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Travel the world one book at a time

‘Travel far, pay no fare…A book can take you anywhere.’

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The portal to the rest of the world is closer to you than you think. While we advise you to physically stay at home, no one said anything about not travelling!

Penguin Random House India brings to you the #PenguinStayList – a list of books that will inform, educate and entertain you as best as they can during this pandemic. Travel around the Indian coast, up to the greatest city of the Himalayas or even to different corners of the world.

‘That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.’

– Jhumpa Lahiri

Following Fish : Travels around the Indian Coast

 

In a coastline as long and diverse as India’s, fish inhabit the heart of many worlds food of course, but also culture, commerce, sport, history and society. Journeying along the edge of the peninsula, Samanth Subramanian reports upon a kaleidoscope of extraordinary stories. Throughout his travels, Subramanian observes the cosmopolitanism and diverse influences absorbed by India’s coastal societies, the withdrawing of traditional fishermen from their craft, the corresponding growth of fishing as pure and voluminous commerce, and the degradation of waters and beaches from over-fishing.

 

Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke For Directions – A Biker’s Whimsical Journey Across India

 

After twenty years in the Indian Administrative Service, P.G. Tenzing throws off the staid life of a bureaucrat to roar across India on an Enfield Thunderbird, travelling light with his possessions strapped on the back of his bike. On the nine-month motorcycle journey without a pre-planned route or direction, he encounters acquaintances who appear to be from his karmic past: from the roadside barber to numerous waiters and mechanics― fleeting human interactions and connections that seem pre-ordained.

 

If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai: A Conducted Tour Of India

 

This book was first written when author Srinath Perur made the mistake of going on a conducted tour of ten of the most famous sites in India. However, despite being very annoyed at his bovine compatriots and his sonorous tour-guide, he found that there was some merit in traveling in groups, and wrote down his experiences in the form of this book. Witty, Humorous, and insightful, it combines his science-based knowledge and heartfelt experiences to create a tableau of interesting descriptions and adventures.

 

Shooting Star, The: A Girl, Her Backpack and the World

 

 

Shivya Nath quit her corporate job at age twenty-three to travel the world. She gave up her home and the need for a permanent address, sold most of her possessions and embarked on a nomadic journey that has taken her everywhere from remote Himalayan villages to the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador. Along the way, she lived with an indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala, hiked alone in the Ecuadorian Andes, got mugged in Costa Rica, swam across the border from Costa Rica to Panama, slept under a meteor shower in the cracked salt desert of Gujarat and learnt to conquer her deepest fears.

 

Travel Gods Must Be Crazy, The: Wacky Encounters in Exotic Lands

 


Dreaming of glorious sunrises and architectural marvels in exotic places, Sudha often landed up in situations that were uproariously bizarre or downright dangerous. Tongue firmly in cheek, she recounts her journeys through the raw wildernesses of Borneo and the African savannah, into the deserts of Iran and Uzbekistan, and up the Annapurna and the Pamirs, revealing the quirky side of solo travel to side-splitting effect. Punctuating her droll stories with breathtaking descriptions and stunning photographs, Sudha invites readers on an unexpected and altogether memorable tour around the world!

 

Kathmandu

 

Kathmandu is the greatest city of the Himalayas a unique survival of cultural practices that died out in India 1000 years ago. It is a carnival of sexual license and hypocrisy, a jewel of world art, a hotbed of communist revolution, a paradigm of failed democracy, a case study in bungled Western intervention and an environmental catastrophe.
Kathmandu follows the author’s story over a decade in the city and unravels the city’s history through successive reinventions of itself. Erudite, entertaining and accessible, this is the distinctive chronicle of a fascinating city.

 

From Heaven Lake

 

Hitch-hiking, walking, slogging through rivers and across leech-ridden hills, Vikram Seth travelled through Sinkiang and Tibet to Nepal: from Heaven Lake to the Himalayas, By breaking away from the reliable routes of organized travel, he transformed his journey into an unusual and intriguing exploration of one of the world’s least-known areas.

 

The Other Side of the Divide

 

Pegged on journalist Sameer Arshad Khatlani’s visit to Pakistan, this book provides insights into the country beyond what we already know about it. These include details on the impact of India’s soft power, thanks to Bollywood, and the remnants of Pakistan’s multireligious past, and how it frittered away advantages of impressive growth in the first three decades of its existence by embracing religious conservatism.
The book attempts to present a contemporary portrait of Pakistan-where prohibition remains only on paper and one of the biggest taxpayers is a Parsee-owned brewery-as a complicated and conflicted country suspended between tradition and modernity.

