Travel is the one thing that has come to a standstill in this pandemic. Most of us aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon and we will have to appease our wanderlust in other ways. The thing about travel books is that they can take you places, without ever leaving the comfort of your armchair.
There are 195 countries in the world, and it’s a sobering thought to realise that you may never even visit half of them. Sometimes, reading a good travel book can be as cathartic as the journey itself and almost as fulfilling. Moreover, even if you are travelling in the near future, the more you know about a place, the better you can understand its people and culture.
Here are three of my favourite travel books that fed my wanderlust and took me on a transformative journey.
# 1 Wild Horses of the Summer Sun
If you’re wondering why the book isn’t named, “Wild Horses of the Midnight Sun”, you wouldn’t be the only one. In her book, Tory Bilski invokes a sense of nostalgia for what is gone, but lingers on, because it was so impactful. Bilski is in her early 40s when she begins traveling to a horse farm in the north of Iceland, every summer, with a group of women. They are a motley mix of personalities that make for a good story. What begins as a road trip through Iceland with unknown women, becomes the start of an annual tradition, with the women coming back every June to ride horses together. In her words, “These were our tales, these were the times, these were the women, and this was the place.”
The trip affords an opportunity for Bilski to let go of daily stresses and bond with the wild horses under the midnight sun. Not every trip is perfect. Some are affected by the climate, others by conflict. But, she always looks forward to the trip. While the book is chock-full of captivating lore about Iceland, its people, history and horses, it is also a lyrical read. Her prosaic observations of others and modest tone draw you in and absorb you completely. While the love of horses occupies prime position, the book is about the renewal of spirit and the awakening of soul. Even if you’re not fascinated by horses and riding, it is still a lovely read. Like Bilsky writes, “At some point, you lose whatever it is that makes your heart beat wild. It doesn’t have to be a horse, or a particular country, but we all need our Iceland thing.” I sure do. And, possibly so do you.
#2 Hidden Places
If you’re less of a reading person and more of a visual one, this one may be for you. Hidden Places by Sarah Baxter is a tangle of words and illustrations. While only 25 places are showcased, they do justice to the book’s title in terms of both seclusion and appeal. She transports you to distant places, that you’ve probably never even heard of. Some of these are destinations are only accessible on foot; right from the safari in Kenya and the forested remains of the Mayan civilisation, to the phantom of Germany’s black forest.
The book isn’t just a collection of hidden places. It’s fraught with story-telling and gives you some food for thought. Why do we travel and explore? Why do we seek out new vistas and fresh challenges? The book inspires to scope out unusual places, rather than check off regular places on your bucket list. It is definitely for the intrepid traveller, looking to discover your own secret valleys, forgotten cities or deserted settlements. Or the ones in the book.
# The Lost Pianos of Siberia
There is something about Siberia. And journalist, Sophy Roberts captures it perfectly in The Lost Pianos of Siberia. The book belongs to the quest-travel genre and Roberts takes you along for the ride. In her quest for a piano, Roberts traverses through sealed walls, passes through snowscapes, ventures into deep forests and barges into lives and recollections. There are anecdotes of history, tied in with the memories of pianos and the people she encounters.
Rather than history, the book reads like an interesting series of chats with a guide that’s both gossipy and informative. Several times, she makes references to how you begin pursuing one thing, only to discover something completely different. While the book is hinged on the quest for a piano, it is more about Siberia; its snow, ice, tigers, the inhabitants and prisoners of the land. The photographs are simply breath-taking and there is definitely something immersive about her style. The thrill of her journey animates the book and it’s tough not to be allured by her infectious glee and excitement. The musicality of her words definitely matches up to the musicality of Siberia. Even if you don’t really care about pianos, this book will sing to you in all the ways that matter.