Like the travels of Marco Polo, those of Alexander Gardner clip the white line between credible adventure and creative invention. Either he is the nineteenth century's most intrepid traveler or its most egregious fantasist, or a bit of both. Contemporaries generally believed him; posterity became more skeptical. And as with Polo, the investigation of Gardner's story enlarged man's understanding of the world and upped the pace of scientific and political exploration. Before more reputable explorers notched up their own discoveries in innermost Asia, this lone Scots-American had roamed the deserts of Turkestan, ridden round the world's most fearsome knot of mountains and fought in Afghanistan 'for the good cause of right against wrong'. From the Caspian to Tibet and from Kandahar to Kashgar, Gardner had seen it all. At the time, the 1820s, no other outsider had managed anything remotely comparable. When word of his feats filtered out, geographers were agog. Historians were more intrigued by what followed. After thirteen years as a white-man-gone-native in Central Asia, Gardner reemerged as a colonel of artillery in the employ of India's last great native empire. He witnessed the death throes of that Sikh empire at close quarters and, sparing no gruesome detail, recorded his own part in the bloodshed (the very same featuring as the exploits of 'Alick' Gardner in the 'Flashman' series). Fame finally caught up with him during his long retirement in Kashmir. Dressed in tartan yet still living as a native, he mystified visiting dignitaries and found a ready audience for the tales of his adventurous past. But one mystery he certainly took to the grave: the whereabouts of his accumulated fortune has still to be discovered. Using much original material, including newly discovered papers by Gardner himself, this investigative biography by renowned historian John Keay takes the reader on a quest from the American West to the Asian East to unravel the greatest enigma in the history of travel.
'Minutely researched, wittily written and beautifully produced, it is one of John Keay's most memorable achievements' The Spectator'Enthralling... The Tartan Turban is as illuminating as it is irresistible' TLS'Elegant... brilliantly lucid... gripping... John Keay's biography restores him to the place in history that he should justly hold' The Literary Review
Keay's narrative histories of India, China and the East India Company are widely regarded as standard works. His India: A History has sold over 200,000 copies and the 'EIC' book has been in print for over 25 years. He is also the author of the Royal Geographical Society's History of World Exploration. As a fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, his prose is rated 'exquisite' (Observer). For his literary contribution to Asian studies he was awarded the Royal Asiatic Society's Sykes Medal in 2009.Gardner first featured in Keay's The Explorers of the Western Himalaya, which the Irish Times described as 'a book to be bought, treasured and never ever lent'.