Book & Video: Photographing Robyn Davidson’s Tracks

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Tracks, by Robyn Davidson, is one of those books which you know of and have an idea of what they are about but then never quite get around to reading.  Then, when you do, you wonder why it took you so long.  

Tracks is Davidson’s account of her 2,700 kilometre, 9 month solo journey across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog.  Although raised on a cattle farm from the age of four, Davidson had few practical skills which would assist her and so she spent two years, including doing a dummy run of 300km before attempting her longer 1977 journey.  

I had understood freedom and security. The need to rattle the foundations of habit. That to be free one needs constant and unrelenting vigilance over one’s weaknesses. A vigilance which requires a moral energy most of us are incapable of manufacturing. We relax back into the moulds of habit. They are secure, they bind us and keep us contained at the expense of freedom. To break the moulds, to be heedless of the seductions of security is an impossible struggle, but one of the few that count. To be free is to learn, to test yourself constantly, to gamble. It is not safe.

I’ve seen Tracks on the shelves in bookshops and referred to in the lists of best or favourite travel books but, if I’m honest, hadn’t paid it too much attention until I recently came across a video on Deskbound Traveller, the site of Michael Kerr, journalist with The Daily Telegraph.

The video is a TEdX video of Rick Smolan, the National Geographic photographer assigned to photograph Davidson’s journey which he did by periodically locating her along her route.  He would then spend a few days with her before leaving, not knowing whether she would be alive the next time he came to look.

Rick Smolan’s talk is an unassuming yet jaw dropping insight to a quite extraordinary journey and watching this video has ensured that Tracks is now firmly on my ever-growing to read list.  A separate book of Ricka Molan’s photographs is also available:

Smolan’s TEDX talk seems to be a re-run of a better edited version with more imagery available on National Geographic‘s website and also on Youtube:

Throughout the trip I kept saying to Robyn you need to keep a journal because someday you’re going to want to write a book about this and she said why do you have to turn everything into a product like why can’t you just experienced things and not always be filtering it and recording it and documenting it like you’re never there because you’re always outside looking in at it so when she called me and said she written a book I was like you’re kidding me…

Despite initial reluctance, Robyn obviously went on to write about her journey.  A National Geographic article appeared in 1978 and the book followed in 1980, published by Jonathan Cape.  Tracks was awarded the first Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980.  It is in good company as the list of subsequent winners of that award (it has been the Dolman Best Travel Book Award since 2006) reads like a who’s who of travel writing from the last 40 years.  

In the course of writing Tracks, Davidson became friends with Doris Lessing and, according to Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography, also with travel writer Bruce Chatwin, who introduced Davidson to Salman Rushdie, an encounter which resulted in Rushdie leaving his wife for the woman Chatwin called “my friend the ‘camel lady'”.   

There are videos available online with Robyn Davidson talking about her experience which are worth watching.  Davidson has interesting observations on the objectification of her trip by others as well as nomadic culture and, in this interview, tips on how to work with camels:

MIKE SMITH: What would you give to the audience as Robyn’s three tips on how to work camels?

ROBYN DAVIDSON: Watch the camel day and night, watch its behaviour and learn how it works. The first thing is just watch them endlessly. Adore them, but never let them take an inch or they will take a mile. And don’t be afraid to beat the hell out of them.

Robyn Davidson has written other travel books, including a book of essays, Travelling Light, Desert Places, about nomadic cultures and an anthology of travel writing published by Picador, Journeys.

Article & Video: Of Land & Sea, Boat magazine in the Faroe Islands

The islands are almost eerily void of man-made sound.  The wind whistles, the sheep bellow, the waves crash against the coastline and rearrange the stones, clapping and cracking as they roll around.  The quiet is instantly comforting and sets forth the pace of life here without you even having to think about it.

Over the past few years there have been several articles in the mainstream press (The GuardianThe Financial Times, The Independent and Fodorsprofiling a ‘new breed of independent travel magazines”.  

