Rihla Books 9-11

From the Maldives to Bengal and China, 1344 - 1346

Battuta fianally reaches China

Rihla 9, 1344

Painting of Boats in the harbor of Chittagong
Photo nmm.ac.uk

The first city in Bengal that we entered was Sudkawan, a large town on the coast of the great sea. Close by it the river Jun discharges into the sea. I did not visit the sultan, nor did I meet him, as he is a rebel against the Sultan of India, and I was afraid of the consequences [in Delhi] which a visit to him might entail.

From Chittagong Battuta made a month's pilgrimage to Kamarupa-Sylhet, from where he returned by river boat to Chittagong:

After fifteen days' sailing down the river, we reached the city of Sunurkawan [Chittagong], where we found a junk on the point of sailing for the land of Jawa [Sumatra], which is a journey of forty days from there, so we embarked on it.

Rihla 9, 1344
Kamaru, Kamarupa-Sylhet

To this day the tomb of Shah Jehal
(Battuta's Shaykh Jalal ad-Din Tabrizi) exists in Sylhet
Painting by John Frederick Lewis, allposters.com

I set out from Sudkawan for the mountains of Kamaru, a month's journey from there. This is a vast range of mountains extending to China and also to the land of Thubbat [Tibet], where the musk deer live. The inhabitants of this range resemble the Turks; they possess great endurance, and their value as slaves is many times greater than a slave of any other nationality. They are famous for their magical practices.
My purpose in travelling to these mountains was to meet a notable saint who lives there, namely, Shaykh Jalal ad-Din of Tabriz.

The mysterious Goat-Hair Coat

On the day when I visited the Shaykh I saw that he was wearing a wide mantle of goatshair. It took my fancy and I said to myself, "I wish the Shaykh could have given it to me." When I visited him to bid him farewell, he went to the side of the cave, took off the mantle and placed it upon me, together with a skull-cap from his head, himself putting on a patched garment.
The darwishes told me that the Shaykh was not in the habit of wearing this mantle and had put it on only when I arrived, saying to them "This mantle will be asked for by the Moroccan, and it will be taken from him by an infidel sultan, who will give it to our brother Burhan ad-Din of Sagharj, whose it is and for whom it was made."
When they told me this I said to them " I have obtained the blessing of the Shaykh through his clothing me with his garments, and I for my part shall not enter the presence of any sultan, infidel or Muslim, wearing this mantle." With this I withdrew from the Shaykh's presence.

Now it came about a long time afterwards that I visited China and eventually reached the city of Khansa [Hangzhou]. I was introduced to their Sultan. He looked at the mantle and took a liking to it. His wazir said to me "Take it off," and I could not refuset him. So the sultan took it and ordered me to be given ten robes, a horse and harness, and a sum of money.
The incident roused my anger, but afterwards I recalled the Shaykh's saying that an infidel sultan would seize it and I was deeply amazed at the fulfilment of the prediction.

The following year I visited the convent of Shaykh Burhan ad-Din of Sagharj in China. I found him reading and wearing that identical mantle. I was astonished and took it in my hand to examine it.

He said to me "Why examine it when you know it already?" "True" I replied, "it is the one that was taken from me by the sultan of Khansa." "This mantle" he went on "was made specially for me by my brother Jalal ad-Din, who wrote to me saying 'The mantle will reach you by the hand of so-and-so.'" Then he brought out the letter, and I read it, marvelling at the Shaykh's perfect foreknowledge.

Rihla 10, 1344
Barahnakar in Burma, Myanmar

Fifteen days after leaving Sunarkawan we reached the country of the Barahnakar people. They are shaped like ourselves, except for their faces which appear like those of dogs. Their men go unclothed, not even hiding their nakedness, except occasionally for an ornamental pouch of reeds suspended from their waists. The women wear aprons of leaves of trees. This tribe is professing neither the religion of the Hindus nor any other. They live in reed huts roofed with grasses on the seashore, and have abundant banana, areca, and betel trees.

Elephants are numerous in their land. Their sultan came to meet us, riding on an elephant, which carried a sort of packsaddle made of skins. He was accompanying by about twenty of his relatives, mounted on elephants.

This sultan exacts from every ship that puts in at his land a slave girl, a white slave, enough cloth to cover an elephant, and ornaments of gold, which his wife wears on her girdle and her toes. If anyone withholds this tribute, they put a spell on him which raises a storm on sea, so that he perishes.

