A Traveller’s History of India
Author Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda
Reviewed by Volker Poelzl
Traveller's History of India is part of the "Traveller’s History" series, published in the U.S. by Interlink Publishing Group. The series currently has about thirty titles of countries and cities worldwide, and the list of titles continues to grow. The current fourth edition has been updated and includes the most recent events in India, such as India’s rise on the political and economic world stage and the recent software boom.
What makes the book useful for travelers is that it is not an exhaustive treatise on the vast history of India, but a lightweight 278-page paperback that fits into every traveler’s baggage and will help them get the background story behind the places and sites they visit. Despite the complexity of India’s history, Tammita-Delgoda succeeds in conveying the most important events, such as the invasion of the Aryans, the Mughal empire, and the British rule, all the while bringing India’s most outstanding historic figures to the readers’ attention. Among them are the enigmatic rulers Asoka (3rd century B.C.) and Akhbar (16th century), who have left an indelible imprint on India.
The author not only pays attention to historic events, but also presents India’s most famous monuments in their historical perspective. Readers gain insights into the history of such famous landmarks as the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal, and he sheds light on the unique historic role of Rajasthan, which is still among India’s most staunchly traditional regions to this day.
While the book provides a well-balanced overview of Indian history from prehistory to the present, the content is unfortunately not presented in the most useful way for travelers. Instead of highlighting the history of places most travelers to India are likely to visit, India’s history is presented in the usual chronological order. This makes it difficult to quickly find references to important historic sites and events. Page after page about dynasties of rulers, battles, and conflicts also make for often dry reading, especially since many obscure chapters of India’s history are not particularly interesting or relevant to travelers.
Since most travelers to India visit a certain number of popular destinations, I would have preferred if the book were better organized to quickly find the relevant sections. Instead of having quick access to historical information about the Red Fort in Delhi, for example, readers have to look through the entire section on the Mughal ruler Sha Jahan to find the information they want. The alphabetical index helps to navigate through millennia of Indian history, but the book is really more a short history of India than a history specifically for travelers. "A Traveller’s History" of India contains a chronology of major historic events for a quick overview, as well as an alphabetical historical gazetteer with an overview of historic sites all across India. But these appendices do not substitute for sidebars and pull-quotes to help travelers quickly read brief synopsis about historic events or places. The black and white illustrations give the book a somewhat dated look, and the black and white maps are too small and somewhat confusing.
But for anyone interested in a more thorough overview of Indian history than travel guides can provide, this is a useful companion. The book offers a good overview of the many different cultural, religious, and political influences that have shaped India over the past few thousand years, and provides some insights into the enormous cultural, religious and ethnic diversity that often confounds foreign visitors.