Do you remember that book shop owned by William Thacker (Hugh Grant) in the movie Notting Hill? It sold only travel books. When I first saw that movie, I thought “Wow! How many Lonely Planets does he have?” and “Of course he isn’t making profits”! Back then, little did I know about this genre called travel literature and it’s magical powers!
A few years later however, on my last birthday, when my brother and his wife, gifted me my very first travel memoir, From Heaven Lake, by the one and only, Vikram Seth, I felt like I discovered a way to escape to any place I want to. Through this book, I escaped to Eastern China and hitch-hiked across my way back to India. I felt, I was practically transported to 1982 China and to all the places Mr. Seth visited. I didn’t read the book, I experienced it.
The the diverse landscape of China, the dry and the cold desert, and the transformation of one into another, the finding of an oasis in the middle of unending inhabitable landmass, and finding unconditional help all along the way; sitting in the comfort of my home I experienced it all.
A noteworthy fact about this book is that, it hardly contains any pictures and the ones that are there, are in greyscale. Despite that, the author has been able to paint a vivid picture of his travelogue in my head. And wait till you web search all the places he has been to, they are all unimaginably beautiful. Yet, amongst all the literary merits and interesting subject matter, it is the author’s wit, that makes this book extraordinary and worthwhile. I couldn’t stop myself from grinning, giggling, chuckling and sometimes breaking into a roaring fit of laughter.
He goes on to explain the geographic diversity of China as well. Since the world climatic zones are arranged in latitudinal bands, a longitudinal journey, i.e. North-South, is likely to be much more varied than a latitudinal one, i.e. East-West journey. In western China the main topographical features are so latitudinal, and this enhances the variety of longitudinal journey. Hence, the sandy deserts, cold plateaus, arid land, pastures, glaciers, rigged mountains and passes. Sounds exciting? Now imagine hitch-hiking your way through it!
Mr. Seth has not only made an account of the physical surroundings, but also succeeded in showing the irony of two neighbouring countries India and China, so close to each other, yet culturally and economically so distant and disagreeable. It makes me wonder how the present-day China is like, maybe I’ll find another more recent travelogue.
In the end, if you want to travel and don’t have the resources or the time to, read a good travel memoir and escape to lands as inaccessible as it may seem; and come back rejuvenated.
Have you ever time travelled? Please share your experience in the comment section below or write to me on the ‘contact’ page.
Please don’t forget to share this with your loved ones 🙂