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Your favourite or mine?

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Lists, and things centring around lists, are always frustrating and fun. Frustrating because it's almost impossible to agree with someone else's idea of what should or has been included on the list.
Fun because it sets off your own, often new, lists. And has let the cat among the pigeons with his book on the places he inveigles you to see "before you die".
That's like throwing the gauntlet of challenge before the inveterate traveller (or even armchair traveller) who will loudly and vociferously agree or disagree with many of his choices.
Expectedly, debates can rage over the popular ("must include them, they're on everyone's list"; "that's why you mustn't have them, they're already too well known") and the not-so-well-known ("they're too esoteric"; "precisely, people want to discover places half the world and its uncle hasn't").
Davey (and co-photographer Marc Shlossman) may have thought to dilute the debate, at least in India, by having the Taj Mahal on the front cover, and images of Varanasi on the back cover. If so, good for us in India.
But it might merely be a special cover for the Indian edition (distributed by Variety Book Depot), but it certainly does very little to warm one to a book about places around the world to discover, if what's on the cover is in one's own backyard, so to say.
And then, inevitably too, the choice of destinations can be off-putting: the Taj, okay, with due consideration to the reverence and awe it inspires (frankly, seeing it in print or on film is by far the better way to view it in my allegedly jaundiced consideration), but Banaras?
One of the filthiest places on planet earth, it would take a lot of convincing to get me to go the ghats on the Ganga, and Jaisalmer, for all its exotic romance, wouldn't be high on my choices, either.
But then, so much is commonplace in the shrinking world anyway. Even China and Tibet are no longer exotic, at least to us as neighbours in India, while the distant world [the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) or Machu Picchu (Peru)] hold so much more by way of promise. But Nepal? Or even the touristy Santorini Islands in Greece? Nah ""besides being too predictable, there's nothing compelling about them.
Davey's book then is a safe one, both politically and diplomatically. The choices are mostly familiar, the exclusions no great surprise, and it clearly rules out (with a few exceptions) any place in the great wildernesses (our travellers like their destinations packaged and sterile). This resistance to including more of the inaccessible is the weakest link in the book.
There is just another problem: the format. The six pages allowed to the 40 destinations hand-picked by Davey are too rigid (and after some page-flipping, too expected, and therefore boring).
There are the predictable, pretty pictures (the unusual ones again excluded presumably for reasons of space) and a mandatory text that does nothing to tell you why you should feel motivated to travel to the place.
For most part, the text consists of a historical (or geographical) review, with some hints about when best to see each place (almost inevitably, as early as possible in the morning, before the other tourists descend).
This is not to belittle the book. For all its familiarity, the book is a mammoth journey across the world and its cultures, and is a microcosm of its people. But Davey agrees that his selection might be considered flawed.
"By its very nature this book is judgemental and invites disagreement," he writes. "Everyone will have their own favourite places; their own 'unforgettables'. But these are mine""a selection based on many years of travelling."
Touche to you, Steve, and next time we meet (as we did on the India leg of your "unforgettable places"), I hope to share with you some of my selection, right here in India""places you might never have been to, but might consider including should there be a sequel, or a revision, of this book.
Till then, I'm happy that even though I might not have been to many of your selection of unforgettable places, at least I've been told with authority (and seen the pictures) of what are clearly some of the most popular and beautiful places in the world.
But will it make it to my list of favourite travel to read from around the world, before I die? Umm, perhaps not.
Steve Davey
Pages: 256

First Published: Thu, April 07 2005. 00:00 IST