Reviews of Khyber Knights
You have written a masterpiece! This is the book that will top all other horse travel books.
Founding Member of the Long Riders Guild Jeremy James, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of Saddletramp.
A last wish.
If I were a terminally ill child chosen for the Make a Wish Foundation, my wish would be to sit with CuChullaine O’Reilly for twenty minutes, to enjoy a cup of chai and talk about his book, Khyber Knights. There are not enough words in my limited vocabulary, maybe not in anyone’s repertoire, to adequately describe this tale. The book resides on the cellular level; something to be experienced, understood, appreciated, valued. When I pick it up again now, it is with enduring reverence. This book is not just a good read. It is not an insignificant form of entertainment. It is unequivocally a monumental, life-changing experience. Everyone should read it and I do hope that Khyber Knights is published in every language.
If it was any more authentic the reader would need a shot of penicillin when he finished the book.
Sergeant Bo Melin, French Foreign Legion, 2nd R.E.P.
Up there with Paul Theroux
CuChullaine O'Reilly is a rare explorer who has the ability to get close with the local customs and people and still keep his own identity. I highly recommend his book "Khyber Knights", which is right up there with Paul Theroux's "The Great Railway Bazaar" and Heinrich Harrer's "The White Spider". It will change your view on Pakistan and start you planning your own equestrian adventures.
Tom Sjogren - Publisher, Explorers' Web News Service
A Mind-blowing Adventure
The scale of the adventure is mind-blowing. To describe the book as well written would be an injustice to O’Reilly. It is wonderfully crafted and flawlessly executed.
Neil Clarkson - Publisher, Horse Talk News Service
I am grateful to you for sharing your insightful book, Khyber Knights, with me. I believe political analysts will immensely benefit from your intimate, first hand experience and your incisive study of a complex period in our nation's history.
Dr. Maleelia Lodhi, Ambassador of Pakistan.
Marco Polo, Ibn Battutah and Khyber Knights
From Herodotus onward travel literature has frequently drawn upon the resources of fiction; and fictional elements occur among the accounts attributed to some of the most renowned of Western travellers, such as, for instance, Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville. Even the great Ibn Battutah, the Prince of Travellers, recreating his extraordinary adventures out of scrupulous memory, was forced to resort to compression, summary, and even to occasional borrowing from an earlier text. Khyber Knights, as its remarkable author frankly tells us, is fictional in its framework, but is an account "based on a chronological sequence of actual events" involving real people. Its substance is hard fact–––some of it very hard indeed: his personal experience as a travelling Muslim horseman, who happened also to be a cosmopolitan American, in pre-Taliban Afghanistan and Pakistan. No one could have merely invented what he has to tell us. And what a tale it is. We hear of cruelty, greed, suffering and hardship, but in a narrative always enlivened by that noble spirit of compassion that makes living itself worthwhile. We can learn from this book, one of the greatest I have read–––and I have read (alas!) many. Indeed, as a friend said to whom I had lent a copy, "This is a book that one would not want to live without."
John Rodenbeck, Professor Emeritus, Department of English and Comparative Literature, American University in Cairo.
A fantastic achievement.
There are very few travel stories with as much to recommend them as Khyber Knights. Its pages hold a rare tale of adventure, history, philosophy, love, loss, cruelty, desperation, justice, injustice, courage and loyalty. It is Emile Zola meets Ernest Hemingway, with a sprinkling of Mickey Spillaine, National Geographic, and the History Channel. Uncompromising in his honesty and unafraid to criticise the odd sacred cow, the author has produced a potent mixture of fact and fiction that all but binds the reader hand and foot and drags him through the streets of Peshawar to the frontier mountains of Afghanistan. He is at his best when describing the relationship between man and horse, a central theme to the message of the book, which if anything is one of longing and fulfilment. For the experience to any more real, the pages would have to be impregnated with the smell of horse manure and unwashed bodies. It will appeal to anyone who has ever ridden a horse, or anyone who simply loves a good adventure.
Garry Ashton-Coulton, British journalist.
The best travel and adventure reading in the history of exploration and adventure.
For me books have had a enormous impact on life. When I was ten years old they helped made me realize that there was life beyond the limits of the village. It was books which made me explore and gave me so much joy, hope, wisdom and perspective on life. Not long ago I was asked by the Royal Geographical Society to pick the five best travel books. Here they are: Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. This work presents the enthralling account of the first conquest of Annapurna. The Worst Journey in the World by Aspley Cherry-Garrard. A work of supreme dimension, this masterpiece remains as compelling today as when it was first published eighty years ago. The Heart of the Hunter by Laurens Van der Post. A beautiful book about travels among the Bushmen. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. An amazing and inspiring account from the northern part of the globe. Khyber Knights by CuChullaine O’Reilly. Written by a very good friend of mine, Khyber Knights will be one of the classics of modern travel literature. The reason is that, unlike so many so-called adventures, it is not only a story about a most amazing equestrian quest, it is also a book full of human knowledge.
Swedish Long Rider Mikael Strandberg, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Fellow of the Explorers Club and author of Patagonien.
A must read.
