Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review: "Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe" By Bill Bryson

In this book, Bill Bryson attempts to recreate the travel itinerary of his youth some seventeen years earlier when he backpacked across Europe with one of his high school friend; He is alone this time with rucksack and notebook. This book a mixture of his lively anecdotes, sharp observations, and flashbacks to his earlier tour.

The book covers Norway (Hammerfest, Oslo), France (Paris), Belgium (Brussels, Bruges, Spa, Durbuy), Germany (Aachen, Cologne, Hamburg), Holland (Amsterdam), Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Gothenburg, Stockholm), Italy (Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Florence, Milan, Como), Switzerland (Brig, Geneva, Bern), Liechtenstein, Austria (Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna), Yugoslavia (Split, Sarajevo, Belgrade), Bulgaria (Sofia), and Turkey (Istanbul).

The book is pure entertainment (provided you must not fail to catch the humor there). He is quite honest about what he liked or what he did not liked. And he was prompt is downgrading his rating for a "well-known" place once he reached there and did not found it up to the mark. He also diligently lavishes praises on lesser known places. He surely avoids the usual travel writer obligation to adore every place (read famous places) they visit.

I know that some of you may find this book rather strangely funny - or, even absurd at times. But only if you're obsessed with political correctness, he may offend you, but he is democratic in his targets. He has some quite interesting observations to make. Although most of the observations are now out of the date (he wrote the book in 1990) but they are funny and a refreshing change from the breathless romanticism of so many guidebooks and travel brochures. He also shows that Europe and Britain aren't as perfect as they look from the windows of a tour bus.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book Review: In Xanadu - A Quest by William Dalrymple

Most of us must have heard following opening lines of a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

The poem references Mongol and Chinese emperor Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty and his summer capital Xanadu or Shangdu (as popularly known). Xanadu has a significant place in western history as well because it was the destination of the most famous Marco Polo's trip from Jerusalem to China (which he called Cathay) carrying oil from Holy Sepulcher & presents from Pope Gregory X for Kublai Khan between 1271 & 1274.

In his book by name of 'In Xanadu - A Quest', William Dalrymple retraces the epic journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the ruins of the palace of Kubla Khan, north of Peking carrying oil from Holy Sepulcher, in the summer of 1986. He calls this book as a quest - not a vacation - just because it involves hardship and suffering not accompanied by a vacation. An intrepid traveler, and entertaining writer, Dalrymple offers an anecdotal history of the people and places he encounters en route through Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and the breadth of China. An overland passage through these closed countries is an incredible travel feat in itself.

Although I did not found this book to be as engrossing or interesting as some of the other ones by William Dalrymple. But still, this is not a great book; it is an interesting book. Much of the book is the usual stuff of travel: difficulties in getting official clearance; locals speaking funny (read faulty) English; stomach upsets due to eating strange food at various roadside eateries; staying at inns which are sometimes as dirty as roads outside; and so on. However, in some sections he writes about more interesting things like how dull Polo's own account really is, developments in Islamic architecture, the history of some of the places, recognizing Marco's Polo description of a place and mapping it into current state of affairs. In totality, an interesting enough book by a 22 year old (remember this was his first book).

Read this book if:
1. You love reading travel books which are not like essays.
2. You are on a vacation which has turned wrong - in this book you will find that it could have been worse :)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ishant Sharma & Perth

"Perth was won" - as they said in nearly every news channel for about 24 hours after India defeated Australia at Perth. But this blog entry is not about Perth. It is about a man (not boy) who is just 19 years old, is 4 test matches old. This is also about another man, who is 33 years old and has played 115 tests for his country. This is about a small session of play (nearly about one hour) when this boy of 19-year old bowled like I have never seen anyone bowl till now for India and made the life hell for this 33 year old gentleman who is surely regarded as one of the greatest batsman of this generation.

You must have guessed it till now - yes, it is about the fine bowling display which Ishant Sharma did to Ricky Ponting on the fourth day of the 3rd test between Australia & India at Perth. If you want to have a look at the bowling display, have a look at or at

This was Ponting as not seen before, a Ponting without reply. For more than an hour Sharma tortured him until he got his wicket. It was fast bowling at its best and it was heartening to see an Indian bowling like this. In the mould of West Indies giant Courtney Walsh with the way he hits a good length on seam and attains extra bounce, he traumatised Ponting. He put his heart out and was cutting the bowl into Ponting very sharply, had a couple of good lbw shouts turned down and eventually found the outside edge to produce a slip catch. And the moment he got out, Ponting just stood his ground in his follow through - he did not looked back but just felt that this was about to happen. If it would not had happened then it would had been justice denied for the young man & cricket in general.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Satvik Resort, Bhimtal – Experience of a lifetime

I visited Satvik Resort ( with my family & my in-laws during 29 Sep – 1 Oct 2007. We traveled from Delhi to Rampur through train and from there on we hired a cab. The road from Rampur to Rudrapur is pretty bad – full of potholes especially around Bilaspur. But after that, it is quite smooth. We got stuck in a traffic jam due to mud slide just after Haldwani (and eventually covered Rampur – Bhimtal distance in 7 hours), it was a respite to reach Satvik Resort and be greeted with herbal tea and warm home cooked food.

