Travel Diaries: Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, written in Japanese by Matsuo Basho and translated by Sam Hamill, is published by Shambala Classics. Matsuo Basho is famous for reinventing the haiku and imbuing it with true qualities of simplicity and natural beauty. This book is a beautiful haibun that chronicles Basho’s travels to the northern parts of Japan in late 17th century. Haibun is a form of writing that combines haiku and prose. Essentially, Narrow Road to the Interior or Oku no Hosomichi is a travelogue wherein Basho beautifully pens down his thoughts and journeys using both prose and haiku. The haikus often remark on particular incidents or scenes that Basho found memorable.

Read more about haibun here.


The travelogue begins with these inviting lines,

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

Such an alluring beginning immediately pulls the reader in and reflect on the idea of journey itself.

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Travel Diaries: Circle of Karma

The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden is the first novel written by a woman in Bhutan. Using simple language and straightforward plot line, the story weaves around Tsomo and her literal and metaphorical journey from her childhood to her old age.

Set in the mid-20th century Bhutan, The Circle of Karma‘s protagonist is Tsomo, who lives in Tang valley in Bumthang (one of the districts of Bhutan), is burdened with household chores and envious of her brothers getting a religious education from her scholarly father, who was a gomchen (a religious scholar/monk).

She deeply loves and respects her mother. She fears her father. She wants to learn to read and write but being a girl, she is not allowed to do so.


Her observant nature though allows us a glimpse into several cultural aspects around her such as the nature of society and its bias towards women or the rituals that happen around her in her society.

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Within the Realm of Happiness

Dasho Kinley Dorji’s collection of 13 short stories about different aspects of Bhutan is aptly titled, Within the Realm of Happiness.


The thirteen stories are a mix of fiction and creative non fiction that take a leaf out of his life as well as the different shades of his country.

It begins with a wonderfully innocent story, Angay, about a 10 year old who is intrigued by her grandmother’s (Angay in Dzongkha) mousetrap and what she does with the mouse when finally caught.

This is followed by an equally warm story, Mi-mi’s Surprise, about a father-son relation and the skills the father passes on to his son, Dorji, along with a surprise gift.

Two Men, Two Worlds is a relevant story about the division that modernisation created and is continuing to create among the Bhutanese people.

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Travel Diaries: Solitaire Mystery

Who else wants to take a trip all the way from Norway to Greece to search for their long lost mother?

Well, the father son duo of Jostein Gaardner’s novel, The Solitaire Mystery, sure did that.

Hans Thomas and his father come across their mother’s photo on a magazine cover and they decide to (after a lucky draw win) take a car ride across Europe to bring back their mother who had left several years ago to search for her own self.


But that is not where the story starts.

It starts a long time ago with Frode’s playing cards when he got shipwrecked onto a magical island in the middle of nowhere where he made his own characters come out from his own imagination.

Confused much?

Let’s take a step back.

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Travel Diaries: Buttertea at Sunrise

Come take a beautiful hike with Britta up the Kori La pass in Mongar, in the central east district of a tiny country, Bhutan, sandwiched between two giants, India and China!!

When Britta had decided to volunteer in Bhutan way back in 1997, she had no clue what she was signing up for! But her stint as a physiotherapist in a village hospital in Mongar gave her beautiful insights and lovely memories of a place about which not much is written about. Perhaps, that is how Buttertea at Sunrise was born!


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Travel Diaries: The Ships

In the Honduran novel, The Ships by the Honduran author, Roberto Quesado, the protagonist, Lopez Guillermo is proud to be working on the pineapple plantation for the Standard Fruit Company despite being a city person. That is because there are not many jobs that pay well in the city.


What he would like to do is write but he is not sure if that too will bring in the money. However, that does not stop him from always thinking about how to write about certain things that are happening around him such as when he visits the town of El Porvenir, he thinks about how to write about that town where one is greeted by headless hands. He is always thinking about how to make his writing interesting and unique even though we do not really see him writing.

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Travel Diaries!

The Book Cafe is launching a brand new series titled, Travel Diaries!

Does that mean we are doing on adventurous sojourns?

Only the bookish kinds!

We all know how through books we can vicariously travel, am I right?

