Asia Archive

Match-ready on the Volga

Four of the 11 host cities for this summer’s World Cup sit on the Volga. Andrew Roth of The Guardian, who journeyed downriver “on a floating Soviet sanatorium” with the photographer Dmitri Beliakov, reports on what visiting fans can expect to find.

‘Shepherdess of the Glaciers’

Thanks to Village Ways (with which I’ve headed into the hills in India and Ethiopia) for pointing me on Twitter towards a trailer for Shepherdess of the Glaciers, a documentary telling the story of Tsering, one of the last shepherdesses in Ladakh. You can read more about her and the making of the film on the website Feminism in India. The writer Rose George, another lover of the hills (who pounds up them a bit faster than I do), was equally taken with the film. As she put it on her own Twitter feed: “And us fell runners think we’re hard. This woman and her life are transfixing.”

Back with Matthiessen in the mountains

It’s 40 years since Peter Matthiessen published The Snow Leopard, his celebrated account of a “journey of the heart” to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. In a piece yesterday for The Observer, Tim Adams reported on what the book has meant both to readers and to Matthiessen’s son, Alex, who has a walk-on part in its pages.

2,300 miles to work

The former Soviet republic of Tajikistan is a country chronically short of work, with an economy heavily dependent on money sent back by Tajiks from elsewhere. The choice facing many of its young men is to stay at home without a job or go to Russia without their family.  Each week, thousands of them make a four-day, 2,300-mile train journey from Dushanbe through Central Asia to Moscow.  In a novel approach to telling their stories, a report for The New York Times combines video from the filmmaker Tim Brown with illustrations by George Butler.

China as it was

In The New York Times, Hannah Beech reviews two memoirs of home in a China that has already disappeared, “covered by layers of concrete, glass and fibre-optic cables that have tethered even the most isolated farmer to the modern age. Still, it is the journey through heady, whiplash times that helps us understand where the nation is going. If the 21st century is to be China’s era, it’s important to know how it will get there.”

‘In Siberia’ with Thubron on Radio 4

Colin Thubron will be questioned about In Siberia by James Naughtie and a group of readers in Radio 4’s Bookclub slot next Sunday.  The book, which he published in 1999, has one of the greatest opening paragraphs in modern travel writing:

‘The ice-fields are crossed for ever by a man in chains. In the farther distance, perhaps, a herd of reindeer drifts, or a hunter makes a shadow on the snow. But that is all. Siberia: it fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth, yet this is all it leaves for certain in the mind. A bleak beauty, and an indelible fear.”

  Over the next 280 pages, he fills in the blanks.

  The programme will be broadcast at 4pm on Sunday and should be available shortly afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

Literary friends of the tiger

Joe Shute was in Siberia recently for The Telegraph Magazine to report on conservationists whose work has not only brought the Siberian (or Amur) tiger back from the edge of extinction but helped to increase its numbers. One of those he met was Pavel Fomenko, head of rare species conservation for the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Russia and a man who, Shute says, is “a hero in the Tolstoyan mode”. Fomenko’s very speech has a literary quality about it. “Many people,” he says, “do not understand hunters are the true friends of nature.” One of his colleagues, Alexander Primenko, has a similar gift for phrase-making. He told Shute: “The tigers are always present, even when you don’t see them. To me, the tiger is the owner of the forest and I am his guest.”

Back to North Korea

Only 5,000 people a year visit “the hermit kingdom” of North Korea. Among them has been the radio producer Sarah Jane Hall, who first went in 2004, when, she says, it was hard to imagine the political temperature could get any higher. Since then, of course, the leaders of the United States and North Korea have been threatening each other with nuclear weapons. In Archive on 4: Travels in North Korea, which was broadcast on Saturday evening and is now available on the BBC iPlayer, Hall asks: “Is it easier to go to war with a country we don’t understand?” She mingles her own experience of North Korea with those of recent visitors to the country, including tour leaders and their customers, a diplomat, a film-maker and the broadcaster Andy Kershaw. What did they see and do, and what did they learn?

‘A shock trip to North Korea’

Yoojin Grace Wuertz, in the TLS, reviews The Sun Tyrant: A Nightmare called North Korea, by JP Floru (Biteback).

Seeking the essence of Pakistan

Isambard Wilkinson was sent by The Daily Telegraph to Pakistan in 2006 to report on “the war on terror”. In his mind, though, Osama Bin Laden and his like were “distractions from the real quarry: the essence, the quiddity of Pakistan, which I hoped to find by encountering its mystics, tribal chiefs and feudal lords”. It’s the latter that he sets out to concentrate on in his debut, Travels in A Dervish Cloak (Eland). Reviewing the book for the writer’s former employers, in the Review section of The Daily Telegraph, Arthur Evelyn says that Wilkinson, “an engaging and enthusiastic guide”, “gives a glimpse of the joy and vitality to be found in this most complicated of countries, but he cannot escape from some of the unpleasant realities”. There are also reviews in The Spectator, The Irish Times, The National (Abu Dhabi) and The Asian Review of Books.