Travel with writers' lens
Do you love to travel? Do you also love browsing through travel literature before actually getting to the destination? Geetika Jain shares her experience of armchair traveling.india Updated: Nov 17, 2009 19:30 IST
The days before I travel are often more exciting than when I’m at my destination. The thrill of expectation and discovery, of anticipating a new place and meeting disparate people, is enormous. I tend to gather tonnes of reading material — literature, guidebooks and clippings saved in folders — and settle down to read.
Novels such as Bad Times in Buenos Aires by Miranda France, Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk, and The Marsh Lions by Jonathan Scott reveal the place with an eloquence and authority that comes from deep seated knowledge. Dalrymple, Ghosh, Bryson and Naipaul are some of the authors that bring brilliant insights into the places they write about; they capture the imagination and stoke the appetite for further exploration. There is so much excellent travel fiction, one need never leave one’s armchair. If I don’t make it to Paraguay, Chad or Turkmenistan, at least I’ll have glimpsed at them in print.
There are places with captivating histories such as Mexico, Egypt and Mongolia, which have little in common with present day living culture, yet it is important to study them as a whole. The landscapes of Namibia, Iceland, Maldives and Borneo are varied and compelling. The architecture of The Maghreb, the Greek islands, African Safari camps, Angkor Wat, the great European cities and Kyoto, for instance, deserve a special look-in. There are dozens of other aspects such as the people, culture, wildlife and cuisine special to each locale. Novels cannot cover all aspects of a land, and this is where guidebooks come in.
Guidebooks are great for a quick and well organised reference to places. Their maps are invaluable and hotel, restaurants and guides trustworthy. Lonely Planet Guides are usually currant and user-friendly, as are Insight Guides, Time Out and Footprint. Bradt tend to write about places that are not covered by others, such as Congo and Kosovo. Rough Guides are ideal for low-budget travel. In the Dorling Kindersley guides, key institutions such as the Duomo in Venice are illustrated impeccably and labelled in such detail, you wonder why you hired a guide.
There has been a recent flowering of up-market guides for the ‘discerning traveller’, which have been put together imaginatively and attractively. Some of my favourites are The Hedonists Guides (Hg2), which points to hotels according to style, atmosphere and location. Wallpaper has an architectural bent, Style City have fabulous images and write-ups of the best a city has to offer organised by neighbourhood. Luxe Guides are sassy, irreverent and to the point. They are concertina foldouts meant to fit into one’s back pocket, packed with insider information. Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Nota-Bene are top-end guides for selecting hotels. Though many of these may not be stocked in a bookshop near you, all of them are available on the internet.
I invariably browse the internet for travel articles, which often come with satisfying personal takes and plenty of humour. These short essays are usually published pieces from magazines. They cost nothing and cover places that don'’t warrant entire books like Kodiac Island, Alaska, where grizzlies hunt salmon, Sana, the exquisite Yemeni capital and Svalbard Island, Norway, famous for Nordic lights and polar bear sightings.
My favourite site is www.travelintelligence.com. Though it is a site that hopes you’ll book your hotel through them, their travel writing section is superb and has great depth. Worldreviewer.com is similar, with a spate of articles sorted by destination. The travel archives of major newspapers like timesonline.com, nytimes.com, hindustantimes.com and FT.com are well worth tapping into.
The reindeer-herding Sami people of northern Europe have a saying, “The best thing about life is going to new places”. I couldn’t agree more; but the next best thing is reading about them.