Well, that’s our list. Where will you travel to first?

What are Stereotypes about Pakistan among Indians?

Many of us have concluded Pakistan as an economically, culturally, socially and ideologically regressive country. Most of us have dropped the idea of exploring the picturesque landscape of Pakistan due to a dangerously false perception of it being a terrorism inflicted country. That is why when a journalist – Sameer Arshad Khatlani, decided to attend the World Punjabi Conference in Lahore, his family felt extremely anxious about his decision.

The Other Side of the Divide is a journalist’s reflective travelogue that bares the complexities of culture and class in Pakistan. Khatlani’s adventurous journey to the heart of Pakistan reveals the connecting thread between two nations through stories that fail to reach the masses in India.

Here are some excerpts that render all commonly held stereotypes about Pakistan as false:

 

  1. Stereotype: Pakistan is a land that breeds hostility

‘The immigration clearances were prompt. I had never seen a more cheerful immigration official than the one who stamped my passport. the atmosphere was not even remotely as hostile as what it used to be a decade ago. […] I did not find any hostility. Far from it…’

  1. Stereotype: Pakistan is full of only Muslims

‘Everything across the border looked as if harmonized with the Indian side. […] An artificial line drawn through the heart of Punjab cannot be deep enough to change the shared language, culture, customs, idioms and attitudes shaped over centuries. Sikh men in their beautiful and colorful turbans in eastern (Indian) Punjab and ubiquitous Urdu in western (Pakistani) Punjab are perhaps the only outliers on the surface. Punjabi is the language of the people on the street.’ 

  1. Stereotype: Pakistan rejects everything that is Indian

‘The market was abuzz despite the cold. it could have been easily mistaken for a market in Indian Punjab had not it been for Urdu signages. Virtually every shop sold artificial jewellery, Indian beauty products and prominently displayed Amul Macho undergarments packs with pictures of Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar.’

 

  1. Stereotype: Cities in Pakistan aren’t as developed as India

‘The Pak Heritage is a budget hotel particularly popular with Sikh pilgrims. it is located on the busy and mostly gridlocked Davis road with many similarities with Delhi’s Daryaganj. […] In Lahore, posh, leafy and well-maintained areas like the Mall are located just a few kilometers away, south of Davis road. Daryaganj, likewise, is a five-minute drive from the heart of tree-shaded Lutyens’s Delhi, distinguished by its colonial-era bungalows and wide avenues.’ 

  1. Stereotype: Bollywood doesn’t have Pakistani fans

‘… one of Pakistan’s best-known newspapers, Dawn, gushed about Madhuri’s ‘dazzling and disarming smile’, which she ‘quite literally patented’ and honed ‘into an art form’. […] In Lahore, and indeed across Pakistan, Bollywood is ubiquitous and gets prime slots on TV news channels, sometimes at the cost of more pressing issues.’ 

  1. Stereotype: Pakistan has an extremely orthodox culture

‘No one disappeared after the screening. A party-like atmosphere continued outside the hall well past midnight. Television crews surrounded filmmakers and socialites for sound bites about the film. Camera flashlights brightened the dimly lit waiting area. Some spoke to at least half a dozen camera crews about the film and performances of the lead actors, Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif.’ 

  1. Stereotype: Pakistan has an Urdu speaking community

‘Punjabi, along with its variants, still remains the mother tongue of an overwhelming number—close to 60 per cent—of Pakistanis. Beyond the urban upper-class pockets of Lahore and other bigger cities, it remains the colourful language of choice for the masses…Urdu-speakers have accounted for roughly 10 per cent of Pakistan’s population.’ 


To understand how the common people of Pakistan have often challenged the dehumanizing discourse about their country, there may be no better place to begin than The Other Side of the Divide.

The Other Side of the Divide- An Excerpt

Pegged on journalist Sameer Arshad Khatlani’s visit to Pakistan, The Other Side of the Divide provides insights into the country beyond what we already know about it. These include details on the impact of India’s soft power, thanks to Bollywood, and the remnants of Pakistan’s multireligious past, and how it frittered away advantages of impressive growth in the first three decades of its existence by embracing religious conservatism.

