Profile £9.99

Ox Travels: Meetings with Remarkable Travel Writers

Surreal encounters that open an unexpected window on to the world

Travel books are a chore for many readers.

There are rewards for trekking through tomes by Colin Thubron or Wilfred Thesiger, but for some these books are a bit of a commitment, not least since they don't pack neatly into a suitcase.

Cue Ox Travels, a paperback published in aid of Oxfam that puts work from 36 contemporary travel writers together in fewer than 500 pages, taking readers from Sri Lanka to Spain, Ireland to India and beyond.Nearly all the pieces were originated for this collection and there's an avuncular introduction from Michael Palin. Most pieces are by very British writers; some are established – Thubron, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Rory Stewart – and a few are newbies such as Shehan Karunatilaka.

"I accept that the point of the journey is the journey. And that being in a hurry doesn't get you there any faster," writes Karunatilaka near the end of his sceptical piece about a Buddhist pilgrimage. Following this principal, you might think that the short essay or story could leave you wanting, but like Granta's great travel and reportage anthologies, this is a collection of sharp tales which take you straight to the point of a place – albeit often viewed in a sideways glance.

Writers were asked to recall a significant encounter – an unforgettable experience that shaped them. It might have been a tedious device but instead it reveals the spirit of a place, as reflected by someone the writer has met – even if often that person is someone of few utterances. In the case of Dervla Murphy, it isn't a person at all but a black and tan dog of dubious breeding called Tashi.

At its best, reading Ox Travels is like landing somewhere you haven't been for a while and remembering how much you love the place. I hadn't read anything by Jason Webster since his 2003 book Duende, which recounted an Iberian odyssey into the heart of flamenco. As with so many of these stories, this Anglo-American's description of a bullfight was a vivid reminder of how much I love travelling safely on the back of someone else's intimate words.

In most cases, the adapted stories (there are six of them) are no less riveting second time around. William Dalrymple's "The Nun's Tale" (taken from his 2009 book Nine Lives) is the saddest, most maddening story of Mataji, a Jainist nun who walks India barefoot towards the ultimate sacrifice. It's as complete a narrative as you could ever hope to find in a couple of thousand words. Others are the literary equivalent of a glance out of a train window. There is a fable-like piece about a Korean monk from Paul Theroux; a fireside tale about were-tigers (as in werewolves) from Ruth Padel; and a nascent romance from Sara Wheeler. Lloyd Jones recounts his time at Captain Scott's camp in Antarctica, the magnitude of this icy museum eclipsed by the singular horror of Jones's witnessing an Adélie penguin chick being mauled by a predatory skua bird.

Often these tales are not pretty, but they do feel true. Sonia Faleiro gives a bald account of a conversation she had on a plane with an Indian maid returning from work in the Gulf, that is rendered in scant adjectives yet gives a brutal insight into life on the road for many migrant workers.

Like any great trip, these tales are often surreal and perhaps take you to places you weren't sure you had any interest in. Yet they leave you moved, long after you've stopped travelling.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

    Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit