Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review : A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush

Title : A Short Walk in the Hindukush
Author : Eric Newby
Publisher : Picador India
ISBN : 978-0-330-46267-9

Travel writings are slowly climbing their way up in my preference list these days. Perhaps they have discovered the fact that I will never venture into some of the places that are being written about - the wilderness of Alaska, remote places in Afghanistan, scaling Mount Everest and the likes. So they entice me even more and to their delight I am letting them to.  In keeping with the urge to read more of these, I requested MySmartPrice for 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' by Eric Newby. It was a good choice.

In his frank and humorous way, Eric Newby has managed to compile a writing piece guiding potential climbers on what not to do in order to be a successful mountaineer. A wonderful and exciting book, interestingly written, 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' is also recommended by Lonely Planet.

Giving in to his discontent while being in high-profile haute-couture industry, Eric Newby embarks on an amusing journey to one of the remotest places on Earth. He has his old friend, Hugh Carless, as a companion on this expedition. Though completely inexperienced and ill prepared, they both are brave and determined enough. They decide to set out to climb Mir Samir in the Nuristan Mountains of Afghanistan. In 1956, they decided to begin their trip with a crash course in basic climbing at Snowdonia in Wales so as to get a feel of the rigours that await them ahead.

They trekked through Nuristan, a region in the North-East of Afghanistan and then 'almost climbed' the challenging Mir Samir(6,059 m). They had to turn back just 700 feet from the summit because of their continual dysentery and altitude sickness. However, three years later in 1959, Mir Samir was successfully scaled by a German mountaineering team.

As expected in such wanderings, Eric Newby and Carless had a brush with wide range of adventures and experiences which range from nerve-wrecking, bone-chilling to thrilling. They passed through various big and small villages, met many people, peeked into the lives of some locals, came to know about peculiar lifestyles of many and had many (un)pleasant encounters. Along with reporting about these things, the author has beautifully sprinkled his narrative with light humour and wit. As they progress on their expedition, we also get to read a lot more about their loose stomachs and about the hostile natives of those regions. The overall picture that gets created after reading about his sojourn in the most beautiful wilderness on Earth does not speak very high about the locals. The description of natives often slips into being derogatory and author's conceitedness comes through in the open. To be fair to the author, this could also be just his honest portrayal of what he felt and experienced. And we must not forget that this book was written in 1958, when how the book would be received was less of author's worry. So I feel what he felt is what he has reported without trying to smooth-en the edginess of his comments. 

Towards the end of their trek, the author writes, "I had the sensation of emerging from a country that would continue to exist more or less unchanged whatever disasters overtook the rest of mankind." I wonder what the author would have said about the country now. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review : Brady Needs a Nightlight

Title : Brady Needs a Nightlight
Author : Brian Barlics
Illustrator : Gregory Burgess Jones
Publisher : Black Rose Printing
ISBN : 978-1-61296-195-8

'Brady Needs a Nightlight' is an endearing tale of a little bat - Brady. Though Bats are supposed to be sleeping during the day, Brady likes to enjoy the day time - playing and staying awake. He does not like the dark caves where the rest of the bats sleep during day time. Darkness scares him and he is afraid to close his eyes to sleep. He spends most of the time staying awake and watching other bats sleeping deeply.

Nights are no better for Brady either when all other bats are up and ready to go out and play. The darkness all around, the spooky sounds of animals and insects at night add to his fright. Brady finds no peace anytime of the day or night, he feels like crying. But there are some tiny creatures who sparkle and glimmer in dark. Brady gets a brilliant idea. Can he use these glistening small flies as his very own personal nightlight? Will  he be able to win over the darkness that seems to be engulfing him all the time? Children must read the story to find out how Brady conquers his fears and how a smile returns to his face because of his new found friends.

I love such children's books where the information is very casually entwined in the story rather than making it the prime focus. Children are made aware of the physical features of bats, their nocturnal characteristics, their physical features, their sleep patterns and their unique sleeping styles.  Moreover, the story addresses an issue which is very commonly faced by young children when they are learning to put themselves to sleep without any aide. The issue of getting scared of dark and not wanting to shut the eyes close to fall asleep. The good part is Brady tries to find a solution to his problem and when he gets an idea he first goes to talk it over with his mother. All these are wonderful points in the book which very subtly convey the message to the young readers. Moreover, these are great places in the story where children can be encouraged to talk about their individual fears or the things that bother them without being judgmental. Children will be able to identify with the lovable character Brady.

'Brady Needs a Nightlight' is the first story from the series called 'Fundamentale', a collection of tales that are created to kindle the imagination of young readers. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review : The Hope Factory

Title : The Hope Factory
Author : Lavanya Sankaran
Publisher : Hachette
ISBN : 9780755327874
The Hope Factory is a Bangalore based story with Anand Murthy as the main protagonist. He runs a small-scale auto components manufacturing factory and is at the verge of expanding his business by signing a deal with Japanese clients. He needs more land to set up a new factory and confronts many roadblocks on the path to acquire it. Having a dominant father-in-law who wants to impose his way on his daughter's life and family, makes matters more complicated for Anand. Vidya, Anand's wife is a typical society woman who wants to move in higher echelons flashing her designer clothes, throws lavish parties for friends to make an impression and talks about charity and fund-raising to sound like a concerned citizen. Though they both fell for each other during their college days which led to their nuptial but they clearly have different approach towards how they want to conduct their lives.

Another story which moves in parallel with Anand's story is that of Kamala and her son Narayan. Kamala is a house maid in Anand's home and all her efforts are geared towards providing good education to her son Narayan besides struggling to make both ends meet for both of them. She is a sincere and honest worker but still becomes the subject of Vidya-maa's fury many times.

The high point of the book is narration of situations and incidents from two very diverse perspectives with respect to two stories that are beautifully interwoven as one. Misery and anguish of Kamala, her resolve and determination, Anand's dedication towards his work, his interactions with his children, his father-in-law's eagerness in taking charge of things, and much more  - though sound very simple yet are handled expertly bringing the characters to life.

Through 'Hope Factory' the author has addressed current state of affairs in real estate, corruption and bribery, involvement of goons and politicians in high-order deals and feasible options available to people who want to carry on with their business honestly and sincerely. The characters are etched brilliantly and the narration flows smoothly. It is a little slow in the first half but gains momentum after that when more action is happening. Language is good, easy to understand and error-free and it deserves a special compliment because many new Indian authors falter on that account. Overall a simple story told simply which makes for a decent one time read. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Travelogues and Travel-blogs

"Travel brings power and love back into your life" - Rumi
And travelogues instigate and lure some to Plan, Pack and Plunge into yet another adventurous travel while they offer glimpses of the world out there for the ones who don’t want to forego the  comfortable confines of their homes.

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple - Published in 2009, this book brings out the essence of 25 years of long and far travels that the author undertook in India - a mystic land for many. The unique nine lives chronicled in this book betoken the diverse belief systems that are prevalent in some parts of the country ranging from Rajasthan to Calcutta and from Bihar to Kerala. These are the stories of faith, conviction and reliance in response to their individual  spiritual calling.

Along the Ganges by Ilija Trojanow - Here the author recounts the journey of river Ganga from its inception in pristine snowcapped peaks of Himalayas till its maturity when it rushes to meet the ocean. From vivacity of youth in the mountains, poise of a young woman in plains to a veteran near the mouth of the ocean, the author witnessed all. Ganga is much more than a river for millions of believers and the author is mesmerised how amidst extremes of archaic traditions and miraculous modernity Ganga zigzags her way for hundreds of miles.

Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta - A travel enthusiast and writer Rishad Mehta follows the trail of that single beverage - TEA, which brings security of known in unknown and a bit of solace amidst commotion. He narrates his experience of traversing length and breadth of India from Leh to Munnar and from Rann of Kutch to Khajuraho. In his words, "If there is one certainty about roads in India, it is that - no matter where you are or what the hour is - if you want a cup of team you'll find a chai ki dukaan within a few kilometres."

One Life to Ride by Ajit Harsinghani - A travel diary of sorts, Ajit's motorcycling adventure through the mountain range of Himalayas is a wonderful write up on his experiences through various villages, across meandering rivers and through sloping steep mountains. The narrative is simplistic yet it beautifully brings out the signature earthiness of the mountainous terrain.

Into The Wild is a story of a recluse who renounced everything including his name (Christopher McCandless) to reinvent himself as Alexander Supertramp.  Wearing the armor of solitude, the vagabond found solace in being akin to nature in the wilderness of Alaska. The author Jon KraKauer tries to retrace the path taken by Chris in an attempt to unravel the mystery and intrigue that wilderness creates in some and the temptations of an unknown world which some find hard to resist.

Bill Bryson is one of the most acclaimed names in the field of travel writings. Whether it is - an adventure trek on Appalachian
Trail (Walk in the Woods),his report on a country which doubles up as a continent (In a Sunburned Country), retracing a youthful European backpacking trip from Scandinavia to Istanbul (Neither Here Nor There) or his report on his adopted country Britain - the land of Shakespeare (Notes from Small Island), Bill Bryson packs right proportion of information, facts, humour, wit and his hallmark panache in his writings.

A Short Walk in the HinduKush by Jack Kerouac was originally typed (in 1951) as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper which were later taped as 120 foot scroll and eventually was published in a book form. It now enjoys the status of being one of the most distinguished and compelling artifacts of American history written post World War II. It is highly regarded as a bible of road trips.

China Road by Rob Gifford - National Highway 312, length 4,967 km(3086 miles), from Shanghai to Khorgas, runs across the complete breadth of China from east to west. Rob Gifford journeyed route 312 for six weeks, passed through the old Silk Road which runs through the Gobi desert to Central Asia to Persia and to Europe.  He met competitive entrepreneurs, rural people, frustrated and angry citizens and witnessed depleting morality, weakening cultural values, modernity and excitement galore. China Road brilliantly brings out the heterogeneity of modern China as it marches forward to become the next global superpower.

Paul Therouxs Great Railway Bazaar is a wonderful accompaniment for those solitary train travels. Resplendent with detailed observations of people and surroundings, Great Railway Bazar captures the essence of train travels. The route begins from Victoria Station, London to Asia and through Trans-Siberian express. You never know, you might just see some interesting character portrayed so comically in the book pop out in front of you.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didnt do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

While travelogues books have enjoyed a sincere fan following ever since, travel blogs have managed to create their own niche readership too. Well chronicled and updated blogs have a clear edge over the rest of the resources in a very significant aspect that the information is almost live on them.  Blogs are the individual creative spaces and the creators get the liberty of recording and showcasing  their jaunts to various places in the ways it catches their fancy. Food, lodging, transport, shopping, sightseeing, events, treks, hiking, sports, activities and much more, you name it and you are almost sure to find a blog where you'd be able to find relevant and updated information about any place on the same.

Homestay or regular hotel stay, lazing over a hammock or shopping for souvenirs on a crowded street, local food or same comfort food, nature appreciation or meeting new people, sitting by a gurgling river in solitude or enjoying the daring rides in a fun park, bird-watching or book reading, meeting locals or solitary confinement - whatever may be your preference you are sure to find someone like you who must have blogged about the best option to (not)engage in exactly the same activity.

In fact blogging is a boon for many in a sense that those who earlier used to capture the beauty of various places that they travel to in their eyes or in the shutterbugs now have an option to share it with the world and their ardent followers are not complaining either. They are the ones who stand to benefit from these travelers' records.
Sankara's - Be On the Road
Lakshmi's - Backpakker
ItchyFeet's -Traveholic
Poorna and Brinda's - Journey2Remember
Mridula's - TravelTalesFromIndia
Ekta and Puru's - MyYatraDiary
Arun Bhat's - PaintedStork
Anuradha Goyal's - AnuradhaGoyal
Bhushavali's - TravelBhushavali
Anita Bora's - AnitaBoraBlog
Anil's - WindySkies
Anil Yadav's - ClimberExplorer
Kiran's - AceGuide

are just a few from a long list of extremely interesting and worth following Indian travel blogs. The descriptions of their travels are fascinating and the photographs that accompany almost lyrical descriptions of a place are breathtaking. These blogs are true celebration of the wandering and vagabond spirits and we wish their tribe grows with each passing day and year. 
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