In a follow-up to his African odyssey (Walking the Nile, 2016), explorer Wood hits the road again on a trans-Asian adventure.
Like his earlier work, this book opens with a bang. In 2001, the author was in Nepal during the Maoist uprising. Just before his scheduled departure, the Crown Prince Dipendra massacred the royal family, plunging the country into chaos, and Wood briefly went into hiding. The author describes this action in the prologue, noting how he was young and broke. The story resumes 14 years later, when his life was decidedly calmer. At this point, Wood lived in London as a published writer with little to prove. Only after much goading from his friend Ash did the author consider another long walk. In contrast to the brutal African wilderness, the Himalayas were majestic and relatively tranquil. Instead of dodging bullets and befriending warlords, Wood met with shamans, villagers, herders, and activists. The desire to explore unfamiliar places is pure and admirable, and Wood is a likable guide. He thoughtfully describes the scenery of places like Tibet, Afghanistan, and Bhutan, and he delves into the basic political problems of Central Asia. Yet many foreigners have trod this region, and Wood’s journey through Pakistan seems less daring after, say, Michael Palin chronicled a similar passage. Given his track record of tenacity and resourcefulness, Wood’s talents seem wasted on such sentimental sightseeing. Most of his prose is dedicated to spiritual rites and friendly chats along the way. The finale feels lackluster, as if he has become bored by his own story. Toward the end, he writes, “ ‘Live in the moment,’ the Dalai Lama had said. ‘Stop concerning yourself with the future.’ ” After so many dramatic experiences, it’s a bit of a letdown. The author certainly deserved a vacation, and fans will appreciate his ongoing travels, but Wood’s skills are too valuable to squander here.
The author’s intentions are genuine and ambitious, but the result is uninspired.