From there we headed for the island of Jawa [Sumatra] from which the incense called jawi takes its name

Rihla 10+12, 1344 + 1347
Jawa -Samudra-Sumatera

Landscape near Sumatera, Java
Photo Bir Fakir Fotografcinin Hatirasi

Twenty-five days after leaving Chittagong we reached the island of Jawa [Sumatra]. It is verdant and fertile; the commonest trees there are coconutpalm, areca, clove, Indian aloe, jack-tree, mango, jamun, sweet orange, and camphor cane. The commerce of its inhabitants is carried on with pieces of tin and native Chinese gold, unsmelted.

The sultan sent horses to the harbor and we rode into the sultan's capital, the town of Sumutra, a large and beautiful city encompassed by a wooden wall with wooden towers.

The Sultan's amir Dawlasa came bringing two slave girls and two men servants, and said to me "The sultan says to you that this present is in proportion to his means, not to those of Sultan Muhammad [of India]." He also brought three kinds of garments: aprons which they call underclothing, three garments of a different kind called middle clothing, three woollen mantles, one of them being white, and three turbans. I put on one of the aprons in place of trousers, according to their custom, and one garment of each kind, and my companions took the rest of them.

We waited three days. On the fourth, which was a Friday, the amir Dawlasa came to me and said "You will salute the sultan [today] in the royal enclosure of the cathedral mosque after the service."

After prayer I went in to the sultan; he shook my hand and I saluted him, whereupon he bade me sit down upon his left and asked me about Sultan Muhammad Tughluq and about my travels. He remained in the mosque until the afternoon prayers had been recited.

He then led me into a chamber where he took off the garments he was wearing (these were robes of the kind worn by theologians, which he puts on when he comes to the mosque on Fridays), and dressed in his royal robes, which are mantles of silk and cotton. Male musicians came in and sang, after which they led in horses with silk caparisons, golden anklets, and halters of embroidered silk. These horses danced before him, a thing which astonished me, though I had seen the same performance at the court of the Sultan of India.

My stay at his court in Sumutra lasted fifteen days, after which I asked his permission to continue my journey, since it was now the sailing season, and because it is not possible to travel to China at all times of the year. He fitted out a junk for us, provisioned us, and made us rich presents, may God reward him !

Rihla 12, 1344
Tawalasii the Land of the Amazones

A modern Amazones fantasy from Holland
Photo tribalmystica.nl

From the times of the Greeks till today Amazones have fascinated men. The sea was calm and so Battuta fantasized another such tale. The strange thing is that Battuta's Amazones speak Turkish! - and so are the names of their land and its towns! - On the return journey from China the ship's crew has a mystery vision (of the Rukh) in the South China Sea. - This time his skepticism keeps his mind clear, and he recognizes it as a mirage.

The Mystery of the “Motionless Sea”
and the Amazones of the Land of Tawalasi

We continued our journey by sea and thirty-four days later came to the sluggish or “Motionless Sea”. There is a reddish tinge in its waters, which, they say, is due to soil from a country in the vicinity. There are no winds or waves or movement at all in it, in spite of its wide extent. It is on account of this sea that each Chinese junk is accompanied by three vessels, as we have mentioned, which take it in tow and row it forwards. Besides this every junk has about twenty oars as big as masts, each of which is manned by a muster of thirty men or so, who stand in two ranks facing one another. Attached to the oars are two enormous ropes as thick as cables; one of the ranks pulls on the cable [at its side], then lets go, and the other rank pulls [on the cable at its side]. They chant in musical voices as they do this, most commonly saying la, la, la, la.

We spent thirty-seven days on this sea, and the sailors were surprised at the facility of our crossing, for they [usually] spend forty to fifty days on it, and forty days is the shortest time required under the most favourable circumstances.

We reached the land of Tawalisi. It is a vast country and it is goeverned by a queen. The inhabitants of this land are idolaters; they are handsome men and closely resemble the Turks in figure. Their skin is most commonly of a reddish hue, and they are brave and warlike. Their women ride on horseback and are skilful archers, and fight exactly like men. We put in at the town of Kaylukari, which is among their finest and largest cities.