I spent the last two days reading Khyber Knights. I couldn't put the book down and now that I have read the last sentences I feel orphaned. What an amazing account of even more amazing adventures. I was especially captured by the second part of the book; the words were no longer words, they were an avalanche, a tidal wave, a hurricane. I read so fast that I must have missed sentences - I indulged in the raw beauty and horror of what was written. The book is not your usual superficial travel book, no, it takes you to the heart of the matter. While we travel with CuChullaine on his splendid horse through the wild north of Pakistan we search our soul and we ask ourselves what risks we are prepared to take to find fulfilment and to live life to the full. CuChullaine's love for horses brought tears to my eyes, the loyalty to his friends made me wonder if it was madness or courage that made him do what he did, the descriptions of nature gave my heart wings, the craving for freedom and the longing to follow the wind obliterated the doubts I sometimes have about my nomadic life style. Khyber Knights is a must read and, I must warn you, after you've read the last pages you won't be able to read another book for a while.
Arita Baaijens, Dutch explorer, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of Desert Songs.
Jack London in our time.
Throughout the human journey in time horsemanship has been man's greatest adventure, and although the 20th century has seen the mass denaturalization of millions of city-bred people, this book is proof that at least equestrian adventure hasn't died out with the predictability and monotony of modern life. Not, at any rate, to whoever has the guts, the spirit and the hardiness to ride a horse into high adventure. O'Reilly did this to an amazing degree and brought an extra credential to his exploits - a rare capability to capture the emotional essence of moments spun out of control and put them on paper. And, as the struggle to push over the most rugged terrain in Central Asia increases, besides keeping horses and men alive, historical events and modern history mingles with the horsemen's private affairs in a narrative that makes every page a memorable adventure. Twenty three hours later you emerge from the book shaken, albeit the wiser in many aspects of the hardiness of equestrian long distance riding, of eastern and western cultural shock, and of human folly in general. Of course Jack London could do it in his time, but CuChullaine O'Reilly, the Long Rider, has now shown us that it can still be done in our day.
Bjarke Rink, author of The Centaur Legacy.
The best book on Pakistan.
I originally bought and read this book through my love of horses and interest in Pakistan. There are so many stories in this book, that are all so descriptive and well written, that I could not stop reading it. On the train, lunch break at work, all through the night - you won't want to stop. O’Reilly’s knowledge of horses, the land and people is remarkable and an escape from any mundane aspects that you may have in your life. My boyfriend, who is from Peshawar and Swat, was simply addicted to this book (despite the fact he has no interest in horses). He has travelled through many of the places mentioned in this book and even knows some of the buildings like the court house which they slept in. He was in absolute amazement that a westerner could so thoroughly understand his Pukhtun culture and language. He felt that it was written by a fellow Pathan rather than an Irish American. The thoughts and sentiments were exactly what he has been brought up to understand. From his opinion, I feel confident in asserting this book's value as a true depiction of the NWFP and surrounding areas. CuChullaine O'Reilly (Asadullah Khan) has written the best book I have ever read on Pakistan or horses. This book will find a treasured place on any bookcase.
Kipling would have loved Khyber Knights.
Khyber Knights is a rattling good account of high adventure in wild - and not so wild - places that could, with a little chronological adjustment, have been lifted straight out of the Great Game at the height of the British imperial Raj. Almost in fact what the British used to call a ripping yarn. It keeps faith with the derring-do of Henry Pottinger, Arthur Connolly, Alexander Burnes and Josiah Harlan and in some instances exceeds them. Indeed it is almost a study of imperialist behaviour without the imperialists. When I came to the end, I felt that real sense of loss that invariably comes with the last page of a really good read. Wonderful stuff. Kipling would have loved it. If this doesn't get armchair travellers out of their chairs and heading off in search of peak to climb or a desert to explore, then nothing will.
Derek O'Connor, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of The King's Stranger.
Khyber Knights - straight into the soul of humanity - with horses!
Khyber Knights is beyond best seller! It took me wholly to another world. This story is gripping, captivating, and intriguing, one of the best reads I've had in a long while. Masterfully told, it reaches to the core of humanity while also providing valuable insight into a place and culture that is all but lost to us in recent years of global turmoil. On a contemporary horse journey, the author takes the reader from the crossroads of the ancient silk routes into the forbidden heart of Asia, to the hidden valleys of the Hindu Kush and the Karakorum, to cultures which extend hospitality to all, even the enemy. O'Reilly calls his work fiction, based on a sequence of actual events, but it could only be written by one who experienced it. It's an artistic weave allowing the author to tell a bold and intimate story, straight from the heart. It encompasses personal dreams and convictions, hopes and delusions, adventure and heartbreak, horses and lovers, and the stark reality of embracing a country and culture that is not one's own. Horses are the heart of the story, however, the golden mare Shavon, the fleet dun Pasha, and others. It's an account of passion and feeling in the realm of adventure, misadventure, and romance, a tale only a man could write, a story unique in the remarkable relationship of man and horse on a journey. As a horse traveller myself, I could only dream of such adventures, though I would never have survived them, let alone written the tale so boldly and true. Khyber Knights takes us far beyond adventure, straight into the soul of humanity. The eloquent and vivid descriptions, historical background, poignant documentation, glossary, and superb illustrations contribute to better understanding of a culture so rich and ancient, while allowing the imagination to soar. It's a work of art. I treasure this book.
North American Long Rider Lucy Leaf.
