TRAVEL BOOK REVIEW OF SEYYAH: 20,000 KILOMETER EPIC JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME ALONG THE SILK ROAD.
This blog is the travel book review of Seyyah. Authored by Gautham Reddy Nallavari, the book chronicles his epic journey of a lifetime. He traveled 20,000 kilometers across 8 countries along the Silk Road.
Full Time Travel blogging and freelancing leaves me with little time to read books. In fact, I used to read more books in a year when I had a full time job. The only book I read last year was Seyyah. I would have failed to read Seyyah had it not been an unputdownable book. Right from its first page, the book drew me in. It’s not every day that some-one writes about a journey on the famous Silk Road. And even if they do, not everyone writes a gripping account of the journey in a 359 page. My interest in Silk Road grew not in school but just 2 years ago in an Iranian Film Festival in Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi. I saw a film ‘The Maritime Silk Road’ directed by Iranian director Mohammadreza Bozorgnia. Through a romantic plot, the film depicted the hardships the traders faced while navigating the ocean through the silk route of yore.
Seyyah, 20,000 kilometers journey along the silk road:
Gautham Reddy Nallavari, the author of Seyyah didn’t take the sea route though. He instead embarked upon a life changing 20,000 kilometers journey along the silk road via land. Starting from Greece, he arrived at Hong Kong after traveling by land to places like Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China (in that order). It took him months to traverse through the 8 countries, imbibing local views, culture and much more. In my recent interview with Gautham Reddy Nallavari, the author of Seyyah, he revealed many other facts about his journey which are not mentioned in the book. For example, he educated me about how he spent months just to plan for this journey of a lifetime.
Seyyah makes you jealous of the author
Seyyah is the kind of book which will make you wish that you had made this epic journey and you had written this book. As the writer takes you on a vicarious ride through the streets of Turkey and Uzbekistan and other countries, you read it with a tinge of jealousy over powered by oodles of admiration. In spite of consuming so much travel content I didn’t have a modicum of idea about the secrets these nations hold.
Flaws over shadowed by a powerful story
There are some grammatical mistakes in the book but those are pardonable when you see the grander scheme of things. Literature wise there are flaws such as an over excited innocent tone of the book. These things are minor when you realize what this book wants to say. You will found the poise of seasoned writers missing in the book. But then, this book is less about literature and more about the powerful story telling conveyed through anecdotes buttressed by economical, social and cultural dissection of the 8 countries Gautham visited.
Seyyah is a reservoir of amazing facts:
The travel book Seyyah revealed many secrets to me which I was unaware of. No guidebooks or politically correct ‘travel magazines’ talk about the dark secrets as openly as a well researched travel book such as Seyyah. Who would have thought that western China is very Un-China in character? Or how a section of Chinese is unaware of China’s image in the outside world. I learned that a large chunk of Chinese population live in a delusion vis-à-vis China’s greatness or its ‘map’, thanks to the propaganda fed by the local government and a ban on certain social media sites in both Iran and China. Or for that matter, not many know that Turkmenistan is a dictatorial regime where visitors are not allowed to roam freely without a local guide. Worse, travelers are not even allowed to talk to locals. I did not know anything about Kyrgyzstan until I read Seyyah. I didn’t have any idea that Kyrgyzstan has some amazing trekking trails amidst snow capped mountains. Gautham had put his life at risk while navigating these trails. His gripping narration of his ordeals in the high altitude mountains of Kyrgyzstan makes for a nail biting story. Issy Kul Lake is the biggest of many lakes which Kyrgyzstan hides in its mountains. We all know about the caves of Cappadocia but Seyyah takes you beyond the postcard perfect pictures of the tourist magnet and acquaints you with the rich history of the place. The Greece and Turkey chapters were also my favourite and made me want to visit as soon as possible.