The day following our arrival their queen, Urduja, summoned the ship's captain and clerk, the merchants and pilots, the commander of the footsoldiers, and the commanders of the archers to a banquet which she had prepared for them, according to her custom. The captain wished me to go with them, but I declined, because, being infidels, it is not lawful to eat their food.

When they came into her presence she asked them if there was any one else of their company who had not come. The captain replied "There is only one man left, a bakhshi (that is, a qadi, in their (Turkish!) tongue), and he will not eat your food. "Thereupon she said "Call him," so her guards came [to me] along with the captain's party and said "Comply with the princess's wish." I went to her then, and found her sitting in full state. On my saluting her she replied to me in
Turkish, and asked me from what land I had come. I said "From the land of India." "From the pepper country?" she asked, and I replied "Yes." She questioned me about this land and events there, and when I had answered she said "I must positively make an expedition to it and take possession of it for myself, for the quantity of its riches and its troops attracts me." I replied "Do so."

Later the captain told me that this queen has in her army women, female servants and slave-girls, who fight like men. She goes out in person with her troops, male and female, makes raids on her enemies, takes part in the fighting, and engages in single combat with picked warriors. He told me too that during a fierce engagement with certain of her enemies, many of her troops were killed and they were all but defeated, when she dashed forward and broke through the ranks until she reached the king against whom she was fighting, and dealt him a mortal blow with her lance. He fell dead and his army took to flight. She brought back his head on the point of a spear, and his relatives redeemed it from her for a large sum of money.
The captain told me also that she is sought in marriage by various princes, but she says "I shall marry none but him who fights and overcomes me in single combat," and they avoid fighting with her for fear of the disgrace if she overcame them.

Rihla 11, 1345
Zayton-Xiamen 1345

Map of modern Xiamen
which I contend is the Zaytun of Marco Polo and Battuta.

The first city which we reached after our sea voyage was the city of Zaytun. It is an immense city, where the damask silk and satin fabrics are woven which go by its name and are superior to the fabrics of Khansa and Khan-Baliq.

The port of Zaytun is one of the largest in the world, or perhaps the very largest. I saw in it about a hundred large junks. The small junks could not be counted for multitude. It is formed by a large inlet of the sea which penetrates the land to the point where it unites with a great river.

On the day that I reached Zaytun I saw the amir who had come to India as an envoy with the presents [to the sultan], and who afterwards travelled with our party and was shipwrecked on the junk. He greeted me, and introduced me to the controller of the douane and saw that I was given good apartments [there]. The qadi and the Muslim merchants, sent us large quantities of provisions. We continued our travel as state-guests, of the Qan.

Rihla 11, 1345
Gulangyu Island

Flowerpot on the verandah of the former governor's mansion
on Gulangyu Island
Photo RWFG 1987

Gulangyu, an island in the harbor of Xiamen, was the city quarter of the Western merchants, like Shamian Island in Canton [Quanzhou], only here Portuguese not Englishmen dominated since the 17th cent. It became a foreign enclave following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, hence its predominantly Victorian-era style houses. Gulangyu is famous today for its architecture and for hosting China's only piano museum, giving it the nickname of "Piano Island". There seems to be a piano in every romantically deteriorated grand old house - now inhabited by the "servants" of the former colonial masters. A unique place in China. (1987)

Rihla 11, 1345
Chinese paper money, coal, porcellain,
and the organization of hostelery for foreigners.

Battuta is impressed by by several Chenese institutions. The first is the absence of ordinary coins as money.

The Chinese use neither [gold] dinars nor [silver] dirhams in their commerce. Their buying and selling is carried on exclusively by means of pieces of paper, each of the size of the palm of the hand, and stamped with the sultan's seal. Twenty-five of these pieces of paper are called a balisht [Turkish again!], which takes the place of the dinar with us [as the unit of currency]. When these notes become torn by handling, one takes them to an office corresponding to our mint, and receives their equivalent in new notes. This transaction is made without charge and involves no expense, for those who have the duty of making the notes receive regular salaries from the sultan.

Another is the use of coal instead of charcoal

All the inhabitants of China use in place of charcoal a kind of lumpy earth found in their country. It resembles our fuller's earth, and its colour too is the colour of fuller's earth. They break it up into pieces about the size of pieces of charcoal with us, and set it on fire and it burns like charcoal, only giving out more heat than a charcoal fire.

