Railway BooksSunday, 6 March 2016
◄ Cycling trips, walking trips, boat trips, they all seem to fire the travel writing imagination. Sadly the means of travel we probably use more than any other for longer trips – flying – doesn’t seem to do it. Oh yes, there are some great flying books , like Alexander Frater’s classic Beyond the Blue Horizon. Last year Mark Vanhoenacker’s magical Skyfaring was also much acclaimed.
So perhaps I should write a flying book I thought and set off from London, following pretty much the same route as Beyond the Blue Horizon all the way to Australia with many stops along the way. I did the whole trip with Low Cost Carriers – the easyJets, Ryanairs, Jetstars, Lion Airs, Air Asia, Spice Jets of this world. The 22-stop trip took a bit over a month and I had a good time all the way.
I even came up with a catchy title for my proposed book – The Great Airline Bazaar – but it doesn’t look like it’s ever going into print. Never mind, I’ll probably post the chapters, one by one, later this year.
Airlines may not inspire travel writers, but railways certainly do and my airline odyssey obviously required a reread of Paul Theroux’s classic railway book The Great Railway Bazaar. Paul’s travels kicked off in late 1973 (the book was published in 1975) so it’s now over 40 years later and hardly surprisingly there have been many changes over the years. The Great Railway Bazaar’s Orient Express, for example, was the real thing. Not today’s much shorter, rather more luxurious and much more expensive London-Venice excursion which I travelled in 2008. ►
Indian trains hardly seem to have changed at all, I’ve been travelling on them from the same years as The Great Railway Bazaar right up to the last few years and progress seems to be slow and fitful.
Quite unlike trains in China, which don’t appear in this book although he certainly ventured into China with Riding the Iron Rooster. Train travel has all but disappeared in Malaysia and his experiences in Sri Lanka were uniformly dire whereas my first Sri Lanka railway excursion in 1979 I remember with delight. Sadly Afghanistan got edited out of The Great Railway Bazaar, there were no trains so out it went although the comments in other chapters would indicate he had a miserable time there. Quite unlike the experiences of so many Afghanistan visitors (me included) around the same time.
◄ Ticket to Ride by Tom Chesshyre is a brand new look at some of the world’s most interesting railway trips. Tom asked me to write a comment and I suggested that Tom’s ticket certainly scores all the best rides: fast rides (they don’t come any faster than the 269 mph Shanghai airport Maglev rocketship) and slow ones (‘chugging’ is the perfect word for his Kosovo train trip), short trips (the 60 mile toy train trip up to Shimla in India) and long ones (the Perth-Sydney Indian Pacific barrels along at one stage for 297 dead straight miles), but most important are the names, when you can ride the Reunification Express or, even better the Orient Express, why on earth would any trainspotter (let alone a gricer) fly places?
The Trans-Siberian Express features in The Great Railway Bazaar and in Ticket to Ride and I finally put a tick on that bucket list trip three years ago.
Like Paul and Tom I’ve also ridden the toy train up to Shimla (aka Simla) in the Indian Himalayan foothills. That train trip also features in India’s Disappearing Railways.