As Tom Robbins in The Financial Times explained, these new magazines:

share a distinct look and approach, their similarities emphasising how different they are to the glossy mainstream titles. Produced by independents rather than big publishing houses, they are typically quarterly or biannual rather than monthly, and usually cost at least £10. Many have gnomic one-word names; covers are simple and striking, stripped of attention-grabbing cover lines; the paper is usually heavy, expensive and matt. 

All have websites, naturally.  Some have online content (and some more than others).  Some are available as electronic editions through apps such as Readbug, as downloads from their websites or own apps.  But, what really sets them apart is their commitment to print editions.  These are different though to Wanderlust, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Lonely Planet Traveller or NatGeo Traveller.  

Sometimes seen as part of a ‘slow journalism’ movement, their publication cycle is deliberately less frequent and the print editions lovingly created, something to be treasured rather than left on a train.  Not widely available in shops, I am fortunate that a handful of places in central London carry a decent range of these new magazines. 

Boat is one of these magazines.

Published twice a year, Boat focuses on a different place for each issue (usually a city) with the editorial team relocating there for several weeks to research and work with locals to produce the content.  Boat calls this its ‘inside/out approach’, with locals deciding “what they want the world to know about their city” to ensure that perspectives on the places are “varied and balanced”.  This allows Boat to ‘dig deep’ in each place they cover, to meet the locals and avoid “the typical fly-by top 10 lists, tourist hotspots or new openings”.

Ancient literature describes a mythical island kingdom called Thule where “the sun goes to rest” and “there was no longer any proper land nor sea nor air, but a sort of mixture of all three.  It has been suggested that the Faroe Islands were in fact this mythical place.

For its latest outing, Boat visited the Faroe Islands, a group of 18 volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway.  The islands are self governing although formally part of Denmark.

In this superb issue, Boat covers everything from local culinary traditions, the islands’ first Michelin-starred restaurant, alternative night life, the origin of the islands’ architecture (intersting given the absence of wood-producing trees), its LBGT movement, the struggle for women’s rights, sustainable approaches to aquaculture and power generation as well of course its resurgent wool and knitwear industry and the lives of the islands’ shepherds.  

The feeling of loneliness is a mental state.  It’s not dependent on the number of people alongside you, but instead your relationships with them.

Boat travels to the Faroes’ most remote parts and, in one of the centrepiece features – Of Land and Sea – Fred Scott takes the twice weekly helicopter to the least populated island, Stóra Dímun, which is home to just 8 out of the 50,000 or so people in the Faroe Islands, and hears the captivating story of Eva and Jógvan and their two children who run Stóra Dímun’s sheep farm.

In another feature, Tom Eagar visits the Faroes’ most westerly island, Mykines, home to only 10 people but hundreds of thousands of sea birds including puffins, which can be viewed either on a cliff or on a plate in the local cafe.  Perched at the tip of the island in this remote archipelago and surrounded only by sea, Tom Eagar observes: 

It’s rare that you’re ever able to see so far and in so many directions. That may sound like a frivolous observation, but even the grandest of landscaeps are filled with things:  mountains, forest, lakes, land – just stuff.  Out here, facing west, it feels like we’re half way between the world and forever.

Boat covers all this through almost twenty insightful stories accompanied by beautiful images and videos on its website. The pieces are strong on local voice, allowing the islanders to tell their own stories and give their perspective, revealing a real sense of the Faroes and what life there is like.

This is one to settle in with for an afternoon, to savour and get lost in with some Teitur, Konni Kass or even Carl Neilsen’s Fantasy Journey to the Faroe Islands on the stereo.  I’m looking forward to see how Boat top this and, well, to those harbingers keen to pronounce the end of good travel writing, pish! 

Book & Video: All aboard the cyclists’ special (15m27s)

And as I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey. (Edward Thomas)

Two contrasting pieces about cycling:  a short film on the joys of cycling for pleasure as part of a group and a book on cycling for a living as a courier in London which touches on cycling’s darker, obssessive side.  

