The sheer diversity of people and places in India is mindboggling. It is one significant reason why many who dare to travel this multi-cultural land of distinct traditions, religions, languages, and landscapes, suffer some degree of culture shock during their first visit. The vastness of the country further transforms it into a treasure chest brimming with unmatched sights and a collection of myriad personalities, each with its unique identity and heritage. To understand India a little better, here are four alternative travel books that take readers on journeys through the nation's backroads, far from the richness of its metropolitan cities.
Three Men on Motorcycles shines a bright spotlight on India's modern-day travel zeitgeist. Over the last few years, domestic travel has seen a sudden rise, with locals, traveling solo, with families, or on bikes, proud about discovering offbeat places within the country. Three Men on Motorcycles is Ketan Joshi's attempt at indulging in two travel passions, a bike ride with buddies and conquering the roads of Ladakh. The latter being a rite of passage for bikers. The book is a fun read, filled with ample guy-talk, loads of friendly banter, and an insight into the brotherhood that exists within the bike culture. Admittedly, some of it is cliched but relatable enough for non-bikers to enjoy the ride. Joshi's writing is amateurish at times, and the humor often juvenile, but he has his heart in the right place, which makes reading about the trio's misadventures a real laugh-riot. With insight into the destinations to visit, roads to take, and what not to do, Three Men on Motorcycles will have you lusting for a road trip with friends in no time.
Rajat Ubhaykar's Truck de India isn't just a travelogue that takes you through the length and breadth of the country. Alternately, it is a commentary on the state of the nation, brilliantly told through the eyes of truck drivers. Rajat explores the fascinating sub-culture of trucking, the colorful personalities that make it interesting, their sorrows and addictions, and the vital role trucks play in keeping the economic wheels of the largest democracy moving. The real pleasure of reading the book comes from Rajat's astute observations and his journalistic interest in finding more about the business and the people who are a part of it. From opium use by the drivers and roadside prostitution to sharing tricks truckers use to make an extra buck, and the political troubles of North-East India, Truck de India surprises and enlightens with its revelations and honesty. By the end, the reader has intimate knowledge about life on the road, and a newfound respect for truck drivers who carry on, night and day, battling personal demons and real-life challenges along the way.
If you are a victim of train travel romanticism, Chai Chai is the perfect travel book about India to devour. In the book, Bishwanath Ghosh hits upon the novel idea of skipping prominent touristy cities to concentrate on quaint little stations where trains often stop, but hardly anyone bothers to get off. Where Chai Chai differs from the ordinary travel book is in its approach. It doesn't particularly encourage you to visit any specific place. Instead, the book plants a seed, challenging the reader to step down on the platform of an "unknown" town that promises adventure amidst uncertainty. Ghosh's writing style, on top of that, has a way of adding life to these places, even if his search always ends up in the seedy underbelly that tourists are regularly told to avoid. However, it is in these dingy bars, a constant across the hamlets, that Ghosh finds the most interesting characters to write about. Chai Chai is an excellent study of small-town India, which helps the reader better understand the psyche of the nation.
Even though Ladakh is struggling with over-tourism, this gorgeous part of Northern India has managed to keep its individuality intact. Over-commercialization, better roads, and flights have made it easier for the avid traveler to reach Ladakh now, making it simpler for many more to appreciate its culture and raw mountainous beauty. Ajay Jain's Postcards from Ladakh seizes this region in all its natural glory. Although the author mentions that Postcards is "neither a guide book nor encyclopedia," he shares enough information about places to see, hidden gems, and the local traditions, that a first-time visitor can use the book as a companion. It helps that Ajay's photography is impressive, highlighting both the diverse landscape and the vibrant residents of the province. Postcards from Ladakh is a pleasant read and a visual delight, one that inflicts the reader with a travel bug that continues to itch until they finally pack their bags and head on up to Ladakh.