Life lists are in. Everyone, it seems, has a life list, mental or written, of things they want to do, achieve, see, attain or acquire. And most life lists include at least one trip to a coveted destination: Egypt’s pyramids, rafting down the Colorado, an Indonesian spa holiday, a lake-view room at Geneva’s Hotel Beau Rivage, or a meal at Monaco’s opulent Le Louis XV.
Been there:Tourists at the Qutub Minar, which makes it to the list
Little wonder then that Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before you Die: A Traveler’s Life List, has been so popular ever since it was published in 2003. It has sold some 2.5 million copies, spawned a Discovery Travel and Living travel show and been translated into numerous languages. It has also encouraged publishers around the world to cash in on the trend and release similarly themed tomes, including two issued in October: Make the Most of your Time on Earth: 1,000 Ultimate Travel Experiences from Rough Guides and Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips from National Geographic.
Any book of best-ofs, must-sees and must-dos is by nature a subjective list that cannot make the whole world happy, and for that reason I avoid any criticism of Schultz’s particular choice of 1,000 destinations.
This book comes to Indian bookstores rather late, but given that it’s a general guide to places worldwide, it is in some senses timeless. It’s a great guide for ideas and suggestions when planning a vacation or for concise information on the premier sites at a destination when you’re on a business trip. Timeless, except for some important aspects: the useful information within and following each entry, including costs, times, phone numbers, websites et cetera. Anyone who has ever bought a travel guide relies on this information (including prices) to be as current as possible. In this area, this book falls drastically short.
1,000 Places to See Before you Die:Workman Publishing,992 pages, Rs784
Since a quarter of the 1,000 entries are hotels (many of them super-exclusive and expensive), which tend to change at least their prices regularly, that’s a lot of information you can’t quite rely on. For a book that’s sold more than two million copies, spent an insane number of weeks on The New York Times paperback advice best-seller list and doubtlessly earned its publishers and author whopping profits, it’s rather outrageous that the publishers have not updated the guide.
A cursory look at the Indian entries shows what the book doesn’t indicate: that Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel’s Tanjore restaurant is history, that the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, after almost three years of renovation, is under the Taj banner, that the Taj Mahal, Agra, is closed on Fridays (the book advises you to go on Friday) or that Simla (sic), where Chapslee is situated, is a rather grossly overgrown hill station, or that the recommended Taj Ganges hotel is a rather ugly building far away from its listed entry, Varanasi’s ghats.
While, like most travellers, I admit to making must-see lists, I suggest you don’t fixate on crossing things off. The most enduring memory of my last holiday (in Italy) is of a 6am walk with a friend through a gently rolling hillside of faro fields on a rural farm, trying to see if the specks in the distance were grazing sheep. Life lists are great, but it’s best not to obsess over the “see before you die” aspect.
1,000 Places is heavily Euro- and US-centric in its list of destinations and focuses on expensive accommodation ($300-1,000, approx. Rs11,850-39,500, per night). If you’re planning a holiday in Europe or the US, or if you have very deep pockets, this book is definitely a good buy. Neither criterion applies to me. But I would probably still buy this book. Why? Because it’s a good book for armchair travel, a daydreaming aid and, while the Internet offers superb virtual travel options, there’s nothing like a breezy browse through a book you can take anywhere.
The book also has some interesting nuggets that travellers may otherwise miss: the Japanese-style Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Pantanal and the Caiman Ecological Refuge in the Amazon, Brazil; Nepal’s Mustang region; and even though I’m a bit befuddled at the number of resorts in this book, I think I would like to visit Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Fiji Islands Resort.
1,000 Places is the kind of book you would place on your coffee table, great for leafing through, despite its disappointingly tiny black and white images. Schultz writes well; she makes you want to visit obscure haunts such as Superdawg, Chicago, for a hot dog and the Imilchil Betrothal Fair in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains out of sheer curiosity. And, frankly, she does make you want to plot a travel life list.
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