The Satvik Resort is a no-fuss, no-frill resort founded by Yoga Guru Pulak Ranjan Shukla. The USP is ‘experience of Satvik lifestyle’. It offers complete peace as it is half-a-kilometer before Bhimtal. The rooms are airy, well maintained, simple-yet-elegant & clean. We were pretty happy to find our rooms very clean and the bathrooms spacious plus clean. This is one thing which I personally like a lot in a hotel/resort.

Satvik Resort
Our room filled with morning sunlight

Never have I thought that food can be so tempting even when it has no garlic, onion & no meat. Yes, as per their Satvik experience, the cooking staff does not serves foods containing “tamsik” elements. The sitting in their restaurant is on low height chairs & food is served on low height tables as well. Food is served on “pattals” & copper bowl/glasses. And it is always served hot. They did a special lunch for us with focus on Kumaoni food during our stay.

Satvik Resort
Food was served in tradition Indian style

All the rooms face East direction, so we could see sunrise each day. On the first day, there were clouds and hence sunrise was not that spectacular but on next day it was pretty clear and I got several shots of sun rising from between of two mountains. It was much like how I used to draw it during my childhood. Our rooms were on 5th floor and there is a big balcony in front of rooms where we used to sit and have our morning or evening tea enjoying the views. The resort faces a valley and then mountains so it gives a feeling of openness.

Satvik Resort
Sitting area in front of our room

There are several excursion around like Naukuchiatal, Sattal, Nainital & others but we just visited the Bhimtal Lake & Naukuchiatal.

Go there for
- Relaxation
- Different living experience
- Tasty vegetarian food
- Beautiful sunrise

Bhimtal, Satvik Resort
Panaromic view from our balcony

Monday, January 14, 2008

Book Review: "Shakespeare By Bill Bryson"

I am not a great reader of biographies (or that too from Jacobean or Elizabethan literature) but I just finished a new book by Bill Bryson (and you say - but Bill Bryson is not about bioraphies). Yes, you are true - but this book is about a prominent figure from that era. The book surprisingly is not a travel book (oh thank god, I would not have to laugh-holding-my-stomach-till-I-cry a lot like I do while reading this travel books) but a biography of Shakespeare.

It is a very clean book - it actually does not gives its own theories about many mysterious facts of Shakespeare's life; but just tries to be itself. It is author's attempt to decode more of what Shakespeare was as a human being not as a writer. He traces William Shakespeare journey from Startford-upon-Avon to London (in Lord Chamberlain's Men) and then back to Startford-upon-Avon, where he died in 1616.

Bill Bryson highlights the major feature of Shakespeare's life (or whatever we know of him) - scant facts as we know. For example, it is rather strange to know that for nearly eight years of his life - nobody knows where Shakespeare was - before he actually surfaced as one of the most prominent play writer in London. Or, that there are hardly a dozen writings of Shakespeare in his own hand writing - and half of them are his signatures - each one different from another. And there is not a single painting of William Shakespeare in which we can say for sure how did he looked like - or even if the guy in the painting is indeed Shakespeare. Few records of Shakespeare's life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about matters such as his sexuality (just because he wrote a rather risque poem dedicated to an Earl & some sonnets of intense friendship), religious beliefs (just because it was so confusion out there at that time in general) and whether the works attributed to him were written by someone else (this is height of... !!). Bryson documents the efforts of different scholars (some bizarre and others more bizarre) - where each one tried to prove a point about Shakespeare's life. Consider this, an eccentric Delia Bacon, who developed a firm but 'unconvincing' (read "no proof") conviction that, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays.

Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker like room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed. Bryson celebrates the great era of English literature & London play circuits with facts rather then defining them on speculations. Bryson also points out that we know so little about Shakespeare because till hundred years after his death there was no serious attempt to write about his life - was it because he was not so popular at that time?

Overall, a nice read if
1. You love to read about history.
2. You love to read Bill Bryson, which I do.
3. You can imagine Jacobean or Elizabethan era and its descriptions.

Too Lazy To Update

I must admit that I have been too lazy to update this blog. There had been several occasions when I had thought of writing something for this blog but just had enough will to write it for the blog.

In the new year, I would be more active on this blog. Oh no... not another resolution...