Read an excerpt from the book below:

 

Anarkali Bazaar gets its name from a white semi-octagonal towered tomb believed to be that of slave girl Nadira Begum… popularly known as Anarkali… Legend has it that Mughal emperor Akbar had Anarkali interred alive in upright position in a masonry wall at the turn of the seventeenth century. She earned Akbar’s wrath for daring to fall in love with his heir apparent, Jahangir… The ‘love story’ has little historicity; it appears more to be a figment of somebody’s fertile imagination…

Lahore is replete with symbols and structures reaffirming shared India–Pakistan history and culture. Civil Lines is one such place around a kilometre from Anarkali’s tomb, where anti-colonial hero Bhagat Singh reignited the revolutionary Indian national movement.

Tempers ran high in Lahore in the winter of 1929. National movement leader Lala Lajpat Rai had succumbed to injuries sustained in a police assault at a protest rally. Young blood in revolutionary ranks sought revenge. Bhagat Singh volunteered to kill Lahore police chief JA Scott to avenge Rai’s death around the police chief’s office near the DAV (now Islamia) College. His comrades Rajguru, Jai Gopal and Chandrashekhar followed suit. They were disillusioned with Gandhi’s pacifist policies and wanted to fire militant youth imagination against the British. Bhagat Singh was chosen to pull the trigger. Rajguru was to provide him cover. Chandrashekhar Azad was tasked with ensuring their escape. The revolutionaries rehearsed the killing two days before the chosen date in the busy lanes of Civil Lines. They had prepared a red poster declaring: ‘Scott killed’, in anticipation of a successful mission. Everything except Scott’s identification went as per plan when the revolutionaries emerged out of DAV College hostel and took their positions. Jai Gopal, tasked to identify Scott, had never seen the British officer before. But he hid this fact from others. Bhagat Singh ended up pumping five bullets into the wrong person — twenty-one-year-old probationary police officer JP Saunders. Rajguru had seconds earlier waylaid and shot Saunders in his neck. He killed an Indian policeman who was in their hot pursuit. The revolutionaries ran into the DAV college campus, where they scaled a wall to enter its hostel compound. They fled to their hideout and eventually to Lahore, where they were brought back for their trial and were executed…

The scene of Saunders’ murder is now a busy street surrounded by the traffic police office, Islamia College, Metrobus route, Government College hostel, Lahore district courts and the Central Model School. Very few people remember its association with Bhagat Singh, who was an alumnus of DAV (Islamia) College, which was shifted to Ambala after the Partition. The college, which Hindu revivalist Arya Samaj managed before the Partition, is better known today as the alma mater of cricket legend Wasim Akram. It changed hands and was rechristened after the Partition. Three samadhis of Ranjit Singh’s relatives are located on the campus.

A road named after Hindu reformist Deva Samaj movement between Anarkali’s tomb and the DAV College is another remnant of Lahore’s past. Pandit Shiv Narayan Agnihotri founded it in Lahore in 1887. Deva Samaj began as theistic before re-emerging as an atheistic society. Deva Samaj emphasized ‘ethical conduct and confession of sins’ but denied the existence of gods. Agnihotri, too, is a forgotten man around the road named after his movement. Queries about the origin of the road’s name drew blank stares.

Deva Samaj Road begins close to the Civil Secretariat Metrobus station on the edge of civil court complex before merging into Abdali Road near Vishnu Street. Then Opposition leader Imran Khan, who had been campaigning against alleged election fraud had just held a huge anti-government rally in the area when I was there. Khan’s banners were hanging near Nasir Bagh as I passed by on my way to the Mall Road where the best of Lahore’s colonial heritage is located. The tree-shaded avenue is lined with chic shops, restaurants, hotels and mansions. Hindu and Sikhs owned most of the properties before the Partition also on the Mall Road, built in 1851 to connect Anarkali with Lahore Cantonment. A handful of Muslims owned businesses on the Mall Road before 1947. Today, a sprinkling of Hindus is left in Lahore; most of them are Valmiki.

An orange flag fluttering atop a temple stands out as a sign of Hindu presence at the corner of Bheem Street just across the Metrobus line off the Mall Road. Located in Lahore’s biggest tyre markets amid small shops and dhabas, it is one of Lahore’s two functioning temples. A bell hangs besides an Om symbol at the temple’s main door, where a board declares in Urdu: ‘Insaf ka mandir hai yeh, bhagwan ka ghar hai [This is temple of justice and the lord’s house].’… Valmiki temple is more than a place of worship, it is sort of a community centre, where Valmiki converts to Christianity are among regular visitors.

