by Deepti | 2/10/2014
" A Dalrymple book does not disappoint. Especially not his first publication, at the age of 22. To someone who loves travel, writing and adventure, Dalrymple's life on the road seems like out of a fairy tale. For two college students to be able to set out on a journey from England to Jerusalem, follow the Silk Route all the way up to China, on a budget of merely 700 pounds, seems to me to be a mixture of fond hope and absolute madness. But it works. This is more than just the tale of some hippies who want to backpack around the subcontinent. William and his companion (first Laura, then Louisa) are serious students of history, whose travel Bibles are the Travels of Marco Polo and other (more obscure) works about travel in Asia rather than Lonely Planet guides. Though William has visited the subcontinent before, he learns valuable lessons in cross-border travel (namely, how to go undetected while crossing borders illegally), bribe-giving and favour-taking, and cultural norms. Nor does he disguise his complete lack of appreciation of certain places. He is honest about his crankiness at hindrances such as boring, lifeless towns, cross-border tactics and the people he has to trust with them, miles and miles of never ending desert, lack of colour, food and sleep. His relief when he leaves the Afghan landscape to enter into Pakistan is palpable, and he does not hold back words. He is glad of the noise, colour and relative freedom the subcontinent brings him, after days of dreariness and having to watch his back. All that, however, does not stop him from admiring the architectural wonders he finds in Jerusalem, Turkey, Syria, etc. Towards the end of his journey, the pages are turned faster, only because he is being hounded by the police for entering into forbidden areas of China illegally. The book, I thought, ends too soon, but the pace fits the events and the stress of rushing the last few days.
This book displays the author's lack of maturity when it comes to describing certain things or dismissing certain others, a tendency he has refined in his later, more researched works. But what comes through in all of his works, as I see it, is an unapologetic honesty. Never mind what he says in irritability of dry, desert-like landscape. One of the most outstanding observations comes while he is in Jerusalem, and only he has the guts to make it:
"The Holy City has had more atrocities committed in it, more consistently, than any other town in the world. Sacred to three religions, the city has witnessed the worst intolerance and self-righteousness of all of them." "