Land of the Dawn-lit Moun­tains

Antonia Bol­ing­broke-kent (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £9.99)

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

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

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