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Like everything else, commercialisation has affected the quality of travel writing as well. Top ten lists and ready-made holidays are what rule the modern-day world of travel. Ironically, here is a list—since we seem to love them so much—of five books that remind us what true travel writing is all about: effortlessly transporting you to a different time and place, through words.
On The Road, Jack Kerouac
On The Road was the result of a feverish three-week outburst of continuous writing by author Jack Kerouac on a single roll of paper. The novel eventually came to define the post-war Beat generation, the inspiration for American hippie culture. A memoir of the author’s travels through America, the book takes you through the raw heart of the country with stories of small towns, migrant families, music, friendships, drugs, love and sex. The sense of adventure and freedom in the book has inspired artists from Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia to Allen Ginsberg and Hunter. S. Thompson.
Valley of Assassins and Other Persian Travels, Freya Stark
An account of a lone woman in her late thirties who moved to Baghdad, learnt Arabic and began exploring the region, making maps, looking for archaeological remains and meeting people—all this in the early 1900s—this book will put any Twitter feminist to shame. Freya Stark, a British-Italian who worked as a nurse in WW1, was one of the greatest explorers of the twentieth century. In The Valley of Assassins, she embarks on a journey into the wilderness between modern-day Iraq and Iran including a legendary valley, hidden in the mountains of Elburz where a band of assassins lived. Her writing, empathetic yet entertaining, generously sprinkled with travel tips will leave you with a deeper insight into the meaning of travel itself.
Travels With Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck
One of my favourites, Travels With Charley is an illuminating account of Steinbeck’s journey across states, from Maine in the north to the southernmost tip of California, in search of the essence that makes America, America. Accompanied by his French poodle called Charley, Steinbeck offers a window into the true nature of the country and its people. From encountering bears at Yellowstone to attempting to understand the strange loneliness that afflicts the people living there, he sets an example for modern travellers through this poignant travelogue.
From Volga To Ganga, Rahul Sankrityayan
A collection of fictional short stories based on the travels of one of the greatest vagabonds born in India, From Volga To Ganga (Volga Se Ganga in Hindi), is a cornerstone in Indian travel writing. Rahul Sankrityayan, a scholar, a polyglot and a devout writer, begins by tracing the migration of Aryans from the Eurasian steppes to the Himalayas from 6000 BC onwards, their progress into the Indo-Gangetic plains and finally ends with a story based in 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi Gandhi's Quit India Movement. Through every story, he tries to give the reader an authentic picture of Indian society of that period. Though many scholars have pointed out the book’s inconsistency with real historical facts, to really enjoy this book, you must remember that it is after all fiction, inspired by the author’s extensive travels throughout Eurasia. The book, obviously, reads best in its original language, Hindi.
Into The Wild, Jon Krakauer
In 1992 the disillusioned Christopher Johnson McCandless, a young boy from a well-to-do American family hitchhiked all the way to Alaska. Most of us know him as Alexander Supertramp from the Sean Penn directed Hollywood movie. He gave up all his possessions, including $25000 of his savings, and embarked on a Buddha-like journey that led to his salvation, literally. It was only after four months that a bunch of moose hunters found his rotten dead body. However, the story of his life is truly unforgettable to most of us 90s kids who could identify with his frustration with the modern world. With heroes like Jack London and John Muir, he freed himself of all worldly devices, especially money, and embraced nature in all its ferocious beauty. The book is based a 9000-word essay titled, ‘Death of an Innocent’ by the author who was inspired by McCandless’ journal entries.
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