2000 years of travel in India
Author: Anu Kumar
Reading through this book, I could not but exclaim every now and then loudly - "What were these travelers smoking?".
Some of the details described by the early travellers to sub-continent can give a run to various fantasy writers at work today. Take for example, the Russian traveller named Nikitin, who writes about a bird called 'gookook' - the occupant of the roof on which it alight is doomed to die. He continues that any one who dares to kill it will see fire flashing from its beak. My heart leapt a few beats and thought - Is this traveller describing about dragons? I always wondered why there was no description of dragons in Indian mythology (there were more snakes than any fire breathing bird in Indian stories). Or was the traveler too intoxicated and ended up mixing his own myths with some large Indian bird or was it just a case of Chinese whisper game gone crazily out of control. I hope it is the dragon - I always secretly hoped to find the missing dragon link between Western and Eastern dragons in India!
In the foreword of this book, Mr. Krishna Kumar, the Director of N.C.E.R.T, writes that we live in an entirely different world now. Travel for us is counted in hours, not in years. Some one scribbles and silly hopes of finding the missing link between dragons is accessible to almost every one instantaneously; it does not take centuries to get ones work translated and written on paper; No culture is too alien; no art form inaccessible. In world that is as far-fetched to us now as say Mars, there were a few intrepid travelers who overcame perilous journey over many years to visit the mysterious land of India to jot down their travel notes. One cannot but feel amazed by these men and women driven either by faith, money and inquisitiveness to explore new worlds and countries.
This book is a travelogue of 11 intrepid travelers to India over a period of 2000 years starting from Megasthenes (who described the fantastical gold digging ants to omnipresent Indian caste system as it existed during his time) to Alexandra David-Neel in 20th century (considered as the first woman to visit the forbidden Lhasa, Tibet and considered by some as a mystic). For good or worse, all these voices from such wide variety of travelers probably contributed to the idea about what is India. In spite of rather questionable facts being mentioned by these travellers, there seems to be a lot of similarities regarding their experiences. It is almost reassuring and disquieting at the same time that India is almost similar to what it was thousands of years back. India as described by these travellers was enigmatic, mysterious, multi-cultural, world of enormous wealth co-existing with poorest of people, world of great scientific achievements with millions of unlearned masses and so on. Nothing seems to have changed. If history is any indication, nothing will change in India.
Anu Kumar's presentation of history through the eyes of travelers to India is great introduction to the vast repository of Indian history. This book is a novel idea and demands to be included as part of the curriculum for every student in India.
History was never this fun; until I read this book. I am not sure if there can be better recommendation to this book than this. Read it.