I’ll be honest with you – I haven’t read this book since the 1970s! But when the team asked me to write a book review I immediately thought of “Slowly down the Ganges”.
Eric Newby made his 1,200 mile journey down the Ganges in 1963 and I read the book before heading off to do 2 years VSO in what was the British and French “jointly” administered condominium of the New Hebrides (now Vanuaatu). I took my time coming home overland with a friend and remember days at Varanasi gazing at the Ganges feeling immersed in the gently chaotic hubbub of Indian life. I had the advantage of being a penniless scruff and felt perhaps a bit like Newby watching it all as part of the scenery.
Newby was an adventurer who married and travelled with his wife Wanda who had helped him escape as a POW during the second world war. They decided to travel down the Ganges to celebrate his 44th birthday and his account of the journey by various boats, bullock carts and other means is a classic of travel writing.
Erik Linklater said that “All the recurrent dottiness of India - its exasperating charm - are in these pages”. Hilarious mishaps and encounters with engaging people who between them characterise India fill its pages.
Another reason for choosing it is that we’re still planning to journey the length of the Zambezi with as many of our clients as would like to join us. It’s a different river through a very different series of lands and peoples. Perhaps the Zambezi is to Africa what the Ganges is to India – a living pathway that gives the traveller privileged glimpses into the heart of a place.
Well, I’ve dusted off my old copy of Newby’s book, photographed it and now I’m going to settle down to read it again and enjoy the revival of sights, aromas, characters and charm that binds our hearts to India.