Are You Experienced? - William Sutcliffe
Like many a middle-class student, I did my fair share of Travelling in my teens and early twenties. Holidays? Pah! Stick your two-week package deals; with a backpack and a Lonely Planet, it's no holiday, it's... er, it's a really long holiday, with more time and less money, that somehow gets mythologised into some kind of spiritual quest. I never went to India, but from all accounts, the India travellers were the worst, turning what is basically an extended sightseeing trip into some "finding yourself" hippy bollocks. Are You Experienced? is a very funny tale of one teenager's gap-year India trip; it's technically fiction, but so much of it rings true that I'd bet most of the travel anecdotes are based on the real thing.
Dave is spending his gap year working, saving up for Uni and trying to pull Liz, the girlfriend of his best mate who's off travelling round Oz. He never intended to go travelling himself, but when Liz suggests an India trip, he thinks it's probably his best bet for getting her into bed. Of course, things don't work out quite that smoothly, mainly due to Liz being a prize bitch and an idiot to boot, who falls in with every pretentious would-be traveller and spiritual scam artist she meets, eventually ditching Dave and leaving him to fend for himself amid the heat, the dirt and the wankers.
"I love it here," says Jonah, "but I hate it here." He nods sagely.
"I," says Ing, "hate it here. But I love it here." He nods even more sagely than Jonah, who gets a bit miffed and tries to up the sageness quotient in his nod. This doesn't work because the miffiness shows through, so Jonah withdraws from the battle of nods and rolls another joint.
At this point, Xavier embarks on his theory. "India, lack manee a beeg countray, souffers a crush under eetz own weight. Lack a whale own ze beach, ze size of eetz own self-population eez ze mourder weapon of involunaree suiceede."
Everyone looks at him blankly.
"J'aime l'Inde. Mais je la deteste," he says, emphatically.
Everyone nods sagely, trying to show they understand French.
The Liz story is really little more than a frame for the real business of Dave's travel tale, which takes him on the standard backpacker route around the country, and through the standard backpacker hazards of diarrhoea, beggars, Western guilt and a complete inability to understand the culture he's travelling through. It's entertaining fluff, with the occasional pointed barb aimed at the rich white kids who blunder round foreign countries in packs, avoiding the locals and patronising a society they haven't bothered to learn about. The book was published in the late '90s, and from the information on access to Tibet I'd date the journey itself to a few years earlier, but I imagine that life on the backpacker circuit is still much the same now as it was then. It's funny because it's true.