‘Slowly Down the Ganges’ is seen as a vintage Newby masterpiece, alongside ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ and ‘Love and War in the Apennines’. Told with Newby’s self-deprecating humour and wry attention to detail, this is a classic of the genre and a window into an enchanting piece of history.
On his forty-forth birthday, Eric Newby sets out on an incredible journey: to travel the 1,200-mile length of India’s holy river. In a misguided attempt to keep him out of trouble, Wanda, his life-long travel companion and wife, is to be his fellow boatwoman. Their plan is to begin in the great plain of Hardwar and finish in the Bay of Bengal, but the journey almost immediately becomes markedly slower and more treacherous than either had imagined – running aground sixty-three times in the first six days.
Travelling in a variety of unstable boats, as well as by rail, bus and bullock cart, and resting at sandbanks and remote villages, the Newbys encounter engaging characters and glorious mishaps, including the non-existence of large-scale maps of the country, a realisation that questions of pure ‘logic’ cause grave offense and, on one occasion, the only person in sight for miles is an old man who is himself unsure where he is. Newby’s only consolation: on a river, if you go downstream, you’re sure to end up somewhere?