At first, one's hopes for a truly personal guide are disappointed by the highly readable but traditionally impersonal chapters on the geography and culture of the Ganges region -- especially since, given the Hindu indifference to western style history, most of the recorded past centers on the periods of Muslim invasion and British depredation. Later, however, Rice does offer up the India he knows from personal experience and the result is not only candid by the standards of what is normally considered young adult fare, but impressive in its grasp of India's vast, almost unimaginable tragedies and the psychological attitudes they engender. Rice begins with a tourist's eye view of such diverse religious landmarks as the cremation grounds of Benares and the mournful, nearly deserted home base of the Maharishi, and his view of the city is bracketed by the companionship of his wasted, ganja smoking rickshaw wallah (who attaches himself to Rice in a kind of feudal dependency) and the hashish smoking tourists at his hotel who find the sheer density of people difficult to comprehend. Then, in the continually famine plagued region of Bihar, Rice shares a boiled potato lunch with a missionary while a crowd waits outside the window for scraps of leftovers -- a scene which brings his statistics of hunger and disease into sharp human focus. His conversations with Bengali businessmen and aid workers reflect a pervading spirit of defeatism and when the dire predictions of a cross section of Bengalis (each of whom testify that ""Calcutta is a garbage heap"") makes some sort of dramatic change seem inevitable, the war between Pakistan and Bangladesh erupts, bringing just one more round of disaster. A many-faceted view which could have been better integrated, but nevertheless attains a high level of insight and immediacy.