Asadullah Khan, CuChullaine O’Reilly, has revealed Pakistan’s secrets, as well as her sorrows.
Professor G.M. Qureshi, Peshawar, Pakistan, author of Lessons in Islam.
A dangerous dreamer.
It was T E Lawrence of "Lawrence of Arabia" fame, who wrote in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom: "All men dream, but not equally...The dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible". CuChullaine O'Reilly also had a dream: to ride 1,000 miles by horse through untamed tribes of freedom fighters in the remote and dangerous heart of Asia. He was kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned in pursuit of his dream, but he tells his experiences with humour and panache. It is an heroic epic of exploration and adventure by both man and horse.
Scottish Long Rider George Patterson, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of Journey with Loshay.
An extraordinary book.
I was born and raised in the Frontier province of Pakistan and I am a woman. I belong to Swabi District and lived in Peshawar where Asadullah Khan starts his knightly escapades. A very delightful aspect of the book is the constant companionship of Pasha and Shavon. These are two horses that seem almost to talk to you; brave, uncomplaining and faithful. Asadullah Khan ought to be congratulated for seeing his journey to completion because he travelled in dangerous climes and even more dangerous times, but, more than that, I thank him personally for the much more difficult accomplishment of recording this dear land of mine in such an extraordinary book.
Hell bent for leather in the land of the pure.
Today many of us live lives of relative comfort, insulated from the rigours of daily survival by the mechanisms of civilization. The ability to "escape" the confines of modern civilization has become considerably less attainable, making even the most determined explorer's attempts to find isolated and undiscovered locales difficult, if not impossible. No matter the venue or the feat, a safety net of communication and rescue is available even in the most extreme aspects of exploration. Nonetheless, in the1980s, CuChullaine O'Reilly undertook travel that would seem impossible to most of us. Far from the protections and comforts tacitly assumed in modern travel, CuChullaine ventured into what is still considered one of the most dangerous regions of the world on a true quest. On horseback, CuChullaine rode into the back lands of Pakistan, isolated from the modern world of technology and social niceties. Reduced to the basic requirements of survival in a primitive and basic culture where the day-to-day concerns centre on essentials such as finding the next meal, dodging the next bullet, lasting the next day in prison, and enduring the next illness, CuChullaine reports on his trek in a reflective and philosophical manner. His use of narrative is artful and compelling; his tale flows unimpeded by complaint or request for sympathy. Riding by choice into a archaic setting, his journey is as much an inner one of self-discovery of personal limits and capabilities as it is a record of overcoming physical hardships in a savage land. As such, Khyber Knights is an astounding chronicle of physical and mental challenge. Those from the travelling set who seek warm beaches, fine dining, five-star hotels and first-class accommodations might not choose Khyber Knights as their primary travel guide. However, here is a tale of a journey worthy of all types of readers from those who enjoy vicarious experiences from the security of their armchairs to those bold explorers seeking inspiration for their next quest.
Robyn Bates – Explorers’ Club.
A mounted study of Islam.
CuChullaine O’Reilly is an equestrian explorer who founded The Long Riders’ Guild, an international network of men and women who love horses and ride them over seemingly impassable terrain and unimaginable distances. That organization is not for the fainthearted. His book, Khyber Knights, describes his adventures as a journalist, and Long Rider, in my country. O’Reilly lived in Peshawar and he fell in love with that city and with Pakistan. He also fell in love with Islam, which he found simple and elemental in its power, a religion that conceives all the creatures of God as indivisible and worthy of respect. It was in Pakistan that he became a Muslim and took the name Asadullah Khan, though he did not abandon his Irish-American origins of which he is proud. In America and Europe, he is known by the name he was born with, but to his friends from Pakistan, among whom I happily count myself, he is Asadullah Khan. Though some of his happiest moments were discovered during his equestrian journeys through my country, Asadullah rightly warns his readers that grief never takes a vacation in Pakistan. He is the only non-Pakistani I know who has got it right. I compliment him on his insight and intuition.
Khalid Hasan – Pakistani journalist.
A passionately told story that will make you wonder how authentic your own life is.
Khyber Knights looks like a perfectly normal book from the outside. A handsome painting graces the front cover and the back cover promises an epic journey that it dares you to survive. 'How exciting,' you think happily, sinking into a comfortable position and turning to the first page of what you expect to be a long, richly entertaining memoir into which you can look from the outside. But to your shock, the saga of Khyber Knights has a peculiar, vivid power. It reaches up to grab you by your very soul with a frightening force. It pulls you down to face it with what courage you find in yourself as you follow the footprint of the author's true odyssey on horseback through one of the most dangerous places in the world in the early 1980s − Pakistan. And you learn soon enough what international journalist turned equestrian explorer Asadullah Khan (CuChullaine O'Reilly), has insinuated about surviving the experience of reading this book. Here we have the opportunity to realize how much dimension and richness of living we have lost in our sanitization of the authentic sweat, dirt, blood and tears that we have just about made extinct in our society. Many times during the reading of Khyber Knights I had such dread about what was going to happen next that I realized I was tensed, cold and stiff. At these times I had to force myself to keep reading. I happened to know that the author was still alive today, but what of the other people and the horses I had grown to care about? What had happened to them? I dreaded to know, but I had to. When I finished the book I felt that in a way I didn't just accompany the author, I had made my own passage.
