My Life In Travel: Colin Thubron, writer

'I've learnt that Britain is extremely peculiar'

First holiday memory?

Just after the Second World War, my parents took me to Cornwall. Having grown up in inland Hampshire, I had never seen the sea before. The beach was lined with miles of anti-landing craft defences but beyond them were glistening rock pools. I remember crabs and anemones, a sort of underwater world, which was beautiful. It was pure magic.

Best holiday?

Sulawesi, Indonesia for relaxation and sheer beauty of landscape. I went about 20 years ago and I remember a pair of volcanoes in the north that were almost like a bad-tempered couple: when one was erupting the other went quiet. It's a beautiful place. I went scuba diving and the beauty of the underwater world matched the beauty above water.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The west coast of Scotland, preferably in winter for that rather subdued northern light. You can't really imagine that you're in Britain at all.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I have learnt about my own country and also that other cultures are deeply and interestingly different from my own. Some people travel and find similarities but I think I have learnt something more reflective of Britain. You lose that sense that perhaps I had as a young man, that Britain is the norm and realise that Britain is also extremely peculiar and strange.

Ideal travelling companion?

Myself – he is big-headed, and brash and tiring but he does what I want and I can't go without him. Otherwise it would be my partner who has a tremendously vital take on everything she sees. We travel together a lot for holidays but not for my work – that's too unpleasant to impose on anybody else.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Anything but the beach, I'm more of an underwater person if I'm near the beach, looking around and discovering things.

Greatest travel luxury?

An opera house, if I can find one. I have discovered some pretty funny ones in Russia and also in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, there's a large, grand, Soviet opera house covered in native Uzbek decoration, but performing really good-standard Russian opera and ballet.

Holiday reading?

I usually find I haven't the time to read, even on long and monotonous train journeys. When I am travelling to write, I'm anxious to make contact with people and to be able to understand the landscape outside the window. I like to read anything that relates to where I am that offers cultural insight. Nobel Prize- winner Gao Xingjian in China and Chingiz Aitmatov in Central Asia are favourites.

Where has seduced you?

I'm a geographic philanderer. Every one of these seductive places, whether it's a Chinese desert or Siberia, has its peculiar allure.

Better to travel or arrive?

There's a visceral excitement about the actual process of travel that nothing else provides.

Worst travel experience?

Returning from India overland in mid-winter in the 1970s in a car that was slowly dying and with no money. However, nothing more drastically exposes you to the kindness of strangers – it's a real test of the country you're in. It was a pretty good nightmare.

Worst hotel?

There have been so many I can't select. One of the better things about travel is that the good hotels are boring and the bad ones have an individuality which may be fun and striking and then you write about them.

Best hotel?

The lovely Bedarra Island resort on the Great Barrier Reef. It's very tropical, very quiet, very secluded with gorgeous sea – everything is right.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I rode by camel for a couple of days into the Taklamakan desert of north-west China to a Buddhist stupa, which was half-buried in the sands; it was very unearthly. It's not much fun riding a camel, you have to get used to the rhythm of the beast. Mounting and dismounting is a very jerky and unceremonious business, too.

Best meal abroad?

A seafood risotto in Venice, for the setting and the food. I have never been able to find it again.

Dream trip?

I have been very spoilt. The Karnali river in Nepal is a very deep tributary of the Ganges which you can follow on foot over into Tibet. It's in a part of western Nepal that used to be overrun by Maoist guerrillas but recently it's been possible to travel in and you have it to yourself. The lovely, forested tributary journeys out into the Tibetan plateau which has its own strange lunar beauty – and there you find yourself in Tibet.

Favourite city?

Damascus, for its dense, ancient Islamic culture and personal nostalgia. I settled there for a few months with an Arab family when I was 25, to write my first book. I have only gone back once and I'm worried that it has mushroomed into too much of an international city since then.

Where next?

I plan to write a novel and stay put, at least for now.

"To a Mountain in Tibet" by Colin Thubron is published by Chatto & Windus, £16.99

The My Life in Travel column is produced in association with Andalucia Tourism. See

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable