I was on vacation a couple weeks ago; I went nowhere but roamed around the right side of the globe from the comfort of the wing back chair in my living room (coffee and cats were added bonuses). Here’s where I went.
The 8:55 to Baghdad – Andrew Eames
Eames stumbled upon the story of Agatha Christie’s life in the Middle East while doing an interview in Aleppo. He then sets out to retrace her steps from a London suburb to Iraq, traveling by train when possible. The story cuts back and forth between vignette of Christie’s life and Eames’ own experiences. The book includes beautiful descriptions of places that do not usually attract travel writers, like the city of Trieste.
The River’s Tale: A Year on the Mekong – Edward Gargan
Most Americans who have heard of the Mekong river know its delta region, where it runs into the South China Sea. This is largely because the region played a large part in the Vietnam War. What I hadn’t realized until I picked up this volume is that the river actually starts in Chine and runs through almost every country in Southeast Asia before reaching Vietnam. Gargan attempts to follow the river from its source to the South China Sea, traveling on the water. This means rides on ferries, motorized sampans and various other craft. The book includes a lot of musings about the nature of the river and the lives of the people who live on it.
Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity – Sam Millen
I really enjoyed this book, largely because Millen does what I often do when visiting a strange city: He wanders around Delhi, and there’s a lot of Delhi to walk around. The metroarea of the capital of India has about 25 million people, with a population density of 27,000 people per square mile. This is a very personal look at a place. All the other books in this list, the authors are passing through and the reader sees a glimpses of the places. This book lets the reader experience the strange and the exotic, the joys and sorrows of a single place.
Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron
I have always had this dream of going back in time and traveling the Silk Road. Thurbon tries this only in the modern age (I’m holding out for the time machine). The book takes a similar tack to 8:55 to Baghdad only in this case he retraces a much older and well known route. The Silk Road is the collective modern name given to the complex trade networks that ran between China, India, Arabia and finally Eastern Europe. Thurbon doesn’t get to follow the route by the same form of transportation though: Yak and Bactrian camel. It was still a difficult journey crossing a couple major deserts and mountain ranges.
The Places in Between – Rory Stewart
The premise of this book is simple: in 2001 Stewart walked across Afghanistan, but because it’s Afghanistan it’s an even more herculean task than it normally would be. There are the natural obstructions: deserts, mountains, rivers, snow etc. Then there is the Taliban, the Iranians, the Pakistani’s, etc., all of whom seem to be out to stop him. The descriptions of the people and the place are breathtakingly beautiful. Also I want a dang (a kind of walking stick).