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The Travel Book Award was founded by The Thomas Cook Group in 1980, with the aim of encouraging and rewarding the art of literary travel writing, and to inspire in the reader the wish to travel. Previous winners include Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Stanley Stewart and William Dalrymple. The 2002 Award was won by the dissident Chinese poet Ma Jian with Red Dust.

The Travel Book Award originated as an initiative of The Thomas Cook Group in 1980, with the aim of encouraging and rewarding the art of literary travel writing.

The books continue to inspire travellers and aspiring travel-writers alike.
 

2002

Red Dust
from amazon.co.uk
from amazon.com
Ma Jian
13.27
An astounding, thoughtful memoir of an urban poet, painter and writer on the road to Tibet in the mid-1980s. At low ebb personally, and censured by his propaganda work unit, 30-year-old Ma Jian abandons his disintegrating life in Beijing for a remarkable three-year trek south and west to Guizhou province, Burma and Tibet. This first-rate account offers a vibrant portrait of Deng's People's Republic of China, and an extremely useful testimonial to the plight of Chinese artists therein.

2001

In the Empire of Genghis Khan
from amazon.co.uk
from amazon.com
Stanley Stewart
6.39
Eight centuries ago, the Mongols burst forth from Central Asia in a series of spectacular conquests that took them from the Danube to the Yellow Sea. Their empire was seen as the final triumph of the nomadic "barbarians". But in time, the Mongols sank back into the obscurity from which they had emerged, almost without trace. Remote and outlandish, Outer Mongolia became a metaphor for exile, a lost domain of tents and horsemen, little changed since the days of Genghis Khan. In this book, Stanley Stewart sets off in the wake of an obscure 13th century Franciscan friar on a pilgimage across the old empire, from Istanbul to the distant homeland of the Mongol Hordes. The heart of his odyssey is a 1000-mile ride on horseback, among nomads, for whom travel is a way of life, through a trackless land governed by winds and patterns of migration. On a journey full of bizarre characters and unexpected encounters, he crosses the desert and mountains of Central Asia, battles through the High Altay and the fringes of the Gobi, to the wind-swept grasslands of the steppes and the birthplace of Genghis Khan.
 

2000

An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan
from amazon.co.uk
Jason Elliot
7.19
Not long out of school, Jason Elliot went to Afghanistan to see what the Russians were doing, and found himself living in the mountains amongst the mujaheddin. He combines his own experiences with anecdotes from sufis and Soviet veterans.

1999

The Spirit Wrestlers
from amazon.co.uk
Philip Marsden
5.59
From the acclaimed author of The Crossing Place and The Bronski House. In Moscow, a man points on a map to the place where he was born. He is a Doukhobor, a 'spirit-wrestler', a member of a group of radical Russian sectarians. He is pointing to a village beyond the southern steppe, at the far south of the old Russian empire: 'I was born here,' he says. 'On the edge of the world.' So begins Philip Marsden's Russian journey -- perhaps the most penetrating account of Russian life since the Soviet Union's collapse made travel possible again. In villages unseen by outsiders since before the revolution, he encounters men and women of fabulous courage, larger than life, dazed by the century's turbulence. By turns wise, devout, comic, they seem to have stepped straight from the pages of Turgenev, Gogol and Babel. Marsden meets such figures as the Yezidi Sheikh of Sheikhs, an exiled Georgian prince and a cast of passionate scholars, stooping survivors of the gulags, strutting Cossacks and extreme, isolated sects of Milk-Drinkers and Spirit-Wrestlers. The Spirit-Wrestlers peels away the grey facade of post-Soviet Russia and reveals a people as committed as ever to answering that great Tolstoyan question: how a man should live. Even more than in The Bronski House and The Crossing Place, Philip Marsden shows that behind the horrors of the Soviet years the human spirit remained triumphant. In so doing, he shows himself to be one of the most exciting and original travel writers of his generation.
 

1998

Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land
from amazon.co.uk
from amazon.com
Tim Mackintosh-Smith
6.39
The author moved to Yemen in 1982, and stayed there for 15 years. This is the story of his travels and life there. He portrays hyrax hunters and dhow skippers, a noseless regicide, and a sword-wielding tyrant with a passion for Heinz Russian salad.

1997

Clear Waters Rising
from amazon.co.uk
from amazon.com
Nick Crane
7.19
This is the story of a remarkable journey of 10,000 kilometres across Europe from the western most tip in Cape Finistere to Istanbul. The author completed this adventure entirely on foot: refusing any mechanical contrivance - car, bicycle, armoured truck (in Eastern Europe) or escalator (in Vienna). It took him 500 days crossing Europe's uplands from the Cantabrian mountains, the Pyrenees, Sevenne, Alps, the Carpathians, Transylvanian Alps and Rhodopes. Exactly half the journey was through Western Europe, the other half through Eastern Europe where the life of the mountain people and shepherd is little changed since the Middle Ages. But everywhere this traditional mountain life is vanishing in the face of tourism, ski resorts and the end of traditional farming patterns. This book is part adventure, part political journey, and an acute observation of fauna, flora and geography.
 

1996

Frontiers of Heaven: A Journey Beyond the Great Wall
from amazon.co.uk
from amazon.com
Stanley Stewart
6.39
For the Chinese, the Great Wall defined a psychological frontier. Within it lay the Celestial Kingdom, the compass of all civilization. Beyond lay a barbarian world of chaos and exile. Chinese journeys to the west, along the ancient Silk Road, were passages into the unknown, often into legend. Today the great western province of Xinjiang is still a land of exile, the destination of soldiers, reluctant settlers, political prisoners and disgraced officials. Following in their wake, Stanley Stewart's journey takes him halfway across Asia, from Shanghai to the banks of the Indus. He passes through the heartlands of China, beyond the Great Wall and into the wilds of Tartary. He crosses the Gobi and the Taklamakan deserts to the high passes of the Pamirs and the Karakorams. Along the way, he meets the modern Chinese for whom these regions beyond the Wall still hold the same morbid fascination. The author describes the lost cities of Central Asia, a Buddhist monastery in the shadow of Tibet, a Kirghiz wedding on the roof of the world, an encounter with nomads in the Mountains of Heaven, a tussle with the secret police in Kashgar, and a love affair in Xian. In a book packed with character and incident, he investigates the paradoxes of travel itself, the lure of far horizons and the isolation of exile.

1994

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
from amazon.co.uk
from amazon.com
William Dalrymple
7.19
As Dalrymple's first book, "In Xanadu", traversed thousands of miles, now he traverses thousands of years. In the course of 12 months in Delhi, he peels back the successive encrusting layers of history, using both material and human remains of each of the eight cities of Delhi, interlacing innumerable stories with the present and ending with the Delhi creation myth contained in the great Indian epic "The Mahabharata".
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