We go cycling for pleasure, not penance.

Cyclists Special is a 1955 British Transport Film promoting the virtues of weekend cycling for pleasure using special Sunday train services, with their dedicated carriages for storing cycles and buffet cars supplying packed lunches.  

Starting in Willesden Junction, London (a station close to my heart), cyclists take the train to Rugby where they begin a tour of parts of Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Leicesterhire, exploring the countryside and taking in places of historical interest like Kenilworth Castle.

Once outside the town each group spins away on its own particular route, away from the main road into the peaceful countryside where tree lined lanes welcome these friendly positions that bring their exhaust smoke, no petrol fumes, no record or blaring horn.  Only the humming of tires and the talk that arises between solicitor and carpenter, teacher and typesetter electrician and radiographer; between people of all ages ranks and station, who rediscover their common humanity in finding countryside, exercise and companionship all-in-one.

As well as bikes, Cyclists Special has ties, jackets, cloth caps, plus fours, pipes, Brylcreem, quifs and trouser ankles as clipped as the accents.  Cheery and informative this enjoyable film celebrates the resorative effects of cycling in the country, spending time with people of different backgrounds and occupations, gaining different perspectives and breaking the routine.

There’s always a certain excitement about coming to a strange place.  Over the years you may have trained yourself to arrive anywhere looking as bored as a bactrian camel but if you’re honest with yourself a new place sets you simmering as your home town never could…every place like every person has its own unique history and character.

Containing wisdom such as “a cycle tour without a map is like new potatoes without the smell of mint”, it is unmistakably a film of its time.  

However, I love its inclusive sentiment and it reminded me of Alastair Humphries’ ‘anyone can do it’ attitude to adventure and his notion that adventure doesn’t have to be ultimate, epic or awesome.  A bit like Al Humphries’ Fred Whitton challenge and The Office #microadventure videos, Cyclists Special is an antidote to “hype and hyperbole” and, as Al Humphries might say:  “Everyone is invited – and that’s part of the magic of cycling.”

Jon Day’s book, Cyclogeography, on the other hand, emphasises a darker, though no less spell-binding, side of cycling and its focus is firmly on urban rather than rural cycling.  
 

Day is a lectuer in English at King’s College London and spent several years as a cycle courier in London.  Based on his experiences, Cyclogeography mixes memoir with pyschogeography, philosophy, history and literary diversions.  

The title is a play on the term psychogeography which, according to Joseph Hart, “encourages us to buck the rut, to follow some new logic that lets us experience our landscape anew, that forces us to truly see what we’d otherwise ignore.”  

Day reflects on Baudelaire and the flâneurs‘ roles in understanding and portraying the urban environment by exploring it on foot, and joins Valeria Luiselli and Paul Fournel in speculating on the bicycle’s underrepresentation in travel writing and wondering why there is no cycleur equivalent to the flâneur. 

Drawing on his cycle courier experiences, Day takes us on a journey through London to experience the city anew, and from the saddle.  Weaving through gaps in trafffic, passageways, spaces beneath buildings and other unseen parts of the city, Day portrays the cycle courier as an outsider and someone who exists on the fringes of the city’s economic activity, practically inhabiting a parallel city to the one the rest of us live in. 

Day’s writing is infectious and it is difficult not to be caught up in his excellent descriptions of how cycle couriers learn the city’s abstract properties, its rhythms, smells, signs and textures so that they eventually come “to feel part of the city’s secret networks, at one with its hidden rivers and its dead-letter drops, at one remove from its anonymous crowds of commuters.”  

Day examines the cyclist’s relationship with his machine, a life measured in revolutions and also describes the physical and mental impacts of cycling.  One minute he is revelling in the “the sheer joy of being physically tired at the end of a day’s work”, “the exhilaration of pedalling quickly through the city” and “the mindlessness of the job, the absolute focus on the body in movement”, and the next he is discretely vomitting by the side of the road after pushing himself in a street race and recounting stories about early competition cyclists whose obsession led to bodies ravaged by drugs and overexertion.  

