2004-09-20 · in Books · 368 words

Ayesha appeared out of the gloom. What on earth is going on?

Umm — Pie's gone, Ayesha, I said.

Gone? Gone where?

He's, er, escaped — er, with your drainpipe.

I thought you said you'd tied him up.

Well, I did. But he, um, pulled the drainpipe off.

Really, Mark — and Aditya — first you lose an elephant and now a dog.

We stood in front of her, like a couple of sheepish schoolboys.

We found the elephant, I pointed out, weakly.

I vaguely remember — many years ago — reading and enjoying Mark Shand's previous books about travelling with an elephant in India. I hadn't realised he'd written a more recent travel book until getting this as a present. In River Dog, Shand follows the great river Brahmaputra from its source in Tibet, through India and to the sea in Bangladesh.

This is very much a book about the journey rather than the things seen on the way. Shand writes in great detail (and in a slightly anachronistic European-explorer style) about the people he meets and the various forms of transport he takes, and large chunks of the book are about the political and social maneuverings necessary to follow the river's course between countries without getting shot or arrested. There's not much time to stop off along the way and see the sights, which made the journey seem far shorter than it actually must have been by the time I got to the end of the story!

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Shand's an entertaining writer, not least because he's not afraid to describe his companions (and himself) in a bad light when it makes the account more interesting. He's also quite capable of being serious when necessary; he visited Bangladesh immediately after some of the worst flooding seen in years, and his descriptions of the devastation are striking.

The presentation is also nice: the front and back covers have big photos of Shand and Bhaiti on board the Kailash against a sunset, and it's got two sections of colour plates inside — the first modern book I've seen for a while to do that.

I now need to go back and read Travels On My Elephant again. Recommended.