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Views from the Edge of Beyond

The Temporary Consul

Kashgar, a desert oasis at the foot of the Pamir Mountains, was pivotal in the struggle between Russia and Britain known as the ‘Great Game’. When the British consul there needed a holiday, the man sent to relieve him was Sir Percy Sykes, explorer, soldier, scholar and spy. Published here for the first time are the amazing photographs Sykes took during his tour of duty in 1915, when he travelled with his sister to the Pamirs and the Taklmakan Desert. Antony Wynn, his biographer, tells the story.

  • Kirghiz women dressed in wedding finery in front of their yurt. Some are wearing ikat dresses

… With eighteen pack ponies to carry their supplies, Sir Percy and his sister Ella set off across the fast-flowing Gez river up to Lake Bulangul and the country of the Kirghiz nomads, who welcomed them into their felt ak-oys (ak ev, or white houses), which were much warmer and more comfortable than their own camping tents. As they climbed, they changed their pack ponies for yaks and reached the 16,000-foot crest of the Katta Dawan Pass, with its spectacular view of the Great Karakul (Black Lake) on the Russian side. They visited Pamirski Post, the Russian military outpost at the head of the Murghab valley, which forms one of the headwaters of the Oxus. Even the bottoms of the valleys were 12,000 feet high – higher than most of the Alps. This was the home of the Ovis poli, the Marco Polo sheep, with its huge spreading horns, the most covted trophy of English sporting soldiers in India.

Antony Wynn is the author of ‘Persia in the Great Game’ and ‘Three Camels to Smyrna’

To read the full article, purchase Issue 36

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Issue 36, 2006 A Beauty on the Bosphorus
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 36
  • Heaven on a Plate

    This modern Turkish favourite is a descendant of şeker gurabiye, the biscuit served at 16th-century Ottoman feasts

  • Divine Restoration

    By the mid-1990s the Zeyrek Camii was in a state of alarming decrepitude. Now that the Byzantine masterpiece has been rescued, what lessons have been learnt? For Robert Ousterhout, who was closely involved in the restoration, the old ways are always the best. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • New Light on Old Glories at the V&A

    For three years, the main Islamic Middle East gallery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was closed. It reopened in 2006 with spectacular effect. Here we present some key aspects of a stunning permanent collection that can now be seen, literally, in an entirely new light. Commentary by its curator, Tim Stanley. Gallery photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • Crimea

    The Crimean War of 1853–56 which ended 150 years ago this year [2006] now seems very remote. Why were Great Britain and France, in alliance with Ottoman Turkey, fighting Russia in the Black Sea? Norman Stone investigates the causes and reviews an exhibition of Crimean War memorabilia at the Sadberk Hanim Museum.

Buy the issue
Issue 36, 2006 A Beauty on the Bosphorus
£12.00 / $15.64 / 517.63 TL
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