#FiveDesiFaves Roundup: Women and Travel

Today’s #FiveDesiFaves segment is a special roundup of five recently-featured, exceptional books by desi women writers on the theme of travel.

  1. Jini Reddy’s Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape
  2. Taran Khan’s Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul
  3. Shoba Narayan’s Food & Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through India
  4. Suchitra Vijayan’s Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India
  5. Pallavi Aiyar’s Orienting: An Indian in Japan

These books range from travel memoir to narrative nonfiction to journalism. While we’ve had desi women writers shining in the travel genre before, we haven’t seen quite as many within a span of just a couple of years. So it has been a true pleasure to read about and feature these writers and their intrepid journeys documented with great skill, compassion, and passion. Please enjoy.

#FiveDesiFaves: a roundup of recently-featured, exceptional, travel-themed books by desi women writers. Jini Reddy’s Wanderland; Taran Khan’s Shadow City; Shoba Narayan’s Food & Faith; Suchitra Vijayan’s Midnight’s Borders; Pallavi Aiyar’s Orienting. .@desibooks


Jini Reddy is an award-winning author and journalist. She was born in London to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, and was raised in Montreal, Canada. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Time magazine, The Metro, The Times, Sunday Times Style, The Sunday Telegraph, National Geographic Traveller, BBC Wildlife, Resurgence, & The Ecologist and other publications. Her first book, Wild Times, was published in 2016 and she is a contributor to the Women on Nature anthology.

Wanderland is a different kind of travel and nature memoir—one with eco-spiritual themes. Reddy traveled around Britain on unusual trails looking for ancient history, wild art, remote landscapes, and, through it all, her own place in the world. The book was shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Award for Travel Book of the Year, and shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize

In episode 10, Reddy talked about what she means when she talks about travel writing and shared her favorite travel writing books.

Jini Reddy’s Wanderland is a travel and nature memoir with eco-spiritual themes. She traveled around Britain on unusual trails looking for ancient history, wild art, remote landscapes, and, through it all, her own place in the world. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Taran N. Khan is a journalist and non-fiction writer based in Mumbai. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Al Jazeera, Berfrois, Himal Southasian, Gulf News, and Dagsavisen, as well as in leading publications in India like The Caravan, Open, The Hindu, and Scroll.in. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Logan Nonfiction Program, Jan Michalski Foundation, and Pro Helvetia.

From 2006 to 2013, Khan spent long periods living and working in Kabul. Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul is her first book based on her journeys around the city during that period. Her guide is her grandfather who, despite never having visited the city, knows it well through books and stories. He’s not actually with her in Kabul but she’s got his voice and his memories in her head as she travels around. Khan’s time with Kabulis who are rebuilding and remaking their ancient city is documented with both a journalistic detail and a flair for the dramatic so that we get unique insights into her own evolution as a woman and a writer and into the city’s transformation through war and more. The book won the Stanford Dolman Award for Travel Book of the Year.

In Episode 17, Khan read an excerpt from the book in the #DesiReads segment. Have a listen.

From 2006 to 2013, Taran Khan spent long periods living and working in Kabul. Shadow City is her first book based on her journeys around the city during that period. #FiveDesiFaves .@desibooks


I discovered Shoba Narayan a few years ago when I was planning to return to India after decades in the US. She had also done this “Return to India” and written a book about it. After that, I read her book, The Milk Lady of Bangalore, and reviewed it in 2018. I followed her delightful columns in India at Mint and then The Hindustan Times. While she was in the US, she wrote for places like TIME, The Atlantic, the NYT, Gourmet, Conde Nast Traveler, and more. Her favorite topics have always been culture, identity, travel, relationships, religion, food, and women.

This latest book is part-history, part-travelogue, part-memoir. Narayan traveled to 15 places of worship across India and explored their history, culture, faith, and food. But the book is so much more than that. It’s also about questions like: the role of religion in our lives today; what rituals mean to us; how our religions or approach to spirituality forms parts of our identities. Balancing gentle humor with profound questions, Narayan skillfully blends of history, myth, memoir, travel, and more.

In #DesiCraftChat in Episode 24, Narayan discussed the varied places she visited and her takeaways. Have a listen.

Shoba Narayan’s Food and Faith is part-history, part-travelogue, part-memoir. She traveled to 15 places of worship across India and explored their history, culture, faith, and food. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Suchitra Vijayan was born and raised in Madras, India. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, GQ, The Boston Review, The Hindu, and Foreign Policy, and she has appeared on NBC News. A barrister by training, she previously worked for the United Nations war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda before co-founding the Resettlement Legal Aid Project in Cairo, which gives legal aid to Iraqi refugees. She is an award-winning photographer, the founder and executive director of The Polis Project, a hybrid research and journalism organization. She lives in New York.

Midnight’s Borders is a modern history of India told through a seven-year, 9,000-mile journey along its many contested borders. Sharing borders with six countries and spanning a geography that extends from Pakistan to Myanmar, India is the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country. It’s a work of narrative reportage–featuring over 40 original photographs–with stories that are never told: from children playing a cricket match in no-man’s-land, to an elderly man living in complete darkness after sealing off his home from the floodlit border; from a woman who fought to keep a military bunker off of her land, to those living abroad who can no longer find their family history in India. It’s about the legacy of colonialism, state violence, and government corruption.

In #DesiCraftChat in Episode 28, Vijayan discussed her journey, its challenges, and what she’d like for readers to take away.

Suchitra Vijayan’s Midnight’s Borders is a modern history of India told through a seven-year, 9,000-mile journey along its many contested borders. It’s about the legacy of colonialism, state violence, and government corruption. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Pallavi Aiyar is an award-winning foreign correspondent and author. Her latest book is, Orienting: An Indian in Japan. She writes a weekly substack newsletter on global culture called The Global Jigsaw. Aiyar has reported from across China, Europe, Indonesia, and Japan and contributed to publications including The New York Times, Granta, The Monocle, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Sunday Telegraph, The South China Morning Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Caravan, The Hindu, The Indian Express, Nikkei Asian Review, and many more. She is currently the Associate Editor of the online magazine, The Globalist.

Globe-trotting journalist, Pallavi Aiyar, moves to Japan and takes an in-depth look at the island country including its culinary, sanitary, and floral idiosyncrasies. Steering through the adventures that come from learning a new language, imbibing new cultural etiquette, and asking difficult questions about race, Aiyar explores why Japan and India find it hard to work together despite sharing a long civilizational history. Part-travelogue, part-reportage, Orienting showcases Aiyar’s trademark humor and tackles both the significant and the trivial, the quirky and the quotidian.

In the #DesiBooks10QA series, Aiyar discussed her book and some of her favorite desi books.

Part-travelogue, part-reportage, Orienting: An Indian in Japan by Pallavi Aiyar takes an in-depth look at the island country including its culinary, sanitary, and floral idiosyncrasies. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Today’s #FiveDesiFaves segment was a special roundup of five recently-featured, exceptional books by desi women writers on the theme of travel.

  1. Jini Reddy’s Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape
  2. Taran Khan’s Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul
  3. Shoba Narayan’s Food & Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through India
  4. Suchitra Vijayan’s Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India
  5. Pallavi Aiyar’s Orienting: An Indian in Japan

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

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