Kip Mistral – American Journalist.
No tale of timid travels.
Anyone who has ever wondered about what adventure travel story would be of interest to real adventurers need wonder no more. Khyber Knights is the epic tale that will be read by climbers in their tents on Mt. Everest, by wanderers camped out under the stars in the Sahara, and by modern day explorers wintering over in Antarctica as well as just about anyone with a passion for horses. Read the Author's Disclaimer and then try to put the book down before you have finished the entire 600 pages. I dare you!!!
A real-life thriller.
A number of years ago a friend introduced me to an American adventurer who had explored Afghanistan and Pakistan on horseback. Had it not been for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, CuChullaine O’Reilly would still be an American nomad living among the Afghans and the world would have been deprived of a fascinating story. When the Soviets seized Afghanistan, O'Reilly moved to the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar to cover the war and also to teach basic journalism to Afghan refugees under an American university program. He fell in love with Peshawar and it was his abiding love for the city that brought us together. It was in Peshawar, a cross between Casablanca and Dodge City, that according to his own account he came across 'the swirling cocktail of turbaned freedom fighters, tight lipped foreign mercenaries, naïve foreign aid workers, cruel Pathan warlords and more spies than ever lurked in Berlin'. It was also from that vantage point that he saw the destruction of Afghanistan and the Afghan society that he loved so much at the hands of the Soviet Union. He lived in the inner city, wore native clothes, ate the common fare and felt at home with the natives. From Peshawar he forayed into the remote tribal areas of the wild western frontier of Pakistan where honour, deceit, hospitality and religion rule side by side. From the back of a horse he peered into the secretive underworld of prostitution, drugs and guns and came face to face with death on more than one occasion. Khyber Knights, the unvarnished account of this young American's foray into the secret and forbidding world of Central Asia, is a real-life thriller. Once you start the journey with Asadullah Khan, you won’t be able to get off until the horseman himself dismounts at the end of his story.
Dr. Amjad Hussain - Author of The Taliban and Beyond.
Khyber Knights – A flame in the dark.
CuChullaine O'Reilly's depiction of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier, under the rule of a military tyrant, is a penetrating gaze into a land wrestling with itself in the late twentieth century. Khyber Knights is a beautiful and terrifying portrait of tribal bastions living in the world's rafters; of a people clutching to the past with a ferocious zeal. Deftly captured with a patient eye and tenacious pen, this is as much a story about the author's soul as it is of this mountainous province and its peoples. From his abominable experiences in the dungeons of Pindi prison, to his Odyssean adventures with his beloved horses, where each valley is a different country, the author illuminates his surroundings with an admirable fervour. An important and courageous work of a time and place that has since melted into the past, the book’s manifestations are a flame in the dark.
Alistair Carr, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of The Singing Bowl - Journeys through Inner Asia.
Couldn’t stop reading Khyber Knights.
When Khyber Knights arrived, it sat on my desk for weeks. Although I’m an avid reader, I had reviewed a lot of books lately and some were very up-hill reading. Thus my enthusiasm for a new title was a bit low. But when I started reading Khyber Knights I have to say that it brought me nothing but trouble. It is so interesting that I didn’t want to put it down. If I finished work at four a.m., I still had to read it, all the while my husband grumbled because the light was on. I even took it into the bathroom. I’ve read thousands of books and this has to one of the most interesting.
Sandy Hannan, Publisher Hoofbeats magazine, Australia.
The ride of a lifetime.
If you want the adventure of a lifetime, Khyber Knights is a must read! Not only do you see the beauty of Pakistan's panoramic countryside, you're also caught up in conflicts so intense that you are relieved when you and the author ride on. My father, Marshal Ralph Hooker, was an equestrian explorer and one of the Founding Members of The Long Riders' Guild. He would have loved to accompany CuChullaine on this amazing journey.
A triumph of the story-teller's art.
Why do I want you to read this book? Is it because I rode more than 20,000 kilometres myself from South Africa to Austria, so I know first hand the dangers and hardships involved in equestrian travel? Is it because Khyber Knights offers a unique insight into Afghanistan and Pakistan that you will find nowhere else? Is it because the story is so gripping that I read it three times? Yes, all of this is true but there is something more. As the author of my own book of equestrian exploration, The Will to Win, I recognise CuChullaine's passion for horses and love of the local people. Both qualities shine through his adventures because of the subtle touch of this master writer. For Khyber Knights is a triumph of the story-teller's art and now rests in an honoured place in my library.
Scottish Long Rider Gordon Naysmith, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of The Will to Win.
Khyber Knights: an epic account.
CuChullaine O’Reilly is a man who likes to go on long journeys, and his chosen mode of transport is the horse. Khyber Knights is his epic account of one of the most extraordinary adventures ever taken on horseback. When O’Reilly says, “Pakistan at times almost destroyed me,” you get the feeling that he isn’t exaggerating. But he also has a passion for Pakistan, a passion that bounces off the pages with accuracy, authority and authenticity. Khyber Knights is nothing if not a great read. O’Reilly writes in a straight line and at a cracking pace. And despite the fact that the book is on the surface about life in the saddle, hardship and the stark, harsh reality of survival in a fiercely inhospitable world, it is also about the deep workings of the soul of a man. What prompts men such as O’Reilly to risk their lives in such appalling circumstances is beyond the imagination of most people, but the answer is somewhere in the truly inspirational Khyber Knights.
