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Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  326 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
A shrunken head from Peru and a feather with traces of blood are the clues that launch Tahir Shah on his latest journey. Fascinated by the recurring theme of flight in Peruvian folklore, Shah sets out to discover whether the Incas really were able to "fly like birds" over the jungle, as a Spanish monk reported. Or was their soaring drug-induced? His journey, full of surrea ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 16th 2003 by Arcade Publishing (first published February 27th 2001)
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Aug 22, 2013 Kevin rated it really liked it
The subject of this travelogue is one of the most fascinating I've found out there. The writing is smooth and direct, and the cast of strange characters join rank with those to be found in a Marquez novel. The author surveys the mysterious anomalies of the land and people of Peru, visiting well-documented sites such as The Nazca Lines and Machu Piccu, but shedding a perspective on them which isn't conventional to the world outside. Shah lets the reader's imagination fill the gaps he leaves open. ...more
May 03, 2016 Toni rated it it was amazing
A page turner.
The gothic cast of characters set this reader's hair alight.
The courage displayed on the journey can only be admired, the rotting boat, the horrendous food stuffs, the climate.
This a work of anthropolo, and at the heart of it, a frightening account of how vital knowledge, to be found in the jungle, is being lost; a knowledge of plants and their properties more than ON THE WAY to being destroyed.
The Shamans who have, guard and keep this knowledge, the property of the tribe, if know
Jan 06, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, library_books
I read Shah's book on renovating his home in Casablanca a couple of years back and liked it. So, when I saw this one on my library's New Books shelf I checked it out, not realizing that it's actually a re-issue of a decade old work; that having been said, it wasn't dated much at all.
Essentially, the book is two tales in one - the first being the author's travels from Macchu Pichu to Lima by bus and train, with stops along the way to meet interesting characters. At one point, he becomes obsessed
Feb 08, 2015 Kelly rated it really liked it
An interesting read, and very informative! I've always wanted to go to Peru to see its wonders, and Shah's account of his experience there is steeped in rich detail so that I could appreciate its beauty vicariously through him. Not forgetting his quest into whether the ancients flew (an interesting topic, I might add!) this book explores ancient wisdoms, focusing on an interesting theory behind the Nazca Lines and the shrinking of heads. It seeks to answer ancient questions, whilst simultaneousl ...more
Aug 29, 2016 Monica rated it it was amazing
From the first chapter of this book to the last appendix, I was enthralled! Shah's adventures in Peru transports the reader into another world, one filled with mysticism, adventure, and danger. He treks across Peru looking for the illusive Birdmen, a mystery to be solved and also learned from. Shah's writing is descriptive and humorous. He also writes in a way I found to be very thought provoking, which I appreciate. This book was recommended to me by my Inca guide as we trekked through the Ande ...more
Jul 19, 2015 Georgene rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
I've read one other book by this author, which I enjoyed very much. When I started this one, I thought "Uh, not as the other one". This book is different and much to my surprise, very interesting.

Starting with an interest in South American shrunken heads, Tahir Shah, begins his research and search for them. In Peru, he comes across the legend of the Birdmen of pre- columbian South American and begins his search for the tribe that was infamous for making them. His travels takes him down the coast
June Gemmer
Jan 25, 2016 June Gemmer rated it did not like it
I checked out this book and returned it the same day.
Tim Martin
Oct 08, 2016 Tim Martin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, history, reviewed
_Trail of Feathers_ by Tahir Shah began at an unusual place; at a London auction of shrunken heads. The author, who had been on the trail of shrunken heads for some time and who had sought to begin a collection, was frustrated by his lack of funds and the limited availability of tsantsas (as they are more properly called, a product of the Jivaro people of South America). However he did come across a mention of something else interesting out of Peru, a group referred to by a cryptic Frenchmen as ...more
Kevan Bowkett
Jul 04, 2013 Kevan Bowkett rated it really liked it
Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru, by Tahir Shah, is a magical journey among the mountains, desert coasts, Amazonian rainforests, and highly colorful characters of that country. Starting in London with the author’s penchant for shrunken heads, we are soon following the trail of a mysterious feather that he receives in the post. The many highlights of this journey include: the flight over the lines of Nazca; the less-than-idyllic state of a jungle hotel room, which the author pu ...more
Dec 24, 2015 Jeff rated it really liked it
Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru by Tahir Shah

While at a tsantsas (shrunken heads) auction, Tahir Shah meets a Frenchman who plants the seed in his head to travel to Peru not in search of shrunken heads, but in search of the legendary Birdmen of Peru. His research leads him to believe that flight was invented long before the Wright Brothers and he hikes along the Inca trail, flies over the Nazca lines, railroads to Lake Titicaca, and buses to the Festival of Blood before he en
Cecil Lawson
Apr 12, 2015 Cecil Lawson rated it really liked it
Tahir Shah is an English travel writer and adventurer. In this book he follows up on a long-time obsession with the notion that certain "bird-men" were able to fly across the jungles of Peru, following from early accounts by the Spanish conquistadors. He obssesion leads him to Peru, including the ruins of Macchu Picchu and a trip up the furthest reaches of the Amazon with a superstitious crew to find head-hunting members of the Shuar people whose still claim to have to have the ability to fly. N ...more
Sep 15, 2013 Linda rated it really liked it
Ah, one of my favorite travel authors. But Tahir Shah never does the expected travel or travel writing. He's always on a journey of discovery. Something piques his interest and he follows it to its origin. This time it's the legend of the Birdmen of Peru. According to the stories, they flew. Clear back in Inca times, before the Spanish arrived.