The day 24 December 2013, when I was roaming around in the area, was one of celebration for the Lahori Hindus; they had finally been handed possession of 14,200 square feet of land for a crematorium at Babu Sabu Chowk. The transfer followed an August 2013 Supreme Court order for the allotment. Lahore’s Hindus had moved the top court seeking the immediate transfer of the land for last rites. The handover had been hanging fire since the government was forced to allocate the land in 2006 following a sixty-two-year-old Hindu woman’s burial at a Muslim graveyard…

The Krishna temple on Ravi Road, over 3 km north of Valmiki temple, is the other functional Hindu place of worship in Lahore. The temples feature regularly on Pakistani TV channels… They invariably have sound bites of saffron-kurta-pyjama-clad priest Bhagat Lal, a balding man in his sixties. Lal has been the mainstay of Hindu religiosity in Lahore for decades.

The Krishna temple was the scene of an arsonist attack hours after foot soldiers of India’s current ruling party demolished the Babri Masjid hundreds of kilometres away in 1992. The lives of Lahori Hindus were suddenly turned upside down for no fault of theirs just when they had begun picking up the pieces decades after the Partition upheavals. The temple, however, was up and running within six months thanks to Lal’s resilience. He reopened the temple and restarted pujas twice daily with the help of government compensation. The fraught India–Pakistan ties took an unexpected turn for the better a decade later… A group of Indian pilgrims to Katas Raj temples in northern Pakistan reinstalled Krishna, Radha and Hanuman idols at the temple for the first time since the Partition in February 2007…

The reinstallation overlapped with the brief India–Pakistan détente from 2003 to 2008. The restoration of Katas Raj temples remains an important legacy of the thaw. The choice of Hindu nationalist and former Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani for inaugurating the restoration project in 2005 showed Pakistan’s willingness to move beyond his legacy. Advani led the campaign for the construction of a temple dedicated to Lord Ram in place of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in the 1990s. The campaign led to the demolition of the ancient mosque in 1992 and provoked anti-Muslim violence across India…

In his book India after Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha writes: ‘Hindu mobs attacked Muslim localities, and — in a manner reminiscent of the grisly Partition massacres — stopped trains to pull out and kill those who were recognizably Muslim.’ The demolition also triggered violence against Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan in a throwback to the late 1940s bloodbath that ripped the subcontinent and made the Partition inevitable. Shrines like Katas Raj temples fell into disrepair as the bloodbath forced the virtual flight of Hindus from West Punjab in 1947. The first religious service at the temples since the Partition in 2006 turned the page a year after Advani’s visit to Pakistan for the inauguration of its conservation project… But the typical one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine in India–Pakistan ties followed.

Mata Hinglaj temple is perhaps Pakistan’s most important Hindu shrine dedicated to the Kshatriya caste’s deity in the remote mountains of Baluchistan. It is one of the fifty-one Shakti Peeths associated with ‘indescribable spiritual power’ believed to have been created at places where body parts of Shiva’s consort, Sati, had fallen. They are said to have been created after Shiva took her corpse around following her self-immolation in Daksh’s court. Hinglaj has an important place in Hinduism since Sati’s head is said to have fallen there. It is among the most important syncretic shrines dotting the subcontinent. Muslims revere the shrine too; they call it Nani Pir.

Pilgrimage to Hinglaj from India abruptly ended after the Partition, accounts of which date back to the fourth century. The thaw in India–Pakistan ties facilitated a rare visit of a group of Indian pilgrims in February 2006…

Pakistani Hindus want more Hindu pilgrimage sites in their country to flourish like those of the Sikhs. They hope the two countries will encourage Hindu religious tourism. It would create more stakes in peace and benefit local Hindus… Many Indian pilgrims to Katas and Nankana Sahib visit Anarkali and are often surprised to see the Hindu presence in Lahore, where restoration of abandoned Jain temples could attract rich Jain pilgrims. Digambar Mandir, located a kilometre south of the Valmiki temple, is one of at least six abandoned Jain temples in Lahore. They stand as a reminder of Jain pre-eminence across the subcontinent before the emergence of Buddhism and Hinduism. Swetambar and Digambar Jain temples are located next to each other in Lahore’s Mohallah Bhabrian. As many Jain temples are situated on tony Ferozpur Road. Footprints said to be that of Jainism founder Rishabha’s in stone at Lahore’s Guru Mangat Jain temple are believed to be the region’s oldest religious relics. A site of great religious tourism potential remains untapped and hostage to India–Pakistan tensions and a lack of vision…


The Other Side of The Divide attempts to present a contemporary portrait of Pakistan-where prohibition remains only on paper and one of the biggest taxpayers is a Parsee-owned brewery-as a complicated and conflicted country suspended between tradition and modernity.

