Review of ‘Alone in Asia’, by Geoff William

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 10th April 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Geoff William
Published Locally (2003)

'... in the evening I stood on a hillside to watch the mayor being burnt'. No, nobody we know, nor another of those strange old Peak customs, but an everyday cremation witnessed by Geoff William on his travels through Asia in the late 1960s.

Alone in Asia is the journal of a Scout's eight-month 18,000 mile adventure - much of it on foot - across Europe and south-western Asia to the Himalayas, the Sri Lankan jungles, the Golden City of Jerusalem and through the wild and lonely deserts of Afghanistan. When Geoff settled back in the Peak it was perhaps to get his breath back, selling strictly non-themed articles from his fascinating bazaar masquerading as a shop on Winster's Main Street. At present he is somewhere in Central Europe.

His book includes brief historical notes about his surroundings, occasionally contemplating the British influence with a few words on anything from the Black Hole of Calcutta to Bingo - a popular 'upper-crust' game amongst Indian army officers. Early on, he writes that he has much to learn and that many dreams would be destroyed. He is humbled at the hospitality and generosity of strangers in lands which know numbing poverty. He curbs frustrations and plays down problems, though one chapter is entitled 'Pakistan and Dysentery'. He eats and drinks everything put in front of him and sleeps rough, very rough and below mosquito nets with more insects inside than out.

At Kashmir, Geoff follows in the then recent footsteps of sitar student George Harrison; in Calcutta he finds a government building modelled on Derbyshire's Hardwick Hall; and exhibits dry humour in declining an offer of 'nice Indian girls'. His text is coloured with visual snaps: the city paying 5p a pound for dead flies, or 'passers by lit their cigarettes on a burning piece of fibre rope ... left by cigarette vendors tied to lamp posts'. He notes that the Khyber Pass is closed at night and makes the curious observation that Turks either don't or can't whistle or snap their fingers.

Alone in Asia , with over 90 black and white photographs, is just the book to whet a backpacker's appetitite or entice armchair travellers into another world already greatly changed. Especially poignant is a chapter near the end entitled simply 'Iraq'.

Review by Julie Bunting

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