“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Stephen King
And the magic has been transporting me to the most beautiful of lands since I was a kid. I have been shipwrecked on an island somewhere in Europe, fallen into a rabbit hole to find a wonderland, been through many adventures at a school of witchcraft and wizardry, have eaten the most exquisite Wazwan at a Kashmiri Pandit’s house, bought a house in Tuscany on an impulse, and have been young and poor in Paris. And then there are a few books that have actively nudged me to travel to a certain country, city or have a certain kind of experience. In no particular order, listing down a few favourites.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
During summer holidays in my maternal grandparents’ house in Karanpur (in Uttarakhand now), I’ve spent many hot afternoons poring over every detail of the island where the shipwrecked Swiss family creates a world that’s beyond anyone’s imagination and then spends almost entire life on the island. I would daydream of the tree-house, lying in a hammock, reading a book and eating food that the family started growing in their farm. That kid in me, drinking shikanji and laying on the deewan (bed) with a stack of books, still dreams of being shipwrecked.
Under The Tuscan Sun (Film and Book) by Frances Mayes
I watched the film first and while it’s absolutely unrealistic and completely different from the book, it made me fall in love with Tuscany. A 35-year-old recently divorced author finds herself dealing with a writer’s block. She travels to Tuscany and buys an old villa on an impulse and ends up creating a family there. The book is a more realistic account of the author’s life who moves to Tuscany with her partner. Her decision of buying a house is less impulsive. What’s common in both are the beautiful fruit orchards, bustling local markets, the food that Frances cooks and the enchanting scenery.
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
While a lot of people I know are in love with Japan thanks to Haruki Murakami’s books, my idea of traveling to this lovely country shaped up after reading Strange Weather in Tokyo. While reading the book all I wanted to do was sit at an Izakaya or tiny subway bars chugging sake and eating pickles, dried mushroom, grilled prawns and lobsters with wasabi. A year later I was doing just that at tiny bars of Golden Gai.
The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie
Learning about McLeodganj through a cat’s perspective has probably been my best travel inspiration. I knew I wanted to be at this tiny Tibetan town in the mountains as soon as I started reading the book. When HHC (His Holiness’s Cat – the central character of the book) wobbled her way through the lovely hills, I imagined myself trailing on her paw-steps. I wondered about the pretty book cafes where she would perch herself on top of book shelves. I wanted to sit at those cafes, a book in hand, looking at the Dhauladhar and drinking hot chocolate.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
This beautiful collection of letters between Juliet Ashton and the residents of Guernsey Island is the only reason I’d wish to visit this tiny British island which was occupied by the Germans during World War II. The people of the island, cut off from the rest of the country, formed a book club as an escape from the life of scarcity. Like Ashton who eventually traveled to Guernsey and fell in love with the people there, I too dream of being on that island someday.
The high point was when a food blogger from Guernsey dropped by my blog and left a comment on the post I had written for my The Literary Kitchen series.
Also read – The lIterary Kitchen – Potato Crust Pie from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie
While the book is a comment on the partition and Kashmir issue, its the description of the Wazwan meal that made me fall in love with the cuisine and gave me this burning desire of traveling to Kashmir and eating at a local’s house.