Nick Smith, Explorers Club Contributing Editor and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
One of the most astonishing books I have ever read!
There are almost insufficient superlatives to describe this book. I read it at a sitting, interrupted only by some sleep, neglecting everything until, breathless, I reached the end. It was not just the exotic nature of Asadullah Khan's tale but the piercing quality of his writing that made this a special read, even amongst a genre known for good writing. I am not personally familiar with the North West Frontier area but have read much and heard first-hand accounts from relatives who were there. I am slightly more familiar with the true face of Islam - and I don't mean the sad travesty and corruption of it that has led to today's atrocities, as too frequently reported. Reading Khyber Knights (what a great title) made me feel that not only was I there for every hoof-beat but deepened my knowledge of this part of the world. It was only after returning from our own long-distance horse journey - seven years encircling the globe by horse-drawn caravan - that I came across The Long Riders’ Guild and CuChullaine O'Reilly. And I thought that we had had some adventures! To be honest, we had quite enough. When it comes to the kind of hazards encountered by O’Reilly, I definitely prefer to read about them than experience them. One thing that we share is a love of that outstanding animal, the horse. His love of and care for his animals shines through at all times, perhaps especially at those awful moments when tragedy struck. I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is unforgettable and a classic that will outlive its author.
David Grant, author of The Seven Year Hitch.
This is the real deal.
If you think the days of adventure, romance, bravery and horsemanship are past, then renew your spirit by reading CuChullaine O'Reilly's Khyber Knights. I am a fellow Long Rider, having ridden from Canada to Mexico down the Rocky Mountains. I am not easily impressed by the many that call themselves horsemen and adventurers. CuChullaine is both in the truest sense. Additionally, his details of Muslim culture and Islamic religion are important to read in these times when both have been so misrepresented.
North American Long Rider Allen Russell, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
I’ve now had enough time to undergo sufficient treatment for the post-traumatic stress I received from reading Khyber Knights. This is an extraordinary achievement of unstoppable narrative and certifiable Irish lunacy. In more restful moments I’ve had fun casting the Hollywood version of Khyber Knights, but can’t imagine finding mortals to do justice to the fatal allure of Shaheen or the wall-eyed menace of Maqbool. We may have to wait for the home-grown Pathan film industry to turn this equestrian epic into a movie.
John Moat, author of The Missing Moon and co-founder of the Arvon Foundation.
Khyber Knights: what a roller coaster ride !
I read Khyber Knights just before setting off for a horse journey through Afghanistan. I myself encountered dreadful adventures, from illness to local tribal wars. However, despite the many dangers still existing in Afghanistan, I can tell you I haven't experienced even a small portion of what Asadullah Khan went through during his equestrian odyssey. What a roller coaster ride! As a horse enthusiast, I really appreciated the reading of Khyber Knights. I enjoyed the love story between a man and his horse, and his quest for adventure, truth and friendship. The book also gave me a great historic and sociologic perspective of Pakistan. Indeed, it is rife with information and provides a reliable account of the profound turmoil in which the country has been struggling since its birth. Although my family used to live in Pakistan for a long time (they had to leave in 1983), I wasn't aware of all the stakes and key players of this global game. In a way, Khyber Knights opened my eyes. Read the book if you dare!
French Long Rider Louis Meunier, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Adventure at its best.
My book shelves are packed with adventure books but this one tops them all. It gives an unparalleled insight into Pakistan, from the perspective not of a foreign correspondent, government agent or aid worker, but that of an equestrian adventurer for whom Pakistan is his chosen home. This account takes the reader right into the heart of the country, in both its beauty and cruelty. This is not a book for armchair explorers who enjoy reading Jules Verne or Mark Twain but don't wish to hear about the dark side of adventure. This is real, from the friendship and help given unasked for, to the incredible brutality of the local police and the inhumanity of life in Pakistan’s most notorious prison.
Khyber Knights and Anastasius
Reading Khyber Knights reminded me of a long forgotten classic work of travel writing first published by John Murray in 1819 – Anastasius by Thomas Hope. Hope’s once very popular work was based on the experiences of a Scots-Dutchman travelling within the Ottoman Empire during the 1790s. Some twenty years after the events, Hope wrote a fictional account of his travels with the main emphasis on the lives of many ordinary Muslims. Hope went to the lengths of creating a storyteller who was imagined as a young Greek Orthodox man rebelling against his family’s narrow values. One of the most impressive sections of Khyber Knights is the one set amid the horrors of Pindi Prison in Pakistan, recorded with great passion by Asadullah Khan. Likewise, one of the most memorable sections of Anastasius is the description of the horrors of the prison of the Baglio in Constantinople. Like CuChullaine changing into Asadullah, Anastasius turned into Selim. Unlike Asadullah, the conversion of Anastasius in Constantinople began not as a conversion to the simple way of devotion to Allah, but as a result of Anastasius’ smouldering ambition to seek preferment as a Muslim soldier within the Ottoman Empire. Asadullah was caught up in the conflicts of General Zia’s Pakistan and Selim was caught up in Islamic sectarian battles in the Ottoman Empire. Both Selim and Asadullah found that being a Muslim led them onto invaluable discoveries, feelings, relationships and reflections within worlds which were (and are still) subject to much popular misinformation. Novels like Khyber Knights and Anastasius need to be widely read nowadays by anyone ready to begin to understand the challenging presence of Muslims throughout the world of the 21st century.
