The Abbasi Kutub Khana in Karachi is one of my favourite haunts. Tucked away in the winding alleys of Juna Market between traders of ropes and leather, the small bookshop has served this city for 100 years. When I visited the bookshop recently, I saw a volume made with bound photostat paper, titled the Safarnama-e Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht, the travelogue of a 14th century Hindustani Sufi saint Syed Jalaluddin (1307–1384 CE) of the Suharwardiya order. I remember noting references to the book in odd places, but when I bought the slim volume of fifty-five pages, I did not know I would discover in it what could be the earliest known travelogue of Europe by a South Asian, and the earliest known literary reference to The Adventures of Amir Hamza tradition in South Asia. And lest I should forget to mention it, the travelogue begins with a journey to the sun where the humble traveler obtains a tan. The passage about the journey to Mount Qaf would interest those who have copies of The Adventures of Amir Hamza (Modern Library/Random House India, 2007/2008). It refers to a passage in that book where Amir Hamza finds a replica of Naushervan’s palace on Mount Qaf. I also learned that Amir Hamza’s sojourn on Mount Qaf in this earlier tradition lasted not eighteen years, but twelve.
I titled my translation The Travelogue of Earthling, Worlds Wanderer. Unsure about my choice of the word ‘earthling’, I discovered it is of ancient ancestry. It was first used in 1593, about 350 years before the aliens started addressing humans patronizingly with that term. However, I am still unsure about the use of the term ‘Europe’ which is in the 1937 Urdu translation from which I made my own. I suspect that the Persian original might have used the term ‘Farangistan’ (The Land of the Franks). I am now searching for the Persian original…
An Account of the Journey to the Sun
It so happened once that on my way to the holy Kaaba I climbed up to the Fourth Heaven, and had a meeting with the bright star of the high skies. I said, ‘Peace be upon you O Bright Sun!’ The sun answered, ‘Peace be upon you, O Guide of the True Path!’ After making the courtesy call, I returned, and continued on my way to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage, except the sun’s heat had darkened my complexion.
An Account of Mount Qaf where Alexander Had Constructed a Wall of Brass
On Mount Qaf, the King of Kings Alexander has constructed a wall of brass seventy leagues in length. Had he not built that wall, Gog and Magog would have broken free from its confines into the world and established tyranny, despotism and destruction on Earth, turning it to rubble and ruin. They still approach the wall daily, and lick it with their tongues. At the end of day when the wall becomes thin as cloth, they claim they will break it down on the morrow, and take the Earth by force of arms. By God’s will overnight the wall returns to its previous breadth, and it has continued thus since. Every day they lick it to the thinness of cloth, and the following morning it is become thick as before.
An Account of Mount Qaf’s Two Thrones
These two thrones belong to the king of peris (fairies). Amir Hamza, son of Abdul Muttalib who was in love with Aasman Peri, hunted on Mount Qaf for twelve years. When it was night he returned to Aasman Peri. One day Amir Hamza, may the mercy of Allah be upon him, encountered a fearsome dragon. Amir Hamza cut it in two. I arrived on Mount Qaf and saw a plain, and on it stood a city which was named Ctesiphon. And in the nave of the city Naushervan the Just had constructed a new palace, and it was called the Great Arch of Ctesiphon. When the palace was constructed, Naushervan sent for the diviners and asked whether or not Prophet Muhammad had arrived on Earth. The diviners said, ‘On the day the Great Arch of Ctesiphon falls to the ground you should know that he has arrived.’ Naushervan the Just held his court and passed his days with happiness and joy. Twelve thrones were placed before his station. An old woman lived close by who had a cow. When Naushervan would sit on his throne, the woman let her cow loose and it would urinate and defecate on the throne. The just king would marvel at that and say to the woman, ‘I would construct a palace for you. You should vacate your house and live in the palace.’ That woman would not agree. As the just king had been invested with the virtues of fairness and justice, he showed his fortitude. And such was the justice of Naushervan. This humble traveler made a pilgrimage to the Great Arch of Ctesiphon, to Mount Qaf, and the two thrones, and examined them.
An Account of the Land of Europe
And behind it lies the land of Europe wherein is situated a fortress city such as has one hundred and ninety imposing towers. And three thousand rivers course in the fortress city as waters from many a river flow through its towers. And the fortress city has seventy-five gates, each one of them being forty feet high and twenty-one feet wide. And the sovereign of this fortress city is a woman who has scored victory in battle over four kings; and she is very warlike. Her army is composed of women and their number is one hundred and eighty thousand. And all of them are mighty warriors and follow behind her on foot. They drink wine, chant songs, and keep their men hidden behind covers. They have neither faith nor religion, nor indeed are they familiar with these notions. When a male traveler enters their land, they take him captive before their sovereign. If he should please the sovereign he finds a place with her; otherwise the nobles have his possession. This humble traveler witnessed these details.
These chapters, while in chronological order, do not occur in sequence. This translation is made from the Urdu translation of the Persian Musafirnama by Syed Jalaluddin ‘Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht’ (born: 707 AH / 1307 CE, died: 785 AH / 1384 CE). It was translated into Urdu as Safarnama-e Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht by Muhammad Abbas Chishti Dehlavi (Kanpur: Matba-e Waheedi, 1937). Two earlier editions, probably by other translators, were published from Matba-e Nami, Lucknow, in 1898, and another from Matba-e Ahmedi, Delhi, in 1899.
Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author and translator. He has written two children’s books and his novel The Story of a Widow has been published in 2009. His internationally acclaimed translation of The Adventures of Amir Hamza (Random House India, 2007) was the first complete translation of the major Urdu epic. His translation of Tilism-e-Hoshruba was published in June 2009 by Random House India. He has also recently translated the poetry of Afzal Ahmed Syed. His company, Urdu Project is dedicated exclusively to publishing English translations of classical and contemporary works of Urdu literature.