Crossing the Empty Quarter book released in London

LONDON:  More than 550 people recently gathered in the Royal Geographical Society Ondaajte lecture theatre in London to listen to the story of the 49 day crossing of the Empty Quarter, from Salalah to Doha, recently completed by Omani’s Mohamed al Zadjali, Amur al Wahaibi and British Explorer Mark Evans.
The event was organised by Abdul Aziz al Hinai, Oman’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent and Jon Wilks, the UK’s Ambassador to Oman were present.
An exhibition of the journey, which will run until December 16, was formally opened by His Royal Highness, and a launch of the expedition book, published by Gilgamesh Publishing in London, followed the lecture.
With a foreword written by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Crossing the Empty Quarter is a large format book, celebrating the journey in all its aspects. Combining extensive photography — both archive and contemporary — with an authoritative yet highly readable text, the book is a unique exploration of the region as it was more than 80 years ago, and as it stands today, and can be ordered directly from the publisher, Gilgamesh Publishing.
Thanks to extensive coverage via the BBC, Sky News and Al Jazeera, the Crossing the Empty Quarter journey reached out to more than 160 million people worldwide, and was featured in The Times newspaper in London, that wrote: “There is still no mobile phone signal in the Empty Quarter, but there is boundless hospitality. Mark Evans, the 54-year-old British Outward Bound instructor re-creating history with an 800-mile walk from Oman to Doha, says that 28 goats, seven camels and three sheep have been slaughtered in his honour along the way”.
That’s a lot of meat. Who knew that the world’s largest sand desert offered so much grazing?
Not many people, because the Empty Quarter remains almost as off-putting to visitors as it was when Bertram Thomas, a retired civil servant, became the first westerner to cross it in 1931. The key to the grazing is nothing more complicated than rain. It’s rare but still comes at an average rate of an inch a year. In fact, after six rainless years, the skies over the Rub al Khali opened over Evans’s expedition twice in two days soon after his departure.
The journey so far has not been without minor hardship. One of Evans’s camels was abandoned after appearing to decide he did not fancy the mission, and the others have refused to budge on multiple occasions. But the most daunting obstacle to the adventurers is now bureaucratic. They need special permission from the governments of Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ensure they are not mistaken for wildcatters or worse.
Evans’s desert crossing is by no means the first since Thomas’s. Sir Wilfred Thesiger made his name criss-crossing the Empty Quarter in the 1940s and two younger Britons dragged a wheeled cart across it in 2012.
But the trek coming to an end this week among the skyscrapers of Doha will bring welcome diversity to the annals of British exploration, which have been dominated for decades by snow, ice, rock and cold. It is also a gentle reminder that the Arabian Peninsula has more to offer than blood, oil, sweat and tears.
The book, in English and Arabic editions, will be formally launched in Muscat next year.