Caravanserai

13 May 2010

Caravanserai is a word that comes from Persian. It denotes a specially designated place ,or structure ,where caravans (the camel kind) could rest for the night, stock up on supplies, and observe religious rituals. Often, these buildings would be lavishly decorated and quite luxurious, as the ruler of the place would do everything in his power could to ensure these caravans would travel through his cities. In those days, it made a pretty huge difference if your city was on the infamous Silk Road, or not. Probably like having your own stock market nowadays.

I like the image of the caravanserai, because it’s a beautiful example of a synergistic system: the locals benefit economically, because the riches the passing caravans bring in far outweigh the cost of making sure they are safe and comfortable. The travellers benefit because they are better able to survive their (almost suicidal) trip across deserts, and are facilitated in meeting other caravans to trade or travel with. Everyone wins, except the people who don’t play the game.

This is why I chose this word to represent.a project I was involved in last year: to provide a comfortable and engaging space for travellers to stay for a while, and benefit, in order that I could benefit myself from having people come and inspire, share culture, and keep me on my toes.

In Western Europe, probably the closest concept that comes to mind is a coaching inn. a combination of hotel and inn that made long-distance travel simply possible. Coach rides across England could take weeks, considering bad roads, changing horses, and trying to avoid permanent injury to the traveller’s spinal cord. At these places, travelling parties could also rest, buy supplies, etc… but the concept seems to be more strictly transactional: the local side of the bargain is receiving compensation for the services rendered.

But I disgress.

This is actually all a cunning plan to provide you with the tools necessary to understand this great quatrain by Omar Khayyam:

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai Whose portals are alternate Night and Day, How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.Perhaps, one day, I will be able to read the original. I think it’s pretty decent as far as pipe dreams go. pipe dreams go.