In 1991, Monisha Rajesh's family uprooted from Sheffield to Madras in the hope of making India their home. Two years later, fed up with soap-eating rats, severed human heads and the creepy colonel across the road, they returned to England with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Two decades on, she turns to a map of the Indian Railways and takes a page out of Jules Verne's classic tale, embarking on an adventure around India in 80 trains, covering 40,000km - the circumference of the Earth. She hopes that 80 train journeys up, down and across India will lift the veil on a country that has become a stranger to her.
Along the way, Monisha discovers that the Indian Railways - featuring luxury trains, toy trains, Mumbai's infamous commuter trains, and even a hospital on wheels - have more than a few stories to tell, not to mention a colourful cast of characters. And with a self-confessed 'militant devout atheist' in tow, her personal journey around a country built on religion isn't quite what she bargained for...
In 2006 she was nominated for the PTC New Consumer Monthly Journalist of the Year and has written for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New York Times and TIME magazine.
A wonderfully wry and witty debut. Crackles and sparks with life like an exploding box of Diwali fireworks. — William Dalrymple
One can only envy Monisha Rajesh as she embarks on this epic journey through the vast tangle and bewildering extension of India's railways. The ticketing bureaucracy is mad, the travelling companions infinitely varied, the pleasure, discomforts and revelations such that she is guaranteed what even the wriest and most sceptical traveller yearns for: some deeper knowledge of oneself. — Tim Parks, travel writer and Booker Prize nominee
I love train trips and I love travelling around India. If you do too, then this book is a wonderful companion. — Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting
A great big lovely shambling train ride of a book, offering wonderful views, hilarious interludes, all sorts of dodgy characters and some very peculiar smells, all for the one ticket. — Giles Coren, bestselling author and Times columnist
A promising debut from a writer to watch. I am stung with jealousy, not just for the epic journey she makes rediscovering her Indian heritage on ordinary trains, luxury trains, Mumbai's packed commuter trains, even a toy train but just for the talismanic power of such a ticket: the idea that you could have one in your hand tomorrow and just go! — Giles Foden, Condé Nast Traveller
This beautifully written book is a witty and insightful traveller's-eye view of the country from inside its rail network. It is also an account of a life-shaping journey. An assortment of mustachioed maharajas, wicked wedding-crashers, pinstriped Sikhs, indignant inspectors, spotty know-it-alls in Che Guevara T-shirts and crafty rickshaw drivers bursts from the pages... all of this is done with the lightest of touches and a dry wit. There are laugh-out-loud moments at which seasoned and fresh Indian travellers will cringe with recognition: male snoring on the trains; the drastic effects of the Imodium pill; 87 very good reasons why you should never eat Indian bacon. This excellent debut will stand the test of time. Just like India's railways. — Sunday Telegraph
Remember Wes Anderson's film The Darjeeling Limited, about train journeys in India? Here's the book version. You'll be booking a flight by the final page. — Company
Amusing and thoughtful by turns, Rajesh has sidestepped the navel-gazing pitfall common to many wannabe travel writers and piped up with an informative, yet fresh and engaging voice that we will surely be hearing more of. Rating: 9/10 — The Press Association
A rollicking account of Modern India at express pace: from the good sprawling temples and scrapping tigers to the bad groping passengers, churning stomachs and officious ticket inspectors. Rajesh's quick-fire writing is unflinchingly frank, with details packed in as tightly as passengers on Mumbai's commuter trains. A lively read. — Lonely Planet Magazine