Norbu who too was thee to do kora at Mount Kailash.

25. Both of them decided to climb Mount Kailash.

Understanding the Text

I. Give reasons for the following statements.


Question 1. The article has been titled ‘Silk Road.’
Answer: The ‘Silk Road’ refers to a network of overland routes linking Europe with Asia. This had been the trade route followed by the Europeans since ancient times who had a passion for silk, horses and exotic fauna and flora of the East. It is a thread that links East and West, a network of veins that pumped new lifeblood into mighty empires, a fabled route trodden by innumerable adventurers through the ages.

The author Nick Middleton, in his travelogue, follows the footsteps of Alexander the Great and Marco Polo overland from China to the edge of Europe. Hence, it is titled as ‘Silk Road’. The reader finds it refreshing to traverse such vast tracts of the natural world that remain largely untamed.

Question 2. Tibetan mastiffs were popular in China’s imperial courts.
Answer: Tibetan mastiffs were popular in China’s imperial courts as hunting dogs. They were brought along the Silk Road in ancient times as payment of tax from Tibet. They were huge black dogs also used as watchdogs. They exploded into action like bullets when roused. They were furious and fearless.

Question 3. The author’s experience at Hor was in stark contrast to earlier accounts of the place.
Answer: According to the earlier accounts, the town, on the shore of Lake Manasarovar, abounded in natural beauty. A Japanese monk who had arrived there in 1900 was so moved by the sanctity of the lake that he burst into tears. A couple of years later, the hallowed waters had a similar effect on another traveller. However, now it was a grim and miserable place. There was no vegetation whatsoever, but only dust and rocks liberally scattered with years of accumulated rubbish left by tourists.

Question 4. The author was disappointed with Darchen.
Answer: The high altitude was giving the author health problems. He had a bad cold and was not able to sleep at night. Since he was one of the early arrivals in the pilgrimage season, there weren’t any pilgrims in the place. The place was dusty, partially derelict and punctuated by heaps of rubble and rubbish left behind by tourists.

Question 5. The author thought that his positive thinking strategy worked well after all.
Answer: The author was disappointed with Darchen. He also complained of bad health. Tsetan had left for Lhasa. He was feeling rather lonely with no pilgrims around. It was then that he met Norbu, a Tibetan who also wanted to visit Kailash. They would make a good team as both of them were ‘academicians who had escaped from the library’. The author started thinking positively and it gave him some delight and a new enthusiasm.

II. Briefly comment on

Question 1. The purpose of the author’s journey to Mount Kailash.
Answer: Nick Middleton is an Oxford Professor as well as an adventurer. He follows the most difficult terrain through the Silk Road and reaches the foot of Mount Kailash. The purpose of the author’s journey to Mount Kailash was to complete the kora, which was a sacred religious ritual according to Hindu and Buddhist tradition.

Question 2. The author’s physical condition in Darchen.
Answer: The author was not physically well when he reached Darchen. His sinuses were blocked due to the cold wind at Hor and-he was not able to sleep well at night. The next day Tsetan took him to the Darchen Medical College and the doctor there gave him some medicine that gave him some relief.

Question 3. The author’s meeting with Norbu.
Answer: The author was feeling rather lonely without Tsetan, who had gone back with the car to Lhasa. There weren’t any pilgrims at Darchen as he had reached the place too early in the pilgrimage season. The author was sitting in the only cafe in Darchen when he met Norbu. The author was delighted to meet Norbu since he was also planning to do the kora. Norbu, who worked in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, had written papers on Kailash kora. So, they decided to do it together.

 

Question 4. Tsetan’s support to the author during the journey.
Answer: Tsetan was a good and efficient driver. He drove the car very carefully. During the journey, he spoke to the author giving information about the places they were visiting. He was very caring. At Darchen when he found that the author was not well, Tsetan took him to the medical college and got medicine for him. He was also a good Buddhist.

