Destination Russia is a fascinating book. It has a full name ‘Destination Russia: A ship and a cat in the tundra and other extra-ordinary encounters.’ It is written by Roberta Melchiorre and Fabio Bertino.
I totally loved the start of the book. It talks about the authors reserving tickets from Warsaw to Belarus with the website of the German Railway Company Deutsche Bhan. While it was super efficient to to book the tickets, boarding the train with the same tickets was anything but easy!
The book is divided into travel stories around the places mostly in Russia. But places from the former USSR feature too. There are big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, but there are stories from the far flung corners, Vorkuta, Kyzyl and more.
Having traveled to Russia myself, I have experienced its charms first hand! It is very easy to see that the authors love Russia! They also have a penchant to talk about small things, like cats, train attendants, far away monasteries, attending opera and interacting with Shamans! Two chapters that particularly stood out for me were on visiting Chernobyl and traveling in the Trans Siberian Railway.
Many of us grew up on reading the Hindi and English translation of Russian books in childhood. India and Russia have been close allies since long. The book will appeal to the Indian people who have a soft corner for Russia. To all those who have been to Russia on a short trip, this book makes us realize that there is so much more to see.
Finally to all those who love to travel and take delight in the small things that the journey brings, this book is a true delight!
Moving around the tiny market known as Sister’s Bazaar in Landour, I was busy buying jams at the famous Prakash and Co. I was in the area on invitation from JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa. On the trip I met Anil Purohit of Windy Skies after a gap of seven years. While I walked out of the small but famous jam shop, he pointed out another shop by the same name, only they had a small but rich book section too. That is how I ended up buying The Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken.
I do not say this often on this blog but I love reading. And I love reading the books about the Himalayas (even other mountains) above all else. I have to admit that the Nanda Devi Affair did not went off to a flying start for me. I was struggling with the first 25 pages or so. It could be that I was still under the influence of Avomine when I started reading the book on my journey back from Dehradoon in the Shatabdi Express.
For later on I found the book gripping, I did not take much time to finish it. Bill Aitken is a Scottish born naturalized Indian citizen who lives in Mussoorie. I wonder what is it with Mussoorie and authors, so many of them live in Mussoorie!
The book is literally about the intense devotion the author has for the mountain, his Goddess, the Nanda Devi. He treks to the sanctuary many times and weaves in the story around his journeys. That forms the bulk of the book. However there are other treks and regions, like Kuari Pass, mentioned in the book. Having been to some of the regions he writes about, and having seen Nanda Devi from Auli, it was easy for me to identify with the book.
However what stood out for me were three themes. First was his dealing with religion and religious practices surrounding the Nanda Devi. Even though I am not inclined to religion, I liked his treatment of the subject. He is sensitive to the local customs and comes out clearly in his writings.
Secondly, he clearly points out the masculine nature of the Uttarakhand rural society where the women go away from their home after marriage and do the bulk of the work for the household. Men are prone to laze around! It rings so true but I wonder why it never hit me in the face while visiting the region. You cannot miss it while reading the book!
But what amazed me most is the critical stance he takes towards mountaineers! Now here is a mere trekker mincing no words about mountaineering and mountaineers. Whatever other books I have read, I have been in awe of the profession! I wonder from where he got the detachment to question the commitment of a mountaineer to the environment.
Of the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) he is so critical, labeling them a bunch of bureaucrats far removed for the reality of the mountains. Apparently the IMF at one point was more interested in knowing the name of Sir Chris Bonington‘s father than allowing him to climb in India!
In the Nanda Devi Affair Bill Aitken presents the trekking as well as the society in Uttarakhand brilliantly. For any mountain lover, this is a must read book.
I guess what added to the pleasure of reading was the location from where I brought it, so close to the mountains that have been described in the book!
PS. If you are curious about Tintin near the book in the first image, he is my new traveling companion. Thank you so much Hassaneini for giving it to me. It was such a pleasure meeting you in New Delhi. May we both travel more to the mountains near and far!
I recently finished reading You Can Make Your Dreams Work: Inspirational Stories of 15 Innovators by Shalini Umachandran. Shalini and I were together on the media trip to South Africa in 2013. We had a grand plan of driving through Botswana (or was it Tanzania) with another of our team member, I hope they still remembers it! We kept in touch through emails.
So, when I heard about her book, I was happy to read the blogger’s copy which she kindly offered to me! I actually read almost all the book in two sittings. But I could finish off the last two stories much later due to various personal commitments.
The book traces the story of 15 people who left their ‘normal’ jobs to follow their dreams. All the people featured have been successful in their ventures.
To me the most striking story was of Kanishka Sharma who had a family full of people working in media. He went to train in a Chinese Shaolin Temple in martial arts! Everyone in his family was against it! Now that surely took me by surprise. Of all the wild stories listed in the book, this came across as the most unusual to me. I will not reveal more as that would spoil it for you, but if you wish to read just one story read Kanishka’s.
Then there is the story of Nishant, who gave up his corporate job to open an inn in Old Manali. When I went to Old Manali last month, I spotted his place, Drifter’s Inn and I did something unusual. I went in and said hello to him, saying I read about him in Shalini’s book. We chatted for a while, he offered coffee, but we were in a hurry so I had to go. All my local friends knew Nishant and he knew them!
There are 13 more unusual stories in a book about people who started women only travel companies, Savile Row suit makers who manufacture in India, a banker who switched to swimming and much more.
Shalini has crafted her stories with care. With each story you enter the world of a person who worked hard to make his/her dreams works. It is an immensely readable book. You will like it even if you wish to continue in your job!