Travel is a basic instinct. Humans are born with an urge to travel. Some of us write about it while most tend to keep their experiences to themselves. Cliché is that to be a good writer you must be an excellent reader. I do not read travel blogs much, but I read a lot of books and a fair percentage of them happen to be travel books. I was going through the travel tab on my ‘Book Reviews Blog’ and was tempted to write this post on how people travel…there are so many motivations, reasons, inspirations that drive people out of their homes and their comfort zones. Sharing some travel books that keep my wanderlust ON all the time.
Travel Books – documenting an expedition
First book that I ever read of an expedition was Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers. Jim Rogers is an investor always on a look out for new avenues to invest his money. He along with his companion Paige Parker went driving around the globe in a specially designed bright yellow Mercedes car, along with a web team that was uploading his daily travels. They went around more than 200 countries and their insights from conversations with people around the world are worth their weight in gold or may be platinum. Jim Rogers has also done around the world trip on his bike. Jim Rogers you inspire the traveler and the business student in me.
Paula Constant walked across the Sahara Desert all by herself just by following a simple diktat of ‘Keep one foot in front of the other’. She has written about her expedition in two books – Slow Journey South & Sahara. While both the books are extremely interesting, in her first book she shares details of how to prepare for an expedition – right from how to save for financing the mission, how to establish local contacts, how to pack your bags and how to break it up into do-able pieces. If you are preparing to an expedition, you must read her first book. If you planning an expedition in a culture you know nothing about, then the second books is extremely important. I had the good fortune of releasing her books in Pune and reading them before they were launched in India and chatting with her. Paula I love you for the person you are.
My list of expedition books:
- Slow Journey South by Paula Constant
- Sahara by Paula Constant
- Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers
- A Short Walk in the Hindukush by Eric Newby
- The First Indian: Story of the First Indian Solo Circumnavigation Under Sail by Dilip Donde
Travel Books – for the Love of Mode of Travel
Transportation options are a part of travel experience. What mode of travel you choose would define what kind of experiences are you looking for. If you choose air, more often than not you are looking to reach your destination as fast as possible. If you choose trains you are looking to engage with fellow travelers – for some reasons no other mode of transportation is as engaging as the trains. In buses you are an observer of the local life and if you decide to walk – then you are engaging with every damn aspect of the place you walk.
The best-known train travel story is by travel writer Paul Theroux. He has traveled twice around the world in trains separated by 30 years. Paul has written two books describing his journeys. I read his second book Ghost Train to Eastern Star and it has some lovely nuggets of including this one – Travel writing is the lowest form of literary self-indulgence. Monisha Rajesh went around India in 80 trains and wrote Around India in 80 trains. She gives a glimpse of India on the move, in all kinds of trains – from the over crowded Mumbai locals to the ultra-luxury Maharaja express. She touches all the four cardinal corners of India on trains and introduces the reader to special trains like a train that is a moving hospital in Madhya Pradesh. Chai Chai by Bishwanath Ghosh also is about travel to train junctions in India, places where trains stop but people hardly get down like Jhansi.
In all these stories the protagonist of the story is ‘trains’. Anecdotes that the authors narrate have co-passengers and railway staff as their primary source. The places the trains take to take a back seat and the journey itself is the goal.
My list of Travel books based on a mode of transportation:
- Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh
- Chai Chai by Bishwanath Ghosh
- Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux
Travel Books – In search of History
Our roots lie in our history, history that may be in the places we live or elsewhere. Many travelers have travelled in search of history, in search of a historical subject that fascinates them or in the footsteps of earlier travelers.
In Buddha in Central Asia Sunita Dwivedi goes in search of Buddha in Central Asian region and her travels not only take you to the nooks and corners where Buddhism and to an extent Hinduism was practiced till Islam took over but also introduces the reader to landscapes and cultures that are not very well represented in contemporary writing. Her visits to the museums and Buddhist sites are like a lesson in Art history. Alice Albinia in her book Empires of the Indus traces back the history as it happened on the banks of Indus over ages while introducing you to its current status.
A Strange kind of Paradise by Sam Miller retraces the paths of earlier travelers to India. From the time of Megesthenes to the recent British travelers he traces their footsteps across India. He juxtaposes this with his own exploration of the country. Sanjeev Sanyal in his Land of the Seven Rivers explores the history of Indian subcontinent at the intersection of geography. I enjoyed reading his unique way of looking at the history and specially sharing those moments in history that shaped the future in an irreversible way.
