“I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum security prison. When I escaped from that prison, over the front wall, between two gun towers, I became my country’s most wanted man. Luck ran with me and flew with me to India, where I joined the Bombay mafia. I worked as a gunrunner, a smuggler, and a counterfeiter. I was chained on three continents, beaten, stabbed and starved. I went to war. I ran into the enemy guns. And I survived, while other men around me died. They were better men than I am, most of them; better men whose lives were crunched up in mistakes, and thrown away by the wrong second of someone else’s hate, or love, or indifference. And I buried them, too many of those men, and grieved their stories and their lives into my own.”

Some books are like an exquisite meal, meant for indulgence and slow enjoyment.  Shantaram is one of those – written by Gregory David Roberts, the book tells the story of his escape from a New Zealand prison, his subsequent arrival in Mumbai, a visit to village India, and his life in the Middle Asian underworld.  Although some of the events are based on the author’s life, it is technically classified as fiction since he merged different events and characters for narrative flow.

My favorite books are the ones that immediately draw you into their world and make you care about the characters, and this one accomplishes that marvelously.  A few more choice quotes:

“The past reflects eternally between two mirrors -the bright mirror of words and deeds, and the dark one, full of things we didn’t do or say”

“Astounding and puzzling images from the city tumbled and turned in my mind like leaves on a wave of wind, and my blood so thrilled with hope and possibility that I couldn’t suppress a smile, lying there in the dark…In that moment, in those shadows, I was almost safe”

This book makes me want to jump on a plane to Mumbai and embrace the chaos and energy of the city myself.  Highly recommend it.

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There is an awesome article about travel by Kelly Westhoff in today’s Huffington Post – here’s a choice quote:

“When I land in a foreign city, suddenly, every ounce of my being is alert. Talking is a challenge. Flushing the toilet is an adventure. Buying a package of gum can become a 30-minute ordeal in which I must pay total attention. Foreign travel is a full-body workout, and I love the rush. It makes me feel bold. It makes me feel smart. It makes me feel like I’m finally pooling all my schooling and talents and skills into a concentrated, combined effort, that I am being–to steal a line from the army–the very best I can be, and I can’t help but think it pleases the divine to see me living in the moment and not zoning on the couch.”

You should go read the rest now.  Kelly also writes for Global Roam Ink, a site that promotes an interest in travel as an educational experience – it is aimed at teachers (there are lesson plans and such), but I think it appeals to anyone who loves to travel and read about others’ adventures.

The very best time to visit the Alhambra is midnight. 

The tourist hordes have left, the sun has set, and the palace is painted with delicate brushstrokes of light.  During the witching hour everything takes on a more mysterious quality, and if you find the right quiet corner, you can take a mental journey through the centuries and listen to the stories that those intricate tiled walls have to tell.

The Alhambra

Perhaps you will meet some friendly ghosts?  Or you might hear the long lost echoes of the poems carved into almost every surface.  You may come across a charming stray cat who has made the palace his home.  A wise choice indeed. 

A Map For Saturday On MTV

February 28, 2008

It appears that MTV has decided to take a break from broadcasting mostly lame reality TV and is showing A Map For Saturday this Saturday (March 1st, starting at 10:00pm EST in the United States).  This wonderful travel documentary follows backpackers and long-term travelers around the world.  From the synopsis:

“A MAP FOR SATURDAY is the product of a year’s travel through 26 countries on four continents. Emmy winning producer Brook Silva-Braga left his cushy gig with American TV network HBO to travel the world with five pounds of clothes and 30 pounds of video equipment.

The barebones production set-up yields an intimate window onto the world of long-term, solo travel; moments of stark loneliness and genuine revelation.”

Here’s the trailer:

Shop For The Snow Leopards

January 29, 2008

Every once in a while I come across a thoroughly excellent site, and the Snow Leopard Trust definitely falls into that category – it combines exotic ornaments and textiles, charity, and one of my favorite things, big cats.  Besides having tons of information about these majestic creatures, you can shop for handmade goods from the felines’ homelands of Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and more.  It’s a great way to add a touch of the exotic to your home; of course, you can also adopt a snow leopard or two as well.

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How can you say no to this adorable face?

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The Definition of Adorable

January 27, 2008

Is sweet little tiger cubs!  Don’t you want to hug them?

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More pictures of these Siberian tiger quadruplets here.

To counteract the somewhat pissed off tone of my last two posts, here is a list of “12 Personal Travel Websites That Will Make You Quit Your Day Job” from Brave New Traveler. 

I’d add Matador Travel to the list as well, even though it isn’t a personal travel blog.  Instead, it has posts and articles by tons of intrepid travelers from around the world, and it even has a bounty board for prospective travel writers.  It’s a great place to go for advice and inspiration.

To me, the mark of an excellent book is when I am disappointed to reach the last page – a good thing coming to all too speedy end.  The last book I read that fell into this category is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

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Now I wasn’t completely unaware of Genghis Khan and his role Mongolian history, but this book definitely challenged my perceptions.  Jack Weatherford managed to turn a mythic figure into someone human (and vice versa) while chronicling his life in a clear, compelling manner.  Granted, the author isn’t immune to bias, but considering how most people picture Genghis Khan as a savage bloodthirsty warrior who laid waste to entire civilizations, this book is bound to open quite a few pairs of eyes – because in the end, his greatest achievement was not in military expansion, but in promoting trade and information exchange between East and West.

Of course, this book also discusses Genghis Khan’s legacy: the many military innovations, the unique  culture he helped to create, and even the eventual downfall of his empire.  And it is engaging enough to transfix even the non-scholarly types (quite an accomplishment) – it even made the NY Times bestseller list.

Purchase it at Amazon here.