Eastern Horizons was written from a manuscript that had been sitting on my computer for around seven years, about a journey that I completed before joining the army, 12 years ago. It was kind of strange reading my words from then, but I didn’t want to edit it too much and remove that sense of youth and wide-eyed enthusiasm.
The overland route east (the so-called Hippie Trail) has been made famous by lots of different people. It’s always been populated with explorers. Before the hippies came the soldiers and spies of the Great Game — among them my hero and inspiration, Arthur Conolly. I followed in his footsteps on my hitchhiking route from England to India. Before that, the great traders of the Silk Road were the likes of Marco Polo and he was preceded by Alexander the Great travelling overland with his armies to conquer the lands of the east.
Getting arrested several times in southern Russia and the Caucasus was probably one of the most challenging aspects of the trip. It was unnerving at first but quickly became tedious. The police repeatedly mistook me for a Chechen rebel.
The most memorable moment of that trip came once I’d finally made it to India. One night I slept in a cave in the foothills of the Himalayas, terrified the whole time of wolves and bears. Generally, though, I was quite happy to travel alone and was always meeting people.
Overland travel allows a gradual change that’s inspiring. When travelling at a slow pace, you’re forced to interact with people, talk to them and learn more about their culture. Rather than just landing in a place by plane, you go through the borderlands and see all the intricate differences.
Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road by Levison Wood. RRP: £20 (Hodder & Stoughton)
Published in the March 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)