Book of Ser Narco Polo

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The Desert of Gobi


Lop is a large town at the edge of the desert, which is called the desert of Gobi, and is situated between east and northeast. It belongs to the Great Khan, and the inhabitants worship Mohammed. Now, such persons as intend to cross the desert take a week’s rest in this town to refresh themselves and their cattle; and then they make ready for the journey, taking with them a month’s supply for man and beast. On quitting this city they enter the desert.

The length of this desert is so great that it is said it would take a year and more to ride from one end of it to the other. And here, where its breadth is least, it takes a month to cross it. The desert is entirely composed of hills and valleys of sand, and not a thing to eat is to be found on it. But after riding for a day and a night you find fresh water, perhaps enough for some fifty or one hundred persons with their beasts, but not for more. And all across the desert you will find water in like manner, that is to say, in some twenty-eight places altogether you will find good water, but not in great quantity.

Beasts there are none; for there is nought for them to eat. But there is a marvelous thing related of this desert, which is that when travelers are on the move by night, and one of them chances to lag behind or to fall asleep or the like, when he tries to gain his company again he will hear spirits talking and will suppose them to be his comrades. Sometimes the spirits will call him by name; and thus a traveler ofttimes will be led astray so that he never finds his party. And in this way many have perished. . . . Even in the daytime one hears these spirits talking. And sometimes you may hear the sound of a variety of musical instruments, and still more commonly the sound of drums. Hence in making this journey it is customary for travelers to keep close together. All the animals, too, have bells at their necks, so that they cannot easily get astray. And at sleeping-time a signal is put up to show the direction of the next day’s march. Thus it is that the desert is crossed.

1 , bk. i, ch. 39.

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Chicago: Book of Ser Narco Polo in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 470. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . Book of Ser Narco Polo, Vol. i, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, page 470. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , Book of Ser Narco Polo. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.470. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from