Well, post our visit to SriLanka early this September, i have been quiet voraciously reading both on and off the Internet. Holding a 'book' in your hand and reading it, and if it happens to be an old book with yellow papers, then its an icing on a cake(in Hindi, we call it as 'sone pe suhaga'). Nevertheless, with the festive season in the air, and with not much travel around, it was a perfect time to deep dive into the amazing world of books(with papers :) ); and i was fortunate enough to stumble on some *really* good reads.
1. Danziger's travels : Beyond Forbidden Frontiers"
This was given to me by a colleague, and i must say that this probably is one single book which i will remember for quiet sometime. The book was a first edition print, and also the papers were a tad old. Danziger starts from London, and travels across Europe to reach the highly volatile Iran-Iraq border and then crosses it(with the heart still beating :) ) and then via Afghanistan reaches Western China province. Not many know that Western China is a religious minority - that of muslims, and is not very open to tourists/travellers; our protagonist travels some uncharted waters and narrates his experiences in amazing detail. It is an adventure ride all throughout, with every page filled with many details and amazing experiences.
And did i tell you that Danziger does this 30 years back, during the 70's. Aye.
I did not find this book in Landmark, and i think its pretty tough to get it; nevertheless, try it in any online store, and am sure that you will praise me for this recommendation. The English is very simple and the flow just keeps going on and on. I do not want to divulge much about this book, except for mentioning (again!) that this is a MUST read for any adventure travel enthusiast or a budget traveller.
2. Paul Theroux's - "The Ghost Train to Eastern Star"
I picked up this one at the ongoing Landmark sale. I have planning to read this book for quiet sometime, and this also happens to be my First book of Paul Theroux. The book is like a sequel to the Great Railway Bazaar(which I haven't read yet). Paul Theroux does a train journey from London to India and then onto SL, Thai etc(in 1970s); and in The Ghost Train to Eastern Star, he revisits the same route 30 years later(in the late 2000s). Paul Theroux starts off with some real world truth about travel and how travellers/tourists escape the 'real' world and talks a bit about it in the philosophical context; and then once he starts off in his ride, he intersperses his experience(s) in every country with what happened 30 years back. He manages to meet atleast one famous author in every country and narrates the rendezvous. I *really* liked his encounter with Haruki Murakami. I never knew so much about Murakami, except for having read a handful of his books.
Anyway, there is one minor crib about this book : Paul Theorux keeps on denigrating India almost everywhere, and I did not quiet like it. Lets face it(and ignore the fact that I am an Indian); but given that India is a true multi-cultural society with a billion odd people, you ought to find 'different' things. If you are crib about the population density, then visit Kazakhistan wherein you might find one family in a 11sq.km radius. There are so many good things about India, and the associated people and tourism, always cringing about 'tonnes of people everywhere' just makes it sound boring; probably, Paul Theroux had a Naipaul Syndrome!
Overall, the book is an enjoyable read, and it will remain in my library forever. I will also be reading his Great Railway Bazaar soon to understand/appreciate his experience when he was much younger :) By the way, i do not think that Paul Theroux is a budget traveller; and at many times during the book, it looked as if, he writing/creating stuff just to write a book and sell it!
3. M.J. Akbar's - "Have Pen, will Travel"
Firstly, you will *NOT* find such a travel book anywhere; what i mean is, the style in which M.J.Akbar narrates his experiences are AMAZING. I have always been fascinated by his writing style, and have always been an ardent reader of his editorials. If you haven't read him earlier, you can read his blog to see his clarity in the thought process and how he presents nothing but the facts - a true characteristic of a journalist.
The book is divided into multiple chapters, each spanning a handful of pages, wherein the author narrates his experience in a particular country. Since, M.J.Akbar had to travel a lot in his work, i guess, bulk of the experiences are during his visit to various countries for the conferences or talks or some story. Nevertheless, he does not make the chapters as a newspaper story, but talks about the unique aspects of the region, along with its history(wherever applicable) along with some really interesting and intelligent quips. I just could not keep the book down once i started reading it.
Let me caution you that this book is 'intelligent'(again!), and you really need to read-between-lines to entertain yourselves with some witty remarks by the author. Enjoyable and highly recommended!
In addition to the above, i also ended up reading "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach and also, a part of Nicholas Fearn's "Philosophy:The Latest Answer To The Oldest Questions" .
Five books in a month is not bad :)