Like a lot of people when I was ten I had plenty of ‘ambitions’ – flying to the moon, meeting Norman Wisdom, driving a steam train, getting a kiss from a young lady called Lesley who sat opposite me in primary school. Well apart from the kiss the rest just passed me by in that strange thing called life.
Not so for Dervla Murphy, in 1941 on her tenth birthday she received a bicycle and an atlas and soon she had planned to cycle to India. Twenty two years later she achieved that aim, cycling through Europe in the coldest winter in living memory and onto Persia (Iran), Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India.
Murphy is an intelligent and entertaining companion, one who ‘engages sympathy from the start by her qualities of tact, charity and courage.’ One can’t help admire her tenacity and ability to overcome ‘enough difficulties and dangers to satisfy the most dedicated traveller.’
Included in a list of the kit she carried with her is Nehru’s History of India and Blake’s poems (Penguin edition), a 1.25 automatic pistol (which she had need of), four maps, 6 notebooks and 12 pens. The whole trip lasted from 14 January to 8 July 1963 and her total expenditure on the trip was £64 7s 10d.
Over the years Dervla Murphy has travelled round Ethiopia, trekked the Andes with her eight year old daughter and a donkey, Madagascar, Cameroon, various places in Africa and this century now in her seventies she has spent time in Siberia and Cuba. But this is the trip that started it all and is one of my favourite travel books.