Fifty years have passed since the independence and partition of India and Pakistan. Now the novelist and award-winning poet and journalist Anthony Weller gives us a travel narrative that explores a timeless route spanning both countries, in the adventurous and irreverent tradition of Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin and Jonathan Raban.
His journey follows the accident-fraught Grand Trunk Road, the Route 66 for half of Asia. It runs for fifteen hundred miles, from Calcutta in eastern India through Delhi and all the way to the Khyber Pass in northwestern Pakistan. Because of explosive political divisions and the constantly simmering threat of violence, no local can freely travel its length as Weller has.
Through Weller's acute eye for landscape and personality, we see the road's dramatic past and future - from Alexander the Great to corrupt border officials, from barefoot pilgrims to travelers like Mark Twain and Edward Lear, from the birthplace of the god Krishna to the gunshops of Pathan tribesmen, from the palaces of Mogul emperors to hundreds of struggling villages and legendary destinations like Benares, Agra, Lahore and Peshawar.
Most of all, Weller gives us unforgettable characters - holy men, con artists, wayfarers, soldiers, madmen, New Agers, terrorists and poets. It is equally at ease in a mosque, a Sikh wedding, a truckstop or a maharajah's chateau.
This is an Asia few outsiders ever see, both eternal and rapidly changing. Anthony Weller has wittily and profoundly captured the region's cultures, danger, exuberance and conversation - from the gentlest moments of enlightenment to the Wild West of the East.