The title of Antonia’s latest book is in fact the literal translation of Arunachal Pradesh, the state in north east India which is little explored and continually contested. India’s forgotten frontier.
It’s a wild place, with high mountains, impenetrable forests and plenty of tigers. But woe betide anyone who enters this area carrying a map that doesn’t show the borders as acknowledged by Delhi – the penalties are stiff. China calls the place ‘South Tibet’ and many of the local tribes would rather be left alone to live autonomously.
It’s the people of this area that the author really wanted to meet and the cultural discoveries she made are what help make this a travel book in the classic sense. Somehow intangibly more mature than her earlier works, this lifts Antonia towards the realms of historically established mainstream authors. However Chatwin never used a motorbike and the little Hero of this story is the 150cc dirt bike that provides her with access to even the most remote villages and high passes.
She immerses herself within the Idu tribe, discovering the incredible strength of family structures, and is fortunate to witness Shamen in action. As a devout vegetarian herself, experiencing animal sacrifice was a little trying, but regardless of the experience, all her writing is wonderfully descriptive, powerfully transporting the reader.
Intertwined, there’s also the personal story of overcoming anxiety while in the field. It’s something that could have been superfluous, but actually helps demonstrate the power of exploration, of discovery, of human interaction and of the incredible beauty of the region. Altogether a terrific read.
Paperback 384 pp £9.99
Published by Simon & Schuster (2017)