Full Tilt: Book Beginnings

One of the books I’m reading is Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt: Dunkirk to Delhi on a Bicycle. It was first published in 1965 and is an account of her journey in 1963. I’m finding it slow reading because I’m constantly wondering about the places she describes, how they’ve changed since the early 1960s and looking them up.

Her journey took her through Europe, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India. She travelled on her own, with a revolver in her saddle bag. It’s amazing.

It begins with her desire to cycle to India:

On my tenth birthday a bicycle and an atlas coincided as presents and a few days later I decided to cycle to India. I’ve never forgotten the exact spot on a hill near my home at Lismore, County Waterford, where the decision was made and it seemed to me then, as it still seems to me now, a logical decision, based on the discoveries that cycling was a most satisfactory method of transport and that (excluding the USSR for political reasons) the way to India offered few watery obstacles than any other destination at a similar distance. (page 1)

And that is what she did 21 years later.

So far I have travelled with her to Afghanistan, where she is on her way to Kabul via Khandahar. Needless to say I’m struck with thoughts about how much has changed in the world since then. I’m full of questions, not just about the current situation with all the places she describes, but also about how she managed it, how she found out where to stay, and how she communicated with people for example.

It’s very much a personal account, not so much about the actual cycling, although I was amused by her account of getting her cycle repaired in a Persian cycle shop where they would not use a screwdriver but hammered every screw into place. Not so funny, because a few days later the back wheel came off, as the relevant screw had been ruined!

Book Beginnings on Fridays is hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.

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