Ultimate Travel Library—Asia

* Indicates a book that appears in our feature "Around the World in 80+ Books" published in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

*A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East, by Tiziano Terzani (1997). New Delhi-based but Italian by birth, journalist Terzani is a walking United Nations. When a Hong Kong fortune-teller told him in 1976 not to travel by plane, he took her warning perhaps too literally: he set off by foot, boat, bus, car, and train for a year of escapades in a dozen countries.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, by Paul Theroux (2009). Theroux climbs aboard the train that carried him on his first trans-Asiatic exploration (Railway Bazaar) to re-create his trip and witness first hand what changes the past 30 years have wrought. From the collapsed Soviet Union, through risen China, to stymied Burma and booming India, Theroux's curiosity and keen eye allow us a first class seat at his side as he explores the "backyards and barns" along his journey. (Reviewed in Trip Lit.)

The Lost Heart of Asia, by Colin Thubron (1994). In the early 1990s, the five "Stans" of Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) were abandoned by their former Russian ruler. Author Thubron travels 6,000 miles through Samarkand and Bukhara, through the Kazakh steppes and the Pamir mountains, relating vibrant accounts of living in this Central Asian region in transition.

Murders in Mausoleums, by Jeffrey Tayler (2009). Part socio-historical inquiry, part gripping adventure story, Murders in Mausoleums is the account of Tayler's journey from Moscow, through the Caucus, Central Asia, and Khazakastan all the way to Bejing. Despite run-ins with bribe-seeking officials and suspicious locals, Tayler is determined to explore the complex relationships between communism, capitalism, and tribalism in this volatile region. (Reviewed in Trip Lit.)

Riding the Iron Rooster, by Paul Theroux (1988). In this travel classic, the often grouchy Theroux spends a year exploring late 1980s China and Tibet, mostly by train. The legacy of the Cultural Revolution looms large in his insightful discussions with ordinary Chinese along the way.

River Dog: A Journey Down the Brahmaputra, by Mark Shand (2002). Named for the Hindu god of creation, the Brahmaputra begins as a tiny glacial stream in Tibet and winds 1,800 miles (2,897 kilometers)to the mighty Bay of Bengal. Shand journeys down the river—in what he calls the "last great Asian adventure"—with only the aid of kind strangers, a peculiar riverboat captain, and Bhaiti, an ancient pedigree of hunting dog.

A River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong, by Edward Gargan (2003). "[Rivers] flow past societies and civilizations, mute witness to human events," writes Gargan, former foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Gargan returns to Asia almost 30 years after the Vietnam War to traverse the 3,000-mile Mekong River, one of the only things that binds the countries of Southeast Asia together.

Shadow of the Silk Road, by Colin Thubron (2007). "To follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost," says Thubron. This memoir of his 7,000-mile journey from China to Antioch on bike, camel, bus, and foot retraces the steps of ancient cultures but also journeys into a modern Asia of political upheaval and SARS.

*South Southeast, photographs by Steve McCurry (2000). McCurry is the maker of the shot seen 'round the world—that is, the piercing-green-eyed Afghan girl whose photoall but embodies the essence of the National Geographic Society. In this title, he invites readers on an achingly beautiful visual journey through Southeast Asia.

Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond, by Pankaj Mishra (2006). Through eight travelogues, Mishra explores how the West has influenced South Asian countries. From Nepal to Afghanistan, with characters from Bollywood to Kashmir, Mishra's book is filled with political insight and cultural reflection of a rapidly changing region.

Travels in the East, by Donald Richie (2007). Japan-based scholar Richie's newest collection of incisive and insightful travel essays ranges all over Asia and the Pacific, from Mongolia to Borneo.

Turkestan Solo: A Journey through Central Asia, by Ella Maillart (1934). Maillart trekked from Moscow to Bokhara, through the Tian Shan mountains of Mongolia and the legendary cities of Tashkent and Samarkand, down the Amu Daria river, and through the harsh Desert of Red Sands—solo, in 1932.

Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment, by Richard Bernstein (2002). Bernstein journeys through Central Asia in the centuries-old footsteps of Hsuan Tsang, a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled from China to India in search of the shrines of Buddhism. His detailed and inspiring account takes him to Kashgar, Samarkand, and the Ganges River, and other places far from the paths of most tourists.

*Video Night in Kathmandu: and Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East, by Pico Iyer (1988). The contents page of this tour de force reads like a backpacker's fantasy—Bali, Tibet, Nepal, China, the Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Japan. Indeed, this crafty, kinetic, outrageous book by Iyer—an earnest sort of smart-ass—continues to intoxicate wanderlusters.

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons, by Mo Willems (2006). A picture being worth a thousand words, the award-winning Mo Willems relives his 1990 around-the-world backpacking trip through the cartoons he sketched along the way. As he travels through 28 countries, Willems offers a humorous look at what it's like to travel off the grid. But be careful: His doodles of monkeys in Nepal and mountains in Indonesia may cause itchy feet in the nomadically inclined reader.

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