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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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’.