 

Question 5. “As a Buddhist, he told me, he knew that it didn’t really matter if I passed away, but he thought it would be bad for business.”
Answer: These were Tsetan’s words spoken to the author. After the author’s sickness was cured, Tsetan wanted to go back to Lhasa. By saying these words, he showed his caring attitude towards the author and at the same time, he firmly stated that he was a Buddhist, who believed that physical death was not death in the real sense. However, he thought that the death of a tourist could affect his business as his credibility will be at stake in looking after the tourists, due to which he may not get any more customers.

 

Talking About the Text

Discuss in groups of four.

Question 1. The sensitive behaviour of hill-folk.
Answer: The hill-folk are quite unsophisticated and innocent. People like Tsetan are very religious and God-fearing. They are very much hospitable and take care of the visitors from outside.

 

Question 2. The reasons why people willingly undergo the travails of difficult journeys.
Answer: The author was an academician; hence, he undertook the journey for the purpose of education. For him it was a learning experience. Secondly, people undertake such journeys because of the spirit of adventure. The areas covered by the author are some of the most difficult terrains in the world. The third can be a religious reason. People visit places like Mount Kailash as part of their pilgrimage.

Question 3. The accounts of exotic places in legends and the reality.
Answer: There are many accounts of exotic places in legends and the reality. Places like Mount Kailash and Manasarovar occupy a prominent place in legends. There are many articles written about these places.

 

Thinking About Language

Question 1. Notice the kind of English Tsetan uses while talking to the author. How do you think he picked it up?
Answer: He must have picked up English through his interactions with tourists.

 

Question 2. What do the following utterances indicate?
 

(i) “I told her, through Daniel……”
Answer: She was not able to follow English but Daniel
translated what he told in English into the Tibetan language for her.

(ii) “It’s a cold,” he said finally through Tsetan.
Answer: The doctor spoke in Tibetan language, which Tsetan translated into English for the author.

Question 3. Guess the meaning of the following words. In which language are these words found?
kora drokba kyang

 Answer: Kora means pilgrimage.
Drokba means nomads.
Kyang means wild ass.
These words are found in the Tibetan language.

Working with Words

Question 1. The narrative has many phrases to describe the scenic beauty of the mountainside like:
A flawless half-moon floated in a perfect blue sky.
Scan the text to locate other such picturesque phrases.

Answer: (i) …………. the river was wide and mostly clogged with ice, brilliant white and glinting in the sunshine.
(ii) It was marked by a large cairn of rocks festooned with Silk scarves and ragged prayer flags.

Question 2. Explain the use of the adjectives in the following phrases.
(i) shaggy monsters
(ii) brackish lakes
(iii) rickety table
(iv) hairpin bend
(v) rudimentary general stores

Answer: (i) Shaggy means hairy and unkempt.
(ii) Brackish means slightly salty.
(iii) Rickety means wobbly or shaky.
(iv) Hairpin means very sharp; shaped like a hairpin.
(v) Rudimentary means simple or basic.

Noticing Form

Question 1. The account has only a few passive voice sentences. Locate them. In what way does the use of active voice contribute to the style of the narrative?
Answer: Some passive voice sentences are

  1. The slope was steep and studded with major rocks…

  2. It was marked by a large cairn of rocks.

  3. The plateau is pockmarked with….

Passive voice is used only when the object is to be stressed. Passive voice is mainly used in reporting events. Active voice is more realistic and direct, thus contributing a livelier style to the narrative.

Question 2. Notice this construction: Tsetan was eager to have them fixed. Write five sentences with a similar structure.
Answer: The sentences are:

  1. Savita was keen to get her cycle repaired.

  2. Ravi was impatient to visit the exhibition.

  3. Jagdish was itching to get started on his journey.

  4. Malati was anxious to have her way in the argument.

  5. Beena was fervently wishing to clear her exams.

Short Questions and Answers

 

Question 1. What was the farewell present given by Lhamo to the author when he told her that he was going to Mount Kailash?
Answer: The farewell present given by Lhamo to the author when he told her that he was going to Mount Kailash was a long-sleeved sheepskin coat that normally shepherds wore. She felt that the coat would protect him from the cold weather on the mountain.

