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

God knows how many Indian stamps I have collected in my passport. I've still got one of those old black leathery British passports which I managed to get hold of in Delhi after they stopped doing them in London. It is a 10-year one for frequent travellers and since I've had it, I've gone through 81 pages.

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).

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