IT is one thing to follow your wanderlust and compelling sense of adventure and quite another to follow the 700-year-old tracks, zeal and passion of the legendary explorer, Ibn Battuta. And when that happens, one is in the face of yet another lesson in inspiration- Carolyn McIntyre.
As a traveller and explorer, Ibn Battuta has been known through the ages for his travels and excursions over a period of almost thirty years, covering some 117,000 km, covering almost the entirety of the known Islamic world and beyond -a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors and his near-contemporary Marco Polo.
“I read Ibn Battuta’s epic journey and I knew I am going to do this,” she says at the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai.
This Scotswoman first came to the Middle East as a 19-year-old flight attendant with Saudi Arabian Airlines, she travelled extensively around the Middle East and learned a great deal about Islam, the region’s culture, history and traditions.
“This is an important part of the world…I wanted to use my experience of living here to open it up to the world,” she says.
But the choice of course evoked a host of reactions: “People just thought I was having a moment!”
Carolyn, 50, stood her ground to follow the 14th century traveller through all his sites, forts, caves, holy sanctuaries and moments in the history of his epic journey.
Having travelled through about 14 countries since her expedition started in June 2006 in Algiers, she has had more contemporary challenges than the legendary explorer due to the obvious difference in time periods.
Practical issues like visas, entry permits, cost of travel and political situations have been some of the ground realities that this contemporary explorer has had to accept and subsequently surmount. Especially remarkable is her self-funding prowess that has her leading tours from time to time so she is financially empowered to follow Ibn Battuta.
However, having braved the hurdles of the contemporary world, her travel across the Middle Eastern cultures and continents has left her with some memorable experiences. Whether it is Libya’s Al-Qusbat – a sleepy agricultural town built among hills of olives and figs (known to Ibn Battuta as Mislata) or Konye-Urgench (what Ibn Battuta calls Khwarizm, then the largest, most beautiful and most important city of the Turks, now reduced to a ruin with just a stump of a minaret, Carolyn has a plethora of experiences to unpack.
Of all her accounts, she finds the weddings, replete with henna and song and dance, particularly memorable, adding that they left an imprint of unique vibrancy. She particularly cites the olive harvest in Palestine as “simply astonishing”.
Overall, the sojourn has left her with “humility and inspiration”, she says. No wonder she believes that travel influences the mind and contributes to true education, eliminating stereotypes about people, cultures and religions.
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