In 1935 Ella Maillart contemplated one of the most arduous journeys in the world: the "impossible journey" from Peking, then a part of Japanese-occupied China, through the distant province of Sinkiang (present day Tukestan), to Kashmir. Enlisting with newswriter Peter Fleming (with the caveat that his company remain tolerable), Maillart undertook a journey considered almost beyond imagination for any European and doubly so for a woman.
Maillart describes it all with the sharp eye and unvarnished prose of a veteran reporter--the missionaries and rogues, parents binding daughters' feet with rags, the impatient Fleming lighting fires under stubborn camels. It's a hard road, not that Maillart cares. At all times she is a witty, always-enchanted guide--except when it comes to bureaucrats.
Forbidden Journey ranks with travel narratives like Fleming's News from Tartary (based on the same journey) and Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana. But it is also a portrait of a fascinating woman, one of many women from the pre-WWII era who ignored convention and traveled in hidden lands. It remains a vivid account of its time and a classic of travel literature.