Following his visit to Prester John, Polo returns to the provable world with a stop in Chagan-nor, or “White Pool,” where the great Khan has a large, beautiful palace. Polo uses this stop to demonstrate the wealth of the Great Khan in a rather non-traditional matter. Instead of describing the decadence of the palace, or large quantities of jewels, Polo describes the birds that the Khan uses for leisure.
Our introduction to the palace states that the Great Khan “enjoys staying there because there are lakes and rivers here in plenty, well stocked with swans” (Polo, 107). Polo later goes on to discuss his hunting birds, and the sport he enjoys in it (Polo, 107). This is a good look into the leisure time of the Great Khan during this period.
While here, the reader gains an even more detailed understanding of how the Great Khan spends his leisure time. Polo gives the different types of cranes that the Great Khan hunts half a paragraph – which would have been several lines in the original, and therefore would have been a lot of spaces to give to a description of birds. Afterwards, Polo describes the flocks of “cators” – “great partridges” – that the Great Khan keeps several miles away (Polo, 107). Even from the start of this passage, when Polo mentions the swans living in the palace’s lakes, he is very interested in the birds present. Possibly because they are so different from the birds in his native land, or the birds he had seen along his journey since he has re-entered an area of water, away from the desert, where birds can not find sufficient food to survive.
In explaining the quantity of cator’s the that Great Khan owns, Polo describes their lodging as “many huts” that the Great Khan had built for them for the winters (Polo, 107). These birds had “many guards… set to watch [them] to prevent anyone from taking them” (Polo, 107). Entire fields of grain are grown for the birds to eat, and those fields are also protected so that no one may take their food (Polo, 107). The Khan’s dedication to these birds and ability to support a flock of this size demonstrates his wealth and power. The Great Khan can afford to leave men to protect his birds, instead of himself. He can afford entire fields to feed the birds instead of his people.