Somehow he gets the process of making porcellain mixed up with that of earthen charcoal: he tells the same story about the preparation of porcellain.
However what impresses him most - and effects him personally - are the government institutions regulating the travels of all foreigners.(sic!) - The modern reader must be reminded that this is 1345!!

China is the safest and best regulated of countries for a traveller. A man may go by himself on a nine months' journey, carrying with him large sums of money, without any fear on that account.

When a Muhammadan merchant enters any town in China, he is given the choice between staying with some specified merchant among the Muslims there, or going to a hostelry. If he chooses to stay with the merchant, his money is taken into custody and put under the charge of the resident merchant. The latter then pays from it all his expenses with honesty and charity.

If the visitor chooses to go to the hostelry, his property is deposited under the charge of the inn keeper. The keeper buys for him whatever he desires and presents him with a bill. If he desires to take a concubine, the keeper purchases a slave-girl for him and lodges him in an apartment outside the hostelry.

At every post-station in their country they have a hostelry controlled by an officer, who is stationed there. After sunset or later in the evening the officer visits the hostelry with his clerk, registers the names of all travellers staying there for the night, seals up the list, and locks them into a safe at the hostelry.

In the morning he returns with his clerk, calls each person by name, and writes a detailed description of them on the list. He then sends a man with them to conduct them to the next post-station and bring back a clearance certificate from the controller there to the effect that all these persons have arrived at that station. In these hostelries there is everything that the traveller requires in the way of provisions, especially fowl and geese. Sheep on the other hand, are scarce with them.

Rihla 11, 1345
Chinese Portraiture

Portrait of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1899)
Photo theepochtimes.com

The Chinese are of all peoples the most skilful in the arts and possess of the greatest mastery of them. In regard to portraiture no one can match them in precision.

I never returned to any of their cities after I had visited it a first time without finding my portrait and the portraits of my companions on sheets of paper exhibited in the bazaars. When I visited the sultan's city I passed with my companions through the painters' bazaar. We were dressed after the 'Iraqi fashion. On returning from the palace in the evening, I passed through the same bazaar, and saw my portrait and those of my com-panions drawn affixed to the wall. Each of us set to examining the other's portrait [and found that] the likeness was perfect in every respect.

I was told that the sultan had ordered them to do this, and that they had come to the palace while we were there and had been observing us and drawing our portraits without our noticing it.

It is a custom of theirs to make portraits of all who pass through their country. In fact they have brought this to such perfection that if a stranger commits any offence that obliges him to flee from China, they send his portrait far and wide. A search is then made for him and wheresoever the [person bearing a] resemblance to that portrait is found he is arrested.

Rihla 11,1345

After ten days' journey we reached Quanjanfu [Fuzhou], a large and beautiful city surrounded by fruit-gardens, which gave the place the look of the Ghuta at Damascus. On our arrival, we were met outside the town by the qadi, the Shaykh al-Islam, and the merchants, with standards, drums, trumpets, and bugles, and musicians. They brought horses for us, so we rode in on horse-back while they walked on foot before us. No one rode along with us but the qadi and the Shaykh al-Islam.

At Fushou Battuta meets an old friend:

When he came in and we fell to conversation after the usual greetings, it struck me that I knew him. I kept looking at him intently, and at last he said " I see you are looking at me as if you knew me." So I said to him " Where do you come from ?" He replied " From Ceuta! [Marocco]" Now I remembered him, "Are you al-Bushri ?" and he replied "Yes." I had met him in Delhi. - Years later I met his brother in Mali—what a distance lies between them !

They have a sentimental reunion, and then Battuta confesses

I stayed at Qanjanfu for fifteen days and then continued my journey. The land of China, in spite of all that is agreeable in it, did not attract me.

Only if you have been alone in China, unable to talk to anybody (as I did for 7 weeks), can you imagine his situation and loneliness. He has become nostalgic for his own people. For his readers he, the qadi, explains his verdict.

I was sorely grieved that heathendom had so strong a hold over it. Whenever I went out of my house I used to see any number of revolting things, and that distressed me so much that I used to keep indoors and got out only in case of neccessity.

When I met Muslims in China I always felt just as though I were meeting my own faith and kin. So great was the kindness of this doctor al-Bushri that when I left Qanjanfu he accompanied me for four days.

