The Road to Oxiana
The Road to Oxiana is a travelogue by Robert Byron, first published in 1937. It is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing. The word "Oxiana" in the title refers to the region along Afghanistan's northern border.
The book is an account of Byron's ten-month journey to the Middle East in 1933–34, initially in the company of Christopher Sykes. It is in the form of a diary with the first entry "Venice, 20 August 1933" after which Byron travelled by ship to the island of Cyprus and then on to the then countries of Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Persia and Afghanistan. The journey ended in Peshawar, India (now part of Pakistan) on 19 June 1934, from where he returned to England.
The primary purpose of the journey was to visit the region's architectural treasures of which Byron had an extensive knowledge, as evidenced by his observations along the way. For example, he says of the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah, now listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO:
|“||I have never encountered splendour of this kind before. Other interiors came into my mind as I stood there, to compare it with: Versailles, or the porcelain rooms at Schönbrunn, or the Doge's Palace, or St Peter's. All are rich; but none so rich. Their richness is three-dimensional; it is attended by all the effort of shadow: In the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah, it is a richness of light and surface, of pattern and colour only. The architectural form is unimportant. It is not smothered, as in rococo; it is simply the instrument of a spectacle, as earth is the instrument of a garden. And then I suddenly thought of that unfortunate species, modern interior decorators, who imagine they can make a restaurant, or a cinema, or a plutocrat's drawing-room look rich if given money enough for gold leaf and looking-glass. They little know what amateurs they are. Nor, alas, do their clients.||”|
Byron interacted with the locals and negotiated transport, including motor vehicles, horses and asses to carry him on his journey. He encountered heat, cold, hunger and thirst and suffered the inconvenience of bugs, fleas, lice and physical illness.
List of Places Visited in The Road to Oxiana
Robert Byron's journey in this book starts with the first entry on 20 August 1933 and ends on July 8, 1934. The following are the places that have entries in the book. (Note that the spelling used by the author back then might be different from what the spelling in vogue at present.)
- SS Italia
- SS Martha washington
- Tasr kand
- Kala julk
- Ak bulagh
- Ayn varzan
- Kala nao
- Bandar shah
- Bala murghab
- Khan Abad
Reception and Reviews
Travel writer Bruce Chatwin in his introduction to the book has described it as "a sacred text, beyond criticism,"  and carried his copy since he was fifteen years old, "spineless and floodstained" after four journeys through central Asia.
- Byron, Robert; The Road to Oxiana, Pimlico Edition, 2004; p. 232.
- Fussell, Paul, Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between The Wars, 1982.
- Byron, Robert; The Road to Oxiana, Pimlico Edition, 2004; Introduction.