Enthralled by a line from the chronicle of a sixteenth-century monk, which said that the Incas 'flew like birds' over the jungle, and by the recurring theme of flying in Peruvian folklore, Tahir Shah set out to discover whether the Incas really did flyor glide above the jungles of Peru. Or was the Spanish cleric alluding to flight of a different kind – flight inspired by a powerful hallucinogen?
After gathering equipment in London – and advice, not least from Wilfred Thesiger – the long quest begins. First, to the mountains of Peru and a trek to Machu Picchu, the Incas' most sacred city. Then on to the mountain city of Cusco and a mysterious island on the great glittering expanse of Lake Titicaca. Picking up clues as he goes, the author's trail takes him on to the coast and through the desert, to the immense animal-like etchings which form the Nazca Lines, and a remote burial ground for 30,000 mummified corpses. And finally to an epic river journey up the Amazon to discover the secrets of the Shuar, a tribe of infamous savagery living in the deep jungle of the Upper Amazon.
In the course of this journey we learn much about the Spanish treatment of the Incas, about Peruvian folklore and magic, about the great but brief Amazon rubber boom of the nineteenth century, about head-shrinking, shamanic knowledge and plant-based hallucinogens.
Even for a traveller so used to surreal adventures, there are many strange encounters and physical challenges – gruesome but often hilarious – among madmen and dreamsers, sorcerers, con-men and jungle experts, before Tahir Shah can at last discover the truth about the Birdmen of Peru.
About the Author
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 dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there's wonderment to be found wherever we are - it's just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes.
Tahir Shah's books have appeared in thirty languages and in more than seventy editions. They are celebrated for their original viewpoint, and for combining hardship with vivid description.
He also makes documentary films, which are shown worldwide on National Geographical Television, and The History Channel. The latest, LOST TREASURE OF AFGHANISTAN, has been screened on British TV and shown worldwide. While researching the programme Shah was arrested along with his film crew and incarcerated in a Pakistani torture jail, where they spent sixteen terrifying days and nights.
Tahir Shah lives at Dar Khalifa, a sprawling mansion set squarely in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown. He's married to the graphic designer, Rachana Shah, and has two children, Ariane and Timur. His father was the Sufi writer, Idries Shah.
About Tahir Shah
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Published December 19, 2011
by Arcade Publishing.
History, Travel, Education & Reference.