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News + Events

Timeless on the Silk Road


Kirsty Machon, PWV EO, reviews one woman’s odyssey from London to Hanoi.

There is a striking photograph in Heather Ellis’ book, Timeless on the Silk Road, that poetically captures all the themes that run through this powerful story.

The scene is of mountain grasses and flowers, rocks, breathtaking chasms and storm clouds in a grey-blue sky. The riders have stopped in the Altai Mountains, a remote part of the world where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazhakstan come together along the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road. At the centre of the picture is an incredible thing: a rainbow forming in the mist of a sunshower. The image is one of time and timelessness, hope, and wild beauty.

Heather took the photograph during a motorcycle odyssey that took her almost half way around the world. She had climbed on the back of her bike in London in the mid-1990s after receiving the devastating news she had HIV. With no treatment except Bactrim to ward off pneumonia, with the hope of another five years in which to live, Heather rode that bike across Europe, and kept riding, into the unknown.

This book charts a journey that is about life and death, transience and transcendence, and above all, what it means to have the will to live. One of the most heartening and beautiful messages about this journey is that while the voyage was at times lonely, even scary, and into places unknown, in the end, it was people who came through.

The generosity of strangers, in some of the strangest places in the world, provides a message about human care, human kindness, and human generosity of spirit. Though unaware of her personal burden, the burden of HIV, the people Heather met—women, men, children, and fellow travellers from all nations—almost without failure, came to her aid as a fellow traveller in life. They gave her shelter, food, conversation, drinks and stories: timeless gifts to the traveller.

Eventually, Heather did make it back to Australia, and there she was the beneficiary of a new hope too: antiviral therapy. The last and greatest peril of her journey was faced with further acts of kindness—the kindness of the community of people affected by HIV, who backed her at a time when HIV was fiercely stigmatised. From this community she would draw new strength to fight AIDS, even as her own immune system began to fail. Every moment was precious, blindingly beautiful, present and transcendent.

There is a ferocity to this story, a beauty, and a suspension in time. The reader enters another time, Heather’s time, where each moment is lived with burning intensity. It is a beautiful, humane and awe-inspiring story, highlighting that even in some of the wildest parts of the globe, humanity, trust and kindness remains.


Heather Ellis is the author of two novels, Chair of Positive Women’s Board and an Australian motorcycle adventurer who has now travelled on her Yamaha TT600 both from south to north Africa, and from London to Hanoi via Central Asia. Timeless on the Silk Road is available in bookshops and online at