People Gautham met on Silk Road:
People were an integral part of Gautham’s narration through all the pages of Seyyah. Thanks to Gautham’s extensive research and preparation prior to the trip, he had arranged to stay at people’s homes in all the countries he traveled to. This gave him a deeper perspective of all the countries he visited. He met these hosts on online forums such as Facebook and Couchsurfing. I run a series called Host Dost (Dost means Friend in Hindi) on my blog where I write about my travel experience every time someone hosts me at their home. I personally believe that when a local hosts you and shows his/her city, it gives you a more immersive travel experience. Throughout his journey, Gautham mostly found genuine, helpful people who would give him valuable insights on the local lifestyle, taboos and economic and political situations. The conversations are deftly incorporated in the narrative giving people a decent idea of what it is like to live in those 8 countries. The local’s perspective combined with Gautham’s continually evolving world view makes it a powerful and gripping tale which has a global appeal.
Tracing Ancient Human History Through Seyaah acroos Silk Road:
Seyyah, the travel book introduced me to world history through its seamlessly interwoven historical events. I had first learned about the Ottoman and Byzantine empires when I visited Petra, Citadel, Jerash and other ruins of Jordan 2 years ago. The well researched narration of Gautham, backed by real travel to the ancient ruins give a credible account of a bloody world history aeons ago. Be it the ruins of Acropolis in Greece or the ancient Fergana valley in Kyrgyzstan or the old parts of Uzbekistan, the book successfully interlinks their culture and history interspersed with intellectually stimulating facts.
Gautham crossed international borders via land only through the ancient Silk Road:
The main objective of Seyyah was to trace the ancient silk road. Gautham, in his quest to unearth the secrets of the silk road, took the same path which ancient traders took. It explains why all his travels throughout the 8 countries have been road trips. It is not easy to cross remote landlocked countries via road especially when you are the only and first Indian to do so. On many international borders, Gautham was told by the immigration officials that he was the only Indian they had seen ever since they were posted on the border. Gautham visited modern bazaars and markets which gave him an idea of how similar or different ancient markets would have been.
The book also elucidates the gripping history of silk, of how China held close to its chest, the secret procedure of creating silk out of worms for years to how it became so common place. The narrative of Gautham flirts with the history, economics and politics of silk. However, I would have loved more on the ethical and moral issues associated with silk as well.
Seyyah explores the citizen’s freedom across the countries on Silk Road :
The book also gave Gautham better clarity and appreciation for the word democracy which many people take for granted. The citizens of 8 countries which Gautham visited suffered moral policing, unstable governments, dictatorial regimes, unfair government doles, lack of freedom of expression, laws reeking of hypocrisy, gender inequality, the works! It made Gautham value the democracy we enjoy in India and often take for granted. Despite so many castes, creeds, languages, cultures and religions of India. We have made it work over thousands of years of evolution of Indian society. I, as a reader felt thankful of the immense liberty and freedom of expression we take for granted in India when I read about how China brainwashes its citizens, Turkmenistan dumbs down its citizens with doles and Iran suppresses its citizen with moral policing. It was interesting to read that youngsters in Iran go for underground DJ parties in the basements of buildings or that LGBTQ rights in Turkey is undergoing turmoil. Or that you will find different maps of China in different cafes. Or that officials dressed as civilians roam around historical places in China to catch anyone who merely mentions the word: Tiananmen Square. Boo!
Hardships Gautham faced while traveling through the Silk Road on budget:
Since Gautham was on a limited budget, he backpacked his way across the countries. I personally believe that backpacking always result in better stories as it allows you to get out of the cocoon of air conditioned everything and talk to ‘real people’ on streets. Backpacking also tests you at every turn which is what happened with Gautham. Throughout his journey which spanned months, Gautham has had to sleep in hostile places, deal with government officials, face currency exchange woes, stay at shady hotels, make tough choices on most days and use only public transport. There had been times when he arrived at a border area at inappropriate time. Was he allowed to cross the border or not makes for a thrilling story!
Seyyah: The Bottomline
The bottomline is that a book like Seyyah comes once in a while. In the last 10 years of solo travel, I have never come across someone who has attempted something like this. Gautham, through Seyyah inspires you to travel the world, learn about the world history and instills the belief that there are more good people in this world than the bad ones. I highly recommend Seyyah.
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