Wednesday, 30 July 2008


AUTHOR: Dervla Murphy


DATE READ: July 2008

NOTES: I read this when it was first published and her bravado and guts filled me with admiration. The lands she travelled in seemed so exotic and far away – although they soon became part of the Hippy Trail of the late 60s and 70s.

On re-reading it my admiration for her courage is undimished – but I was soon struck my just how much the world has changed. Some of the countries she travelled through (albeit with some difficulties) have since become impossible for any independent traveller. The cold war conflict between the USSR and USA were being played out in Afhanistan but who could have guessed the tragedy that lay ahead for the Afghans? I had forgotten the episode visiting the Buddhas at Bamian – a sight no-one will ever see again as these were destroyed by the Taliban a few years ago. She writes of both Afghanistan and Pakistan with great affection but is much less kind to Iran and India…..

She is well able to cope with the simplicity on offer. Her description of a Grade A hotel in Herat was wonderful: “It has an Eastern lavatory but with flush attached (when I pulled the string the whole apparatus collapsed and I was drenched in rusty water!) and there is also a holder for lavatory paper on the wall which makes one feel that if one stayed here long enough it might have paper too some day.”

I do have problems with writers who make sweeping negative statements about a whole people. About the Kashmiris she said “The people are in general the most moronic I’ve met since Persia…” Also “The standard of intelligence of the average village school-teacher is incredibly low” – this was stated after 26 days in Pakistan!

And I wonder if she would still agree with her statement re literacy: “We have yet to prove that universal literacy as we know it advances the mass of the people in any worth-while direction”

As a traveller she obviously relates well to the people she meets along the way. However she is not clear about the number of invitations and introductions she arranged before she set out. How many travellers end up dining with the President of Pakistan?

Loved the list of kit at the end – today surely this would be fleeces and Gore-Tex!

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