The series begins with Babur, the first of the Moghul emperors. From dangerous beginnings when as a young boy he inherited a remote kingdom in central Asia and had to fight for his very survival he eventually gathered an army strong enough to sweep down into and conquer Hindustan (northern India).
His diary, the Baburnama, shows how much the wild and rugged landscape of his homelands was the crucible that formed him. To help me understand Babur I wanted to see that world and have been lucky enough to travel through nearly all the places important to Babur’s story. His ancestral kingdom of Ferghana – in modern-day Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – is still a place of apple, almond and apricot orchards and beds of juicy melons the size of footballs ringed by jagged-peaked mountains.
In late summer, men and women still thresh the grain by hand using flails, sending clouds of golden chaff into the air and herds of sheep, goats and dark shaggy yaks browse the high pastures, guarded by mounted herdsmen and their vigilant dogs.
I’ve slept in their conical felt tents, eaten their food of root vegetables, mutton and buttered rice that would have been so familiar to Babur and drunk the fermented mare’s milk that warmed him.
In late September, I’ve felt the air turn suddenly chill and watched the first snowflakes starting to fall in the high passes.
In spring, I’ve seen the rivers and streams swollen with melt water. I’ve followed Babur past mud-brick forts like those that existed in his day, over the rolling hills and golden grasslands to Samarkand, the city he coveted and captured three times.
In Samarkand itself I’ve stood in the Registan Square where he was crowned, and descended to the crypt of the tomb of his ancestor Timur (Tamburlaine). In a dusty little museum I found a stone inscribed by him in the desperate times when he was living the life of a robber prince.
All that I saw on those travels – everything I experienced – added to my admiration of Babur – warrior, adventurer, survivor and founder of the Moghul Empire and made me want to tell his story.