A journey down the Brahmaputra
Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
The Brahmaputra rises in the mountains of Tibet and flows for 1800 miles through Tibet, India and Bangladesh to end in the Bay of Bengal. Mark Shand wanted to follow its whole course, but for political reasons he could not do this consecutively, so he did it in two parts. The first was in Tibet, where he suffered mountain sickness and had to descend to lower altitude. After a period of rest back home in England he returned to India to find a dog to accompany him on the rest of the journey.
In this, as in some other ways, Mark seems to be unusual if not downright eccentric: he insisted on the dog. His first task was therefore to find a suitable animal, and his account of his attempts to do so are hilarious. With the assistance of an Indian friend who is supposedly a hereditary dog expert they found an apparently suitable candidate, who however soon made off. A second dog, whom they named Bhaiti, was then found and proved to be ideal.
Mark and Bhaiti formed a close bond; in fact, Mark became fanatically devoted to his canine friend. At one point, on the Indian leg of his journey, Mark smoked opium and under its influence apparently had a profound conversation with Bhaiti. Mark's treatment of this episode is a little equivocal but we are left to suppose that he believes it may in some sense actually have taken place.
The journey, particularly in northern India, was certainly not lacking in drama. At one point Mark fell through a rotten plank in a bridge, and at another he stepped on a horned viper that struck repeatedly at his boot until killed by his guide. These and other events, as well as the people encountered en route, are described with verve and much humour.
The latter part of the journey, made mainly by river boat, was less dramatic but Mark's descriptions provide a vivid picture of life on the river. The suffering of the Bangladeshi people, starving and dying in their flooded land, also comes across vividly.
31 July 2007
%T River Dog
%S A Journey down the Brahmaputra
%A Shand, Mark
%I Little, Brown
%P xii + 338pp
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