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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "In India it is possible to win every battle but the last one."
Eric Newby's above assertion reflects both the strengths and the weaknesses of this book. In the winter of 1963-64 Newby and his wife undertook a quirky 1200 mile voyage down the "mother road" of India, the sacred Ganges, traveling from the foothills of the Himalayas, to the Bay of Bengal, and in the process they dropped only 1000 feet in elevation. They traveled through...
Published on 16 Jan 2011 by John P. Jones III

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointed
Having enjoyed, many years ago, one other book by Eric Newby (can't remember which), and having returned from a primarily wildlife trip to India recently, including trips on parts of the rivers Chambal and Yamuna, (called Jumna in this book), I looked forward immensely to reading this account. And it was indeed great to be able to imagine exactly the sort of scenery,...
Published on 31 Jan 2009 by Josquine


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "In India it is possible to win every battle but the last one.", 16 Jan 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Slowly Down the Ganges (Paperback)
Eric Newby's above assertion reflects both the strengths and the weaknesses of this book. In the winter of 1963-64 Newby and his wife undertook a quirky 1200 mile voyage down the "mother road" of India, the sacred Ganges, traveling from the foothills of the Himalayas, to the Bay of Bengal, and in the process they dropped only 1000 feet in elevation. They traveled through the very heartland of India, the States that contained over a third of its population. Newby is unquestionably a great travel writer, and I concur with another Amazon reviewer that he is better than Chatwin and Thoreau. By undertaking such a journey, with his long-suffering wife, he places himself in an excellent position to describe the "wonder that was India." Still, I felt that his book, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush to have been a better book.

I traveled through India, the "rough way," i.e., by local trains and buses, for seven weeks, only seven years after Newby's trip. Newby's characterizations like the following resonated well: "For the inhabitants of India have a simple genius for concocting exasperating situations which, however long he may have lived in the country and however much he may have anticipated them, burst on the victim each time with pristine force. One of the pre-requisites of real exasperation is that there should be no one to vent one's anger on, and there was no one."

I thought it peculiar that in two of the epigraphs, for chapters 19 and 20, Newby is pushing the idea that cholera cannot survive in the Ganges, without real scientific proof. Furthermore, Newby's actual role in India, during the pre-Independence days of the Raj tints his outlook on the country. In the chapter entitled "Christmas at Kanpur" he tries to obtain accommodation at the Kanpur Club in the cantonment, and although he tells the episode of the refusal with some humor and irony, there is clearly that touch of annoyance that he was rejected despite the letter of introduction from Mr. Nehru. ( The retort from the club manager: "The Prime Minister is not a member of the Kanpur Club." )

Still, Newby's descriptive powers are strong, and I particularly liked the sections when he finally reached Calcutta. The book also contains numerous black and white pictures to aid the reader in seeing a country before it became a source for cheap IT workers and telemarketers. Could Newby have ever imagined it? India need not be a battle, if one is willing to adjust only 40% from one's worldview of how things ought to be. It is a challenge, and Newby made a most valid point on page 55 when he said: "We were in a fix, really the last of a succession of fixes, but the overcoming of insuperable difficulties is, of course, one of the unspoken reasons for traveling in remote places."

I only wish I had been along. And am thankful Newby took the time to share it with all of us. Overall, a good read, if one makes allowances for his Raj background.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on February 17, 2009)
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Himalayan Foothills/Bay of Bengal Express, 26 April 2003
By 
P. Guy (Sydney) - See all my reviews
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Unlike his grounded colleague, the river traveller can indulge his bent for distraction only so far. His route is more or less fixed; certainly his destination is final. And so it is to Eric Newby's credit for eliciting from this journey 300 pages worth of erudite and witty observances, for it is essentially a procession of waterborne shuttles, one ghat to the next, punctuated only by the occasional onshore foray, the function of which mostly being to secure boat and crew for the succeeding leg. I suspect, though, that Newby could glean 300 pages from a dinghy ride in a swimming pool, and that that too would be immensely readable.
The archetypical harrassed traveller, at every turn events conspire to defeat or, at the least, humiliate Newby. The atmosphere of the journey is established during preparations which smack of the comical: "I had even bought an immense bamboo pole from the specialist shop in the bazaar as a defence against dacoits whose supposed whereabouts were indicated on some rather depressing maps which G. [their sometime native companion] had annotated with this and similar information, in the same way mediaeval cartographers had inscribed 'Here be dragons' on the blank expanses of their productions." In any case, these maps proved unserviceable. Because of hostilities with China, Indian Defence Regulations of the time (1963) were so stringent that it was impossible to buy large-scale maps of India of any kind. (At any rate, many maps of the Ganges are unashamedly indecisive of its course owing to the shifting alluvial bed.)
Typically, arrangements that had been made in advance proved to be anything but arranged. The vessel intended to provide passage through the upper reaches of the Ganges was discovered to be in such a state of disrepair that use of it in a bathtub would have endangered lives. Attempts to procure another led Newby on an endeavour which he describes thus: "What we were doing in this instance was the equivalent in Britain of waking a fairly senior officer of the Metropolitan Water Board at a quarter to seven on a Winter's morning, in order to ask him to wake a yet more senior official and request the loan of a boat from one of the reservoirs in order to go down to Southend." Of course, the acquisition of another vessel appeased their troubles only momentarily.
The journey proper was fraught from the outset: "It is difficult to describe the emotions that one feels when one is aground on a twleve-hundred-mile boat journey within hailing distance of one's point of departure." When not stranded upon a shoal Newby is confounded by the various tributaries shooting off this way and that. About this he consults the only man in India worse off than he: "There was only one person to ask the way from, an old man sitting alone on the shingle, but he was not very helpful. 'I don't know where I am,' he said."
When defeated by such circumstances Newby must, to advance his journey, venture ashore and seek out assistance. This demands the infiltration of the interminable mores of Indian society, a kind of mystic bureaucracy under which the populace shuns reason in favour of the myriad allegorical incarnations of the pantheon of mythic figures. He says of making even the most innocent inquiry: "But I knew that this was not the kind of question that can be asked in India -- it was too logical and would therefore cause grave offence." He shortly arrives at the conclusion: "In India it is possible to win every battle but the last one."
During such battles Newby often retreats to his arsenal of introductions, formal letters written by state officials and the like, the ace up the sleeve of the traveller at tether's end. Not surprisingly these missives of officialdom are met by the Indian everyman with bemusement or else total indifference. His choicest letter, that from the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is singled for particularly devastating apathy.
Newby's travelling companion, his wife, the long-suffering Wanda, is rendered something of an enigma in SLOWLY DOWN THE GANGES. Apart from delivering Newby from the dire gastric consequences of provincial Indian foods ("Wanda had produced [white radishes] artfully from a mysterious-looking bag.") her reason for being appears mostly to be for materialising at inopportune moments, usually the apex of some maddening asperity, in order to scorch the occasion with some withering remark. This surely had Newby tearing at his hair, but the narrative is infused with a rich vein of self-deprecating humour because of it. (Their courtship, which was borne of hardships much graver, is recounted in another of Newby's titles, 'LOVE AND WAR IN THE APINNENES')
Newby's own wit is deliciously dry. Unlike many contemporary travel writers he does not over-reach for a laugh or rely on out-and-out ridicule. However, his capacity for a descriptive turn of phrase is tested here. Certainly there are scapes that would arrest the senses of even the most impassive observer - shores lined with crazed sadhus and puja-devoted villagers, a river strewn with the pungent remnants of funerary pyres - but there is little variation on this theme for 1200 miles. And if the scenery is unchanging, then the characters - those folk along the way who lend a travel narrative its colour - are positively inanimate. Newby does admirably though, adroitly drawing from the cultural abyss the idiosyncrasies and personality interplay of guides and boatmen.