As he progresses in his journey, he meets Peruvians, strange Europeans, an American Viet Nam vet who will guide him to his destination and the question:
Susan Stewart
Apr 13, 2012 Susan Stewart rated it it was amazing
Tahir Shah is an amazing writer with a wonderful curiosity, intelligence and adventurous spirit. I have travelled in South America but his story of his quest to find the bird men taught me so much about the South American culture, the history, and the fascinating and heart breaking impact of Industry and Christianity on the rich tribal cultures and traditions, their spirituality and the plant life. I found myself laughing out loud at the incredible situations he found himself in. HIs description ...more
Jun 21, 2011 jen8998 rated it liked it
Initially intrigued by the idea of early flight in Peru, Shah treks through the jungle in search of the Birdmen of Peru. Rather than early Wright brothers, he finds that hallucinogens leaving the user with the sensation of flight are the real answer. Fascinated, he tries them himself by tracking down an obscure Amazonion tribe with a reputation for head shrinking and describes a horrible experience that he takes much better than I anticipate I would in the same position. Interesting discussions ...more
Sep 24, 2015 Katie rated it really liked it
Most interesting book on Peruvian traditions. Shah writes in an informative and amusing style.
Andy Plonka
Jul 18, 2016 Andy Plonka rated it liked it
Shelves: src
Interesting thoughts about human aviation in the Incas civilization.
Jul 07, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Megan by: Mike
This adventure travel story was a joy to read. The author is searching for information about the ancient birdmen of Peru, and he follows every lead he gets. The author is knowledgeable, observant, and incredibly laid back. People open up to him, and the book gives fascinating insight into behind-the-scenes life in Peru. He includes hilarious exchanges with the people he meets along the way, both Peruvians and fellow travelers. I couldn't put this book down! I recommend it to anyone who loves rug ...more
Guy Gonzalez
An entertaining and insightful travel memoir (?) that I picked up a while back during a Mesoamerica binge, when I had big ideas about writing my own fantasy series from a non-Eurocentric perspective. Shah's style is brisk and conversational, but not at all "light," and the appeal of his story lies in the fascinating journey he takes, meeting a motley crew of characters and enduring a variety of hardships, all in search of the fabled "Birdmen of Peru." A good read for anyone interested in a non-f ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, travel, 2011
So I orignally borrowed this from the library while researching the Inca Trail. I had every interntions of only reading the chapter on the trail, but the author had me hooked and I had to go back the two or three chapters and start at the front.

Part humour, part documentry, the book follows the author through Peru in search of the men who could fly or the bird men.

Pick this one up if you want to know a bit about South America and it's cultures in a light read.
Jul 31, 2007 Floramanda rated it liked it
Not as good as The Caliph's House, but still an entertaining and informative journey through Peru to find the Birdmen who achieved early flight. Tahir Shah is well researched, and it takes a lot of guts to trek up the Amazon in search of headhunters and their favorite hallucinogens!
Julian Walker
Jan 06, 2014 Julian Walker rated it really liked it
Tahir Shah takes a curious rumour, turns it into a bizarre quest and creates a surreally funny adventure. He has woven more magic with this book (I have yet to read anything mediocre from him), which when I finally put it down, I was surprised to find that I had not actually been with him. Superb.
Mike Harmon
Apr 14, 2014 Mike Harmon rated it it was ok
This book has little to do with history or actual discovery. The author is a douche born of Afghan nobility who makes up nonsense as an excuse to travel and concoct stories so he can write books. I advise against purchasing any of this guy's books. Yet it did have some entertainment value.
Jan 13, 2011 Caramia rated it liked it
One of my favorite travelogue authors. This may not be one of the best he's written, but it gives you a good idea of the mysteries and treachery that awaits in a foreign country. let's see if he finds what he is looking for...
Jan 02, 2012 Nicole rated it liked it
Great read to understand the culture and spiritual elements of Peru. Focused primarily on the Amazon which I have to add to my bucket list as I just returned from Machu Picchu and did not have time to go farther north.
Jul 04, 2011 Flora rated it did not like it
A little silly although the writer certainly can tell a tale. A lot about how he is creeped out by the Amazonian jungle. Best character is Richard the ex-Marine who is his guide.
Kevan Bowkett
May 22, 2013 Kevan Bowkett rated it really liked it
An exciting and hilarious tour through Peru -- from the coast to the Andes to Amazonia, and from its antiquities to the present. A bracing, vivifying, and inspiring read.
Jul 22, 2008 Robin rated it liked it
An interesting book that I learned a little from, but expected more.
May 10, 2008 Angie rated it liked it
Shelves: travel-writing
I now know more about shrunken heads than I ever cared to know.
Oct 05, 2012 Andy rated it it was amazing
Engaging... once you start, you can't put it down.
Aug 22, 2012 Sally rated it it was amazing
Simply stunning.
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Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there’s nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dust ...more
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