Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains
Antonia Bolingbroke-kent (Simon & Schuster, £9.99)
The state of arunachal Pradesh in north-east India doesn’t turn up in the travel pages too often. The inhospitable himalayan terrain and the difficulty of acquiring an access permit have meant that the country has remained virtually untouched by tourism— which is precisely why the inveterate adventurer antonia Bolingbroke-kent decided to jump on a motorbike and cross the border.
With the help of a Bengali fixer by the name of abhra (known to journalists and documentary makers as ‘abra-cadabra’), she was able to slip through the net of Indian bureaucracy and enter the state. It was lucky her map was up to date—not only for the purposes of navigation, but also to avoid a potential $15 million (£11 million) fine and seven-year prison sentence. The state is the subject of an ongoing sovereignty dispute between India and China and a law was recently proposed demanding severe repercussions for anyone conveying misrepresentations of the country’s external borders.
The author is less interested in the region’s politics than its people. ‘More tribes live here,’ she writes,’ ‘and more languages are spoken than anywhere else in south asia.’
as she travels between Buddhist monasteries and boozy tribal gatherings, taking tea with opium addicts and practising puja at village shrines, she maintains an ebullient good humour. although she paints a picture of herself as the batty Briton abroad (wobbling by on her bike and smelling like a ‘ferret’s armpit’), one suspects that her attitude while travelling was rather more sober.
It’s no small thing for a woman to travel alone through a land that even the east India Company found unappealing. For all the talk of cuddling baby goats (which might cull some readers), this is a clearheaded account of a journey few would dare undertake. Matilda Bathurst