 

An Indian woman in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been under siege for decades and while ‘it is easy to forget that Kabul existed 3000 years ago’, Taran N. Khan renders a vivid account of her travel tales through Kabul in her latest book – Shadow City.

Travel with her through Kabul:

Taran’s first encounter in the land of Pashtuns reminds her that she isn’t far from home

She recollects the time when an immigration officer exclaimed,

‘”Khan?” … “Yes,” I replied, eager to tell my story. “My ancestors were from here.” “Then what are you doing there?” he demanded in good Urdu, amused by my excitement. He stamped the page with a flourish. “Welcome back.”‘

 

While walking through the city, she uncovers the wonders of Kabul

‘from the Shahr-e-Kohna, or the old city, to the Shahr-e-Nau, or new suburbs’. Step by step she drifts through narrow lanes, relaying historical records, spotting European influences on architecture, capturing the cryptic similarities between the city she was born in – Aligarh, and the city believed to be connected by ‘a bridge (pul) made of straw (kah)’ – Kabul.

 

Taran comes out of her comfort zone

Shadow City highlights the conservative Muslim culture Taran witnessed while growing up in Aligarh. Being constantly confined to her room, she developed an interest in reading books. She remarks that,

‘… the world outside my door was as distant as a faraway continent. I ventured into it like a tourist. … Books were thus my private continent, providing both excitement and safety.’ But on one of her visits when she forgets to pack her books, she soon manages to find a way to read the city of Kabul, venturing through the lanes to find hidden charms like the ‘bookshop (that) has remained open through each of Kabul’s shifting eras: Communist, Mujahideen, Taliban, ISAF.’ 

 

Taran feels nostalgic whenever she visits Kabul

Each of her visits reminded her of the stories illustrated by Baba, who was well versed in Persian, uncovering myths like –

‘… He knew that the celebrated Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi had been born in Balkh, in northern Afghanistan, rather than Turkey, as I had assumed (which was why in Kabul I often heard him referred to as Maulana Jalauddin Balkhi).’ 

 

She finds similarities between the culture in Kabul and Aligarh

She delves deeper into the interiors of the city and finds herself getting nostalgic at the sight of finding ‘a functioning cinema in Kabul.’ Watching a film meant evading the confines of a house that women were mostly restricted to in Aligarh. It symbolized freedom and modernity for Taran, even if it meant scurrying out at night with other girls and aunts. She recalls that in Kabul, as in Aligarh,

‘The cinema was so exclusive, … that people were not allowed to enter in traditional Afghan clothes. … From these stories, I learned that in Kabul, like in Aligarh, cinema was an escape. It was also a place of aspiration, a window to a world that was still far away, still full of wonders.’

Taran realizes the nuances of love 

We have seen many a movies relaying emotion of ‘arranged love’. The ties of matrimony are arranged in a distinctly similar manner in most of the South Asian region. As Taran listened to Saleem’s love tales, she wondered that,

‘The fact that the couple had never spoken to each other, the intense scrutiny to nuanced signs— we were accustomed to this. That was how love played out, in Kabul as in Aligarh.’

Taran’s fascinating exploration will inspire you to visit Kabul

As Taran embarks on the journey to explore the fascinating city, nervously repeating

‘”Red stones mean danger,” … “White stones mean safety”’, she paints a beguiling picture of the city that demands a visit.


Discover Kabul through author’s layered lens in her latest book Shadow City.

An Excerpt from ‘Shadow City’

When Taran N. Khan first arrived in Kabul in the spring of 2006-five years after the Taliban government was overthrown-she found a city both familiar and unknown. Shadow City is an account of Khan’s expeditions around the city of Kabul, a personal and meditative portrait of a city we know primarily in terms of conflict.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

—-

In the bluster and immensity of war—the one that began in 2001 and the ones before it—it is easy to forget that Kabul existed 3000 years ago. Years after I arrived, I read a description of the city that seemed to ring true. ‘Like some people, certain cities suffer from amnesia,’ it said. ‘Not that they have no past. Rather, this past, no matter how glorious it may have been, will have left so few reminders, so few architectural vestiges, so few visible traces, that it remains something obscure, if not completely invisible.’ In this ‘amnesiac city’, I found that walking offered a way to exhume history—a kind of bipedal archaeology—as well as an excavation of the present…