Along the way Day takes a number of diversions and examines cycling in a variety of forms including escape, observation, exploration and art.  He meets artist Richard Long and writer Iain Sinclair, who voices his concerns about the changing nature of cycling, its politicisation and its shift from being subversive to becoming a colonising force in the city. 

He also takes us on a literary journey, drawing on the work of writers like Jonathan Raban, Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Rebecca Solnit, Samuel Beckett, Robert Macfarlane, Edward Thomas, Hilaire Belloc and HG Wells as well as Guy Debord and Roland Barthes.  Drawing a parallel between writing and cycling, Day notes that:  

The rhythms of movement provided by cycling seem perfectly suited to the writer’s need to notice. At bicycle-speed your eyes focus on a single scene as you glide past, and for a few seconds you can isolate one incident before you’re rolled onward. Then on to the next. The saccades of the eye’s snatch-and-focus synchronise with your velocity, flicking from rubbish bin to lamppost, from bus swerving out in front of you to pedestrian about to cross the road in front. The bicycle provides a road’s-eye view midway between the ponderous bus-gaze and the start/stop stress of the car.  Driving, in the city at any rate, is binary, reverential distancing.  Cycling flows, converting static and isolated glimpses of the city into a moving, zoetropic flicker of life.

Valeria Luiselli also noted this ‘cinemtaic’ quality of cycling in her Manifesto a Velo (from which Day quotes) noting that “the bicycle is not only noble in relation to body rhythms” but “is also generous to thought”.  Contrasting the cyclist with the pedestrian, motorist and users of public transport, Luiselli concluded that, “skimming along on two wheels, the rider finds just the right pace for observing the city and being at once its accomplice and its witness.”  I am reminded of the truth of this every time I go out on my bike in London. 

Despite the exhilaration and infectious energy of the book, Day highlights a darker side of cycling, revealing the loneliness of the job, human contact reduced to voices over the radio and the margins of urban life, suicides, the obsessive nature of cyclists and their acceptance and deliberate running of physical risks from knackered knees to the ‘alleycat’ street races.  However, even in its darker moments, Cyclogeography is a compulsive read. 

For more about Cyclogeography see the reviews in The Guardian here and here, The Independent, The Times Literary Supplement and The Financial Times

To read more by Jon Day and for biographical information, see here and also his contributions to n+1 and The London Review of Books blog.

Video: The Road from Karakol

I chose a bike instead of a partner, the road instead of a basecamp.  I chose Krygyzstan.  Its intriguing network of old Soviet roads and endless peaks.  I had no expectations other than what the guidebook said: Kyrgyzstan, the Switzerland of Central Asia.

Kyle Dempster is one of the world’s most accomplished alpine climbers who has trips to Pakistan, China, south America and the Canadian Arctic under his belt.  The Road from Karakol follows Dempster on a climbing trip to Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2011.

Dempster explored Kyrgyzstan by mountain bike, while pulling a trailer full of climbing kit.  In a country where 90% of the territory is above 1,500m and 40% is above 3,000m, that alone is no mean feet.

He had originally intended to make the trip with his girlfriend but after she had to pull out owing to a skiing accident, Dempster decided to make the trip alone.

We use the word suffering way too much.  Every adventure has both the light, the dark, the toil, the reward. To experience that alone is to become absorbed by an activity, by a place, by its people.  The wall of daily noise, the modern trappings that define our identities give way.  Our mental defenses grow thin.  You no longer know where you end and the world begins.  We become raw.  This is why we take the trip.  That is what we’ve come for.

For two months, Dempster cycled nearly 1,200 km on roads of varying quality through spectacular mountain scenery, crossing rivers, soloing peaks, passing through abandoned Soviet-era towns and drinking vodka, lots of vodka.  