Jerry Nolan, Irish journalist.
A land and people that may never be seen again.
Khyber Knights speaks of a land and people that may never be seen again. Thankfully CuChullaine O'Reilly knew how to describe it at the time. This is horse country. But O'Reilly can ride anywhere and he can read a horse's character. Although he underplays his experience as an Asian traveller, he understood what was happening. There was danger everywhere, strangely similar to the Great Game of spies and devious imperial diplomacy of the previous century. Here's a story way beyond mere travel, complete with Sharia law, bluff old Pathans, the beautiful Shareen and the dust and blue mountains of the North West Frontier. Not to be read in a single sitting, this book is one to savour.
English Long Rider Richard Barnes, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of Eye on the Hill.
A story of trust between horse and rider.
As an 86-year-old Swiss woman, English is not my mother tongue, so I dare say I may have missed quite a bit of Khyber Knights. Nevertheless the description of the waterless, rocky mountains and the abundant growth in the valleys, the absolute trust between horse and rider and their betrayal by man, the hostile and cruel characters of some men and the hospitality and friendliness of others and every variation in between, along with all the other adventures, made me feel part of the story. Some events, as well as the vivid description of nature, remain in my mind.
Thanks for Khyber Knights.
I have devoured this masterpiece of equestrian literature, Khyber Knights. Why? Because it speaks of my dreams, beliefs and equestrian adventures in the world I have chosen to live in - Northern Pakistan, amongst the glorious people of the Hindu-Kush mountains. Like CuChullaine O'Reilly, I have experienced the diverse and distinct Islamic beliefs and traditions among the faithful Pushtun tribesmen and the brotherly people of Gilgit, Ghizar, Hunza and Chitral. Like him I have ridden with my horses to Shandur Pass to witness the world’s highest polo tournament, held between the Centaurs of Gilgit and Chitral. After having read Khyber Knights, I felt a strong bond with CuChullaine and his story about that mystical part of Asia which we love in similar ways. Thank you Asadullah Khan (a.k.a. CuChullaine O'Reilly) for your wonderful "little book."
Italian Long Rider Simone Carmignani.
Armed with a sword.
This book is a stunner. I’ve had so much to do against deadlines that I’ve been trying to keep all distractions to a minimum, but I’ve failed on the occasions that I’ve been weak-willed enough to pick up Khyber Knights. It’s a page-turner. O’Reilly is quite possibly the last person to have travelled a foreign country armed with a sword; a worthy heir of Fred Burnaby.
Irish Long Rider and journalist, Jasper Winn.
High adventure at its best.
The shadow of Mr. O'Reilly's hands has crossed squarely over my path. A couple of days ago a book arrived called Khyber Knights. After helping him up out of the dust and debris, I never left the author’s side for the next six hours. I finished his adventure the next day after another non-stop eight hour read-a-thon. I think when someone said, "go forth and have an adventure", he pulled the throttle all the way back. What a great story he has shared with the world. I learned more about Muslim life and about the Qur’an than the last two years of news reports. Bravo!!
Adventure, danger, love and horses.
Hold on to your hats! Or your turbans as the case may be. Khyber Knights, CuChullaine O’Reilly’s account of his life in 1980s Pakistan is at times a journey as harrowing as the mountain trails he rode over on trusty steeds, while visiting isolated outposts not seen by a westerner since the days of the British Raj. Completely immersed in the culture, religion and lifestyle, O’Reilly offers insights into a place and time inaccessible to all but a few. Khyber Knights is far more than the tale of daring horseback feats, it is a documentation of life in Pakistan while the Soviet war in Afghanistan raged next door, it is an intimate portrait of a survival in a Pakistani prison, (thankfully so vividly told that I don’t need to experience it for myself!), and it is a story of forbidden love in a land where falling for the wrong girl could easily get you shot. On top of all this O’Reilly gives his personal account of an American Muslim searching for God in the mountains and back streets of Central Asia. Khyber Knights is a story as full of adventure and danger as it is full of humour, love and respect for the land, its people and, most importantly, its horses.
New Zealand Long Rider Ian Robinson, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of You Only Die Twice.
CuChullaine O'Reilly has told the story of his courageous adventure on horseback through the "fiery forge" of the North West Frontier of Pakistan. Not only was the author imprisoned in Pakistan's most infamous prison, after being kidnapped and tortured, but he also describes the horrific end of his horse who died in the mountains. Exciting Stuff!!! I couldn't put the book down. Well done, CuChullaine.
A book that must be read many times.
The day I picked up this magnificent book I was transported to a world talked about by my parents and grandparents, the NWFP. Many tales were told over the years, some believable and some not. Asadullah Khan's epic journey through Pakistan and his experiences are recorded for posterity. Like Homer's Odyssey and The Iliad, Khyber Knights is truly a superb achievement. Asadullah Khan, a "man of twists and turns," meets all the challenges thrown at him in a land that is seldom understood by the West. A convert to Islam, and above all a keen horseman, Asadullah Khan has written the book in such a way that all senses become alive and one is actually living the experience. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether he or she be an equestrian or otherwise. It is a book that has to be read not just once but many times over!
