Some books about India and Nepal
The following collection of books and remarks is rather haphazard: it's simply a cross-section of those we have read (or used). However, they're by no means the only ones (or perhaps even the best ones) in their respective fields.
This is one of the two great epics of India and a cultural and religious cornerstone. Ramayana translates loosely as “Rama's Journey”; it tells the story of King Rama (an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu) and his wife Sita, who is abducted by Ravana, king of Sri Lanka. After many travails, she is found and rescued by Rama and his friends, among whom we find Lakshmana, his brother, and Hanuman, a valiant monkey general with his own army of monkeys. The original consists of 24,000 verses; fortunately, there are quite a few modern prose editions (the one we have is based on a BBC TV series and graced by many colourful paintings like this one). Incidentally, the Ramayana is also well-known and well-loved in Nepal and many south-east Asian countries, like Thailand (Royal palaces there are often adorned with hundreds of frescoes about Rama and his exploits) and Cambodia (Angkor Wat is home to some incredible Ramayana-based bas reliefs).
- E.M. Foster: A Passage To India — This is about a British woman, Adela Quested, falsely accusing an Indian doctor, Dr Aziz, of attempted rape. During the trial, Adela realises her error and withdraws her claim. The novel succeeds in depicting the diverse relationships between Indian natives and the British during the Raj, around 1920.
- Gregory David Roberts: Shantaram — A brick of a book. The fast-paced, supposedly true story of an Australian drug addict who fled from prison, flew to Mumbai, and started a new life there. Among other things, he was a social worker and medic in a slum, a drug dealer, and a mercenary. The tale is interesting, always evokes a strong sense of locale, and has some definite highlights (Roberts' description of life and survival in an Indian prison is utterly gripping). However, he way too often falls back to some of the most overblown purple prose I've ever encountered (indeed, his outbursts are sometimes almost embarrassing to read).
- Salman Rushdie: Midnight's Children — A complex novel about India after independence, written in the Rushdie flavour of magical realism. The hero is born at midnight 15 August 1945, literally at the stroke of independence, and discovers as a child that all kids born in India during the very first hour of independence have special powers. He, with his telepathic abilities, creates a “network” of some of these children and the book follows their lives and migrations until the Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. Well-written and, despite some lengths, a compulsive read.
- Paul Scott: The Raj Quartett — This four-volume series (another definite brick) convincingly deals with the tumultuous last years of the Raj, from 1942 to 1947 (it has also been dramatised for TV and radio). The main story line follows a number of British and Indian characters through a (this time actually committed) rape of a British woman and its aftermath. Like the Forster novel, the four books vividly show how the two cultures, in both positive and negative ways, interact and relate. A real treat, though the first part starts a bit slowly.
- William Dalrymple: White Mughals — Dalrymple is rather good with Indian history (his “City of Djinns” is another very good read). He knows how to produce the perfect blend of erudition, action and sheer drama. This book recounts the passionate love story between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, British Resident in Hyderabad, and Kahir un-Nissa, the great-niece of the Hyderabad Prime Minister and a descendant of the Prophet. It is filled with passion, intrigue, violence, harems and religious and family disputes. At times, it reads more like a novel than a work of non-fiction. Highly recommended.
- Geoffrey Moorhouse: India Britannica — A detailed and mostly impartial look at British India from the very first years of the East India Company up till independence. Lots of interesting details, maps, paintings, photos etc. Nice to read and nice to skim over.
- Antony Wild: The East India Company — Similar to the Moorhouse book in depth and presentation (this is almost a coffee table book), the book concentrates on the history of the East India Company. Again, filled with many fascinating details and images.
Also recommended are biographies about Gandhi (for instance his own “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”, perhaps complemented by a more modern analysis of this complex character), Jawaharlal Nehru (his autobiography and also “The Discovery of India” are very readable) and of course Indira Gandhi (I recommend “Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi”, by Katherine Frank).
Early Nepal Treks
- David Snellgrove: Himalayan Pilgrimage — A real classic from 1961. The book is, in Snellgrove's own words, “a study of Tibetan religion by a traveller through Western Nepal”. Anyone doing a high-altitude trek in Nepal will greatly benefit from reading this book: there are still remains of many of the things he so lovingly describes and as to those bits which have disappeared since 1961, a lot of them come back to life in Snellgrove's book.
- H.W. Tilman: Nepal Himalaya — Another classic, from 1952. Tilman describes a trek through 1950s Nepal. Not as concerned with cultural details as the Snellgrove book, but loads of hands-on talk about his actual trek and route, the scenery and the people he and his party met. Very good introduction to trekking in Nepal as it used to be (and still could be had in the less-touristed regions of the country).
- Lonely Planet India (14th ed) — We have travelled twice to India, in 2003/4 and 2008/9, with earlier editions of this LP guide. LP guides are rarely brilliant for background information and the descriptions of sights but their maps and care of practical details are unsurpassed. Sadly, this is not any more true of the “new breed” editions from LP for which this 14th edition is an example. For independent budget travellers, this edition is a huge step back. The maps are a lot more colourful but tinier and much harder to read. The practical details are presented in a haphazard and non-functional way. Admittedly, it all looks very nice and dandy in the bookshop but it clearly won't do on the ground.
- Footprint India (18th ed) — We've always liked the Footprint guide book series and their India guide has been with us since our first trip there. This is slightly weaker than the old-style LPs on practical details but much, much stronger on background and site descriptions. Recommended.
$updated from: Blog.htxt Mon 03 May 2021 16:08:30 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$