He recorded his journey using a mixture of GoPro and point-and-shoot, filming nearly 25 hours of footage.  On his return, what was intended to be a four-minute climbing film was turned, with the assistance of Duct Tape then Beer and an editing process that took about a year, into the 25 minute The Road from Karakol.

The Road to Karakol is an extraordinary journey.  It is not a self-aggrandizing video or sponsorship film but a personal record of an adventure where things do not go as planned and  where Dempster is prepared to appear naked before the camera (emotionally as well as physically).

The camera is his companion and he shares his thoughts and fears, including a video letter to his family and loved ones, as well as his triumphs.  His journey through the deserted valleys and mountains of Kyrgyzstan to rejoin civilisation is a testament to his determination and perseverance.  Inspiring and impressive stuff.

Here’s what I believe. Real adventure is not polished. It’s not the result of some marketing budget.  There’s no hashtag for it.  It burns brightest on the map’s edges but it exists in all of us.  It exists at the intersection of imagination and the ridiculous.  You have to have faith.  It will find you there and when it does, remember there’s just one question.  In this life when the road comes to an end, will you keep pedalling? 

For more background to this story, read Kyle Dempster’s interview with The Bicycle Story, here, Kyle Dempster’s interview with Alastair Humphreys, here, or visit the film’s website, at www.theroadfromkarakol.com.

 

Article: Pico Iyer on the joy of National Geographic

As a four-year-old in Oxford, I had scant chance of knowing what the Himalayas looked like….All we could do was pore over old copies of Tintin in Tibet.

In this article from the Guardian, Pico Iyer considers the enduring appeal of National Geographic magazine and reminisces on the vicarious pleasures of travelling through its pages.

Founded in the United States, National Geographic gave its readers the chance to experience foreign history, culture, wildlife and geography before television, mass tourism, digital photography and Youtube.

Afghan_girl_National_Geographic_cover_June_1985

First published in 1888 and with a strong emphasis on striking photographic images since 1905, when it published several full page photos of Tibet, countless readers must have nurtured their wanderlust in National Geographic’s pages.

Although the tower of yellow-spined issues stacked behind my bedroom door at my parents’ house has long since gone, I hung on to many of my favourite issues and have never been able to part from the map supplements I still pore over, dreaming of travelling to far off places.

Available only in English until 1995, National Geographic is now published in 40 languages and has a global circulation of nearly 7 million per month.  Having begun as an American window on the world (as well as a mirror on America), it seems as though rest of the world is now also pressed up against the glass and is equally curious.

Pico Iyer’s article was published in the Guardian in 2013 to coincide with National Geographic’s 125th anniversary.  The same year, Taschen published a three volume special edition book showcasing the best of National Geographic’s photos: National Geographic. Around the World in 125 Years, previewed in the video below.

 

 

Article: Alastair Humphreys busks his way across Spain in Laurie Lee’s footsteps

When you plan an adventure some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, “What is the use?” And so you’ll often walk alone. But If you make your journeys like this you will have your reward, so long as all you want at the end is a cold, crisp beer.

Alastair Humphreys hosted an evening to promote his latest book, Grand Adventures, back in May.  The event was organised by the travel book specialists, Stanfords, and took place at the Prince of Wales pub on Drury Lane in London’s theatreland near Covent Garden. 

Being close not only to where I work but also the imposing Art Deco Freemasons Hall (no connection to my job), I normally associate the pub with after work drinks on the pavement outside and the Freemasons I have seen descending the stairs from the pub’s first floor room carrying oversized briefcases.  So, it was nice at last to have the chance to form a different association with the ‘PoW’.     

Alastair Humphreys was entertaining, enthusiastic and passionate about encouraging others to try their hands at adventures, big or small. Towards the end of the evening, he outlined the ongoing preparations for his own next adventure.  

Humphreys told the crowded upstairs room that a story about someone else’s journey can often serve as an inspiration for your own journey.  As I sat in silent, self-satisfied agreement, Humphreys name-checked Dervla Murphy and Wilfred Thesiger as inspirations, before citing Laurie Lee’s As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning as his favourite travel book (if I wasn’t already, I must surely have been smiling and nodding with approval by now).

