Muhammad Ibn Battuta was one of the great travellers of his age. He travelled not to trade or source rare items, but for the love of being in new places and discovering new cultures. That was unusual in his time, an age when travel was beset by danger and discomfort.
Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan who lived in the 14th century CE, braved grave dangers and ordeals too. He is estimated to have traversed 75,000 miles in his lifetime, and he left behind a riveting account titled A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.
Thankfully, it is available to us courtesy an English translation by the noted British Orientalist Sir Hamilton Gibb. Titled The Travels of Ibn Battuta, it reveals interesting facts about the India of its time – from the eccentricities of Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to the controversial etymology of the term ‘Hindukush’.
Some snippets really stand out. In describing a banquet held at the Sultan’s palace, for instance, Ibn Battuta mentions “sambusaks” being served on a bed of rice. This is the earliest known reference to the samosa in India. It is gems like this that make the book such an interesting read.