 

Question 2. What did Tsetan say would be the only hurdle while they were on their way to Mount Kailash?
Answer: Tsetan said that their journey to Mount Kailash would involve crossing several high mountain passes. He knew the way very well, but the only hurdle would be snow on the way. He could not say anything for sure until they reached there.

Question 3. While crossing the rocky wilderness, who did they see and what was their reaction?
Answer: While crossing the rocky wilderness, they saw solitary drokbas (shepherds) – both men and women, well wrapped in sheepskin coats – who were tending their flocks. They would pause and stare at their car, sometimes waving as they passed.

Question 4. How did the Tibetan mastiffs react when they approached?
Answer: The dogs would cock their great big heads when they became aware of their approach and would fix them in their sights. As they drew nearer, they would explode into action, speeding directly towards them, like a bullet from a gun and nearly as fast.

Question 5. How did the river appear as they entered the valley?
Answer: As they entered the valley, the river became wide and mostly clogged with ice. It appeared brilliant white and glinting in the sunshine.

Question 6. How could the author tell the height they were at by looking at his wristwatch?
Answer: The author could tell the height they were at by looking at his wristwatch because he was wearing an altimeter wristwatch. This kind of watch gives a digital height reading besides telling the time.

Question 7. How did the author feel when they were at about 5400 metres above sea level?
Answer: When they were at about 5400 metres above the sea level, the road was covered with snow and the author felt his head throbbing horribly. He took some water from the bottle, which was to help a rapid ascent.

Question 8. Why is it that on the top of the mountain there is a plateau pockmarked with salt flats?
Answer: These salt flats are the remains of the Tethys Ocean, which bordered Tibet before the great continental collision that lifted the whole Tibetan plateau skyward millions of years ago.

Question 9. What activity was going on in the area where there were flats of salt?
Answer: This place was a hive of activity. Men were working with pickaxes and shovels, walking back and forth in their long sheepskin coats and salt-encrusted boots, carrying loads of salt mined from the flats.

Question 10. Describe the appearance of Hor.
Answer: Hor was a miserable place, as there was no sanitation. There was no vegetation whatsoever; only dust and rocks, liberally scattered with years of accumulated rubbish left by tourists.

Question 11. What troubled the author at Darchen?
Answer: A bad cold troubled the author at Darchen. He was unable to go to sleep at night as his nostrils were blocked. When he was just’ dozing off, he woke up suddenly. He felt his chest becoming very heavy, as he was not able to breathe in enough oxygen.

Question 12. How did the Darchen Medical College appear?
Answer: The Darchen Medical College was new and looked like a monastery from the outside with a very solid door that led into a large courtyard. The consulting room was dark and cold.

Question 13. What, according to the doctor, was the problem the author suffered from?
Answer: According to the doctor, the author suffered from a bad cold as well as the effects of the altitude. His sinuses were blocked, and he was not able to sleep at night.

Question 14. What did the author notice in Darchen?
Answer: In Darchen, the author noticed that the people were very relaxed and unhurried, but there was a significant drawback. There were no pilgrims in Darchen.

Question 15. Who was Norbu?
Answer: Norbu was a Tibetan but worked in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in the Institute of Ethnic Literature. He had come to Darchen to do the kora of Mount Kailash, just like the author.

Question 16. Why had Norbu come to Kailash?
Answer: Norbu had been writing academic papers about the Kailash kora and its importance in various works of Buddhist literature for many years, but he had actually never done it himself. Hence, he also was there to do kora.

