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In Xanadu: A Quest

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  2,427 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews
While waiting for the results of his college exams, William Dalrymple decides to fill in his summer break with a trip. But the vacation he plans is no light-hearted student jaunt - he decides to retrace the epic journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the ruined palace of Kubla Kahn, north of Peking. For the first half of the trip he is accompanied by Laura, whom ...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Lonely Planet Publications (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 17, 2011 Antara rated it really liked it
I love William Dalrymple for the simple fact that he writes about his amazing travels through a seamless blend of fact and fiction. Having read and loved his City of Djinns (a must-read if you're a Dilliwala), Nine Lives and White Mughals, I have loved this first book of his as well. In this book, the author, a final year Cambridge student, tries to backpack his way through the route Marco Polo had taken - Turkey, Iran and finally China, in the Inner Mongols in Xanadu where Marco Polo ended his ...more
Chris Ziesler
A Thousand and One Tales from the Silk Road

This is quite simply an enchanting book and for two interconnected reasons. The first and most striking reason is that Dalrymple manages to capture and convey the shear sense of wonder and excitement that comes from traveling across the world when young. So young, in fact, that I kept having to remind myself that he was only 22 when he wrote it.

If that were its only noteworthy aspect the book would be just one of many other worthy works of travel and ex
A fun trek across the continent. Full of entertaining anecdotes, colorful characters and challenges. Well worth the read. Recommended to me by my daughter who was spot on once again.

Dalrymple entertains with his British wit, colorful portrayals, sense of adventure and caricatures of his fellow travels. Although a fun read, it gives the reader historical context as well as a look at the different cultures.

Recommend for Around the World readers.

Aug 16, 2011 Adi rated it liked it
In Xanadu- a Quest; by William Darlymple, 302pp, 1990
Seven centuries ago, the famous trader, explorer Marco Polo set off from Jerusalem on a mission to reach the court of the Mongol King Kubla Khan, who’s palace was in a place called Xanadu. He then immortalized his journey in The Travels, which later became one of the most detailed pieces of travel writing ever completed. In his first book, the (then) 21-year old Mr. Darlymple takes readers back on the same route, attempting at every page to co
May 11, 2013 Lianne added it
Because I am a fan of obscure literary travel memoirs, I picked up this book at a library book sale. It's an under-the-radar account of a Cambridge student's trip in the 1980's. William Dalrymple becomes obsessed with retracing the route of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, Kubla Khan's legendary palace. His mission is to take holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, just as Marco Polo did, when he was deputized to deliver it to Kubla Khan. History claims that the Khan had contacts and ...more
Mar 19, 2009 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books
I'm surprised how much I liked this book. I first heard of it in the Epiphany sermon our priest gave at church, when he read from this book about the legendary birthplace of the Three Kings, as Dalrymple backpacked through Iran. The book, following in the footsteps of Marco Polo as he took oil from the lamp of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to Xanadu, the lair built by Kubla Khan, is taken from his journal of the trip, and is alternatively horrifying, edifying and hilarious. He ...more
Anshul Gaurav
Apr 01, 2012 Anshul Gaurav rated it liked it
In 1269, a 17 year old Venetian merchant, his father and his uncle embarked on an epic journey to the east corner of Asia. They were set upon meeting the then Mongol king Kublai Khan, the grandson of the great Genghis Khan himself.  They needed his support in order to protect the Christian lands from conquerors.  His name was Marco Polo. They travelled about 24000 Kms. Just to give you an idea the circumference of the earth is about 1.6 times that figure. Marco later documented his travels in a ...more
Apr 18, 2013 Ahimsa rated it liked it
This is a fine book, very enjoyable at times. The history is incorporated very well, the journey documented is fascinating and the captured bits of dialogue are unbelievably great.

It’s far from flawless, however. To many times, Dalrymple relies on architectural details of sepulchers, arches, and tombs. There are very little of logistics here, which would be interesting: how big are their packs? What did they bring? How did they resupply? And almost nothing is said of the scenic Karakoram Highway
Sonia Gomes
Sep 05, 2012 Sonia Gomes rated it liked it
Very nice idea in the first place following in the footsteps of the legendary Marco Polo. For a twenty one year old to have accomplished it was amazing. The unbelievable part were the two girls who accompanied him. Would I have been so brave at 21; Doubt it.
Subhashish Sarkar
Oct 16, 2016 Subhashish Sarkar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Dalrymple's first work, In Xanadu: A Quest, is a travel/history book. The book is unique in giving an opportunity to the readers to, in a way, time travel. You travel along the ancient Silk Route and get a feel about how the place was some 30 years back.
You can imagine the experiences of tradesmen on the ancient trade route. How it would have been in the time when the khanate was at its prime.