It was for this reason, Humphreys explained, that he was currently having violin lessons. He intended to follow in Laurie Lee’s footsteps and walk across Spain supporting himself financially only with the money he earned from busking.

Alastair Humphreys seems to have forged a career largely from persuading others that they need no particular talent or skill to undertake adventures of many different kinds provided that they have the enthusiasm and desire to go out and make something happen and the determination to see it through and succeed.  Alastair Humphreys is indeed a great advert for his own philosophy of adventuring.  

Thanks to Instagram, it was easy to follow his progress as Humphreys posted regular updates from his journey throughout the summer, posting a mixture of photos, video shorts and text sharing stories and reflections about his trip.  

In his posts, Humphreys explains that it is not only Lee’s writing he admires but also his style of travel noting that he “travelled slow, lived simply, slept on hilltops, and loved conversations with the different people he met along the hot and dusty road.”

Humphreys’ wanderings in Spain were great to follow.  Overcoming his fears about playing violin in public, we follow his disappointments and triumphs as he lived from hand to mouth.  It is a story of small successes and pleasures, measured in handfuls of Euros, but also of a tough life on the road walking across Spain’s meseta in the heat of summer before crossing the mountains of the Sistema Central and arriving in Madrid.  

Along the way, Humphreys’ Instagram posts capture the joys of travelling solo, adapting to the tempo of the Spanish way of life, settling into the rhythm of his journey and enjoying the abundance of time:

Time expands when you are away on a journey. It feels voluptuous and luxurious. Back home, time is my scarcest and most precious commodity… And now here I am beneath a tree, watching the leaves, listening to the swallows…I have nothing. Nothing but time. So scarce at home, so bountiful out here that I wallow in an excess of it. I’m wilfully inviting boredom (though I’ve rarely felt it, yet). I’m allowing my brain a fallow month to wander where it wonders and to recalibrate a little. 

Tramping across Spain, Humphreys received unexpected and generous hospitality, enjoyed beautiful scenery, found idyllic places to sleep for the night and also novel places to cool off.     

Setting off solo to follow a literary hero’s footsteps with nothing but his wits and a nascent proficiency in playing the violin may be a touch quixotic but is still impressive.  In the process, Humphreys shows what determination can do, living by his creed that the expertise one needs to undertake an adventure can, to a large degree, be obtained along the way.  That must have made the final cerveza he enjoyed in Madrid just that little bit sweeter and makes you wonder, maybe, just maybe, I could… 

Follow Alastair Humphreys’ journey across Spain on Instagram – www.instagram.com/al_humphreys/ – or find out more about him on his website: www.alastairhumphreys.com.

Video: Hong Kong Strong (07m02s)

I just thought it was really fascinating to see the different layers of the city, how it’s just so stacked together how people are so compressed and how they find a way to exploit every little nook and cranny of space to their advantage and I felt like it was a little wild and had a lot of energy to it so I wanted to make a film that was sort of like a roller coaster ride through the city.

Great video from filmmaker Brandon Li.  Seven minutes but worth a watch. 

A whirlwind insight showing Hong Kong from a number of angles.  Split into three distinct acts with an original soundtrack the film was shot over the course of one month filming 2-5 hours of footage a day.  

With a great sense of fluidity the film shows dancing lions, urban explorers, mah jong, yacht racing, fireworks, Cantonese opera, an incense ceremony, buddhas, some superb behind the scenes footage and, of course, Hong Kong’s distinctive skyline.  

I am a nomad I don’t have a fixed address I travel all over the world and I make short films about the places I have been.

Brandon Li’s director’s commentary to the video is on Youtube here, and more of his films can be seen on Vimeo here or on his website: www.unscripted.com.  

Video: Roma – city of yearning (3m27s)

Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.
Giotto di Bondone

Brilliant video of Rome from digital director and photographer Oliver Astrologo. 

