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4 Unlikely Travel Books to Inspire You to Travel.

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I’ve just put down a book by Vikram Seth and picked up another written by the son of Tenzing Norgay (yeah, the first man ever to climb Everest). Claire, a fellow travel blogger recently wrote about a love-hate relationship with travel blogs. I think I’m developing the same with all these travelogues I’m reading. I’m trying to convince myself that if I can’t go, atleast I can read, but that is little consolation.

This post also marks the creation of a new Travel Books page on my blog, back by popular demand! This page will be my virtual travel bookshelf, if you may, and I’ll look forward to reading suggestions :)

Here are four unlikely accounts set in distant lands that have inspired me to travel, among other things:

1. A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah.

A long way gone, Ishmael Beah, best travel books

Perhaps an unlikely candidate for a travel book, A Long Way Gone is the heart-wrenching story of a child soldier turned peace advocate for the UN. In a recount of his own childhood, Ishmael Beah paints a touching portrait of war-torn Sierra Leone, and the circumstances that made him take up arms. It’s been 3 years since I first read it, and I still shudder to think of the silent drones the book leaves you with. I often wonder how the country has transformed since its dark days.

2. From Heaven Lake, Vikram Seth. 

From heaven lake, Vikram Seth, best travel books

Photo credit: Suravi.

It’s not everyday that you can follow an Indian author hitch-hiking from China, via Tibet & Nepal, to India. In this gripping travelogue set in the 1990s, Vikram Seth occasionally delves into the political regime of a country where people are trapped by a system that no one can freely talk about, even today, though never denying the kindness extended to an unwanted foreigner like himself. From Heaven Lake delighted and frustrated me, sometimes simultaneously, and found me thinking about its characters beyond the pages of the book. I imagine the same journey would be near impossible to undertake today.

3. Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer.

Seven years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer, best travel books

Set in the 1950s, Seven Years in Tibet is the unlikely story of an Austrian man welcomed by HH Dalai Lama, then a young boy, into the Forbidden City of Lhasa. Heinrich Harrer introduces us to a culture that is both beautiful and fragile, and to the spiritual teachings of Buddhism. The book left me wandering in the surreal landscapes of the roof of the world, and wondering how Tibet would’ve been if history had taken a different course.

4. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer.

Into thin air, jon krakauer, best travel books

A bone-chilling account of a Mount Everest climbing expedition in 1996, of which the author, Jon Krakauer was a part. He takes his readers on the icy slopes of the mighty Himalayas, through the storms that the climbers brace, to the peak that only a handful manage to conquer. A tragic recount of the lives that were lost on the conquest, Into Thin Air left me pondering the human obsession with extreme adventure, while a part of me yearned to embrace its isolated territories.

What are some unlikely books that make you want to set out on your own adventure?

Photo credits: Demi-Brooke, Suravi

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25 Comments Post a comment
  1. ‘7 years in Tibet’ and ‘Into Thin Air’ have been converted into movie format as well. Didn’t know that Vikram Seth has done something like this and then went on to actually write this. Would try to get my hands on. Thanks Shivya.

    October 4, 2011
    • I haven’t seen Into Thin Air, but I must say the Seven Years in Tibet is a lovely movie too. The book is different in some ways, but both are heartbreakingly beautiful. Yeah, I think From Heaven Lake is one of his least known books. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Nandan!

      October 4, 2011
  2. Thanks for this list … all 4 sound very interesting.

    October 4, 2011
    • I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading them!

      October 4, 2011
  3. Nice coincidence, me too going to add the section of Travel Books this month only on my blog and have been going through one of the books on Ladakh (review soon to follow).

    Now, here I have few more to look at and guess “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Into Thin Air” sounds very interesting. Thanks for the share.

    October 4, 2011
    • Great Dheeraj, I look forward to swapping reading recommendations. Which book on Ladakh have you been reading? I’m sure given your love for the mountains, you’ll love both books. Happy reading :)

      October 4, 2011
      • Oh yes, I am really looking forward for these books. But, need to finish the current soon :)… I am reading “Ladakh Simplified” it is written by one of the fellow friend traveler cum army men who lived their and felt the Ladakh at its best for quite sometime.

        October 10, 2011
  4. midaevalmaiden #

    These all look so good. I love the idea of you having a travel book page. But if I read any of these books I will be even harder for me to stay here in New York, taking care of my 4 cats and working. lol

    October 4, 2011
    • Haha, let’s see how long you can fight the temptation! Think about it, if you can’t go, at least you can read ;)

      October 4, 2011
  5. I loved “A Long Way Home”! I cried through so many of the chapters – a must read from my travelogue bookshelf as well. I look forward to reading the other three. Thanks for the recos.

    October 4, 2011
    • I know, it was such a touching story. I’m sure you’ll love the other 3 too. There’s something touching about each of them.

      October 4, 2011
  6. Yeah! I love posts that lead me to books I may not have known about. Thanks for sharing. I would throw my hat in the ring here and mention “My Path Leads to Tibet” by Sabriye Tenberken. Aweeeeeesome story.

    October 6, 2011
    • :) Thanks for the recommendation. I did a quick search and it sounds good! It’s sure going on my reading list.

      October 7, 2011
  7. Jo Shaw #

    Leaving Microsoft to Change The World – John Wood. I read this book in Nepal and it inspired me to want to travel to more places and it also gave me the courage to push myself to do more meaningful volunteer work. I love reading this book :)

    October 9, 2011
    • Thanks Jo, I’ll be sure to check it out. Fascinated by the name I am already!

      October 11, 2011
  8. Anu #

    love hate relationship with travel blogs is so true…… everytime i read one, i wish i was going there too… and when i know it isnt possible, feels terrible.. but cant stay away either..so i read and read and read.. and wish and wish and wish!!! as to the books, had heard only of two of these, and didnt even know about Vikram Seth’s journey :( would love to read them, and will keep an eye out for them….the last travel book i read was ‘The great railway bazaar’ by aul Theroux…train travel is something i have always enjoyed, and would love to go on such a journey… though i wonder how much of it would be possible today!

    October 9, 2011
    • I know just what you mean! We do it to ourselves. I was surprised to discover Vikram Seth’s book too, and what a beautiful discovery it was. I’ll check out the book you suggested, sounds like it’s based in India!

      October 11, 2011
      • Anu #

        part of the book is based in India, shivya…the author journeyed by train all the way across Asia! but sorry looks like there was a typo there.. the author is Paul Theroux…. havent seen it in any bookshop, but got it from the library…

        October 12, 2011
  9. Paul Theroux did the journey first some 25-30 years ago and then redid it recently. THe books reveal as much about Theroux as about the politics of the regions he went through. My favourite travel writer is William Dalrymple starting with Xanadu to his latest Nine Lives. Am just now reading Danzinger’s Travels.

    October 17, 2011
  10. Nice list Shivya, although Long Way Home would not be a travel book for me. It’s a brilliant book that everyone should read nevertheless.

    January 19, 2012
  11. samareshbiswal #

    buying all the four books

    May 23, 2012
  12. Into thin Air was my first introduction to what the Everest is actually about. Into the Wild is another Jon Krakauer book I enjoyed reading. It started by love affair with Alaska, really hope to get there someday. Great list!

    April 28, 2013
  13. I would like to add ‘Into The Wild’ in this list

    August 5, 2013

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