An intoxicating journey through a mystic land.
Just another yarn about a horse trek? Not bloody likely! I was looking death in the face from an existence grown stale, when Khyber Knights brought me in from the dark and illuminated the physical and spiritual joy of life. With colourful word pictures, CuChullaine drew the stark and pristine beauty of "hard places" beyond human settlement and reminded me of the inner rewards awaiting those who risk going there. In a less-than-perfect world, he showed me how to find beauty, wonder and spiritual wealth in the simplicity of everyday life; like sifting the vibrant colours, sounds, smells and sights from a stinking, parasite-infested and overcrowded city and turning them into an intoxicating cultural and gastronomic extravaganza. But above all he captured the essence of a primeval bond of interdependence and love between nomadic human and horse that screams "truth" and brings tears to the eyes of any other Long Rider. CuChullaine, thank you for reminding me how to "savour the taste of Life".
Australian Long Rider Sharon Muir Roberts, author of The Colour of Courage.
Treat yourself to a wonderful story.
As a fellow Long Rider who wrote a book about his experiences, I truly appreciate what CuChullaine O'Reilly accomplished on horseback as well as when he wrote his wonderful book. Khyber Knights gives readers an up-close look at a part of the world that became very important on September 11th, 2001. It tells a tale that will have tremendous appeal for anyone who enjoys horses, adventure, travel or history. This book is full of excitement and surprises, and the use of language is absolutely outstanding. The imagery is wonderful. Simple, understandable English is used with great imagination, colour and flair. What's not to love? The only possible disappointment is the lack of a sequel!
Canadian Long Rider Verne Albright, author of The Long Way to Los Gatos.
Here is a book that makes us all aware of how far the everyday boundaries of adventure can be stretched. I own a company called Unicorn Trails that provides horse riding holidays. We deal in making people’s dreams and adventures a reality in a small way. With this book CuChullaine O'Reilly has not only taken these boundaries and made them appear irrelevant, but he has done so in such an eloquent and insightful way that armchair travellers feel as if they have been there and experienced it themselves. Highly recommended reading whether you are ever going to sit on a horse or not.
Dutch Long Rider Wendy Hofstee, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
A portrayal of Pakistan: raw, true and pure.
Khyber Knights never left my side throughout my travels in Pakistan: guiding me along those ancient tributaries of Pakistani history, culture and religion. Being of Pakistani background I was touched by this book’s ability to reveal the soul and essence of a people and country that is very often misunderstood. By becoming part of the dust and wind that is Pakistan, literally, Asadullah manages to describe everything from an insider's point of view. He successfully portrays the blend that is Pakistani culture and Islam, which is inseparable and a complete way of life. Having lived with expatriates working for non-governmental organisations, I can say from experience that even months after being in the country, many foreigners still do not understand this Pakistani blend. This book will certainly support anyone who is after that invaluable knowledge.
Khyber Knights: a journey of external & internal discovery.
As a fellow Long Rider, I was of course in rapt attention to the details of the horseback journey, which were harrowing in the least. But for me, it was the story of the prison, and the inward discoveries, as well as the humanity among the insanity of what passes for a legal system in Pakistan, that truly kept me awake at night, turning page after page. This book is highly recommended, not only for the scope of the adventure, but for the journal-like quality of the text. It hasn't been tidied up for the masses... for that wasn't the target audience. This book is raw, as it was intended to be, in order to reflect the immediacy of the subject matter.
Founding Member of the Long Riders’ Guild, DC Vision.
Khyber Knights: read this book!
If real-life, exotic adventure and romance in an exotic setting, spiced with action, are your cup of tea, READ THIS BOOK! If you find intrigue in a part of the modern world where war is still fought from horseback, and travel is still better by the same means, READ THIS BOOK! If you would like to know more about (and understand a little better), first hand, the people of the Pakistan/Afghanistan area, READ THIS BOOK! In short, READ THIS BOOK, you will regret only that there is not more to read immediately when you are finished.
Khyber Knights: an adventure in learning.
My family had spent time in Pakistan and since September 11th, 2001 I have had many unanswered questions about Pakistan and Afghanistan. This story, Khyber Knights, has given me a great glimpse of this wild country - a place of mysterious people, danger and yet at the same time, kindly and generous people and peace-loving religions. And all this from the back of a horse! What magnificent horses!
A miracle the author survived to tell this amazing tale.
CuChullaine O’Reilly’s ability to describe the tapestry of life in developing Pakistan and its wild frontier country lets the reader smell the sweat-stained bandits, taste the slimy gobs of sheep fat and shiver with cold at the world’s highest-altitude polo game. Let’s just say I’m glad that the author survived Pakistan to write this book – most people would have died a dozen times along the way. I ended up carrying the book all over the house to read it at breakfast, in bed, while drying my hair. The story went by in a flash, all the while I related parts of the story to my husband and friends. Besides the adventure story, this is also a timely book to read for people wanting more information about Islam and Pakistani/Afghani culture. How better to learn about Pakistani life and the Muslim world view than from a man who lived, worked and worshipped among them.
North American Long Rider Sharon Savage.