I recommend this book for somebody who likes to travel and has an interest in history.
Oct 03, 2014 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travelbooks
This journey (from Jerusalem to former Xanadu, along the route of one of Marco Polo's journeys), Willian Dalrymple makes clear to us on the first few pages, is doomed from the start: Part of it is to be undertaken with a formidable Ex-Oxford hockey player he has barely met, but who conveniently agrees to fill in as his now Ex-girlfriend flakes out, part of it is to be undertaken with same Ex-girlfriend, who, apparently reconciled with the ex-relationship does not mind so much riding on the back ...more
Oct 28, 2013 Maitrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel
William Dalrymple retraces and chronicles Marco Polo's 13th Century travels from Jerusalem to the fabled Xanadu in China (actually Shangdu, Kublai Khan's summer capital) along with two fellow students in In Xanadu.

Dalrymple was only 21 when he carried out this epic journey, still studying history at Cambridge (his university ID card got him out of many a sticky situation while in Asia). In Xanadu poses as an irreverent travel book --complete with funny anecdotes about muscular hotel managers, ma
Shweta Ganesh Kumar
Nov 29, 2013 Shweta Ganesh Kumar rated it liked it
I've always been a fan of William Dalrymple's work - probably because the first book I read of his was The City of Djinns and it captured the essence of the city so well that it was hard not to fall in love with his writing.

This was the only reason why I picked up 'In Xanadu: A Quest', Dalyrymple's first book. A young college student, he follows in the footsteps of Marco Polo, tracing his journey from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Shangdu or Xanadu in Inner Mongolia.

While the
Terry Clague
Despite the posh-boy-lets-all-climb-the-mountain-in-our-pumps mindset of the author, this is actually a very enjoyable read which I breezed through. There's not much I can add to the various puffs you'll find associated with the book, but I did find myself subconsciously adapting some paragraphs to my own travels:

"There are moments on all long journeys when the whole business of travelling seems utterly futile. One feels homesick, tired, and above all bored. Nothing pleases. Everything palls. Fo
Sep 23, 2013 Mansi added it
from Damascus in Israel Gate to Xanadu, China William Dalrymple traces the journey of Marco Polo when he ventured to take the Holy Oil from the Holy sepulchre to the the then magnificent summer place of Kublai Khan. From Israel , and perilous Iran , then unto Pakistan and finally into China he tries to follow the southern silk route. In China they have a journey with involves much fleeing from the Internal security guards!
Very enjoyable book contains a lot of architectural descriptions and notes
Apr 04, 2011 Vivek rated it it was amazing
To embark on a journey from Jerusalem to Mongolia - tracing the path of Marco Polo in itself is a commendable feat - considering that the journey is fraught with dangerous places and not at a pleasure trip at al. If that by itself is commendable, what can be more commendable is the to write the travelogue so well at the 'tender' age of 21. The author knows to hold his audience firmly by sandwiching humor, nail biting incidents, Marco Polo's writings in between more serious stuff about the places ...more
The Tick
Feb 17, 2011 The Tick rated it did not like it
Oy. I've loved everything else by William Dalrymple so far, but I was really unhappy with this. It lacks a lot of the reflection that I've come to associate with him, and a lot of the humor was really unpleasant. It also skimmed over a lot of detail, and the bits of background history incorporated into the narrative often don't flow very well.

Skip this one and go straight to City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi.
Nov 07, 2015 Virginia rated it it was amazing
Loved it. Amazinglythis was Dalrymple's first book and he was still a student at Cambridge! He's very funny and observant and has clearly done so much reading about this trip before he even sets off. He (and two female friends) attempt to follow Marco Polo's journey from Jerusalem through Iran, Pakistan and into China in the 1980's - Dalrymple's journey in the 1980's, not Marco Polo's.
Dec 28, 2015 Devathi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I couldn't have found a better book to end the year with. A most brilliant read.
Jun 22, 2015 Don rated it really liked it
(FROM MY BLOG) Imagine being an undergraduate and deciding that your summer vacation would be more fun if you retraced the route Marco Polo followed in 1271, from Jerusalem to the Chinese Emperor's summer palace at Shang-tu (Coleridge's "Xanadu"), a bit north of Peking (Beijing). I've traveled a fair bit in my life, but reading about such an adventure at any age leaves me seething with jealousy.