Bells, coffee, cobbles, fountains, vespas, street life and Rome’s stunning architecture all feature in this video.  With interesting angles, good use of drone footage, an original score and fine editing to give it drama and pace, this short film is definitely one to watch and, like any trip to Rome, it is over too quickly and will leave you wanting more.

Oliver Astrologo’s other work can be found at vimeo.com/oliverastrologo, oliverastrologo.com and instagram.com/oliverhl/.  Nod to Travel + Leisure for featuring this video. 

Video: Kenya from the air (4m42s)

SOMETIMES you stumble across a place that seems like it got far more than its fair share of natural beauty. Places with spectacular wildlife, gorgeous scenery, and an almost absurdly beautiful culture. Kenya is one of those places.

Superb and enticing video from Matador Network.  Using a mixture of drone and plane footage, Matador travelled to remote parts of Kenya to produce this short film.  As well as including familiar wildlife shots, it also showcases the beauty of Kenya’s varied landscapes. 

The video is narrated by Jamie Gaymer, game warden at the Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy.  Emphasising the scale of Kenya’s unspoilt mountains, deserts, savannah and jungles and urging the viewer to visit Kenya before it changes, Jamie notes:

I haven’t scratched the surface yet and there is so much out there in these remote places that has not been explored.  

Sure to stoke any traveller’s wanderlust.

Video: Gertrude Bell documentary – Letters from Baghdad

I am having by far the most interesting time of my life…I am so thankful to be here at this time.

Interesting trailer for the Kickstarter funded documentary about Gertrude Bell, the woman who was more influential in the Middle East than her contemporary Lawrence of Arabia and who shaped the destiny of Iraq.  

The trailer for Letters from Baghdad gives an overview of Gertrude Bell’s privileged upbringing and her subsequent career as adventurer diplomat, archaeologist and spy in the first quarter of the 20th century.   

Using fascinating archive footage and with Tilda Swinton reading from Gertrude Bell’s correspondence, this documentary will be one to watch as it follows the incredible career of a woman who rose to a position of extraordinary influence in two male dominated cultures.  

An enduring story, the film also explores how Bell’s influence echoes in our own time, drawing parallels between her insights and current affairs. 

At the time of writing, it looked as though the film will be ready for release shortly with previews already taking place.  Certainly one to watch out for.  

Video: Sights and sounds of Rajasthan (01m47s)

Great, short video from Koatlas of a trip through Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and Amritsar.  

From looking at a guidebook and imagining a place to being plunged into the sights and sounds of its street life, this travel video nicely captures the experience of travel in Rajasthan, India and what is more, manages it without using time lapse.

Koatlas is a social network aimed at travellers to explore routes taken by other travellers as well as to plan and share their own routes.  

The website is not up and running yet but hopefully, it won’t be too long.  In the meantime, follow Koatlas on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Video: Promoting tolerance through tourism (04m37s)

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Mark Twain’s famous lines from Innocents Abroad are well known and widely quoted.  However, after overcoming anger at the murder of his brother, Aziz Abu Sarah has been putting them into practice.  

Realising that what separated Palestinians and Israelis were hatred and ignorance, Aziz decided to dedicate himself to breaking down walls and building positive connections between people.  He co-founded a company, Medji Tours, which runs tours highlighting different cultural, religious, political, and ethnic narratives within the countries they visit.  To achieve this each tour is led by two guides from different religious or political backgrounds.  

By getting tourists off buses and promoting engagement with local communities, Aziz and Medji Tours believe that tourism offers a viable way to remove barriers, foster connections and build friendships.

Medji Tours started in Israel and Palestine and now runs tour in Oman, Jordan, Turkey as well as Ireland and Cuba. 

Watch Aziz’s TED talk here:  

Video: Overlanding the Silk Road (05m08s)

There was thick pristine snow covering the mountains as far as you can see, which was a stark contrast with the endless sanddunes we have seen on other parts of the Silk Road, which gives you a better understanding of the wide range of difficulties and obstacles that merchants in past centuries had to overcome on these trade routes, not to mention the bandits and armies shifting control of the areas.

