IBN BATUTA, 1328-1353
After Anatolia, the Arabian narrative speaks of Asia Minor. Ibn Batuta advanced as far as Erzeroum, where he was shown an aerolite weighing 620 pounds. Then, crossing the Black Sea, he visited the Crimea, Kaffa, and Bulgar, a town of sufficiently high latitude for the unequal length of day and night to be very marked; and at last he reached Astrakhan, at the mouth of the Volga, where the Khan of Tartary lived during the winter months.
The Princess Bailun, the wife of the khan, and daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople, was wishing to visit her father, and it was an opportunity not to be lost by Ibn Batuta for exploring Turkey in Europe; he gained permission to accompany the princess, who set out attended by 5000 men, and followed by a portable mosque, which was set up at every place where they stayed. The princess's reception at Constantinople was very magnificent, the bells being rung with such spirit that he says, "even the horizon seemed full of the vibration."
The welcome given to the theologian by the princes of the country was worthy of his fame; he remained in the city thirty-six days, so that he was able to study it in all its details.
This was a time when communication between the different countries was both dangerous and difficult, and Ibn Batuta was considered a very bold traveller. Egypt, Arabia, Turkey in Asia, the Caucasian provinces had all in turn been explored by him. After such hard work he might well have taken rest and been satisfied with the laurels that he had gained, for he was without doubt the most celebrated traveller of the fourteenth century; but his insatiable passion for travelling remained, and the circle of his explorations was still to widen considerably.
On leaving Constantinople, Ibn Batuta went again to Astrakhan, thence crossing the sandy wastes of the present Turkestan, he arrived at Khovarezen, a large populous town, then at Bokhara, half destroyed by the armies of Gengis-Khan. Some time after we hear of him at Samarcand, a religious town which greatly pleased the learned traveller, and then at Balkh which he could not reach without crossing the desert of Khorassan. This town was all in ruins and desolate, for the armies of the barbarians had been there, and Ibn Batuta could not remain in it, but wished to go westward to the frontier of Afghanistan. The mountainous country, near the Hindoo Koosh range, confronted him, but this was no barrier to him, and after great fatigue, which he bore with equal patience and good-humour, he reached the important town of Herat. This was the most westerly point reached by the traveller; he now resolved to change his course for an easterly one, and in going to the extreme limits of Asia, to reach the shores of the Pacific: if he could succeed in this he would pass the bounds of the explorations of the celebrated Marco Polo.
He set out, and following the course of the river Kabul and the frontiers of Afghanistan, he came to the Sindhu, the modern Indus, and descended it to its mouth. From the town of Lahore, he went to Delhi, which great and beautiful city had been deserted by its inhabitants, who had fled from the Emperor Mohammed.
This tyrant, who was occasionally both generous and magnificent, received the Arabian traveller very well, made him a judge in Delhi, and gave him a grant of land with some pecuniary advantages that were attached to the post, but these honours were not to be of any long duration, for Ibn Batuta being implicated in a pretended conspiracy, thought it best to give up his place, and make himself a fakir to escape the Emperor's displeasure. Mohammed, however, pardoned him, and made him his ambassador to China.
Fortune again smiled upon the courageous traveller, and he had now the prospect of seeing these distant lands under exceptionally good and safe circumstances. He was charged with presents for the Emperor of China, and 2000 horse-soldiers were given him as an escort.
But Ibn Batuta had not thought of the insurgents who occupied the surrounding countries; a skirmish took place between the escort and the Hindoos, and the traveller, being separated from his companions, was taken prisoner, robbed, garotted, and carried off he knew not whither; but his courage and hopefulness did not forsake him, and he contrived to escape from the hands of these robbers. After wandering about for seven days, he was received into his house by a negro, who at length led him back to the emperor's palace at Delhi.
Mohammed fitted out another expedition, and again appointed the Arabian traveller as his ambassador. This time they passed through the enemy's country without molestation, and by way of Kanoje, Mersa, Gwalior, and Barun, they reached Malabar. Some time after, they arrived at the great port of Calicut, an important place which became afterwards the chief town of Malabar; here they were detained by contrary winds for three months, and made use of this time to study the Chinese mercantile marine which frequented this port. Ibn speaks with great admiration of these junks which are like floating gardens, where ginger and herbs are grown on deck; they are each like a separate village, and some merchants were the possessors of a great number of these junks.