Only a few decades ago you could still find a lonely planet. Backpackers from the West carved out a well-worn trail through the magic of the East – Goa, Kathmandu, Bangkok and Bali. A few got off this well-beaten track, with some e ort and often a Lonely Planet guidebook in their hand.
One place off the beaten track was Kagbeni on the southern edge of the near-mythical Nepali district of Lo Mustang. Here, north of the main ridgeline of the Himalayas, villages hang from precipitous, arid ridges perched above the wide flood plain of the Kali Gandaki River. Reaching this point a few decades ago required a six-day walk from the road- head at Pokhara, and this involved climbing 3,000 metre high mountain passes, crossing makeshift bridges spanning raging, glacier-fed rivers and negotiating with villagers for whom electricity was still a distant aspiration.
To stand on the roof of the Red Lodge, then one of only two places o ering lodgings in Kagbeni, a er night had fallen, and before electricity had found its way up the valley, was to feel completely alone. The only illumination in the clear mountain air was the radiant light of the Milky Way in all its unpolluted clarity. You were disconnected from the rest of the world.
Today you can read a review of Kagbeni’s Red Lodge on TripAdvisor. A mobile phone signal is intermittent, but that is probably no worse than in some parts of rural Britain.
Photo: Beyond Limits Sculpture exhibition Chatsworth Gardens, Derbyshire UK
Where is most remote? Greenland and Antarctica, and, of course, Lonely Planet guidebooks exist for both destinations. Antarctica is now described as ‘this most arduous and demanding of holiday destinations’. It would create at least 2.1 tonnes of CO2 to fly from London to Ushuaia at the very southern tip of Argentina, and there is still the small matter of 1,000 kilometres of the wildest ocean in the world to cover before you can make landfall in Antarctica at its most northern tip, the Chilean outpost called the General Bernardo O’Higgins base, named after the half Irish independence leader who freed Chile from the original Spanish colonialists in 1818. It’s best to avoid winter, but if it’s remote you want, this is the place.
Although generally neglected in the British school history curriculum, the Opium Wars are lucidly presented in Julia Lovell’s scholarly and brilliantly researched The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China (Picador, 2012). Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy (John Murray, 2009, 2012 and 2015) brings a master storyteller’s eye for detail to this seminal moment in history as he weaves his characters through the worlds of Bengal, Canton, opium and trade in the 1830s and early 1840s. Sometimes the best geographies can be found in fiction.
To understand how the rapid pace of globalisation in the final years of the 20th century started to re-align post- colonial geo-politics and at the same time be entertained by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, read Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Penguin, 2007).
Trying to understand a rapidly changing China is a complex task, but the subject is made much more accessible by Martin Jacques’s book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order (Penguin, 2nd edition, 2012).
It would be extremely remiss to not mention in any suggested reading about globalisation the work of Joseph Stiglitz, whose book Globalization and Its Discontents (Penguin, 2003) has been a milestone in thinking about globalisation.