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A wanderer's account of travels by all means of transport

A wanderer's account of travels by all means of transport
Photo Credit: Outlook Traveller

Prabhu Ghate, in his book 'By Thumb, Hoof and Wheel', not only gives an account of his travels of over seven decades, but also provides a link between the places' history and present

Venky Vembu
September 08 , 2015
01 Min Read

As early as when he was five, Prabhu Ghate appears to have been bitten by the travel bug. By age seven, he had already undertaken five ocean voyages and spent three days on a flying boat. The luxury of being able to travel so widely at such a young age is, of course, a function of the privileged circumstances he grew up in. But admirably for Ghate (who went on to study in the UK, join the IAS and travel to many parts of the developing world in the line of duty), he later pretty much forsakes the accoutrements of privilege and seeks out the rough road, the better to savour the travel experience. By Thumb, Hoof and Wheel is an extraordinary account of his travels over nearly 70 years, to some pretty outlier spots around the world, by hitchhiking, on horseback, by car, by train, by riverboat, by ship—and, when unavoidable, by plane.

Ghate is an artful raconteur with a keen eye for detail and, evidently, a prodigious capacity to recall every microdetail even half a century later. But beyond the travelogue narrative, which is fascinating in itself, what embellishes Ghate’s account is the historical backstory he provides to the places he visits, linking them up with more contemporaneous times.

Many of Ghate’s scintillating itineraries are replicable even today, but a few—such as his taking a paddle steamer up the Nile through Sudan, or taking a boat from Mombasa to Mumbai—are no longer possible to do. To have travelled so extensively in an era when security and visa complexities were far fewer must certainly count as a blessing. But as Ghate emphasises repeatedly (and demonstrates through his lived-in experience of travel), to savour the world’s treasures, you don’t have to be rich or young. You just have to be “young at heart, reasonably fit, empathetic and curious.”

Of course, if like Ghate you are a wanderer at heart and a nomadic soul, yet new worlds will open themselves up to you. By Thumb… is a delightful read, and a celebration of the joy of travel on the cheap.


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