PASSPORT: WILLIAM DALRYMPLE
The travel writer explains why he can never get enough of India, and recalls how it all started with his first ever trip abroad as a boy
Sunday 07 March 1999
I haven't visited any other country nearly as much as India. It is certainly my number one obsession. The thing is that it is not a country but a continent; in a way, it is not fair to compare it with other countries. Pakistan would be a close contender for second place in my affections though. It is obviously much smaller and is not nearly so varied culturally as India, but I've spent a great deal of time there and it's definitely one of my favourite countries.
By far the most colourful stamp in my passport is for Syria. The one- month tourist visa comprises of something like nine rubber stamps and eight postage stamps. You certainly get value for money when it comes to that passport entry. My Syrian stamps always bring back vivid memories. Syria is one of the few countries in the Middle East where a visitor can still feel like a Victorian traveller. There are no ugly distractions; no postcard stands nor ice-cream sellers, and no guards at the gates of ruins trying to sell you entrance tickets. You are on your own with just the pillars and the sand.
I have fairly limited areas of interest as a travel writer. I'm interested in anywhere between Greece and Bengal. I have no real interest in returning to anywhere in central or northern Europe, and if Kuwait airport is anything to go by, I have no desire ever to return there. After five years living in India writing City of Djinns, I decided to give up my house and return to the UK. But since then, I have probably spent six months out of every year back in India. I don't think I could ever spend enough time there. I speak a bit of the language which helps, but I believe that when you get bored with India, you get bored with life. It is truly the sort of place where every day your jaw drops at a new discovery. As a writer, I have never been at a loss there. Every day I find plenty of ideas for features and articles. India is definitely the place in which I'm the most productive as a writer.
My love of travel stems perhaps from the fact that I was rather a late starter. I had a very sheltered childhood in Scotland and I was the last boy in my class at school to go abroad. Everyone but me had been to France once or twice at least. I had to plead and plead with my mother and eventually she took me on the hovercraft to Paris for the weekend.
We stayed in a very grotty hotel and it all went very well, except I remember my mother gave me some alarming advice about sitting on my hands when I went to the loo. This is thankfully not advice that I've ever taken. Anyway, I suppose that it would be pretty hard to sit on your hands in a "squatter loo" in India.
William Dalrymple's most recent book is `The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters' (Harper Collins, pounds 19.99).
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 World peace? These are the only 11 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict
- 4 Nicki Minaj finally releases predictable 'Anaconda' video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women
£6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...
£17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...
£23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...