IBN BATUTA, 1328-1353

At last the wind changed; Ibn Batuta chose a small junk well fitted up, to take him to China, and had all his property put on board. Thirteen other junks were to receive the presents sent by the King of Delhi to the Emperor of China, but during the night a violent storm arose, and all the vessels sank. Fortunately for Ibn he had remained on shore to attend the service at the mosque, and thus his piety saved his life, but he had lost everything except "the carpet which he used at his devotions." After this second misfortune he could not make up his mind to appear before the King of Delhi. This catastrophe was enough to weary the patience of a more long-suffering emperor than Mohammed.

Ibn soon made up his mind what to do. Leaving the service of the emperor, and the advantages attaching to the post of ambassador, he embarked for the Maldive Islands, which were governed by a woman, and where a large trade in cocoa was carried on. Here he was again made a judge, but this was only of short duration, for the vizier became jealous of his success, and, after marrying three wives, Ibn was obliged to take refuge in flight. He hoped to reach the Coromandel coast, but contrary winds drove his vessel towards Ceylon, where he was very well received, and gained the king's permission to climb the sacred mountain of Serendid, or Adam's Peak. His object was to see the wonderful impression of a foot at the summit, which the Hindoos call "Buddha's," and the Mahometans "Adam's, foot." He pretends, in his narrative, that this impression measures eleven hands in length, a very different account from that of an historian of the ninth century, who declared it to be seventy-nine cubits long! This historian also adds that while one of the feet of our forefather rested on the mountain, the other was in the Indian ocean.

Ibn Batuta speaks also of large bearded apes, forming a considerable item in the population of the island, and said to be under a king of their own, crowned with leaves. We can give what credit we like to such fables as these, which were propagated by the credulity of the Hindoos.

From Ceylon, the traveller made his way to the Coromandel coast, but not without experiencing some severe storms. He crossed to the other side of the Indian peninsula, and again embarked.

Ibn Batuta's vessel was seized by pirates
Ibn Batuta's vessel was seized by pirates.

But his vessel was seized by pirates, and Ibn Batuta arrived at Calicut almost without clothes, robbed, and worn out with fatigue. No misfortune could damp his ardour, his was one of those great spirits which seem only invigorated by trouble and disasters. As soon as he was enabled by the kindness of some Delhi merchants to resume his travels, he embarked for the Maldive Islands, went on to Bengal, there set sail for Sumatra, and disembarked at one of the Nicobar Islands after a very bad passage which had lasted fifty days. Fifteen days afterwards he arrived at Sumatra, where the king gave him a hearty welcome and furnished him with means to continue his journey to China.

A junk took him in seventy-one days to the port Kailuka, capital of a country somewhat problematical, of which the brave and handsome inhabitants excelled in making arms. From Kailuka, Ibn passed into the Chinese provinces, and went first to the splendid town of Zaitem, probably the present Tsieun-tcheou of the Chinese, a little to the north of Nankin. He passed through various cities of this great empire, studying the customs of the people and admiring everywhere the riches, industry, and civilization that he found, but he did not get as far as the Great Wall, which he calls "The obstacle of Gog and Magog." It was while he was exploring this immense tract of country that he made a short stay in the city of Tchensi, which is composed of six fortified towns standing together. It happened that during his wanderings he was able to be present at the funeral of a khan, who was buried with four slaves, six of his favourites, and four horses.

In the meanwhile, disturbances had occurred at Zaitem, which obliged Ibn to leave this town, so he set sail for Sumatra, and then after touching at Calicut and Ormuz, he returned to Mecca in 1348, having made the tour of Persia and Syria.

But the time of rest had not yet come for this indefatigable explorer; the following year he revisited his native place Tangier, and then after travelling in the southern countries of Europe he returned to Morocco, went to Soudan and the countries watered by the Niger, crossed the Great Desert and entered Timbuctoo, thus making a journey which would have rendered illustrious a less ambitious traveller.

This was to be his last expedition. In 1353, twenty-nine years after leaving Tangier for the first time, he returned to Morocco, and settled at Fez. He has earned the reputation of being the most intrepid explorer of the fourteenth century, and well merits to be ranked next after Marco Polo, the illustrious Venetian.