Book Review: Around the World in 80 Trains

While researching for my podcast that features #🌏in83hours that airs on Google Podcasts, Spotify, I was reminded of a book that I had been meaning to read, Around India in 80 trains. Just while I was looking up the new books rack at the Bowring Institute library, I found that the author had by now, written another book titled, Around the World in 80 trains. I didn’t wait long to begin reading,

Monisha Rajesh does the unthinkable quite once again! After a much appreciated book Around India in 80 Trains she charts new territories with her fiancé Jem and forays into vast and hidden lands in her book Around the World in 80 Trains. Continuous train travelling can tire anyone out but this one seems smitten. She carries on through a chart of trains, obviously making some winsome and some not so winsome trips across the world. Witty and sparkling, this book is quite entertaining and journeys into lesser known lands of North Korea and Tibet are made to be very charming. In fact they are possibly the aspects of the joinery that Monisha seems to have like the most. Being an armchair traveler these days, travelling with the imagination is definitely much less burdensome if not extremely sustainable too. The air miles or even the train miles I have saved this year makes me very deserving of every single use plastic bag that I know for certain that I will not consume. Each time Monisha gives long rambling explanations on why she loves train travel I felt that much happier to be reading about this journey than actually going on this journey. And she gives a lot of these explanations almost in every chapter or even sometimes a couple of times in a Chapter in the book, and as tiresome as the explanations may be they did make me that much happier. But for the benefit of the average reader I hope those parts are edited out, it would save the reader a lot of time. We get it, that the author loves train travel, if not she wouldn’t quite embark on this journey so nattily.

What I did thoroughly enjoy though is how she analyses people, trains around the world with so much wit, empathy and philosophy that this book could well be classified as a self-help book with the author’s philosophical meanderings. North Korea is a nation that is a hundred steps above Singapore in being a nanny state, where every move of every citizen is modified to suit the government. But it is also deeply enigmatic. Seriously we simply do not know what’s happening there. While the people of North Korea are not filled in on the world occurrences. We cannot really judge, when we do not fully understand, but Monisha here presents a first hand account, that is also first-rate. Well while the Kims in North Korea do not subscribe to my life philosophy of being an open book, I cannot be certain that they do not guarantee their citizens a good life. For if the people of North Korea are being manipulated by their government, we are being manipulated by the coders who write software’s for Google, Facebook, Instagram, influencing us to think a certain way and do certain things, really how different are we? We buy things are are constantly shown to us that remain in our minds, we do as our neighbours do, we form opinions through what is being told to us, the constant reinforcing that we do to small children is definitely being done to us by the Internet and media for sure. Monisha’s musings are definitely insightful and brimming with intuitive intelligence that keeps the reader glued. The Orient Express had me drooling while I wished she figured a bit of the Maharaja Express in India too in this book. When the trio of Marc, Monisha and Jem crossed Kazhakastan I felt so worried for them, thereby realising that I was quite invested in their journey and hence the book.

But what tugged my heart is the part in Tibet, the people of Tibet are so heart-warming. The superstar in the journey is undoubtedly the Tibetan nun, who jumped into their cabin at the sight of an Indian, made a lifelong friend inspite of the language barrier and smiled so much! She not only taught Monisha to use WeChat, she also ensured sending her a Buddha emoji exploding in light every time or two, bounced in elation, erupted with joy every moment in Monisha’s company so delighted to see an Indian, the first Indian ever, with so much gratitude and thanks as Indians give help and support to the Dalai Lama, her guru. In an excerpt from the book, “I love how happy this woman is,” Marc said, “it’s amazing. She’s only got happiness.” And that brings me to another excerpt where Monisha writes, “There are certain faces so imbued with goodness that its impossible to look away. Warmed by the kindness of their thoughts and lined by moments of mischief and laughter, those faces compel the beholder to come closer and to trust. Jhampa has such a face.” This she says of their guide. If happiness is the purpose of life, the Tibetan nun clearly has her life in order. As for Monisha, getting home after 7 months seemed like quite a treat and we may not see another book on trains for a while! But this one was so good that I literally slowed down reading as I did not definitely want the book to finish too fast!!