“The simplicity, the lack of choice, of having to make do, that’s what happiness is all about.”
— Levison Wood (Walking the Himalayas)
I had previously read two books by Levison Wood. One was called Walking the Nile and the other Walking the Himalayas. I had enjoyed them both for slightly different reasons. His book about the Himalayas described some parts of the world that were familiar to me, and I loved to read about them from someone else’s perspective. His book about the Nile described his eyewitness accounts of a part of the world that I have never seen, so was fascinating in a different way.
I enjoy Wood’s writing style as well. It is not overly flowery or descriptive so moves at a consistent pace, but still gives a good picture of his travels. It tends to be honest and insightful. His interest in history adds further colour to his narrative.
When I came accross Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road I was initially disappointed to discover that although it was a new book, it wasn’t about a new expedition. Rather, the book is about a journey that the author made when in his early 20s back in 2004. The book is compiled from his writings about the journey at the time. By his own admission his writing for this book is unpolished and he deliberately left it as such.
Personally, I thought the writing was rather good. I enjoyed the insights into his early motivations for travelling. His writing is also refreshingly honest and explores themes such as the loneliness of travelling, what I would describe as culture shock, both positive cultural encounters and awkward and uncomfortable ones. I particularly appreciated his honest descriptions of his reaction to meeting other tourists and travelers. While these descriptions seemed both surprising and humorous on first glance, I found myself being able to relate to his need to escape from places with too many tourists, as if they were spoiling the authenticity of his experience.
I don’t want to spoil the story by going into too much detail about where the author travels. In the beginning he sets out from England with the plan to hitchhike to India. Part of the charm of the story is the uncertainty that surrounds his journey. His plans are apparently quite vague and the itinerary develops as the story goes on. This gives each new border crossing a unique sense of adventure.
Wood has an obvious interest in history which adds a layer of depth to his writing. He links this particular journey to the Victorian explorer, intelligence officer and writer Arthur Conolly. Wood’s journey roughly overlaps with Conolly’s for at least some of the trip, although it certainly isn’t an “in the footsteps of” narrative.
The ending of the book felt a little bit rushed and abrupt. Perhaps this can be seen as the way a traveler feels upon reaching the end of a journey however. Overall the book receives my highest recommendation.