Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Travel is not going to die, ever

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On 7 November 2013, at the Sharjah International Book Fair, I was in very good company. There was Tarquin Hall, Tahir Shah, Robert Twigger and I with Victoria Amador moderating the discussion on travel writing. We talked about how the four of us were inspired to become travel writers and I discovered a kindred soul in Tarquin, a Londoner who having travelled extensively now lives in Delhi. We both hated school and just wanted to get away from the drudgery of books.
In the end, we ended up becoming permanently wedded to books!

Travel writing, if it has to have any meaning at all (unlike what passes for this genre in Urdu) has to come from a learned source. In my search for material on the Khirthar Mountains, I stumbled upon Eric Shipton’s masterpiece Blank on the Map that triggered both a thirst to read more and more and a desire to physically see what I read.

In that way, Robert had an interesting thing to say. He was in Athens and bored to death when he found a copy of Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi – a masterpiece of travel literature. He read it for he had little else to do and was transformed from bored traveller to one thirsting to know more about Greece. Incidentally, Robert was hilarious about his last name Twigger. He said he overheard a woman saying that this was probably a modernistic pseudonym being a cross between blogger and twitter!

Tahir Shah who lives in a mansion in a Casablanca shanty town (if there is a contradiction ever, this is one: mansion in a shanty town) was the profoundest of the lot. And why not? Son of writer Idris Shah (who would not know of The Sufi and The Way of the Sufi, among several others), Tahir had good grounding from the beginning – unlike the three of us who were ignorant (yahoos?) before we started out.

Tahir’s advice to upcoming travel writers will tell you something about this writer of some of the finest travel literature today: write something weird for the more bizarre, the better! He also insists that a writer must never be forced to write something by a publisher, but should produce what pleases him (the writer) the most.

On advice, Tarquin told us that the notion that everything has been done and there is nothing more to explore and write about is simply absurd. He was of the opinion that retuning to places one had explored long ago was a great way of rediscovery. To this I can add that the rediscovery in this case is more of the self than of the place.

As Victoria was wrapping up, a woman from the audience wanted to know the future and I could not keep myself from saying that having begun 2500 years ago with Herodotus, travel writing was not going to die ever. The medium might change and people may move away from the printed page to e-reading, but travel books are here to stay and they will essentially be as they always have been: full of history, geography, sociology, anthropology, geology, humour and, last of all, autobiography.

There was also the question of the effect of social media on writing and the four of us were rather unanimous on this. It has given a boost to our outreach.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 13 November 2013 at 10:27, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

'a modernistic pseudonym being a cross between blogger and twitter! ' lolz
Writing is not a 'process or act' on gun point. It sprouts spontaneously from hearts, agree.
Travel writing can never end. It can end only when history, geography, sociology, anthropology, geology, humour and, last of all, autobiography all die out.

At 13 November 2013 at 14:33, Anonymous Baqir Hassan said...

As a beacon of light for any writer, what do you advise to the young ones about how to start? I don't know any but is there any other Pakistani travel writer who writes in English?

At 13 November 2013 at 16:22, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

There is no other travel writer in Pakistan. (What passes for this genre in Urdu is a shame!) This is hard work in that the dividends are small. I don't think anyone wants to be a full time travel writer. Some do write articles for papers after a trip somewhere.

At 13 November 2013 at 16:25, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Very astute observation - as always. Thank you very much.

At 14 November 2013 at 13:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To become a travel writer is as difficult or easy as becoming any other writer....if u have the talent for it. May b the genes count, for some author fathers did produce writer sons. U can only polish your skills by intensive reading, practice and the ability to perceive an original angle. U cannot create or build a writer from a scratch. U r gifted, friend Salman.

At 14 November 2013 at 16:59, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Advisory Tab. My father, incidentally, was a civil engineer and mathematician! No story-tellers in our family.

At 17 November 2013 at 14:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travel may not change but modes and tools and changing and so is travel writing. You have a great blog here.

At 18 November 2013 at 17:23, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Anon.

At 4 December 2013 at 21:25, Blogger Maryam Ismail said...

I think that the Travel writing session of the SIBF was one of the best of all at the book fair. I would love to see Mr. Rashid and his books in paperback in UAE very soon inshaAllah

At 5 December 2013 at 11:15, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you very much, Maryan.My publisher sadly does not believe in paperback editions! But I'm glad you enjoyed the session.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days