So this series aims to showcase those books that take you to places that you have never been to perhaps; to see places from the eyes of different travelers be they teenagers, students, backpackers, expats or through historical accounts!

Here is the link to the all the posts categorised in this section!

Welcome aboard!

Mountain Echoes: Literary Festival in Thimphu, Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest Monastery located in Paro, Bhutan is the most well known tourist site in country.

Little does the rest of the world know that Bhutan also holds an international literary festival every August called Mountain Echoes!

In 2018, the dates for the festival are from 22nd to 25th August.

Find the Programme Schedule for Mountain Echoes, here!

Last year in 2017, the festival had Ruskin Bond as one of its speakers and I was thrilled to not only get to hear him and see him but to get his autograph on not one but two books, since he was kind enough, even at his age, to give us all autographs!

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Railway Stories

Indian Railways are an important part of our country’s landscape, a necessity that moves life, that helps travelling. Yet, we hardly have many stories on them or about them or them figuring prominently in a novel/story. Most kids know about the famous, ‘Railway Children,’ by Edith Nesbit but Indian railway stories are hard to come by.

Taken from

I recently came across, a wonderful collection of short stories about Indian railways titled, ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories,’ edited by Ruskin Bond. I was delighted to read it as trains are an everyday part of my life.

The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories,’ is divided into two sections:

I) Stories Before Independence

II) Stories after Independence.

The book is fabulous from start to the end. Even the short poem,’ A Traveller’s Tale’ by A.G. Shirreff (1917) right at the beginning as well as the beautiful introduction written by Ruskin Bond helps to draw the reader into the right mood so she/he can plunge into the depths of each carefully chosen short story.

Through the 18 stories, we can sense the transition of the Indian railways from during the British period to after India’s independence. Some of the stories are extracts like R. K . Laxman’s ‘Railway Reverie’ or Khushwant Singh’s ‘Mano Majra Station.’ Some are stand alone stories. Nonetheless, all of them are equally mesmerising and enjoyable and some even have a slight mysterious element. Some brilliantly capture the railway’s ubiquitous presence and charm and its importance.

I will refrain from elaborating on all the 18 stories mostly because it will be too tedious and a pain to all reading the review. But I do want to mention that my favourites are ‘Cherry Choo-Choo’ by Victor Banerjee and ‘Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment’ by Satyajit Ray. The former is a nostalgic story of a defunct train called locally as ‘Cherry Choo Choo’ which was an admired and much loved train during its lifetime. The latter story is a brilliant story of a unique coincidence occurring in a train carriage. There are a few stories that are very technical and only those who are knowledgeable about railway jargon may understand  it better. There are few stories, because they are written in the pre-independence era, have certain racial aspects which are disconcerting yet if one overlooks that, then the story turns to a good one.

All in all, this collection is a must read. Even though it does not talk of local trains of Mumbai, it reminds us of how railways helped this mighty nation to develop and how trains have a special place in our hearts and the collection of the short stories helps to ignite that love in our heart’s special for trains. The book is a great read and for best results, it is best to read it while travelling in a train. It just helps to add to the atmosphere, to the setting and the mood of each story.

Happy journey and happy reading!

Lonely Planet…not so lonely anymore…….

OK, so I have read only two Lonely Planet Indian editions till now and it doesn’t put me in a position to pass remarks on these magazines but I can’t stop myself. I am itching to write a review on the newest travel magazines to hit India even though I have read only two out of a total of 8 editions. So you can call me whatever you like but you can’t stop me from scratching my itch away and so I will blissfully proceed to write this review.

Firstly, I have read the May and the September issue of the Lonely Planet India magazines. And they were worthy of the money. Every bit of it.This of course means that the review will by and large be a positive one! I would suggest to everyone to buy theses magazines and even get a subscription for it! (You also get some gifts too).

Secondly, both the issues were well organized. From the cover itself the reader could understand the main feature and some other articles elaborated in the magazines. Sometimes some travel magazines can bombard you with too much information of what’s inside. Lonely Planet does none of that. It has a simple cover with the basic information and a stunning picture in the background. The index further gives you a concise info on what’s inside.

Thirdly, the writing of the articles is exceptional! They don’t just tell the reader that this is a tourist spot, one should see this and that, and stay at this hotel and that hotel. They beautifully convey the experience of traveling. Once you start reading, you get drawn into this magical, marvelous, splendid world that the Lonely Planet writers put together for you. It is by far a great way for vicarious traveling. The reader gets transported to the place that they are reading about; such is the power of their writing. It is a wonderful feeling when one can imagine these myriad places in front of ones eyes as one is reading about them. It is much better than bland tourist books that do not allow one to experience the pleasure of imagination.

Since these are sold in India, they have a mixture of Indian and foreign places to go to. The magazine will have a section called ‘5 Easy Trips’ that usually deal with Indian places and gives a brief yet vivid summary of a particular place with info on places to stay, places to eat, when to go, what to pack etc. Then there will be the features which will have longish articles giving a broad, concise, remarkable description of various places.They also give out info on budget,mid-range and luxury hotels, shopping destinations and places to visit along with the usual, essential info. Thus these articles cater to all categories of travelers. Then in the end there is also an aspect which I liked best mostly because of its uniqueness. This section is called the ‘Mini Guides’ which as the name suggests presents quick, to the point, precise info of great places. What’s more, the reader can actually pull them out and fold them and keep them neatly for future use! They are therefore also called the tear-out or pull out guides. I think that this part is really cool. In this way, the Lonely Planet articles help the readers in planning their trips to a particular place but if one doesn’t intend to go there anytime soon, just  reading them will be enough to take the reader a thousand miles away without the hassles of actually planning a trip!

The other aspects such as the editorial, letters to the editor, key to the magazine, travel news, travel queries, travel book reviews, articles by guest writers also are an integral part of the Lonely Planet magazine. All in all, the magazine has a wide variety of articles that are thoroughly researched and well written. The theme, the general ambiance of the magazine is comprehensible and noticeable on the cover itself. The layouts and pictures are breathtaking and mind blowing. Of course, one must take the beautiful descriptions of the places with a pinch of salt(especially when they say that the place is unspoiled and remote and not on the tourists’ radar). It is one thing to let our imaginations run wild but quite another when we expect that same magic to remain intact when we visit that particular place.

So why must you buy this magazine when one can easily and inexpensively look up on the net to plan a trip? Simply because unlike the internet, Lonely Planet helps us experience places and travel well with an informed choice.

The magazine costs Rs. 100 with around 200 to 250 pages(though some pages just have ads) but they are better than those silly fashion magazines which promote nothing except a stereotyped image of beauty! Lonely Planet magazines are available at most newspaper vendors and shopping malls, and bookstores.

P.S. I also read the Conde Naste India Traveller Launch Edition. It really did not impress me. It focused only on luxury travel. Its main page was not organized well. Its index was distributed around 4 to 5 pages that makes a reader confused. It didn’t give a good idea of the contents in the magazine. Moreover they had an overdose of ads which is simply unacceptable. The first 10 pages only had ads. Some of their articles made it look like Conde Naste was not a travel but rather travel cum fashion magazine. However, the pictures under the section-‘Ode to India’ were brilliant. The writing was as stellar as that of the Lonely Planet articles. But I still prefer Lonely Planet and our Indian magazine ‘Outlook Traveller’.

Outlook Traveller Getaways: Weekend Breaks From Mumbai

‘Outlook Traveller Getaways: Weekend Breaks From Mumbai’ is a marvelous little book highlighting the great tourist spots in and around Mumbai and Maharashtra. It is no doubt a great book for any travel lover in Mumbai.

The book screams out that there are numerous small, quick, hidden getaways right here in Maharashtra and that there is no need to travel far. The book is a comprehensive guide. It is divided according to regions like North and Central Konkan. Under each division are tourist places that come in that region. For eg. Daman in North Konkan or Karnala in Central Konkan etc. Each division has a map with a mention of the distance from Mumbai. Each entry of a tourist place had good, eye catching photos, an excellent overview of the place that includes places to see, eat and stay there as well as a small column listing quick facts about when to go and tourist office(MTDC) numbers. The book also has a special section dedicated to Goa and places to go around Mumbai like Vasai, Uran etc.

All in all, worth all the money, a great guide for a Mumbai traveler who wants to spend a weekend away from the hustle and bustle inexpensively.

MY VERDICT-Highly recommended for travelers!