I am still looking for a good book on the travels by Huan Tsang and Ibn Batuta or any recent travelers who may have retraced their journeys. This is one kind of travel that I want to do sometime in life – hoping for the opportunity to present itself.
My list of Travel books on re-visiting history:
- Buddha in Central Asia by Sunita Dwivedi
- A Strange kind of Paradise by Sam Miller
- Empires of the Indus by Alicia Albinia
- Land of the Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal
- Legendotes of Hyderabad by Narendra Luther
Travel Books – Investigating or In search of Truth
Travelling to uncover the truth or to get acquainted with the truth first hand is an urge that you have, when a subject fascinates you and what you know about it from second hand sources does not satisfy you. These travels may be commissioned or self initiated but they always happen in search of truth.
In Ganga, Julian Crandall Hollick along with his wife and small team travels across the entire length of Ganga River on small boats. He is looking for the relationship people have with Ganga along the length of Ganga besides the celebrated points on its journey like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Prayag & Kashi. In Dar Dar Gange, Abhay Mishra and Pankaj Ramendu repeat the same journey across Ganga looking for the current state of affairs across Ganga highlighting issues like Sand Mafia, endangered species and diversion of water at some points.
In Highway 39, Sudeep Chakravarti tells the stories from North Eastern states of Nagaland and Manipur and how people are living there under a threat of constant violence while bringing out the beauty and the simplicity of the place.
In Geek Nation, journalist Angela Saini takes you to the centers of scientific research in India – most places you probably did not know about. It is a brilliant research on the current scientific research happening in India and the impact it has created or has the potential to create on our lives. Places she visits range from research in Sanskrit to research on Bananas to research in nuclear science.
My list of expedition books:
- Dar Dar Gange by Abhay Mishra and Pankaj Ramendu
- Highway 39 by Sudeep Chakravarti
- Ganga by Julian Crandall Hollick
- Braking News by Sunetra Choudhury
- Geek Nation by Angela Saini
- Non-Stop India by Mark Tully
Travel Books – Chasing a Goal
Travel can bring out the crazier sides of travelers when they take on goals that look meaningless or at least are not understood by most others. In Chasing the Monsoon, Alexander Frater decides to chase the Indian Monsoons. Beginning with the onset of Monsoons in Kerala, he travels all the way to Cherrapunji chasing the monsoons – playing a game of who reaches where first and working around the uncertainties of natural phenomenons and of met departments who are best known for not being accurate.
In Bucket List of a Traveloholic, Sarika Pandit is chasing the goal of getting certain number of stamps on her passport before she hits a self defined age limit. She talks not only about places she visits but also about the way she plans her travels while maintaining a full time job – something that can help a lot of people.
My list of expedition books:
- Bucket List of a Traveloholic by Sarika Pandit
- Chasing the Monsoon by Alexandar Frater
Travel Books – In Search of Obscure
We all want to see places that no one else has see. It is an urge to see, come back and tell the stories of these obscure places – be the chain that connects people to these places. With Internet, of course this is getting more and more difficult to do, but every now and then you would get to hear of places that make your eyes go wide.
My first ever read on obscure places was an old book by Pico Iyer – Falling off the Maps, where he talks about places that no one would notice if they fell off the maps. As it happens with places that get written about, none of these places are obscure any more, but Pico Iyer is as readable as anyone can get – even with an obscure subject. I remember I went to Bhutan a few years back inspired by this book – when Bhutan was still a kingdom and not too open to the tourists.
Another book that opened a window to least know African countries for me is The Masque of Africa by V S Naipaul. Some of the countries I had to go back and look in Google Maps to see where they exist. In a sharp contrast to these book At Home by Bill Bryson makes even your own home look obscure to you – when he tells you the history of things that surround you as you sit on your couch and read the book.
My list of expedition books:
- Beyond the Dunes by Juhi Sinha
- India’s Legendary East Coast by P K De
- The Masque of Africa by V S Naipaul
- Falling Off the Map by Pico Iyer
- At Home by Bill Bryson
Travel Books – In search of Sacred
Seekers have been traveling in search of the sacred since time immemorial. In fact all religious leaders have been great travelers. Most of the religious literature can be seen as travel literature in some way. Even the great epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata are full journeys taken by the protagonists and the insights that they received from such travels. This is a huge topic and probably deserves a post in itself, but let me share some contemporary books that seek the divine.