Exploring Kabul, I found, required the same principles that help in the reading of mystical Persian poetry, in the relationship between the zahir, or the overt, and the batin, the hidden or implied. This works on the tacit understanding that what is being said is an allegory for what is meant or intended. To talk of the moon, for instance, is to talk of the beloved; to talk of clouds across the moon is to talk of the pain of separated lovers; to talk of walls is to speak of exile. Such wandering leads through circuitous routes to wide vistas of understanding. Like walking through a small gate into a large garden. It is also a useful reminder that in this city, what is seen is often simply one aspect of the truth. What lies behind—the shadow city—is where layers are revealed…

Kabul is an island, or so it appears to the outsider standing on one of its nondescript, potholed streets. It deceives you with its high walls streaked with brown mud, punctuated by steel-topped gates. It hides behind the fine mist of dust that hangs over its streets and homes, so that the city appears as though from the other side of a soft curtain. Like a mirage, a place that is both near and far away…

A walk through the history of Kabul would begin where the city itself began—a settlement by a river, at the heart of which is a citadel. Inside the walls of this Bala Hissar, or High Fortress, was a city in itself, with barracks, homes and bazaars. Over time Kabul expanded along the southern bank of the river that flows between the Koh-e-Sher Darwaza and the Koh-e-Asmai. The remains of Kabul’s thick wall radiate over the sprawl of the Sher Darwaza; they are said to date back as far as the fifth century…

Kabul was captured by the Tajik rebel leader Habibullah Kalakani, who was derisively called Bacha-e-Saqao (son of the water carrier) because of his humble roots.16 Kalakani’s reign lasted only nine months. By October 1929, Amanullah’s cousin Nadir Khan had managed to retake Kabul. He was declared king and attempted to introduce more measured reforms. But he also met a bloody end and was assassinated while attending the graduation ceremony of a high school in Kabul. His son Zahir Shah took the throne in 1933. He was to be the last king of Afghanistan, ruling for forty years.

Through these political changes, Kabul continued to spread further on the north bank of the river, with the suburb of Shahr-e- Nau laid out in the 1930s. Its orderly grids of houses, surrounded by gardens and high walls, contrasted with the congested lanes of the Shahr-e-Kohna. Embassies and foreign missions of the nations that were establishing relations with Afghanistan through the 1940s were set up here, beside the residences of Kabul’s upper and middle classes.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, the capital grew steadily, due in part to migration by rural families from the provinces. Walking through its streets, it would have been possible to see houses and shops expanding the city’s edges, spreading to both sides of the Kohe-Asmai, climbing over the slopes of its hills. By the early 1970s, Kabul was the mostly peaceful capital of a small country, home to around half a million people. And then everything changed.


Part reportage and part reflection, Shadow City is an elegiac prose map of Kabul’s hidden spaces-and the cities that we carry within us.

What Kind of a Traveller are You?

Don’t you agree that travellers are basically of a diverse breed?  For some, it can be the destination of self-discovery, while for others travelling to the same destination is like broadening their cultural horizons or going on a culinary quest.

Regardless of the type of traveller you are, journeying to any new destination is a form of rejuvenation and re-inventing in the times of rapid urbanisation, rising inflation, perpetually stress, that we all are sucked into.

From venturing into the deserts of Iran and Uzbekistan, to going up the Annapurna and the Pamirs, Sudha Mahalingam reveals what happens when you make a habit of encountering the unexpected in her book The Travel Gods Must be Crazy!

Below is a very accurate quiz of different traveller categories that we all fall into! Take this quiz to find out your tribe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read The Travel Gods Must Be Crazy before planning your next trip!

Five Realistic Things to Keep in Mind before you Embark on a Trip!

A self-confessed travel junkie, Sudha Mahalingam’s passion for travel has only gotten worse over time. It continues to singe and sear and is now imbued with a sense of urgency. She believes that not only is there so much to see and do while she is not getting any younger, the hydra headed monster called tourism is literally carpet-bombing every square inch of our cowering planet—threatening to reduce her to being a tourist rather than a traveller.

In her book, she provides many travel precautions and tips for the uninitiated in her own humorous, tongue-in-cheek way. Here are a few!

 Not all new things you try out when travelling are fun. But what the heck!

“Back home, my family refuses to believe I actually skydived at age sixty-six. Thankfully, Alois remembered to send me the GoPro pics. I have even blown up one of these into a poster and stuck it prominently above the dining table to shut them up. But I know I will not skydive again.
It is just not thrilling enough.”

 

 The time when I regretted not paying much attention to my geography lessons in school.

