Homer (8th century BC) probably started it with Odyssey — epic poem of the travels of Greek hero, Odysseus, on his voyage home from Troy. Faxian (c. 337 – c. 422), Chinese monk or traveler to India and Ceylon continued the trend in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline. Hieun Tsang in 646 AD carried travelogue forward. Then on Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan, Ian Fleming, Vikram Seth have all enriched the genre and I havent even named a ‘few’.
Travel literature sometimes intersects with essay as in VS Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization or Rebecca West‘s account of Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Some are fictions – beginning with Homer, Jonathan Swift’s, Gulliver’s Travels, Voltaire’s Candide etc. Some part fiction like Marco Polo or John Mandeville. As a recognised area of writing its not very old. The first international travel writing conference, “Snapshots from Abroad”, was organized by Donald Ross at the University of Minnesota in 1997, it led to the foundation of the International Society for Travel Writing.
Travel writing is a varied genre – say Seizal Mehta writing about biking through Manali, Sarchu, Debring, via Leh to Khardungla, Karen Anand’s culinary travelogues or Joan Fry‘s – ‘How to Cook a Tapir’ – recipies from a year’s stay in a Maya village in the Amazonian rainforest. Karen Anand is all about places and their culinary delights. Sarina Singh writes for Lonely Planet and specializes in the Indian subcontinent, Samantha Brown is your host for several Travel Channel shows, Sucheta Potnis writes beautiful pieces on Goa, Michael Palin, almost legendary is an unique combo of a comedian and travel writer. You can go on.
Can you earn your living writing travelouges in India? If you are a William Dalrymple it helps :). You need to be seriously good. The editor probably has 20 identical pieces so unless you are the first to land on Titan or Mars you better be good. A varuied perspective helps. Everyone writes about beaches in Nicobar – how many accounts of hunting with the Jarwas or the Onges exist? you get my drift. As television invades our home and we get used to seeing Ian Wright frolicking in Rio and Nigella cooking up a storm or Bear Grylls scooting across Patagonia we are getting used to exclusives.
A century ago you had to take a camera to Africa to become an wildlife photographer and look at the effort these days. Its not that Africa has become less exotic but people have invaded almost every corner of the globe. Just surf the net there are hundreds of travel experiences jotted down, its all free and so if you are not thinking out of the box, forget making decent money. The next time when you are around Shilon Bagh or Puri maybe you can discover a ghost or two at the old presidential retreat near Shilon bagh or you’ll catch a blackbuck looking at a mermaid drying her tresses on the banks of Nuanai on a moonlit night 🙂 Write in about your experiences.
In India the travel industry has not penetrated in say more than 60% of the destinations. So there is scope to visit places less travelled and write about them. But selection, perspective and quality are the key. Good luck and yes the scope of fictional travel writing is getting better – Rivendell to Gondor to Mordor or Hogwarts to Azkaban – they are getting better 😉
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