The last few weeks I’ve felt like I was playing out a part in novelist Dominique Lapierre’s City of Joy, a story of a slum in Kolkata, India where lepers, beggars and the poor live. I’ve been volunteering at one of Mother Teresa’s homes in this famed city. Every day we washed the patient’s clothes, gave them meals, exercised muscles that needed strengthening and dressed their sores. Some of these sores were terrible as many had been hit by cars or buses or had horrific wounds. Others were just very sick.
One of the amazing things about volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity, is meeting travellers from all around the world that come to do the same thing. Some are Catholic but many just want to do their bit to help. Volunturism has definitely become a part of the way many people travel, engaging in projects around the world from teaching English, to helping in orphanages or conservation projects. Some of the hostels in the VIP Backpacker network offer chances for you to become involved in local projects, so keep your eyes open when browsing our site.
Volunteering is also a good way to get a more inside perspective on things. In Kolkata at the Mother House you can work mornings and in the afternoons enjoy some time off in a city that is renowned for its poverty but also its artists and poets. Actually on my first night here I stayed at Fairlawn Hotel in Sudder St, where Lapierre also stayed while researching one of his books. I love to read when I travel and I’m currently indulging in The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie to give me some Indian flavour. Rushdie has a fabulous way of painting vivid pictures of the bazaars, their smells, frenetic activity and life; that I almost don’t have to walk outside my hotel room every day to experience it. Reading on the road is a fantastic way to learn more about a culture, plus sadly it’s often about the only time I get to read! Of course if you’re stuck on the lounge at home, then reading about the travels of someone else is probably the next best thing. In any case here are some of my truly favourite and inspiring travel reads:
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) received wonderful acclaim for its portrait of life and friendship in Afghanistan.
Seven Years in Tibet (Heinrich Harrer) is the perfect read when in Tibetan areas in China, India or Nepal.
Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) brings some of the magic and traditions of Japan alive through the telling of a Geisha’s life.
The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemmingway) is all about the party surrounding the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. It gives you a fantastic insight into the festival and the culture of Spain.
Vroom with a View (Peter Moore) about an Aussie guy’s romantic wandering in Italy on an old vespa.
See Naples and Die (Penny Green) is an account of an Australian journalist’s year in Naples working for a media outfit, interviewing locals about pertinent issues and her take on this chaotic city.
The Quiet American (Graham Greene). If you’ve spent anytime in Indochina this is a must read, with an exotic setting in 1950s Saigon about a British journalist covering the French war.
Australia / New Zealand Reads
For those of you trying to get to grips with Australia and New Zealand you may enjoy the following:
In a Sunburned Country (Bill Bryson). He might be a foreigner but this book contains some witty remarks about visiting Australia that everyone will enjoy.
The Singing Line (Alice Thomson) about a descendant of Alice Todd following the remnants of the telegraph line that was once Australia’s communication link with the outside world. Alice Todd was wife of the great explorer Charles Todd who was paramount in installing the line. A good read if you’re in Central Australia.
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (Doris Pilkington Garimara) about three daring young Aboriginal girls who escape from a settlement for Aboriginal children, and follow the fence for 2400km to return to their home in Jigalong. A good story for those interested in the Stolen Generation.
Whale Rider (Witi Ihimaera) is a fabulous tale about a young girl’s interest in her Maori culture and wish to inherit the leadership of her tribe.
Once Were Warriors (Alan Duff) is a hard hitting novel about the domestic violence and troubles in modern day Maori society.
If you have some fantastic travel books to share, feel free to email in and let us know.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in travelling to India, VIP Backpackers has accommodation options in New Delhi, Goa, Mumbai, Rajasthan and many other places and also offers tours to the exotic desert state of Rajasthan or Agra’s Taj Mahal or a number of other locations.
Hope you’re enjoying the VIP Backpacker’s Travel Blog. There’ll be an update added every other Friday, so keep tuning in to keep your travel dreams alive! If there are any travel topics you want covered feel free to contact me, Jo, at email@example.com