Sunday, 20 September 2009
The road to Samarkand
I've just submitted an entry for another bursary; this time it's the Neville Shulman Challenge Award, run by the Royal Geographical Society. The brief is simple; the Award "aims to further the understanding and exploration of the planet: its cultures, peoples and environments, while promoting personal development." It's the same Society that runs the highly competitive Journey of a Lifetime in conjunction with Radio 4, which I applied for earlier this year.
My proposal would take me to one of the last great 'empty spaces' of the world, little known or poorly understood in the West; that of Central Asia, dominated by the Stans, nations independent for less than two decades. This is the land of the Silk Road, of the Gulag, of ethnic groups forcibly relocated by Stalin, of mountains and deserts and wide open steppe.
The countries that make up this region - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - cover a vast area rich in natural resources and with a growing global clout both in terms of their potential oil output and their strategic location, wedged as they are between a resurgent Russia and the Middle East. And yet for many the little they know of Central Asia stems from the parody of Borat. This expedition seeks to redress the balance by promoting knowledge of the land and the stories of its myriad peoples.
The deadline is set for the end of this week; after that, it's in the hands of the RGS. Naturally I'll be crossing all of my fingers and as many of my toes as possible for good measure.
In other travel news there has been a welcome statement from passenger watchdog the Air Transport Users Council, who are calling for the end of the exploitative practice employed by some budget airlines to charge exorbitant fees for amending ticket details online. It only calls for a 24-hour 'cooling off period' so it won't solve bad experiences such as this one, but it is at least a step in the right direction.