Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Lost and Found

Not many people today have heard of Charles Montagu Doughty, the great desert explorer and a contemporary of the equally famous Arabist, Sir Richard Burton.

In 1876 the young Charles Doughty set out to cross the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. His goal was the "lost" Nabatean city of Madain Saleh the magnificent sister city to Petra in Jordan. Several years of his life were spent in what were later called his "wanderings": explorations of a terrain little known to Europeans, the discovery of the remains of the vanished city and detailed accounts of what he discovered there, with particular attention paid to the local geology.

I've noticed that the BBC 2 documentary, 'The Frankincense Trail' with the embrassingly naive, Kate Humble, looks as if she is to visit this same spot, ringed by sandstone cliffs in the northern desert of Saudi Arabia. I was once lucky to see this almost thirty years ago, while following the path of T.E Lawrence and the abandoned remains of the Hejaz railway; carrying a well-thumbed copy of the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.

Thirty years ago Saudi Arabia was even more closed than it is today and while unlike Burton or Doughty, the risk of discovery didn't carry the automatic risk of execution, simply getting to the site, even with the permission of the Minister of the Interior, was a struggle, on account of many local Bedouin police being quite unable to read, the tense situation with Israel and the unnerving habit of checkpoint guards of wanting to confiscate the travel authorisation document.

The only means of travelling around at the time was in a battered Volvo estate in rough local disguise, camping out in the desert to avoid attention. Today, with the remains of the city now a world heritage site, it's a little easier if the Saudis will grant a visa and you don't have to grow a beard either!

There is a third Nabatean city along the spice route as well but this one is almost completely unexcavated and I forget its name. I stumbled across it mountain biking in Jordan about ten years ago.

What the BBC's Kate Humble will make of it all is anyone's guess and I would be surprised if she spots the old railway engines from the First World War, gathering dust in the remains of the Turkish garrison station.

8 comments:

Oman Frankincense said...

it was an interesting first program - but a shame Oman and Yemen didnt get a bigger slice of the series

Anonymous said...

So now your Laurence of Arabia. Good for the CV of course!

DrM. said...

My world is too large for small minds like yours 10:22

Anonymous said...

We hear, as Cllr Nottingham has already commented, about your career and your endless adventurous exploits, but very little about you before then. Do you intend filling us in on your misspent youth and family background or were you only created in the Thatcher years?

DrM. said...

This happens to be my personal weblog, one among millions of others. It's a diary, a place to write my thoughts and reminiscences and more.

I've been very fortunate in having many adventures and look forward to many more.

Now why, unlike many thousands of others, I should be denied the right to record these things I don't quite know.

As for the Thatcher years, that takes me back to my early 20's and if you trawl the internet archives hard enought, you'll find me first appearing at about that time on a Parliamentary committee on education, alongside Shirley Williams, Anne Sofer and Professor John Rae and writing for the likes of The Times and Computer Weekly.

Before that, other than travel adventures like anyone else there's not a great deal to write about!

It doesn't make any difference to being a councillor but clearly your obsession with me takes up a disproportionate amount of your time.

I do worry about you. You need to step back and look at how full of hatred you are with your compulsive need to share this obsession with me on other blogs, popping-up under different aliases and trying to be clever but simply showing to the reader your pointless droning agenda disguised as some kind of civic duty!

The raw facts of the matter is that nobody cares. If you were truly some kind of civic crusader you would stand up and be counted.

I suggest you take up voluntary work or contribute to making the world a better place. It may make you feel better!

Anonymous said...

If you think me solely responsible for all the anonymous feedback provided on your blog, and others relating to you, then you do yourself and your blog a great injustice and me an even greater compliment. I can count my comments on one hand, never using any aliases as I have never intended to be misleading in any way. Therefore as you seem so upset by one person's interest in your blog, I shall of course cease - however if your paranoia is as a result of what you consider to be a growing conspiracy against you, I wish you success in your blog war.

DrM. said...

Well, we can only take your word for that, as you continue to remain anonymous but your style is easily followed between the blogs.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are approximately six persons, you included, who can be identified from either there style or IP address as being most responsible for the broad majority of anonymous and malicious comments that litter the principal Thanet weblogs, mine included.

So I suggest you go an busy yourself with more interesting matters than trawling my weblog on a sunny Saturday morning, I certainly will!

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see that ECR is no longer accepting anonymous comments...