Every once in a while, a book comes along that not only takes me on a magical literary journey but also scratches my sometimes dormant but often itchy travel bug into action.
It is not always the “travelogues” that intrigue me. Often, the most unlikely of books, those that at first sight might not speak of travel, have the power to evoke wanderlust.
The Gilded Chalet: Off-Piste in Literary Switzerland by Padraig Rooney – A spur of the moment buy, The Gilded Chalet remains one of my favourites reads from last year.
In the book, Rooney covers various literary figures that have at one time or another called Switzerland their home. Whether it is Byron and Shelley or the celebrated Rousseau, the alluring Swiss landscape has made the history of the nation wealthy with literary figures.
In discovering the authors, the stories told often intertwine with the history of the nation along with details about the various regions. This gives the reader an in-depth look at Swiss culture and thinking. These details make the book a perfect read for anyone interested in literature as well as those wanting to travel to Switzerland.
Tea connoisseurs might be a little disappointed, but then there are enough references of the drink, especially the importance of having tea in its purest form. It does pop up now and then as Rishad travels across different terrains of the country on his bike.
Whether you are an adventurous soul like the author who wants to ride his Bullet to Leh or if you need to relax and take it easy in a shikara on the Dal Lake in Kashmir, the book serves as an informative guide catering to all sorts of travellers.
Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler – A book that looks at Japanese culture from the inside but from the viewpoint of a foreigner.
Learning to Bow is about Bruce’s year as a teacher in small-town Japan. Japanese heritage is exceptionally fascinating to outsiders, and the author tackles every aspect of the country in a personal way, but with an open mind.
The book especially works well for anyone who plans to not just live in Japan but anywhere else in the world, as it highlights the importance of respecting and acknowledging the cultures and traditions of the host nation.
The Beach by Alex Garland – The book that made backpacking mainstream.
I still believe that till the time this book came out backpacking was a less popular way to travel. However, The Beach, even after its intense fictional drama, managed to showcase the idea of a beautiful, carefree world where friendships happen at the spur of a moment. Everything doesn’t end well, but that’s for you to find out.
Now, backpacking has become a rite of passage, a trend which has been adopted by Millennials especially with enthusiasm and élan.
A story set in South East Asia, the book remains one of my all-time favourites and one that encourages me to try new things in life.
I do strongly advise you to miss the movie though… it sucks!
Escobar as told by Roberto Escobar – Not precisely linked to travel, but reading about the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, I’ve had a wish to visit Medellin someday.
The city comes across as a hard place with a gentle soul. It might have seen its share of problems, but has a heart that is pure and seeped in culture.
More recently, the Netflix series Narcos made the story of Escobar more common, and it has only added to my curiosity for the city.
Tuscany for Beginners by Imogene Edwards-Jones – A fun and light read, the book, which is a comic look at the love life of an expat living in Tuscany, brings about the beauty of the region, and more so of the people that inhabit the place.
A fictional account, the book captures the essence of expat living with the rustic beauty of Tuscany thrown in for good measure.
The book’s blurb states “Tuscany. Glorious Tuscany. With its sunflowers, its olive groves, its rolling countryside and its stunning vistas, it is everyone’s picture perfect place in the sun.”
Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein – A book that managed to fuel my fascination with Japan even more.
Adelstein gives an intriguing no-holds-barred look at journalism in a country that has strict traditions and cultural practices which will surprise you to no ends.
The best part about the book is that through Adelstein we get to see and understand Japan from a never before seen angle, that of a foreigner who has his hand on the pulse of Tokyo that is off the tourist radar.
Sholay: The Making of a Classic by Anupama Chopra – A book about the making of India’s most celebrated movie, Sholay.
How is it linked to travel?
Well, I would like one day love to visit the little village, Ramanagram, which served as the backdrop/set for the majority of the film. It has a certain nostalgic charm with its rugged terrain and naturally numerous iconic places/images thanks to the film which has been viewed many times over my lifetime.
My research tells me there is very little to see there besides “rocks”, but looking at the way commercialism is happening, how long do we have before a little Sholay-World pops up on location?
Unlikely, but still.
From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth – Although I am yet to read his most famous work, A Suitable Boy, Seth’s From Heaven Lake remains one of my all-time favourite travelogues.
Recounting his journey to India via Tibet, as a student at Nanjing University in China, Seth makes the reader not only fall in love with his words but manages to describe his experiences in a lyrical yet straightforward manner.
If you ever want to ignite the feeling of wanderlust in yourself, then this book will without a doubt do that in a heartbeat.
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky – The idea of being on an isolated island somewhere in the middle of the ocean is just divine.
Atlas of Remote Islands book covers 50 such islands that are hard to get to, but to those who make it there, they offer a sneak peek into “heaven”.
Now, just to overcome my fear of flying in small planes and then to pack my bags.
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