5 Travel Classics
So holiday season is over; which means it’s back to armchair travelling. But if you’d like something more cerebral and witty than the dreary, lobotomising fare of cable TV travel shows, then you’ve the right checked in at place. This quintet of reads promises a whole host of rollicking as you delight in the intrepid wanderlust of these fine writers. Combining quirky reportage and insightful observations, go places you would have never dreamt of going.
A Fortune-Teller Told Me
The legendary Tiziano Terzani was an Italian journalist and renowned Asiaphile who was once based in Singapore in the 1970s.
In 1976, he was warned by a fortune-teller in Hong Kong that he would die in a plane crash in 1993. And when the supposed ill-fated year arrives, Terzani takes the warning to heart and avoids all air travel. Instead, he embarks on a land journey across Asia, producing this highly evocative book, whose underpinning theme (if there’s one) is the erosion of traditional values and culture as Asia modernises.
With liberal does of spiritual musings and humour, keen observations and frank opinions on the ever shifting political contours of Asian nations, this recounts an odyssey like no other and is one of the most underrated travelogues ever.
Terzani died of cancer in 2004, aged 65.
The Great Railway Bazaar
By far the greatest travelogue ever written, this is the crown jewel of Paul Theroux’s impressive oeuvre. The sights, sounds, smells, sticky situations and characters described in Theroux’s impressive four-month journey from London to Asia — across Turkey, to Iran and India, and to Southeast Asia and beyond — has yet to be matched in the four decades since its debut.
To read this is to go on a magical train ride with the author, who makes his irritation with the many troublesome episodes he encounters along the way plain for all to read. But far from being the grumpy, pampered westerner that the synopsis (and even the author) hints at, Theroux is a wonderfully empathetic and kind human being. It is this endearing trait that allows him to connect with fellow travellers and the locals of the numerous countries he visits along the way.
A former resident of Singapore, his acerbic impressions of the island-state alone is worth the price of this book.
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