Question 17. How did Norbu become an ideal companion for the author?
Answer: Norbu was an ideal companion for the author as both were academics who had come away from their academic work. Both were not devout believers and they did not intend to prostrate themselves all-round the mountain like other pilgrims.

Long Questions and Answers

Question 1. Describe the author’s experiences at Darchen.
Answer: Both the author and Tsetan reached Darchen during the late night. They found a guesthouse to stay in. However, the author had serious sleep problems at night as he was suffering from the effects of the high altitude as well as a blocked nose. The next day, Tsetan took him to the Darchen Medical College for getting him treated. The doctor there told them that it was a common problem in this area and gave some medicine for him.

Then Tsetan left him to return to Lhasa as, from here onwards, the author would have to go on foot. At Darchen, he found people very relaxed and unhurried, but he could not find pilgrims there as he had reached there very early in the pilgrim season. Then he met Norbu, who was a Tibetan working in Beijing. He also had come for kora. They decided to climb Kailash together, as both were not devout pilgrims and had no desire to prostrate themselves all-round the mountain.

Question 2. How was his experience of Hor a stark contrast to the accounts he had read of the earlier travellers?
Answer: Hor was a small town placed in the back on the main East-West highway that followed the old trade route from Lhasa to Kashmir. The author found the place very grim and miserable. There was no vegetation whatsoever, just dust and rocks, liberally scattered with years of accumulated rubbish left behind by tourists. The town sat on the shore of lake Manasarovar, Tibet’s holiest stretch of water. Ancient Hindu and Buddhist scriptures tell that Lake Manasarovar was the source of four great Indian rivers: Indus, Ganges, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra. Actually, only the Sutlej flows from the lake, but the headwaters of the others all rise nearby on the slopes of Mount Kailash.

His experience in Hor came as a stark contrast to accounts he had read of earlier travellers’ first encounters with Lake Manasarovar. Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk who had arrived there in 1900, was so moved by the sanctity of the lake that he burst into tears. Similarly, in 1902,

Sven Hedin from Sweden was also moved by the vision of the lake. However, now you could only find open-air dumps of rubbish in the town.

 

Question 3. Justify the title ‘Silk Road’.
Answer: The ‘Silk Road’ is not single highway, but a network of overland routes linking Europe with Asia, making trade possible between those with a passion for silk, horses and exotic fauna and flora. Just about every transaction imaginable has occurred along its many trails over the centuries. It’s a thread that links East and West, a network of veins that pumped new lifeblood into mighty empires, a fabled route trodden by innumerable adventurers through the ages.

Yet, underlying this romantic trail is one of the most extraordinary tracts of land on this planet, a vast region separating China from the Mediterranean world that rates as one of the least hospitable areas on Earth. It was the difficulty of crossing such unforgiving territory that kept East and West apart for so long, allowing them to develop in their own distinct ways.

The author records the challenges and hardships he faced in the Silk Road regions as they are now. The reader finds it refreshing to traverse such vast tracts of the natural world that remain largely unchanged from earlier days.

 

Question 4. “He’s an adventurer, but at heart more a meticulous academic than a daredevil”. Explain the truth of the statement about the author based on your reading of the travelogue ‘Silk Road’ by Nick Middleton.
Answer: Oxford professor and travel writer, Nick Middleton is truly an adventurer, but at heart more a meticulous academic than a daredevil adventurer. He is an environmental consultant who has written many articles in journals, magazines and newspapers-as well as 16 books. Nick Middleton teaches geography at Oxford University and is a fellow of St Anne’s College. His main research interest is in the nature and human use of deserts and their margins.

After reaching Hor, what he was struck by was not the natural beauty of the place but the litter all around the area left by tourists. He was disappointed to see how man was ruining the environment. Being an environmental consultant, he was much disturbed at how the environment is slowly deteriorating due to human activity.

He gives a graphic detail of the mountain terrain, the snow-covered mountains, and the calm and relaxed people he met there. He strongly believes that travel broadens our mind.

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