120 days and 18,000 km along the Silk Road with a Dragoman overland expedition. 

Nicely edited, Nicolas Bori’s video contains some striking images and colours showing the diversity of the peoples and landscapes in the countries along the route.

Nicolas recalls some of the highlights from his trip, including epic scenery, mountains, picnicking with locals and moonlit, starry nights on Traveldudes’ website, here.

Article: Will Self on solving packing anxieties

The business traveler should bring only what fits in a carry-on bag. Checking your luggage is asking for trouble…There are very few necessities in this world which do not come in travel-size packets…Always bring a book as protection against strangers. Magazines don’t last, and newspapers from elsewhere remind you you don’t belong. But don’t take more than one book. It is a common mistake to overestimate one’s potential free time, and consequently over-pack. In travel, as in most of life, less is invariably more. And most importantly, never take along anything on your journey so valuable or dear that its loss would devastate you. (William Hurt, The Accidental Tourist)

In this short article in the New Statesman, author and self confessed bag-o-phobe Will Self takes a drastic approach to packing for a trip and heads to the US without any luggage. 

There is no shortage of advice on the internet about what and how to pack. From the type, size and weight of bag, which clothes to take and how how to fold them.  It is now even possible to have a company pack for you (you send them the bag and the items you want packed and they do the rest) or avoid luggage issues altogether by paying a company to send your bag to your destination separately to avoid excess baggage fees.  (Yes, really.)  

Everyone it seems has their packing routines and tricks, as this video shows:

Confessing to his own aversion to luggage and an obsession about continually trying to pack lighter and smaller, Will Self suggests we ditch the physical bags.  If we manage to free ourselves, he argues surely the psychological baggage and insecurities that go with them will follow and, unencumbered, we will be more receptive to the places we visit.  

As you might expect of a seasoned traveller, Rolf Potts has thought of this previously and in 2011 undertook a Round the World challenge with no bag, instead packing everything into a utility vest:

Only last year on Kickstarter, another company was trying to crowdsource funding for a similar jacket (be sure to check out the incorporated eye mask and neck pillow at 01:28):  

Rolf Potts and BauBax may have beaten him to the idea but Will Self has seen the short-lived happiness these would bring and the sleepless nights that would follow as we inevitably lie awake playing a mental version of Tetris, stuffing different combinations of objects into pockets to maximise what we can take with us on our travels.

 

Article & Video: Riding India’s Longest Train Journey

The largest employer in India with 1.4 million employees, Indian Railways is one of the largest railways in the world with over 115,000km or track over a route of 65,808km and 7,112 stations, carrying a staggering 23 million passengers a day, with freight and passenger revenues of US$24 billion. Rolling stock includes 10,499 locomotives and 66,392 passenger coaches. The infrastructure is gargantuan, and at times beautiful.

Great time lapse and stunning photographs of the longest rail journey in India from photographer, film-maker and tabla player, Ed Hanley.  

There is something particularly alluring about travelling by train compared with other forms of transport.  For me its the combination of chatting with other passengers, and having time to read and stare out of the window.  A fellow traveller once told me that the ideal train journey lasted for three hours because it allowed enough time to indulge in all three.   

The Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express travels from a city on the Brahmaputra river in Assam in north east India to the southern tip of India in Tamil Nadu.  The journey lasts three days and four nights and covers 4,273km, so that is definitely a trip with plenty of time to stare out of the window as well as read.  As to the chatting, my experience is that passengers on Indian trains are particularly social, so the shy needn’t worry about how to strike up a conversation with strangers.  

In his time lapse and accompanying photo essay, Ed Hanley perfectly captures the experience of riding trains in India and I especially like the way he takes the opportunity to treat the train not just as a mode of transport but something to be explored and enjoyed in its own right.  A great initiation. 

For further reading about travelling India by train, see Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 Trains: