After reading The Waiting Land I became a Dervla Murphy fan. I’ve followed that with Ukimwi Road and Eight Feet in the Andes. Thus when it was my turn to pick a book club book, I decided on her first book Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle (1965).
When she was 10, intrepid travel writer Dervla Murphy received an atlas and bicycle for her birthday. Talk about an inspirational gift. Dervla’s Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle chronicles her trip across Europe to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Murphy focuses on her travels through Western and Central Asia. Murphy doesn’t hold back. She shares the good and the bad. Whether sleeping on dirt floors or a palace in Pakistan, whether riding along a smooth road the Russians built in Afghanistan or trudging up a rocky mountain in Pakistan, whether enjoying a good meal at a missionaries home or eating dry crackers washed down with salted tea for the seventh straight day, Murphy shoots straight.
She includes her views on modernization, politics and aid. She definitely believes we’ve lost the art of leisurely, quiet conversation since we’ve opened our homes to TV sets. (I wonder what she things of the multiplication of screens of every size. I bet I can guess.)
The more I see of unmechanized places and people the more convinced I become that machines have done incalculable damage by unbalancing the relationship between Man and Nature. The mere fact that we think and talk as we do about Nature is symptomatic. For us to refer to Nature as a separate entity–something we admire or avoid or study or paint–shows how far we’ve removed ourselves from it.Dervla Murphy
I was surprised that she brought a pistol with her, but it did come in handy to ward off men with bad intentions in the middle of the night. So that was a wise move.
She has her share of tough times from bureaucratic hassles, to horrible roadways, if you can call them roadways, to smelly roommates and bouts of dysentery. Her travel travails would have made me run to the nearest airport, but reading about them was fascinating.
I found her commentary on Russian vs. US aid in Afghanistan insightful. In 1960 she opined that the Russians were smarter in how they gave aid. Their aid was mainly small local projects so Afghanis knew that’s the bridge or school, etc. the Russians gave us. In contrast the US’ aid was in the form of huge projects that didn’t register with the Afghanis. I’m not sure how things have or haven’t changed since the 60’s, but I’d like to know.
The subtitle says “with” not “on” a bicycle because there are often times when she can’t ride. Once in Afghanistan the officials force her to ride on a truck because the route is has become violent. Another time she leaves Roz, her bike, in a town as she takes a horse up into the mountains where the terrain is iffy and the roads narrow with no shoulder to speak of.
If you like strong, opinionated women exploring places you’ve never heard of, give Full Tilt a try.
N.B. I’ll warn you there are a couple phrases she used that aren’t PC. They bothered me, but I doubt she’d use the same language today.