And so, his route may be fixed and his destination final, but Newby never fails to appreciate the telling advantage he holds over his grounded colleague: "The only consolation about being lost on a river is that if you go on downstream you are bound to arrive somewhere different, unlike being lost in a forest, where you are quite likely to end up where you started at the beginning of the day."
****1/2 stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great read, 21 April 2014
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This review is from: Slowly Down the Ganges (Paperback)
If your into well written journeys then this is a must, great read, excellent to take travelling, fun, thoughtful, good.
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5.0 out of 5 stars SLOWLY DOWN THE GANGES BY ERIC NEWBY, 27 Mar 2014
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The Ganges can be magical, frightening, dangerous, but to attempt this journey using an old map was perhaps not the wisest way to spend time. Newby's comments are always honest, and so often deliciously funny. The adventure of this wonderful travel writer, and his wife, seemed so incredibly difficult to achieve his aim.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great adventure tale, 30 Dec 2013
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This is a fascinating account of a unique river journey with all the trials and tribulations encountered. There are vignettes of the Indian way of life in the country and on the rivers which captivates the reader.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Slowly down the Ganges, 25 Mar 2011
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Not quite finished it yet but enjoying the book. I'm off to this region soon and wanted a book to set the scene before I go. Eric Newby paints a good picture with words and is quite readable, although a bit slow paced in places - a bit like the title. I still have to read the whole thing so can't make a full judgement yet but would recommend it to anybody whose going to India.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Slowly down the Ganges, 26 Sep 2010
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Barbara N "Barb" (Ross-on-Wye Herefordshire UK) - See all my reviews
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I brought this book when I was planning a trip to India and thought this maybe would be something I could do. The book makes a very good read.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointed, 31 Jan 2009
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Having enjoyed, many years ago, one other book by Eric Newby (can't remember which), and having returned from a primarily wildlife trip to India recently, including trips on parts of the rivers Chambal and Yamuna, (called Jumna in this book), I looked forward immensely to reading this account. And it was indeed great to be able to imagine exactly the sort of scenery, natural and man-made, Newby describes, but I felt uneasy for much of the time as I read on.
First published in 1966, this travelogue was not very appealing to this reader barely 40 years later. It smacked for me too much of the white man travelling in an ex-colony, though I would have to admit that this is a very personal view, reflecting also perhaps my own recent unease in India when I was at times travelling alone with a guide and a chauffeur (not what I would have chosen) in a luxury car, passing though villages of poor Indians. And it offends at the beginning of the 21st century to see Newby with so little respect for, not to mention interest in, the wildlife on and around the river.
Two more concrete criticisms: as another reviewer says, the accounts do get a bit repetitive, and I think that this aspect would have been alleviated by some 'behind-the-scenes' information about the practicalities of setting up a trip like this. And finally, perhaps my greatest criticism: there are an large number of Indian nouns used, with no explanation as to what they are. For me this severely interrupted understanding and pleasure. The only Indian word list, at the beginning of the book, and not used thereafter, is of the 108 names of the Ganges and their translations. At least he does not give the alternative list of the 1000 names!
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Slowly Down the Ganges
Slowly Down the Ganges by Eric Newby (Paperback - 1 Jan 2011)
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