Travelling expectations and experiences of travel authors

  • Author and critic William Dalrymple termed travelogues 'the oldest form of literature.'
  • Travel can mean anything from renewal to changing beliefs to an erotic sensation.

Humans may essentially be domesticated beings but even then travelling is an essential and inescapable part of their life, which is itself a journey across time and space. And given the wide variations of the human experience, travel can mean anything from renewal to changing beliefs to even an erotic sensation.

Six international authors with experience of traversing across towering mountains, torrid deserts and the tantalising landscape of memory share their unique expectations and sense of fulfilment from this activity, which travel author and critic William Dalrymple termed 'the oldest form of literature.'

Australian writer and translator Robert Dessaix, whose 'Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev' is a self-exploratory travelogue cum biography of the notable Russian writer, felt travel was 'about going home', being not about only wandering about or crossing deserts on a camel, but about a going home ritual.

Citing his journey to Rohtang Pass where he felt 'renewed and reformed', he also held travel was 'at some level an erotic experience', while to travel well, "one must go beyond enemy lines, discover one's own self as extraordinary, and be left hungry for more."

Palestinian lawyer, activist and writer Raja Shehadeh, who has written several evocative books about walking and travelling in his occupied-cum-severely-circumscribed homeland, which he termed 'a land of travellers' imagination', equated his experiences with travel to changing beliefs and landscapes.

In his book 'Palestinian Walks', he describes seven long walks he took over a period of 27 years, which not only revealed changing regions and life, but also religious and political beliefs. However, he rued that there was now a situation where tension between the Palestinian administration and the Israeli government even robbed him of the simple pleasure of even being able to take a walk.

Representing women travellers, writer and journalist Bee Rowlatt said that she mainly took to travel 'to escape from domesticity and expectation' but it also held 'moments of magic' for her. Her 'In Search for Mary' is a travelogue tracing the steps of late 18th century English writer and 'the mother of feminism' Mary Wollstonecraft, of 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' (1792), to try to ascertain what inspired her.

For veteran traveller and travel writer Hugh Thomson, travel writing has a purpose loftier than mere self-exploration. And it sometimes can even lead to discovery of real reasons for government action, says Thomson, who in his 'Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Last Sanctuary', detailing his expeditions to a usually inaccessible part of the Himalayas on the Indian-China border, also reveals why the Indian government kept the country's second-highest peak closed to travellers - a nuclear-powering sensing device to monitor Chinese military tests abandoned there since 1962 after attempts to place it at the peak failed.

British essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, who has happened to visit some unexpected places like Paraguay and Iceland, decried some recent travel fads, such as bucket lists, which he termed 'a folly'.

Iyer, whose works include 'Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World', 'Tropical Classical: Essays From Several Directions' and 'The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home', said he could understand their appeal in giving a 'clarifying sense of direction' but also 'build expectations', which contradict the purpose of travelling.

"Bucket lists prevent our sense of possibility from expanding and make us treat places and experiences as collectibles," he said.

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