“This being 2007, Schengen was still an evolving agreement. I hadn’t the foggiest idea as to which countries were part of the European Union, leave alone the subset Schengen. Does Slovakia qualify to be a member of this august agreement? Which countries count as Eastern Europe? Geography had never been my strength, what with all those indecipherable maps and rainfall patterns. I had a vague idea that some countries were already in, while others were waiting to be admitted—whoever paid any attention to these irrelevant bits of information on the international pages of newspapers anyway? Would the adjoining Schengen country be Austria? Or was it Poland?”

 

‘Exotic’ has other meanings; sometimes it means overpriced and unoccupied.

“When my friend R and I land in Seville late one evening, what we find is a dreary town with uninspiring concrete blocks. The romantic-sounding Guadalquivir is nothing but a foul ditch winding its way through the town’s congested streets. Our little boutique hotel downtown is neither boutique nor a hotel. It is a glorified homestay, grossly overpriced, over-ornate and under-occupied. No, make it unoccupied. We are the only guests here.”

 

Your journey is never complete without an episode of panic, courtesy the airport immigration and security officials.

“Immigration and security done, we are ambling to our boarding gate when I hear my son’s name mangled beyond recognition on the PA system. We hurry back to the assigned counter, where, without a word, Kapil, all of seventeen is whisked away beyond immigration back into Jordan while I am left standing on this side of the gate, in utter panic. Minutes tick away and there’s still no sign of him. I wring my hands in anxiety, but the woman behind the counter is inscrutable. The security guards look too fierce for me to make a dash back into Jordan.”

Plans always go wrong when travelling. If they do not; know that something is not right.

“Maximilian Alexandrovich—I would learn his name later—the grizzly Russian driver was obviously not expecting any passengers this evening. He stares at me blankly. From the fumes inside the cab, I presume he is in a vodka-induced daze. I wonder if ex-Soviet taxi drivers consider passengers an occasional interruption to their daily schedule of lazing around in their cabs. I also wonder whether it is wise to hire his taxi, but unfortunately, there is no other outside Bishkek airport tonight. I had not planned it this way. I was to arrive in Bishkek by noon, take a cab directly to Lake Issyk-Kul six hours away . . . But my plans went awry when the flight from Tashkent to Bishkek was delayed by six hours. Now I have no hotel bookings, speak no Russian and have to survive by my wits in this strange city.”


Apart from providing various pearls of wisdom, through The Travel Gods Must Be Crazy, Sudha invites readers on an unexpected and altogether memorable tour around the world!

Meet the author of ‘The Travel Gods Must Be Crazy’, Sudha Mahalingam!

Dreaming of glorious sunrises and architectural marvels in exotic places, Sudha Mahalingam often landed up in situations that were uproariously bizarre or downright dangerous.  Punctuating her droll stories with breathtaking descriptions and stunning photographs, in her book, The Travel Gods Must Be Crazy, Sudha invites readers on an unexpected and altogether memorable tour around the world!

Get to know more about the author of this exciting travelogue, Sudha Mahalingam!

 Sudha Mahalingam has travelled to 200 places in 65 countries over 25 years.

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Sudha is a self-confessed middle-aged, middle-class mother of two from a conservative Tambrahm background who began travelling solo, long before solo travel became fashionable among Indian women.

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Sudha Mahalingam has two sons, one of whom has been a reluctant travel companion on some of  her trips.
  ∼
Sudha is a travel fiend masquerading as an energy professional and has been specializing in India’s energy security for over two decades.
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Sudha’s perceived expertise on energy matters even bestowed her with membership of the prestigious National Security Advisory Board, ostensibly to advise the Indian prime minister on energy-related issues.
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Virtually always on a shoestring budget, rushed for time, and with the destination determined by conference invites, Sudha’s trips are often eclectic and eccentric.
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Sudha chooses her conferences with care, based on the locations in which that are held. She dislikes package tours and family trips.

 


Read Sudha Mahalingam’s The Travel Gods Must Be Crazy for a funny yet realistic take on travel!

6 Things you didn’t know about Delhi

Delhi Darshan: The History and Monuments of India’s Capital by Giles Tillotson provides a fascinating account of Delhi’s built heritage, from the traces of the earliest settlements at Indraprastha, through the grand legacies of the Delhi Sultans and the great Mughals to the ordered symmetries of Lutyens’ Delhi and the towering skyscrapers of Gurgaon.

