Bernhard Trink – The Bangkok Post
Global trekking across Asia is becoming increasingly difficult. War, terrorism, ever tighter Immigration rules are blocking the traditional land routes. And travel by plane doesn’t qualify as backpacking. Authors of wayfaring novels must set them years ago to make them plausible.
Which is what British freelance journalist Tom Vater does in his first book of fiction The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu. In fact he sets the story in two different years, 1976 and 2000, alternating between them. The years are safe, the first prior to the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, the second prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan. They, along with Pakistan and Nepal are the key countries in the plot.
The author makes a serious effort to capture the mindset of the backpacker. The characters are always stoned, hump like minks, seek to connect with the vital force of the universe. If there’s a way to make money without working for it, even when dangerous, they go for it.
In 1976, Dan, Tim and Fred pool their savings and buy a second-hand Bedford bus and head for the East. What they have in common is the determination to reach the Khyber Pass, buy drugs and re-sell them at a substantial profit. Experiences along the way are detailed. At one point they pick up Thierry, the Frenchman dealing himself in.
There are girls, of course, every bit as horny. Making the strongest impressions are Lida and Madi, Armenian sisters, entertainers, Siamese twins. Immigration officers are invariably corrupt, demanding bakshish to stamp their passports.
The deal almost proves fatal to no fault of their own. The Pathans involved are having a blood feud, shots are exchanged and some passengers die. Though they get the money, it’s safer to deposit it in a Kathmandu bank than to attempt to bring it home with them. Thierry decides to stay in Asia, marrying Madi after a Stateside operation separates the twins. Fred disappears.
A quarter-century later Fred, presumed dead, e-mails his partners to come back, in order to withdraw the deposit together. Dan brings his son, Robbie. Alas the money has already been taken by a man called Marlowe and Fred is ensconced in the highest temple in the Himalayas. He never sent the e-mails, but Thierry did using his name.
The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu is a better backpacker’s book than Alex Garland’s The Beach.
Khao San Road’s habitues will go for it.