(first published 2003)
“ To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantist sensations in the world.” (Freya Stark).
Leaving your home and going to a new place, facing discomforts and meeting strangers, and yet enjoying it all, is the mark of a true traveller. Today there are several books to help travellers, such as the Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Travel Guide series, but one of the earliest guides was first published in 1854. Called Hints to Travellers, it was little more than a pamphlet, written by Mr Coles, and brought out by the Royal Geographic Society. Over the years it was expanded and revised until by 1938 it had grown into two volumes. This fascinating guide was meant for geographers, surveyors, botanists, and anthropologists, who travelled to remote parts of the world, exploring and collecting information. It has sections on preparing for the journey, food, clothes, care of your camel, crossing the desert in a motor-car and treating the diseases one may acquire along the way. It is filled with quotes and advice from travellers of those days. The current Eyewitness Travel Guides provide tips on local customs and etiquette, and the sort of gifts to give. Hints to Travellers has similar passages. For instance, it says, “ For south-eastern Tibet a large stock of presents must be taken to give to the high officials…… whatever is given must be of the best quality. Field glasses, gramophones, and European shoes (size 7 is usual) are always much appreciated, while for less important gifts, raincoats, Trilby hats, and umbrellas are very useful.”As in today’s guides, there are special tips for women. Here the book quotes the intrepid woman traveller Freya Stark, who learned Arabic and other languages and travelled alone to the most inaccessable and inhospitable territories. In Persia and Arabia, she found it was best for a woman to travel without escorts. “To be entirely dependent on the hospitality of your hosts, is far the safest way of getting through difficult country.” As for clothes, she says, “ I wear ordinary women’s dress and find that modesty as to long sleeves, high neck or skirt are all commented on and appreciated.”
The section on food encourages the traveller to eat what is locally available. Even unusual items can taste good and be nutritious. The explorer Sanderson reported from the Cameroons, that they ate various creatures, including, “ white ants fried on buttered toast, and monitor lizards in curries. This diet, combined with fresh native vegetables gathered in the bush, probably accounted for our good health.” Travelling in the Eastern Himalayas, P. Kingdon Ward writes, “The leaves of several forest herbs furnish a sort of spinach. More palatable are some of the edible forest fungi.”
Hints to Travellers gives us an idea of the customs and way of life in different parts of the world in the early twentieth century, the small details that one rarely finds in history books. Those interested in the past, as well as those who travel to understand, explore and learn, would still be inspired by it.
(by Roshen Dalal)