Doing Xanadu

Expedition to research the Grass Silk Road – one of the greatest communication highways in history – a road, last travelled in the 13th Century, that led from Genghis Khan’s capital Karakorum in the steppes in Mongolia across the Gobi Desert to Xanadu, Kublai’s Khan’s pleasure dome in China. It became one of the worst organised expeditions in the history of exploration. As they travelled, the team simultaneously recorded their exploits on the Internet using a laptop, satellite phone and digital camera. For the first time in history, a communication highway of the ancient world was connected to the modern superhighway.

“The old riders would change horses at full gallop and eat on the way,” says Steeds. “But we were totally unprepared. Three of us had never even ridden a horse before.”

In reality, it was a miracle that we all survived this Royal Geographical Society endorsed expedition. Inspired by a drug-induced reverie to ride into Xanadu like Marco Polo had down 700 years previously (see writing section), the expedition members who began as friends, quickly became mortal enemies and were forced to rely wholly on each other, dung (fuel), local knowledge and kindness for their survival. During their journey through some of the harshest terrain in the world, they covered 500 miles on horseback and then walked over 1200km miles through the Gobi desert with camels in tow in temperatures ranging from 40°C to minus 15°C.

Racing against the rapidly closing Siberian winter, the expedition finally reached Xanadu but only after surviving arrest by the Mongolian military who thought they were spying, imprisonment, the kidnapping of one of their horses, insanity, life threatening food and water shortages, and an argument with their guide which turned nasty when thugs from a local ghost town got involved. Oh and it turned out their guide was on the run for multiple murder.

Gallery: collection of photographs by Anthony Parkinson from the expedition
Production details

Coming soon – A short story about Oliver’s first journey to Xanadu.

Production Details
Title: Doing Xanadu
Role: Expedition Leader, Producer, Presenter
Transmission: Creative Touch Films / National Geographic
Location: China & Mongolia

Ends of the Earth Series: Award Winning BBC 4 Radio Programme (available upon request)