But that's what William Dalrymple did, at the age of 22 while still a student at Trinity College, Cam
Oct 23, 2016 Suzannah rated it really liked it
Hilarious, irreverent, scholarly, and vivid account of the author's epic journey across Asia on the Silk Road, in the footsteps of Marco Polo. William Dalrymple's first book (I'd previously read, and loved FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN) was written in the late 80s, when was still difficult to get into China and large parts the country were off limits. No doubt it would be just as dangerous to follow the same path today, just in different areas.

Content warning - not recommended for younger readers.
Harshad Sharma
Oct 26, 2016 Harshad Sharma rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hist-nonfiction
This was amazing. William Hamilton Dalrymple is a champion of travel writing, his first book In Xanadu is full of beautiful places, his prose is already wonderful, his excitement at re-discovering the places Marco Polo visited during his journey from Jerusalem to Kublai Khan's summer palace Xanadu is contagious.

As always, full of funny snippets, finding amazing and eccentric people in Syria, Iran, Pakistan, roaming under the threat of deportation and staying ahead of police in China, this is a
Fazackerly Toast
Nov 28, 2016 Fazackerly Toast rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
very interesting and informative. I enjoyed it though it was somewhat marred by his "aren't the Asiatics comical" tone
Roopa Prabhu
Oct 17, 2016 Roopa Prabhu rated it it was amazing
Following the Marco Polo route with the author is a joyful ride, far better than the read of original Marco Polo travel.
Souvik Jana
‘So there is nothing miraculous about these lamps?’
‘Nothing at all.’
‘What about the oil itself? Is it chrism? Olive oil from the Mount of Olives?’
‘No it’s ordinary sunflower oil. Comes from a box in the sacristy. And who’s the Italian you were looking for?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘He’s ... different.’
‘And he told you this oil was miraculous?’
‘I suppose he did, indirectly.’
‘Well you can tell him from me it’s quite ordinary.’
‘That would be a little difficult.’
‘You say he took this oil east with h
Dec 08, 2015 Edgar rated it really liked it
This book is an amazing achievement for a young 22 year old author. A fascinating journey through Asia Minor and North China and a journey through time as he retraces Marco Polo’s famous journey along the famed Silk Road. It is a detailed erudite work yet with much comedy. His trip would not be on the tourist map for most of us as he traveled across some of the most inhospitable places anywhere. He retraces the bloody history of the turbulent regions he passes through. And he is not flattering ...more
Anshuman Kishore
An exceptionally written travelogue. Don't remember what I was doing as a 22 year old.
Srikanth Sreedharan
Oct 06, 2016 Srikanth Sreedharan rated it liked it
The book is exhilarating in parts and erudite in others. But on the whole it is boring with too many descriptions about the tediousness of travel in the orient and the suffering WD and his Girl-friends undergo at each point of arrival. After sometime that becomes tedious.
The historical tidbits and genuine insights into Turkish and Uighur village life makes the read worthwhile. But, most of the time WD forgets Marco Polo and goes gallivanting in search of Alexander’s fortress or Jahangir’s tomb.
Sep 25, 2016 Sweejk rated it really liked it
Compelling read with a great storyline and a fair bit of enjoyable dark humour - albeit with one too many deus ex machina which sometimes detracts from the believability factor. William Dalrymple segues effortlessly between narrative and historical account; the reader is allowed to survey the present day ruins of an ancient city in their mind's eye and Dalrymple then lets his vivid descriptions superimpose what Marco Polo would have seen on top of that.

Other than that, a detailed travelogue in
Murali Neelakantan
May 24, 2014 Murali Neelakantan rated it really liked it
In keeping with my recent resolve to read the first book of my favourite authors, I finished In Xanadu this weekend. Unlike my usual method of finishing books in long stretches, usually over a weekend, this one took much longer but the interruptions did not bother me. In a strange way, the breaks seem to have done me good. The description of the places, their people, religion and history sank in very nicely during the breaks and allowed my mind to form images. The easy flowing narration seemed ...more
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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six ...more
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“For two thousand years Jerusalem has brought out the least attractive qualities in every race that has lived there. The Holy City has had more atrocities committed in it, more consistently, than any other town in the world. Sacred to three religions, the city has witnessed the worst intolerance and self-righteousness of all of them.” 2 likes
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