Adventure travel writing. Sadly, 99% of it is utter drivel, written by self-important numpties who harp on about finding themselves and ethereal experiences whilst walking down Ko Sahn Road with a bottle of Singha in their mitts. The kind of stuff that makes your toenails curl. Our ex-colleague and old friend Antonia Bollingbroke Kent, however, is actually rather crafty when stringing words together and has just released her second book, Land of the Dawn Lit Mountains, which we're brazenly plugging here because it's actually really fucking good. It's also based in Arnachul Pradesh - a mere stone's throw from where the Rickshaw Run used to live in Shillong, so there is even a tentative link.
BK (as we know her) has a skill for telling the history of the places she visits in a way that makes you want to be there like many other travel writers fail to do so extraordinarily. Her excellent research and no-nonsense writing style make her books the perfect way to learn what has shaped the remote lands she takes us to.
Before I read LOTDLM I couldn't really give a shit about Chinese foreign policy, the march of modernity or how short-sighted politicians from the central government had given this corner of India its identity, but after two chapters I suddenly realised that I was formerly a cretin, and these things are not only very bloody interesting, but also worthwhile.
Part of the problem with modern English travel writers, is our rather shameful history of colonial barbarism. BK doesn’t shy away from this, instead she quotes some of their more backwards opinions and sits them aside other more entertaining archaic beliefs. Which shows them up to be the pillocks they were.
ABK not only takes us to the world of Edwardian explorers but does so in a way knowledgeable of cultural sensitivities. Not only do you get the feeling she’d be at home 100 years ago on a romp through the jungle equipt with a flask of tea and a machete, but she’d probably do so in a way far less embarrassing to future historians.
I’ve never much enjoyed conversing with strangers. I always end up chatting to a nutter who wants to share his tips about skinning ferrets or pickling field-mice.
ABK’s curiosity and ability to get on with people make her a perfect guide to anywhere. You feel she could visit Hull and make its inhabitants fascinating (nb Hell is a fictitious place, but Hull really exists). The fact she’s writing about such a great people and place make it all the more enjoyable.
You don’t have to be an anthropologist to have an feel for people or interest in what gets them out of bed in the morning and this is one of ABK’s many talents. Whether drinking rice beer with Idu tribesmen or negotiating bike repairs with streetwise Guhawatians, her genuine interest in people’s stories are better that the feeble observational humour of Bill-shitting-Bryson.
Annexed regions tend to hold a juicy history, evolving from their geography and politics. Their remoteness and inaccessibility means their more central countrymen treat them like that weird uncle that sniffs carpets, leaving them closer to their more immediate neighbours even if they’re from different nationalities . Ant manages to tell their story in a way that their kinsmen probably couldn’t.
BK doesn’t skirt around the personal difficulties she has to overcome in her trip. That’s not to say she bleats on about how difficult it is not having good wifi and a safe space, just that she doesn’t skip along relentless cheerful, like Bear Grylls pretending he’s happy to drink his own piss and eat rancid maggots while all the time he’s tucked up in an upmarket hotel which he just happens to forgets to turn the camera on for.
There aren’t enough ladies in adventure travel. Which is a shame, because if there was there might be less room for all these self important bell-ends. It’s unfortunate in 2017 we need to talk about the importance of inspirational ladies in travel, but even if we didn’t BK would be mentioned for being awesome. Before it was cool to label ladies working in traditionally male industries ‘badass’ Ants was there. Happily getting on with it. Because she wanted to.
Proper adventure is the sort of thing you only appreciate after when you’re safely tucked up with a cup of tea or gin realising what a foolish thing you’ve just done. On reading LOTDLM it feels that ABK has done just that. Found her boundaries, pushed them, come away with some great stories, now having to do battle with boundaries anew. Just the way it should be.
You can find Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains in Amazon or any bookshop that isn’t shit. You probably don’t buy into that Christmas bollocks. But if you did, this would make a great present for that person in your life who likes a good story.