Rihla 11, 1345

Hangzhou, Sunrise over West Lake from my room.
Photo RWFG 1987

Khansa [Hangzhou] is the biggest city l have ever seen on the face of the earth. It is built after the Chinese fashion, that is, each person, having his own house and garden. Khansa consists of six cities, each with its own wall, and an outer wall surrounding the whole.

In this city live Jews, Christians, and sun-worshipping Turks [Zaroastrians from Central Asia], every one in his own city and a large number in all. Its governor is a Chinese and we passed the second night in his house. On the third day we entered the third city, which is inhabited by Muslims. Their bazaars are arranged just as in Islamic countries; they have mosques and muezzins—we heard them calling to the noon prayers as we entered.

We stayed here in the mansion of the family of 'Othman ibn 'Affan of Egypt, an immensely wealthy merchant. Every day and night we were the guests at a new entertainment, and they continuously provided the most sumptuous meats, and went out with us every day on pleasure rides into different quarters of the city. Their name fort hese banquets is towa.
The amir od Khansa, Qurtay is the principal amir in China. We stayed with him as his guests for three days. He sent his son with us to the canal [the Grand Canal], where we went on board a ship, and the amir's son went on another along with musicians and singers. They sang in Chinese, Arabic, and Persian. The amir's son was a great admirer of Persian poetry, and when they sang a certain Persian poem he commanded them to repeat it over and over again.

But as before Battuta mostly admires the social institutions provided by the government:

When a man reaches the age of fifty he is exempted from work and maintained [by the state]. Anyone who reaches the age of sixty is regarded by them as a child, and legal penalties cease to be applicable to him. Old men in China are greatly respected, and each one of them is called Ata, which means "Father."

Interestingly Battuta uses Turkish names and designations [e.g., Qurtay, towa, Ata] throughout his description. The explanation is probably that he frequented the comoany of muslims in China who were from Turkish-speaking Central Asia.

Rihla 11, 1345

Ukhaantu Khan, Chinese Emperor Huizong of the Yuan Dynasty, 1320-1370.
Photo Wikipedia

Battuta claims to have traveled in 60 days from Hangzhou to Khanbalig-Beijing on invitation of the Great Khan. The Yuan emporor of the time was Ukhaantu Khan. These were the last years of the Mongul Yuan dynasty. Ukhaantu was deeply involved in internal strife, as Battuta describes correctly, although using unfathomnable Turkish names. He never gets to see Ukhaantu who according to Battuta dies on one of his expeditions at the time that he arrived in Beijing. He then gives a sensational description of the funeral rites.

Thereafter the slain Qan, who was a descendant of Tsinkiz [Ginghiz] Khan, who laid waste to the lands of Islam [sic!], was brought, with about a hundred other slain, his cousins, relatives, and intimates. A great na'us, that is, a subterranean chamber, was dug for him and richly furnished. The Qan was laid in it with his weapons, and all the gold and silver plate from his palace was deposited in it with him. With him also were put four slavegirls and six of the principal mameluks, who carried drinking vessels, then the door of the chamber was built up and the whole thing covered over with earth until it reached the size of a large mound. After that they brought four horses and drove then about the Qan's grave until they stopped [from exhaustion], then they set up a wooden erection over the grave and suspended the horses on it, having first driven a piece of wood through each horse from tail to mouth.

The intriguing aspect of this tale is that excavations of such burial kurgans have revealed very similar rites in Central Asia and Russia - but from around 500 BC.... Where he got this "horror story" from, we don't know. Besides Ukhaantu Khan died normally and only in 1370.

It is today generally agreed that Battuta never reached Beijing. Disgusted with China he returned from Hangzhou to Xiamen in April 1347 and made for home after one last Hajj to Mecca.

Rihla 12, 1346
Zayton-Xiamen 1346

Old and new in the back streets of Xiamen (2007)
Photo Pr.Pleshner, Panoramio

Battuta returns to Zayton and starts his return

When a revolt broke out and the flames of disorder were kindled, Shaykh Burhan ad-Din and others advised me to return to [Southern] China before the disturbances became chronic.

On reaching Zayton I found some junks ready to sail for India. Amongst them was a junk belonging to al-Malik az-Zahir, the ruler of Jawa [Sumatra], the crew of which were Muslims. His agent knew me and was delighted at my arrival. We sailed with fair winds for ten days, and then got into a wild storm [taifun].