Review: On a Shoestring to Coorg (travel) by Dervla Murphy

Year published: 1976
Genre: Travelogue
Setting & time: India, 1973-4

This is the third of Dervla Murphy’s travelogues that I have read, and I think by now I could call myself a fan of hers. Her books project an image of a woman of strength, honesty, determination and individuality, and also one of bloody-mindedness and strong opinions that you sometimes don’t agree with, yet you can’t help admiring her for her strength of conviction. She isn’t afraid of matter-of-factly writing about things that might reflect badly on her, like getting drunk or angry or doing something embarrassing, but neither does she hesitate to tell the reader when she is overcome with admiration of something - often a beautiful sunset or a lovely nature spot. As a result, she comes across as more human than many travel writers who either turn everything that happens to them into a series of jokes, or seem not to be touched by anything that happens around them.

This book is Murphy’s slightly starry-eyed account of a four month journey down the west coast of India, accompanied by her five-year-old daughter, Rachel, who would also later accompany her on the journey recounted in Eight Feet in the Andes, which I have already reviewed here. Murphy, who had hated India on a previous visit there, returned home a confirmed indophile, which I can relate to.

Another thing I liked about this book was reading about how one can enjoy a long journey like this burdened with only minimal luggage. Being a master of the art of minimalist travel, Murphy brought one small rucksack for herself and a small bag for Rachel and yet never seems to have missed or lacked for anything. I’ve done this kind of minimalist travelling myself and it feels very liberating, but I suspect that I had as much luggage as the two of them put together.

I have not been to the part of India where most of their time was spent, so I felt as if I were travelling with them and discovering the area at the same time as they were, so vivid are Murphy’s descriptions of the people and places they encountered.

Rating: A good, solid travelogue that should especially interest indophiles and those considering travel in India. 3+ stars.

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