It’s another of those books I didn’t pick up when it first hit the shelves seven years or so ago. I know not why; picked it up, flicked and returned to the stacks. I knew Rory MacLean’s work and had read several, but Magic Bus didn’t then appeal. The time was not right. I was probably still deep in the Siberian Tundra, or on the trail of the Romanovs, or even flying with Dragons. But I didn’t board The Magic Bus.
However it’s a journey I’ve now completed, Fares Please, quoth Mr MacLean as I hopped on, and he duly serendaded me all the way from Istanbul to Katmandu, with a few wee detours here and there.
We visited places that now hold huge interest to me; places such as Istanbul and Isfahan, and Cappadocia with its fairy chimneys. And we’ve been to Afghanistan, the border crossings from Iran and into Pakistan, in Herat and Kabul with flight necessitated inbetween.
Whilst Pakistan and India hold fascinations it’s the western end of the hippie trail that does it for me. At the ghats of Varanasi MacLean goes in search of Ginsberg’s flat and all through the route there’s reference to the men of the time, to Kerouac and his beat poets.
I can live without that for I’m going to be controversial here; oh yes I am, it’s confession time. I read On The Road but recently. Never Again. Firstly I don’t like the theme of the times, all the sleaze and the drugs, in much the same way as I’ve no intention of reading, say, Trainspotting. But more importanly I thought Kerouac’s writing to be really awful. The anniversary edition was the original unedited script and I guess if he’d presented that to the publishing houses today he’d probably end up down the self publishing road. Maybe the edited version was better, after the professionals worked on it. Dire. Me no like.
Anyway, back to Rory. He has a theme; every chapter the title of a song, and lyrics popping up here and there. It’s a book you sing your way through, deep in nostalgia. And being Rory he takes someone on the journey with him. Chance meetings here, a bit of language problem there. He has a habit of bringing interesting people into his tales. There was Penny, reliving her days of the 60s, who he left in Cappadocia, only to meet up again at the border post, in Nepal of all places. And so my heart gently weeps.
But it’s Afghanistan that holds the interest. Especially as little of the country was available. He takes us to the ruins of the Bamiyan buddhas, and to the detritus of the museum in Kabul after the Taliban have let rip on idolatory and history, artefacts gone but painstakingly sifted to try and find a couple of bits that just might join together.
So the Intrepids made it all possible all those years ago, but as they say, the times they are a-changing. And MacLean nails those changes firmly, whilst at the same time whipping up the melodies of the day. Good stuff, hippies hash and hepatitis back then, but a great trip now. Fares Please.