The Customs of the Kingdoms of India (Penguin Great Journeys)
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As Marco Polo (1254-1324) returned home across the Indian Ocean, after years in the service of Genghis Khan, he picked up a fabulous array of stories from sailors and merchants, about the peoples of the region, some reliable, some wholly implausible, but all fascinating. Great Journeys allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries - but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways from our own. Few reading experiences can begin to match that of engaging with writers who saw astounding things: Great civilisations, walls of ice, violent and implacable jungles, deserts and mountains, multitudes of birds and flowers new to science. Reading these books is to see the world afresh, to rediscover a time when many cultures were quite strange to each other, where legends and stories were treated as facts and in which so much was still to be discovered.
the world diamonds are found nowhere else except in this kingdom alone. But there they are both abundant and of good quality. You must not suppose that diamonds of the first water come to our countries of Christendom. Actually they are exported to the Great Khan and to the kings and noblemen of these various regions and realms. For it is they who have the wealth to buy all the costliest stones. Let us turn now to other matters. You should know that in this kingdom are made all the best buckrams
in horses to all parts of India and few ships go thither without taking horses. That is why the king has made this bargain with the corsairs, by which they give him all the horses they take, while all the rest of the merchandise – gold, silver, and precious stones – they keep for themselves. Now this is a shameful compact and unworthy of a king. Let us now pass on and talk of Cambay, a great kingdom lying towards the west. It has a king and a language of its own and is tributary to none. The
from sixteen to twenty men together – armed with lances, swords, and stones. And this fighting on elephant-back is a formidable business. They have no arms but leather shields, lances, and swords, and the slaughter on both sides is heavy. Here is another point: when they are about to drive their elephants into the fray, they let them drink freely of their wine – that is, their own drink. This they do because, when an elephant has drunk his wine, he grows more ferocious and mettlesome and acquits
small ships, which sail for seven days along a river. At the end of this time they unload the goods and pack them on camels and carry them thus for about thirty days, after which they reach the river of Alexandria; and down this river they are easily transported to Alexandria itself. This is the route from Aden by which the Saracens of Alexandria receive pepper and spices and precious wares; and there is no other route as easy and as short as this. Aden is also the starting point for many
return – each to her own home. This they do until they take husbands. Such maidens are to be found in profusion throughout this kingdom, doing all the things of which I have told you. And the reason why they are called on to amuse the idols is this. The priests of the idols very often declare: ‘The god is estranged from the goddess. One will not cohabit with the other, nor will they hold speech together. Since they are thus estranged and angry with each other, unless they are reconciled and make