The band "Santana" played a famous and memorable tune called "Caravanserai". It starts with desert music and goes into a West African rhythm followed by the beats and drummings of various other Countries. Santana both tries and succeeds in capturing the essence of the caravanserai in the ever changing musical patterns in the life of just one, and at the same time gives you an insight into many more. caravans have been traversing vast circuits of the earth for thousands of years without any need for mechanisation or even wheels. Where most caravans go, no vehicle can follow.

Wheels cannot follow Afghan mountain passes or roam the desert in soft sand. The trade routes of hundreds of generations of desert and hill people throughout the world rely either on two or four legs and a lot of stamina. In Nepal if you want to bring anything really heavy to a village high up in the mountains, for a new bridge or a major building undertaking, the whole village will turn out, go down the mountain tracks for a few thousand metres, and bring it back up in a caravan. It may take them a few days. Every now and then they stop from their labours at a rest place or guest house for sustenance and to sleep until they can start in the light the next morning. Sherpas will toil all day, every day, at high altitude to supply villages with essentials.

They also stop at the same establishments. In South America the problem of getting goods over hilly terrain is similar, so groups of porters form a caravan for the 10 day walk to the villages they are supplying. In the desert, apparently a wilderness to a Westerner, there are routes along which camels have travelled for thousands of years. They go between oasis' but there are no traffic signs in the middle of the Sahara and so the camel trains of merchant travellers along these routes navigate by the stars, the sun, local knowledge and an in-built sense of direction. There are no tracks, but they know where the caravan wants to get to, and they have travelled the same route many times over the years.

Whether travellers are in Nepal, Afghanistan, Peru or Mali they are all heading for a caravanserai. A place to stop, get water and food, and often a bed. The English equivelent would be an inn, but the resources and needs of caravan people, who survive meagrely, are less onerous than the comforts required by holiday-makers. They do like a bit of home comfort as well on their travels. Nowadays caravanserai are decked out with all sorts of electronic gadgets, fridges, freezers, hot water, showers, toilets, televisions, comfy beds and computers; you can even tow them behind cars and go for miles off the traditional route, on roads, in them.

Everyone can get a good night's sleep and still get up and watch TV, have a cooked breakfast, go into cyberspace and it's just like being at home. Meanwhile, back in the deserts or the mountains of the world where there are no roads, the travellers find an oasis for their camels to drink at, some good fodder for their mules, a hot cup of tea when it's freezing outside, or an ice-cold coke when it is 50C and a proper bed for one night and food. These caravanserai have been here for 5000 years without much change. If you own, stay in, rent, hire, holiday in, or otherwise have dealings with the modern day caravan please don't forget that historically it is your own personal caravanserai, and should be called by it's full name, if only in your own mind. And the tune's good too.

Interested in motor homes and caravans? Try this link for more of the same. .

By: Barry Hooper

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