“A Traveller on Horseback” by Christina Dodwell describes life in rural Turkey and Iran in the 1980s

A Traveller on Horseback by Christina Dodwell is the author’s account of her journey through Turkey and Iran in the 1980s. The author mostly avoids large cities and areas of conflict although there are still confrontations with the local police and the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. The purpose of the book, though, is not to dwell on the politics and uncertainty but to visit ancient monuments and remains and live with the people. It seems like the author undertook a number of similar trips in various parts of the world and that there are a number of books available.

The author actually spends quite a lot of the book on public transport although she has a horse for quite a lot of the trip. She starts in Turkey and then travels across Iran into Pakistan and back via a slightly different route which borders on Russia. She travels alone which does cause her some problems, especially as she doesn’t speak the languages of the areas in which she travels. She has to fend off unwanted attention from a number of men who regard her as prey because she is not accompanied by a man but she deals with all these incidents with a certain amount of aplomb and when she has problems with the authorities for apparently straying into areas where she has no permit she again extricates herself with confidence. This isn’t a book where the purpose of the travel is to deal with some problem in the author’s life, and in fact we learn little about the author herself and her background– this is a travelogue and consists of description of the area, the people and the journey.

I realised when I read this book how much I don’t know about the history of the region featured. The author visits temples, burial monuments and ruined cities erected by civilisations of which I know nothing. She also encounters a number of different peoples with different languages and cultures in quite a short journey. We don’t get a whole lot of history and few judgements about the lifestyles of the people she meets.

For quite a lot of the book the author travels with a horse she has bought. This enables her to travel in areas where public transport does not exist but also leads to a lot of horse related issues such as getting loose and losing horseshoes. In fact, there is quite a lot about very old breeds of horse and horse related activity in the book but thankfully not enough to bore me.

This is a fascinating book. It is straightforward and easy to read and it showed me a glimpse into an area which I obviously know little about.