“In Search of King Solomon’s Mines” by Tahir Shah
Tahir Shah is the ideal kind of traveler. While I typically explore a foreign country in a comfortable coach bus with other tourists, Shah travels on a camel with a salt caravan. While I am too self-conscious to speak to the locals, Shah hires an entourage of guides, drivers, and porters to accompany him on every adventure. While I have lodged in all-inclusive resorts (enclaves of America and Europe nestled into Mexico or the Dominican Republic), Shah has been imprisoned for weeks in a Pakistani torture chamber.
Well, that’s going a little too far even for my taste. Tahir Shah, one quickly realizes, is not a traveler of the modern mold. He could care less about wine, golf, and seaside massages. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, his account of travels in Ethiopia, documents Shah’s quest for the source of the legendary treasure from the First Temple in Jerusalem. Shah is not the first to search for the ancient gold mines of Ethiopia, and his manner of conducting his expedition seems almost naive (he got the idea from an obviously-fake treasure map of Ethiopia that he purchased in a Jerusalem marketplace). But while reading the book, one realizes that Shah is not looking to get rich; he is looking for a story. He travels according to the motto, “adventure is only inconvenience rightly understood”. And any adventure is worthwhile if it proves interesting to recall. So getting ripped off by an opportunistic Israeli merchant is no loss. Shah seems to have relished writing about the experience. Even a counterfeit map, in retrospect, can lead one to treasures of a sort.