Mark Shand, Elephants and an English Baby Boomer

Mark Shand will not be forgotten by his Elephants! Elephants are of particular interest to me thanks to my writer/journalist son, Tarquin Hall’s book, To The Elephant Graveyard (2000). The themes associated with the potential extinction of those massive and beautiful creatures which Mark Shand so tirelessly campaigned to keep in the public’s eye-line are echoed like a trumpeting pachyderm in Tarquin’s book. I knew Mark Shand, the brother of Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, had written Travels With My Elephant, about his impressive 750 mile trek across India on Tara, his elephant, in 1988, that won him the ‘Travel Writer of the Year Award’, but I knew little about his other exploits.

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Mark Shand and friend

His Indian trek apparently provided him with ‘a cause’, so he gave up his day job and founded ‘Elephant Family’, a charity devoted to the protection of Elephants. It was following a very successful auction in New York to raise money for ‘Elephant Family’ that he met his premature demise. Several authors of particular interest, noted in Shand’s Obituary, like Sir Richard Burton, the nineteenth century scholar and explorer, also caught my eye.

In my first book, An English Baby Boomer – My Life and Times, just out on Amazon, I have quoted several passages from Burton’s long, mystical poem, The Kasidah, which he attributes to one Haji Abdu al-Yazdi. Lady Burton, described her husband, the translator of the Kama Sutra, 1001 Nights and much more, as the ‘greatest oriental scholar England ever had and neglected’. Another of my favourite books is Eric Newby’s, A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush, also a favourite of Shand’s and no one who has read Newby’s memorable classic will forget the episode when Wilfred Thesiger finds Newby bedding down for the night in the wilds of Afghanistan – on an inflatable air-bed.  In today’s PC Britain, Thesiger’s contemptuous remarks are unprintable.

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To the Elephant Graveyard by Tarquin Hall

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Wilfred Thesiger

Although my dangerous life has not been as physically dangerous as theirs, are Shand, Burton, Thesiger and my son, Tarquin Hall, typical Englishmen, as I also think myself to be? So many of my literary interests reflect a nomadic adventurous streak. Are we examples of the English who readily absorb influences from foreign cultures? Perusing my bookshelves for more evidence, I found The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk (1990), who dramatically portrays the long rivalry between the Russian and British Empires, and The Ride To Khiva (1877) by Captain Fred Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards which describes his travels through Central Asia. A myriad of various books on my shelves by Wilfred Thesiger and William Dalrymple also shout out Rudyard Kipling’s comment, ‘What do they know of England who only England know?’

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Sir Richard Burton

Remembering too that Englishwomen are as intrepid as the men, I found The Tent Pegs of Heaven by Lucie Street (1967) in which she crossed The Hindu Kush or, as they are often called, the ‘Killer Mountains of Afghanistan’, en route to the ancient city of Balkh, once great, but finally destroyed by Ghengis Kahn and his boys, as well as many books by Freya Stark.

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The Tent Pegs of Heaven by Lucie Street

I hope Mark Shand, in his new resting place, is still travelling, seeking adventure and riding some wonderful cosmic Elephant! Good luck to him.

 

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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and her late brother, Mark Shand.

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