All the best armchair travellers are sceptics. Those of the fourteenth century were no exception: for them, there were lies, damned lies, and Ibn Battutah's India. Born in 1304, Ibn Battutah left his native Tangier as a young scholar of law. He returned nearly thirty years later having visited most of the known world between Morocco and China, the Prince of Travellers for some, a blatant Munchausen for most. It was India that stretched his readers' credulity beyond the limit. In his highly acclaimed Travels with a Tangerine, Tim Mackintosh-Smith tailed the Moroccan around the old Islamic world. Now he traces in situ the dizzy ladders and terrifying snakes of Ibn Battutah's Indian career as a judge and a hermit, courtier and prisoner, ambassador and castaway. From the plains of Hindustan to the plateaux of the Deccan and the lost ports of Malabar, sleuth-work, scholarship and luck lead him through the incredible memories of a man who died ten lifetimes ago. On the way, he reveals an India far off the beaten path of Taj and Raj, where a dead Muslim poses as a Hindu deity, Jesus pops up in the pulpit of a Mosque, and the rotten tooth of a mad sultan is revered as a saint.Ibn Battutah left India on a snake, stripped to his underpants by pirates; but he took away a treasure of tales as rich as any in the history of travel.
Back home they said the treasure was a fake. Mackintosh-Smith proves the sceptics wrong. India is a jewel in the Prince of Travellers' turban. Here it is, glittering, grotesque but genuine, a fitting ornament for his 700th birthday.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith studied Classical Arabic at Oxford. At the age of 21, he headed east for the real Arabia. For the past 17 years, he has lived in the Yemeni capital, San'a - a place which has missed out on many of the more awful aspects of the post medieval period. His first book, Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land, won the 1998 Thomas Cook/Daily Telegraph Travel Book Award and his next book Travels with a Tangerine was critically acclaimed.