All the best armchair travellers are sceptics. Those of the fourteenth century were no exception: for them, there were lies, damned lies, and Ibn Battutah's India.
Born in 1304, Ibn Battutah left his native Tangier as a young scholar of law. He returned nearly thirty years later having visited most of the known world between Morocco and China, the Prince of Travellers for some, a blatant Munchausen for most. It was India that stretched his readers' credulity beyond the limit. In his highly acclaimed Travels with a Tangerine , Tim Mackintosh-Smith tailed the Moroccan around the old Islamic world. Now he traces in situ the dizzy ladders and terrifying snakes of Ibn Battutah's Indian career as a judge and a hermit, courtier and prisoner, ambassador and castaway. From the plains of Hindustan to the plateaux of the Deccan and the lost ports of Malabar, sleuth-work, scholarship and luck lead him through the incredible memories of a man who died ten lifetimes ago. On the way, he reveals an India far off the beaten path of Taj and Raj, where a dead Muslim poses as a Hindu deity, Jesus pops up in the pulpit of a Mosque, and the rotten tooth of a mad sultan is revered as a saint.
Ibn Battutah left India on a snake, stripped to his underpants by pirates; but he took away a treasure of tales as rich as any in the history of travel. Back home they said the treasure was a fake. Mackintosh-Smith proves the sceptics wrong. India is a jewel in the Prince of Travellers' turban. Here it is, glittering, grotesque but genuine, a fitting ornament for his 700th birthday.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith's first book, YEMEN: TRAVELS IN DICTIONARY LAND won the 1998 Thomas Cook/ Daily Telegraph Travel Book Award and is now regarded as a classic of Arabian description. His books on Ibn Battutah's adventures in the old Islamic world and in India have all received huge critical acclaim. LANDFALLS was awarded the Oldie Best Travel Award in 2010 and the Ibn Battutah Prize of Honour by the Arab Centre for Geographical Literature. His journeys in search of Ibn Battutah have also been turned into a major BBC television series. For the past twenty-five years his home has been the Yemeni capital San'a, where he lives in a tower-house on top of the ancient Sabaean city and next door to the modern donkey market. You can find out more about him at www.mackintosh-smith.com
A gripping read and a fitting testament to the Prince of Travellers
Were he to jump on a camel for his second volume in the great traveller's footsteps ... he would surely be the Burton of his day
Praise for previous works The Spectator
Mackintosh-Smith has all the assets a travel writer needs: erudition without pretension; rather subversive good humour without relentless jokiness; and a descriptive eye capable of sketching complex detail in a few telling lines of ink
Praise for previous work, The Daily Telegraph
This is his first venture into India but he comes upon the scene like a breath of fresh air.
A deft use of language, anecdote, scholarship and a daunting appreciation for all that is wonderful and absurd in the world. Esoteric, raunchy, hilarious, erudite and transporting, The Hall of a Thousand Columns is a marvellous traveller's tale like no other. I sense that Ibn Battutah has finally met his match.
As a writer and traveller Tim Mackintosh-Smith has two great gifts: he slips effortlessly between the past and the present, and he takes us with him. This is his first venture into India but he comes upon the scene like a breath of fresh air.
Part travel book, part biography, part detective story, this is a gripping read and a fitting testament to the Prince of Travellers.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith has recreated, with enviable intimacy and elegance, the extraordinary life and times of the greatest traveller of pre-modern times.
Pankaj Mishra, author of The Romantics and
Beneath this funny, cultured, humane and highly idiosyncratic travelogue there is a darkly tragic theme: interwoven with the real-time journey through India is an enquiry into the nature of Islam in India.
Barnaby Rogerson, Literary Review
Tim's aim is to sift tangible history from magical reality ...and he proves the sceptics wrong: India is the Jewel in the Prince of Travellers' turban.
The Nehru Centre
A first-rate travel book, enlivened by the author's erudition, subtle sense of humour, and sheer enthusiasm for his subject.
A curiously addictive blend of history, travel and jokes
This is engrossing writing to transport even the most languid armchair traveller.
You really must read...: Rich and fascinating.
A book that travels in time as well as in space
A thoroughly engaging read . . . Smith writes articulately and with good humour . . . very rewarding
Adventure Travel magazine
Mackintosh-Smith seems to tread a pleasing path between using Ibn-Battutah's work as his personal guide book and taking in his surroundings as they come. The best thing about this book is how the past and the present are mingled
Few writers have the talent to pull off a notable trilogy in any genre ... Mackintosh-Smith's is not in doubt.
Another triumph, travel writing of the very highest order and the perfect ripsote to any publisher or agent who has been predicting the demise of the genre.
With his hallmark combination of irreverence and empathy, Mackintosh-Smith ... has confected a curiously addictive blend of history, travel and jokes. But above all, he engages with ideas, and his aim is that of the novelist - to send a bucket down into the subconscious.
'The author's research has been thorough, but his tone is often enjoyably light . . . The Hall of a Thousand Columns has achieved what its author intended'
Times Literary Supplement
One of the most enjoyable things about Mackintosh-Smith's narrative is the way it intersperses dizzying glimpses of 14th-century Islamic court life with his own comic attempts to navigate modern-day India.
'A very beguiling mix of modern-day travelogue and a history of Magul India'
Sue Baker, Publishing News
We are also offered an engaging portrait of modern-day India - the charm, humour and quirkiness and the way in which the country constantly juxtaposes the extraordinary with the mundane.
Nick Creagh-Osborne, Guardian