THE BOOK is a delightful travelogue that only captures the essence of long-distance train travel but imbues the reader with the writer's enthusiasm for the rolling steel wheel.

PAUL THEROUX, the American travel writer began the madness, in 1979 he wrote that masterpiece, The Old Pentagonian Express, that took readers from  North America across equator into the deep south of the continent.

He bested himself a few years later with The Great Railway Bazaar and, finally, in the 1980s coaxed  communist China to improve her Railway system with Riding The Iron Rooster.

Any railway buff reading these  three delightful works would have thought the last word on great railway journeys around the world had been delivered. But more was to come.

Reading Monisha Rajesh's recent  Around The  World in 80 Trains : A 45,000 Mile Adventure, I discovered a kindred soul. She loathes air travel and laments that so many believe the age of railway journeys is a thing of the past.

It is not. She notes - and so rightly - the disdain loaded in phrases such as  ''the middle of nowhere''   and  ''lost tribes'' . Even 'nowhere'  has hamlets sprinkled across it and lost tribes are well established in their respective niches, only outsiders are unaware of them.

However, Theroux, appalled by co-travellers who gave up shaving, would not have approved of  Rajesh who, a few days into her journey, gave up brushing her hair and changing.

And since we are drawing parallels, I once wrote that if  I encountered Theroux on a train, I would not just change carriages, I would get on another train, preferably one going in the opposite  direction.

Theroux eavesdropped and wrote, among other things, of travellers bowel problems. invited into a home in China, he quickly rifled through the host's cupboard when the person had gone to fetch him something.

He can be brutal in his reflections on people he meets on the way. Rajesh also eavesdrops [and who doesn't on the train?]  but she is  a great deal more charitable.

The book is a delight loaded with picturesque smiles. Who would have thought to describe a  team of cockroaches  gathered around a a drain as  ''a family in mourning.'' and palm trees, bent by  prevailing winds, ''crossed at the waist like hastily scribbled kisses''?

For Rajesh. a waterfall is ''silk cascading down the mountainside'', stairs become a ''a row of fallen dominoes'' and the  Great Wall of China is ''a dragon's tail pulled across the peaks.'' Wonderful imagery!

For best part of a year, Rajesh and her fiance, having departed their home in London, tooled through central Europe to Russia, Mongolia and China.

Three decades before her, Theroux - in mid-winter, on a hard seat in an unheated carriage  [back then, it was the only kind available to commoners] swaddled in all his  arctic clothing   -turned the pages of his book with his nose.

Rajesh finds the  Chinese railways to be an altogether new world. In 2018, she travels in air-conditioned comfort on lush berths with dine in facility.

Our intrepid travellers, haing taken in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Canada and the United States, were much distressed by the flight across the Pacific Ocean and back to Asia to continue the trek.

Rajesh tells us that China might yet outdo the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France by building an undersea train across Bring Strait.

If the Chinese can lay a line across a  5,000  metre  high pass to connect Lhasa in Tibet with China, they can certainly connect the Asia and North America by rail.

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research on Great Railways, Great Journeys and Great writings, continues.

The World students Society thanks review author, Salman Rashid, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of  nine books on travel.


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