The new book by Razi Azmi is full of travel stories about the places he visited, and the routes that took him to each destination
From his countless travels Razi Azmi, he has chosen the accounts of some of his most memorable journeys to present in his recently released book, A World Unveiled: Joys and Jitters of Many Journeys. This collection of travel stories is full of fascinating snapshots not only of the places he has visited but also of the interesting routes that took him to each destination. It is a reflection of the philosophy he shares with the great travellers of history that the joy of travel is as much in the journey as it is in the destination. For some, like Robert Louis Stevenson, the journey is better than arriving because of the hope it holds, but that takes us back to the question of what “arriving” means.
For those infected by the travel bug, which Azmi has likened to being love-struck, there’s no “arriving” but just a long series of stopovers in their quest to see every place and experience every sight. Given the number of sights our world has, one can live and die hundreds of times and yet not run out of new places to delight in.
Urdu travelogues enjoy a large readership in Pakistan, but we haven’t seen many publications coming out in English. A World Unveiled, therefore, comes as a welcome addition. Azmi’s travelogue comes across as a well-written and honest description of his experiences and observations, free of embellishment. In terms of destinations, the book has a wide variety that is a testament to the varied interests of the author, who likes to explore and observe, rather than lounge at sunny beaches.
Azmi has been to more than half the countries of the world over the span of half a century. One volume is obviously not enough to capture the details of his extensive travels, but as someone who has been to several of the countries covered in the said book myself, I found it particularly interesting to compare and confirm my travel notes with him about our observations. What I found even more enjoyable, personally, was that he has chosen to narrate stories from many destinations that I have long been curious about. His travels through many countries of Africa, covered in two chapters of the book, are especially insightful, for those are not destinations that are written about frequently from a general-interest traveller’s lens.
The book has fifteen chapters, each of them chock-full of highly useful information and riveting anecdotes, from the thick jungles of Africa and thundering waterfalls of Latin America to the mountain villages of South Asia and the serene lakes of North America. The information shared is not limited to his observations, but also includes plenty of general information, complete with histories, dates and statistics, which many readers may find impersonal and superfluous, but it provides good reading material to general knowledge seekers. For example, where he talks about landlocked countries, he also mentions the only double-landlocked country (Uzbekistan) of the world. Where he talks about his experience of a country that shares a border with only one other country (Lesotho, completely encircled by South Africa), he also refers to the seven other states which possess the same feature, though he misses San Marino.
Other than the description of sights and enumeration of facts, the most interesting aspect of this travelogue is the narration of Azmi’s encounters with people from around the world. It provides an insight into how various cultures have evolved to allow disparate lifestyles defined by contrasting values. He notes people’s relationship with religion, their political leanings, beliefs and superstitions, clothing habits, naming conventions, attitudes towards gender segregation and then compares everything to the values back home, and finally sums it up with lessons one could take away. In these comparisons he doesn’t shy away from calling out the hypocrisies, oppressions and injustices that come to his notice. To the amusement of South Asian readers, he shares how he has found Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis settled in the most unexpected corners of Africa and Latin America.
One thing one can gather is that to be able to travel so far and wide, one needs to have an intrepid spirit and not be daunted by the troubles, discomforts and dangers one may encounter along the way. Azmi describes his journeys over planes, trains, crowded buses, motorcycle taxis and in overflowing ferry boats, jostling with cattle. Seasoned travellers may encounter upset stomach, missed connections, denied entries, police searches, but the travel bug keeps them going. At times, reading about the logistical details of the author’s itineraries gets tedious, but soon enough the topic turns to the next twist in his journey.
Azmi has travelled with both Pakistani and Australian passports and is well aware of the difficulty or ease of travelling with each. Having travelled through all continents, he laments that the travel restrictions remain the harshest for citizens of South Asian states. Neighbouring countries in many regions have been embroiled in bloody conflicts, but rarely are the kind of restrictions on cross-border movement seen like those between India and Pakistan.
At times, there’s also a poignant feel to the stories of places, written a while ago, that would no longer present the same sight to a visitor today, because of the defacement of their cultural landscapes by repressive regimes or unchecked development in the name of modernity. One hopes that Azmi turns this into a series by writing about his experiences that could not be accommodated in A World Unveiled.
A World Unveiled
Joys and Jitters of Many Journeys
Author: Razi Azmi
Publisher: Folio Books
Price: Rs 1,495
The reviewer is a chartered accountant by profession and an avid traveller and photographer by passion. He has travelled to 85 countries on his Pakistani passport. He shares picture stories from his travels on his instagram handle @ShueybGandapur