Little remains of Kublai Khan--s fabled summer capital or of the visions conjured up by Coleridge. The pleasure palace is now just a set of lines in the dust.

This is not how we learned the words in school &ldquoIn Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant springs, delightfull Streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be removed from place to place...&rdquo

But behind the careful descriptions of Samuel Purchas, author of the 1617 work  Purchas his Pilgrimage , it&rsquos an unusual reader who can&rsquot hear Coleridge&rsquos more famous lines, written in 1816 &ldquoIn Xanadu did Kubla Khan/ A stately pleasure-dome decree&hellip&rdquo

You won&rsquot find Xanadu on the map, though you will find its name attached to a truly awful pop song, several beach resorts of dubious charm, part of an island, and controversial computer software. One understands the appeal of the name Orson Welles named the mansion in &nbspCitizen Kane &nbspXanadu, though its true inspiration was San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst&rsquos palace. The River Alph (&ldquoWhere Alph the sacred river ran/ Through caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea&rdquo) exists in fact, there is more than one River Alph. Mount Abora, of which the Abyssinian maid sang to the accompaniment of her dulcimer, exists as well.

The thing about Samuel Taylor Coleridge was that he was a voracious reader--a bibliophage, a cannibalistic devourer of books, especially works of travel. In 1927, John Livingston Lowe undertook the massive task of deciphering Coleridge&rsquos work by way of his library he diligently read every work that seemed to be applicable to poems as far apart as The Ancient Mariner, Christabel and yes, Kubla Khan.

He confirmed that there was a Xanadu where none other than Kubla Khan had built at least one, if not more, pleasure domes. Shangdu, or Yuan Shan Du, was in Inner Mongolia (now part of China) when Kublai Khan changed its name from Kaiping and made it his summer capital in the 13th century. His winter capital, Dadu, was built later on the site of modern Beijing. Marco Polo was barely 20 years old when he reached Shangdu in 1274, after spending three years covering the distance between Venice and China. Polo was suitably impressed with the Khan&rsquos city &ldquoThere are a lot of beautiful palaces built out of the stones in the city. All the houses are covered with gold and decorated with the pictures of birds, animals and flowers. These buildings and patterns are beautiful and very pleasing to the eye."

Though tourist guides will take visitors&mdashthe rare few who can persuade Beijing to issue permits for this city, now inside a military-industrial zone&mdasharound Shangdu, little remains in the way of Kubla Khan&rsquos city or of the visions conjured up by Coleridge. As modern-day travellers from William Dalrymple ( In Xanadu ), to Caroline Alexander ( The Way to Xanadu ) have discovered, the pleasure palace is now just a set of lines in the dust. A few old tiles remain, some decorated with patterns &ldquopleasing to the eye&rdquo, but little else. On the Internet, websites attest to Shangdu&rsquos &ldquoplace in the industrial landscape of modern China&rdquo, and pictures of the city stress conference halls rather than &ldquogardens bright with sinuous rills&rdquo.

The journey to Shangdu may not tempt everybody to find so little at the end of the bureaucratic and geographic hurdles in the way of getting there can be disheartening to all but the most optimistic. Nor would Shangdu, even the ancient city in all its glory, necessarily have been the Xanadu of Coleridge&rsquos imagination. But as everyone knows, &nbspKubla Khan &nbspremained unfinished Coleridge&rsquos opium-febrile imagination was stopped in its tracks by a knock on the door from the Person from Porlock, there to consult the poet on a small matter of business. And you can visit Porlock. It&rsquos chief attraction is its very steep hill and the fact that Robert Southey stayed at the Ship Inn there in 1798. Like Coleridge, Southey wrote a poem while he was in the area. It begins &ldquoPorlock, thy verdant vale so fair to sight&hellip&rdquo Not bad, even if it doesn&rsquot have the same ring as &ldquoIn Xanadu did Kubla Khan&hellip&rdquo

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