We learn some interesting facts about the capital from this book. Here are 6 things you didn’t know about Delhi: 

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What’s in a name? The origin of the name is a point of contention. 

“Some historians interpret it to mean ‘threshold’, marking it as the point of entry into India for conquerors from the other side of the Hindu Kush.”

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Is there a link between Delhi and the Pandavas?

“There is, to begin with, a strong and long-standing tradition that associates Delhi with Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas, heroes of the national epic, the Mahabharata.”

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In 1296, Alauddin Khalji helped expand and create the second city of Delhi 

Early in his reign he moved his base to his army camp, situated at Siri, outside the city to the north-east. He had a protective stone wall erected around it, thus creating what has come to be called the second city of Delhi…Alauddin’s new city was serviced by a vast stone reservoir, the Hauz Khas, which was built outside its walls, to the west.”

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Alauddin Khalji’s son and successor was very different from his father 

“Some accounts suggest that he(Alauddin’s son) liked to amuse his friends by dressing up and performing as a dancing girl. His favourite companion was a Hindu convert who went by the name of Khusrau Khan, by whom he was eventually murdered.”

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Wine lovers in Delhi couldn’t get their hands on the drink during Muhammad bin Tughluq’s reign 

“He(Muhammad bin Tughluq) abjured wine so strictly that it was simply not possible to buy it in Delhi during his reign.”

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Lodhi Garden- the gateway? 


“A learned argument has long festered over the most central and conspicuous of the park’s(Lodhi Gardens) buildings, known as the Bara Gumbad. The question is whether it was originally intended as a tomb or as a gateway.”


Delhi Darshan: The History and Monuments of India’s Capital is filled with quirky details and original insights, as well as a section on important monuments. The book is AVAILABLE NOW!

7 places that should be a part of your Delhi Darshan

Filled with quirky details and original insights, as well as a section on important monuments, Delhi Darshan by Giles Tillotson is a lively and informed account of the many fascinating twists and turns in the national capital’s built history and an original reflection on the many transformations of its urban landscape.

Here’s a list of 7 places Tillotson suggests you should visit in Delhi:

 

  1. Shahjahanabad: Red Fort and Jami Masjid

    “The core of the old city—known as Delhi 6 after its postal district number—is depicted in Bollywood movies as some quaint netherworld in which lovable rogues lead lives of misadventure, but where the built environment somehow imbues everything with a sense of reality and integrity.”

  2. Humayun’s Tomb and Lodi Road

    “The Sayyid and Lodi period tombs of the Lodi Gardens are among the finest and best preserved pre-Mughal buildings in Delhi. And the pleasure of visiting them is enhanced by the garden setting even if its form is unhistorical…”

  3. The Qutb Minar and Mehrauli

    ” Somewhat reminiscent of the Lodi Gardens…this( Mehrauli Archaeological Park) area is a mixture of gardens, orchards, nurseries and woodland, dotted with historic monuments, including the Jamali-Kamali mosque and tomb and the tomb of Quli Khan”

  4. Rajpath and Janpath

    “Visitors are given a short tour (of the official residence of the President of India). This is well worth doing to see the details of the stone carving, and the grand apartments such as the Durbar Hall and the Ballroom.The main staircase is contained in an open courtyard, topped by a coving that makes the sky look like a brilliant blue ceiling…”

  5. Kashmiri Gate and Beyond

    “If you proceed onto the ridge, you can visit the Mutiny Memorial, a Gothic spire erected in 1863 with a plaque commemorating those who fell on the British side, and a postscript, added in 1972, honouring the heroism of their adversaries.”

  6. Rajghat to the Lotus Temple

    “When kings or saints of the past were cremated a domed pavilion was raised to mark the spot, and this latter-day saint(Mahatma Gandhi) too has a memorial on his cremation ground, a simple and restrained affair without flourish or ornament, in keeping with his lifestyle. Designed by the architect Vanu G. Bhuta, it consists of a black marble platform surrounded by low stone walls.”

  7. Hauz Khas to Tughluqabad

    “The path around the lake and the gardens beyond it are a great place for a morning or evening stroll. So too are the woods on the far side of the deer park (reached by turning right inside its entry gate) which are dotted with tombs of the Lodi era, including a stately one known as Bagh-i-Alam.”


Delhi Darshan provides a fascinating account of Delhi’s built heritage, from the traces of the earliest settlements at Indraprastha, through the grand legacies of the Delhi Sultans and the great Mughals to the ordered symmetries of Lutyens’ Delhi and the towering skyscrapers of Gurgaon.