Marco Polo’s advice for young travellers

Big pimpin' with Marco PoloIn The Travels Marco Polo makes it to a land he calls “Tebet”, which includes modern-day Tibet as well as parts of Szechuan and Yunnan provinces. Here in this land “terribly devastated” by Mongu Khan, Polo describes almost breathlessly the marriage customs of the locals. Apparently “no man on any account would ever take a virgin to wife.” Consequently, women of experience are considered desirable wives, and advertise their experience by displaying the tokens she received from her various liaisons.

Without naming any names, Polo describes the experience of travellers thus (the following quote is from page 172-3 and the emphasis is my own):

When it happens that men from a foreign land are passing through this country and have pitched their tents and made a camp, the matrons from neighboring villages and hamlets bring their daughters to these camps, to the number of twenty or forty, and beg the travellers to take them and lie with them. … When the men have worked their will and are ready to be gone, then it is the custom for every man to give the woman who he has lain some trinket or token so that she can show, when she comes to marry, that she has had a lover. … Obviously the country is a fine one to visit for a lad from sixteen to twenty-four.

Obviously.

Interesting sidenote: The real Sir Francis Younghusband found both “free love” and his second wife in the mountains of Tibet.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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3 Responses to Marco Polo’s advice for young travellers

  1. Curzon says:

    I thought this was in some nameless area of Central Asia? That was how it was relayed in one book that summed up MP’s travels.

  2. Younghusband says:

    This particular episode happens during Polo’s trip to Bengal from Beijing. There are two pages on “Tebet” where the quote above from pulled from.

  3. Marco Polo mentions Tibet but he never visited that part of Asia. One of the titles for his book is “A Description of the World.” He tells stories about many places he did not visit. If you wish to learn where Marco Polo did travel, my new book “The Marco Polo Odyssey” is a history wrapped in an adventure describing my journey as the first person to follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo from Venice to Beijing.

    Harry Rutstein, Executive Director
    Marco Polo Foundation, Inc.