In Nine Lives, William Dalrymple tries to find the faiths that exist on the margin of the mainstream religions in India. Now I do not agree with all that he says in the book as what is margin depends on where you are standing, but nonetheless his stories take you through a quest to understand the multitude of religious inclinations in diversity of India. In India A Sacred Geography, Prof Diana L Eck discovers India as a sacred geography where every river, every mountain and every forest is a divine entity and shares the stories associated with each of them. It is from this book I understood the concept that India’s faith is not in the built structures but in the nature elements that are treated as Gods themselves. In Pilgrim’s India, Arundhati Subramaniam creates a lovely anthology of poetry and prose written by seekers.
My list of Travel books – In Search of Sacred:
- In the Hot Unconscious by Charles Foster
- Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
- Pilgrim’s India by Arundhati Subramaniam
- India A Sacred Geography by Diana L Eck
Travel Books – For Healing
Travelling is a natural response to a low phase in life – a positive one I must say. Lot of people travel to get away from their situations, to handle their dilemmas and options at a very psychological level and sometimes just to get in touch with themselves.
In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert travels across Italy, India and Indonesia to deal with her divorce but she associates these places with three basic needs of the humans – food, spirituality and love. Her iconic journey opened the world for many independent women like her to explore the world to discover themselves. In Becoming a Mountain, Stephen Alter climbs the peaks of Himalayas to deal with a tragic incident that happened with him and his wife. By going through the rigor of climbing difficult peaks like Nanda Devi, he deals with many psychological knots while taking the reader though the panoramic views of the mighty Himalayas like a devotee.
My list of Travel books – for self healing:
- The Red Rucksack by Ben West
- Becoming a Mountain by Stephen Alter
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Travel Books – Adopting a new home
There is no better to discover a place then move there to make it your new home. You are an outsider trying to be an insider. You may be connected by small strings like being married into a family at this new place or working there or you may have simply chosen the place to spend the rest of your life there. Having lived in so many cities, I can tell you this is a kind of engaged long term travel in your adopted place and it can take you a lifetime to know it, layer by layer. In the process these new migrants end up knowing the city better than the born and brought up residents.
In Henna for the Broken-Hearted, Sharell Cook an Australian who married an India and settled to live in Mumbai after exploring many parts of India talks about the adjustments a foreigner has to make to adopt India as home. She talks about things that will always keep you an outsider like the color of your skin or the stereotypes that you cannot run away from. In Moving to Goa, Katharina Kakar talks about choosing to make Goa her home along with her Indian husband. She talks about various facets of Goa that she discovered and the fact that she will always be an outsider. In City of Djinns, William Dalrymple tries to discover Delhi, his new home as a young journalist and in Delhi a Megacity, Sam Miller walks around Delhi in a spiral to make a first hand acquaintance with the city he would call home for a long time. Tamarind City by Bishwanath Ghosh traces author’s discovery of Chennai after he has made it his home. Gaynor Barton and Laurraine Malone even managed to write a guidebook on 10 Easy walks in Old Delhi that no resident has even attempted to do till they did it.
My list of Travel books on Adopting a New Home:
- Kathmandu by Thomas Bell
- Delhi Mostly Harmless by Elizabeth Chatterjee
- Tamarind City by Bishwanath Ghosh
- Henna for the Broken-Hearted by Sharell Cook
- 10 Easy walks in Old Delhi by Gaynor Barton and Laurraine Malone
- City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
- Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller
- Moving to Goa by Katharina Kakar
Travel Books – Backyard Travel
Backyard Travel is travelling in your own surroundings, peeling the layers of obvious and discovering the stories hidden beneath them. Most of the people I know are very low on this kind of travel. Travelling half way across the world seems more exciting than walking the back lanes of our own city. Thankfully some writers have written about it to inspire us.
Vanaja Banagiri writes about Hyderabad in Hyderabad Hazir Hai, Leena Kejriwal writes the photo-biography of Kolkata in Calcutta-Repossessing the City. Bulbul Sharma takes you through the birds and landscapes of Delhi in Grey Hornbills at Dusk, as does Khushwant Singh in both Delhi and The Sunset Club.
My list of Backyard Travel books:
- Delhi 101 by Ajay Jain
- Delhi 14 Historic Walks by Swapna Liddle
- Hyderabad Hazir Hai By Vanaja Banagiri
- Grey Hornbills at Dusk by Bulbul Sharma
- Delhi by Khushwant Singh
- The Sunset Club by Khushwant Singh
This is no way an exhaustive list as it is limited by what I read, observed, absorbed and analyzed.
Now over tou you my reader, all ears to hear recommendations on Travel Books to add to my reading wishlist.