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The book that changed travel writing forever

The book that changed travel writing forever

Stories of transformation on the trail and discovering new lives through adventure are now such a common tale that we can assume it was always the case. But it was not always so.

Traditionally, the travel and adventure writing genre was defined by heroic tales of conquest and endeavour by stoutly stoic types. Almost always beardy men.

This month's book, however, takes us back to when a more modern storyline started to emerge, with Eric Newby's classic A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.

Rather incongruously, the tale begins on the 1950s floor of the family fashion house, where the young Newby carries out the unfulfilling work of promoting the latest season. It eventually proves too much, or too little, prompting him to rashy cable a remote friend, "CAN YOU TRAVEL NURISTAN JUNE?"

It soon becomes evident that Newby is utterly ill-prepared for the challenge that emerges of climbing Mir Samir in the remote Hindu Kush.

And yet, after a frankly disastrous couple of days learning the ropes in Snowdonia, Eric sets out on the adventure that comes to redefine travel writing.

Told in his distinctly laconic 'Englishman abroad' fashion, there's a real period charm to his writing, along with a few moments and phrases to cause the modern reader to wince.

Newby's self depricating manner, however, is winningly endearing, such as his description of encountering the legendary traveller Wilfred Thesiger. Thesiger observed Newby and his companion Hugh Carless inflating their airbeds and told them: "God, you must be a couple of pansies."

This was a new history in the making, where the story became less about the conquest and more about the journey; a brave departure in an era obsessed with proving itself, such as with the recent first ascent of Everest.

Travel writing was never the same again, and we're all the more grateful for that. Otherwise, we would have no books to feature in Adventurous Ink today!

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush was the February 2023 issue of Adventurous Ink, the book club which never features macho tales of heroic conquest.

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