Travel writing is a genre I was very interested in at some point after my articles began to appear in magazines and newspapers. The allure was not a ‘vacational’ lifestyle but a keen desire to stay close to the nature as often as possible.
Early on in my attempts to write travel articles, I realized that there can be several ways of doing travel writing but that they can be broadly categorized into two styles: narrative style and reflective style. In narrative style you express what you saw, and in reflective style you express how what you saw affected you.
Bhisma Upreti’s Beyond the Holy Border is a travelogue written for the most part in reflective style.
Though essentially a tourist on pilgrimage, Upreti makes a humongous effort to transform himself into a romantic trying to express his love for nature.
He does it with some degree of success. To be honest, saying ‘some degree of success’ might be a flawed observation given that the book is translated from original writing in Nepali and it is hard to know without reading the Nepali version how far the translators have been successful to express the exact feeling of the writer. The translation in itself, however, is commendable.
Another interesting thing about Beyond the Holy Border worth mentioning is that it could be an inspiration for beginners. It may not be the best example of writing, but it surely can motivate those who want to write but often find it hard to begin, as they worry about what and how to write.
Here, the writer has simply turned his journal – a daily written record of (usually personal) experiences and observations – into a book. It is his reflections on the events and experiences from his trip to Mansarovar, right from the time of planning to everything that follows in between until the culmination of the trip.
It seems he set out on this journey to explore his emotional self, for you will find very little intellectual observations in the book. That is not to say that emotional renderings are not worth reading. But too much of it is certainly a bit dragging and could prove a test of your patience. A reader can take bloated expressions and flowery sentences as matter-of-fact only up to an extent.
The emotional undercurrent is the book’s main thrust, and quite surprisingly, the writer manages to throw the ring of emotion even at the most unexpected places.
And that is exactly why often his emotional overflows seem a bit overdone.
For example, even before their flight tickets to Nepalgunj is booked, the writer says, “We awaited with bated breath our encounter with the dreamy garden of paradise fallen to earth. I even flew there in my imagination. Wave of emotions, impatience and feelings were ebbing and flowing in my mind.”
And when heavy rainfall seemed to play spoilsports, this is how he expresses his disappointment: “It was as though an arrow penetrated my heart. Multihued agony and fatigue splashed over me, as if a spoonful of food had been snatched from the hand of a starving man.”
Finally, after boarding the plane and looking out the window, this is how the writer expresses what he sees:
The sky was blue and the ground all green… I was trying to hide myself among the blue, green and white… I was racing with excitement, bright with ecstasy. I was flowing – flowing along the hills, around the plains, around knolls and trees, plants, leaves, in the clouds and in the deep blue color of the sky.
My eyes started kissing those lovely mountains, white with snow… I was swept far from the shore in a sea of happiness, excitement and pleasure. It seemed to me that my feelings were as clean and white as the mountains. I really needed to share my unbounded ecstasy.
And that is what he does mostly throughout the book. I would recommend the book for those who love reflective style of writing and for beginner writers.
Personally, I found the book interesting for one more reason: the writer’s uncanny ability to compose prose in poetic style. Let me end with two examples — there are several of them – that caught my fancy:
Waking up in Nepalgunj: The morning breeze had died down, leaving buds of happiness in our hands, and we enjoyed their fragrance… The warm sun was like a young Muslim girl stepping out of her home without a Burka for the first time, partly shy and partly enjoying the freedom.
Upon reaching Simikot: The green pine trees sang a pleasing melody and the Karnali River down the hill added to the orchestra.
The writer is a copy editor at Republica. He admires Gabriel Garcia Marquez and wishes to someday write a novel imitating his style.