cover image In Xanadu

In Xanadu

William Dalrymple. Vintage Books USA, $13 (314pp) ISBN 978-0-679-72853-5

Following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, then-Cambridge University student Dalrymplepk embarks on an overland journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu, through ``twelve thousand miles of extremely dangerous, inhospitable territory.'' Ultimately, there is scarcely any danger, but there is ample history and color. In the ancient city of Acre, Dalrymple refuses narcotics from an Arab boy who, when praised for his excellent English, reveals that he learned it in jail. When Dalrymple reaches Iran with a female companion in tow, he is surprised by how tolerant and Westernized Iranians are, despite the religious revolution. Upon seeing a sign that says, ``Allah Commands the Re-use of Renewable Resources,'' the author observes, ``We had expected anything of the Ayatollah. But hardly that he would turn out to be an enthusiastic ecologist.'' Dalrymple is a delightful guide, capable of waxing poetic upon first sight of the Euphrates River, while maintaining the bright-eyed perceptions of an explorer. When, like Polo, he arrives in Xanadu with a phial of holy oil, it is the culmination of a brave and fantastic journey. The author is bureau chief for the London Sunday Correspondent in New Delhi. First serial to Conde Nast Traveler. (Sept.)