I must say you have had some incredible adventures. I was amazed at your story. Certainly nothing that ever happened to me on horseback comes anywhere close to this.
North American Long Rider Douglas Preston, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of Cities of Gold.
The movie waiting to be made.
Where to begin? Movies, books, documentaries so far have all failed to capture the labyrinthine charm, complexity and seductive menace of Afghanistan. It is one of the last great places in the world and the Afghans themselves are among the most fascinating, courageous, appealing and frustrating people anywhere. Khyber Knights is the best personal record on this subject, set in the pre-Taliban era. Once you read CuChullaine O’Reilly’s narration you understand the insane allure of the place. This is THE movie waiting to be made.
Professor John Kelly, Boston University and Afghan Media Resource Centre.
An extraordinary look inside the Muslim world.
In Khyber Knights author-adventurer CuChullaine O’Reilly (a.k.a. Asadullah Khan) has blended tales of his own unparalleled experiences in the Indian sub-continent with the imaginings of a gifted writer of fiction in a style that is precise, fluid and rich in language and metaphor. Here he carries on and broadens the true-fiction genre first explored by Truman Capote in In Cold Blood. Centred in Pakistan, a land that, in O’Reilly’s own words, “prides itself on hiding its secrets from the uninitiated,” this book gives up those secrets as recounted by Asadullah Khan who came by them the hard and honest way of merging into the culture, very nearly at the cost of his life. The result is an extraordinary amalgam of tales of terrible peril and hardship that are met with degrees of bravery and endurance that few mortals could hope to summon. A work of value on many counts, on one hand Khyber Knights contains historical facts and information sufficient to engross the scholar-historian of the Muslim world, and on the other hand it tells the tales of derring-do sufficiently enthralling to hold the attention of the most demanding adventure-story reader. Fortunately CuChullaine O’Reilly has not been sparing with his talent. Khyber Knights is a long book and its generous length promises hours of sheer delight.
George Hilliard, author of Rider Ride On.
A journey on many levels.
I was initially excited by the obvious adventure of this book and by the fact that it is an amazing equestrian quest written by a true horseman. Khyber Knights is also a highly intelligent historical/political piece. What I ultimately came away with was the realization that beneath the exterior rested a more spiritual work that I first suspected. A particularly inspiring must-read for anyone with an enquiring mind and a love of life and/or horses.
A testament of faith and courage.
In regards to Khyber Knights, how elevating to find a fine raconteur, equestrian and writer all under one turban. The writing was so finely tuned and imaginative, that I was captured by the geography, history, and of course suffering and adventure. This book tells so much about the human condition – ignorant, destructive, short-sighted governments and people blind enough or powerless enough to be dragged along the path of needless destruction. Yet Khyber Knights allows the reader to discover redeeming mountains of light in this wonderful testament, which in turn reveal the author’s faith and positive values shining through.
David Gray, author of Mounted Archery in the Americas.
Born to ride.
Asadullah Khan, CuChullaine O’Reilly, was born a century too late. He was born to ride a horse. God created the horse to be ridden by man; a horse without a rider looks naked and incomplete. And, it seems that God created Asadullah Khan chiefly to ride a horse and to sit like a crown on the head of a king. Asadullah could not travel back in time in Wells’s time machine. So, he went to my native land of Pakistan, a country still lingering in the 19th century. But, the reality of the 20th century brought the two political giants of the age to a clash of interest in the region. A war by proxy caught in its vortex the denizens of the region, including persons like Asadullah, who escaped to the rugged mountains in the exhilarating company of his beloved horses, whom he treated with the utmost affection. The largest potion of his narrative is thus allotted to his travels in northern areas of Pakistan rarely traversed by foreign visitors. It is this portion that has won encomiums by other writers, particularly the horse-back Long Riders. The beauty of Asadullah’s pen can be appreciated only when you read his book.
S. Arif Hussaini – Pakistani journalist.
Khyber Knights, Beowulf and El Cid.
Give or take a book or two, there is probably more stirring event and hair-raising incident in Khyber Knights than in anything published since Hemingway. It is indeed one of the most exciting and interesting books I’ve read over the last ten years, which is why I finished it essentially in one long session. The greatest virtue of Khyber Knights is that it takes you places you’ve never been, will never visit, and do not really want to go to; the parched valleys of northern Pakistan, where the only modern thing that ever arrived is the automatic weapon; the bare and rocky mountain ranges riddled by extreme poverty, mindless cruelty and a primordial indifference for the well-being of fellow creatures; the cities plagued by misplaced outbursts of distant conflicts, perfectly alien to the local population, fought out by strangers wielding car bombs and Kalashnikovs in murky nocturnal alleys. Reading O’Reilly’s memoirs you get a peep into worlds you never knew existed. His detailed observations teach you things you did not realise you were unaware of. This is a book in the rough style of Beowulf and El Cid. It is Euripides, not Socrates. Oh, there are many beautifully written pages in Khyber Knights. But that is not what the book is about, or what it was meant to be. Khyber Knights is, at heart, driven and savage like a Bacchanalian dance, not neat and polished like some gracious performance of Swan Lake. If you are in for such things, if you have the stomach for them, then here is a perfect treasure house of narrative, a window on unknown worlds; it is a book which not only amuses and captures, but also teaches and informs you as very few books do.
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