The string of disasters left Battuta stranded and disgraced. He was loath to return to Delhi and face the sultan, however, so he elected to make a sea voyage south to the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives. He remained in the idyllic islands for the next year, gorging on coconuts, taking several wives and once again serving as an Islamic judge. Battuta might have stayed in the Maldives even longer, but following a falling out with its rulers, he resumed his journey to China. After making a stopover in Sri Lanka, he rode merchant vessels through Southeast Asia. In 1345, four years after first leaving India, he arrived at the bustling Chinese port of Quanzhou.
Battuta described Mongol China as “the safest and best country for the traveler” and praised its natural beauty, but he also branded its inhabitants “pagans” and “infidels.” Distressed by the unfamiliar customs on display, the pious traveler stuck close to the country’s Muslim communities and offered only vague accounts of metropolises such as Hangzhou, which he called “the biggest city I have seen on the face of the earth.” Historians still debate just how far he went, but he claimed to have roamed as far north as Beijing and crossed through the famous Grand Canal.
China marked the beginning of the end of Battuta’s travels. Having reached the edge of the known world, he finally turned around and journeyed home to Morocco, arriving back in Tangier in 1349. Both of Battuta’s parents had died by then, so he only remained for a short while before making a jaunt to Spain. He then embarked on a multi-year excursion across the Sahara to the Mali Empire, where he visited Timbuktu.
Battuta had never kept journals during his adventures, but when he returned to Morocco for good in 1354, the country’s sultan ordered him to compile a travelogue. He spent the next year dictating his story to a writer named Ibn Juzayy. The result was an oral history called A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, better known as the Rihla (or “travels”). Though not particularly popular in its day, the book now stands as one of the most vivid and wide-ranging accounts of the 14th century Islamic world.
Following the completion of the Rihla, Ibn Battuta all but vanished from the historical record. He is believed to have worked as a judge in Morocco and died sometime around 1368, but little else is known about him. It appears that after a lifetime spent on the road, the great wanderer was finally content to stay in one place.