Travel Accounts and an Analytical Study of Urdu Travelogues

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Rauf Parekh

Bill Bryson is a writer whose travel books are known for highlighting the humorous aspects of travelling. Bryson describes even the grim events, such as getting nearly killed by rash motorists of Paris or being robbed in Florence by gypsies, with his usual flair, peppering it with comical comments. Once he wrote that “What an odd thing tourism is. You fly off to a strange land, eagerly abandoning all the comforts of home, and then expend vast quantities of time and money in a largely futile attempt to recapture the comfort that you wouldn’t have lost if you hadn’t left home in the first place”.

People with wanderlust, however, are undeterred by lack of comforts, as is evident from travel accounts of Bryson, though modern-day travel proffers much more comfort when compared to, say, a few centuries ago. The desire to explore, it seems, is as universal and as old as humankind. So is the desire to narrate the accounts of one’s travels. The tradition of writing travel accounts is quite old and, writes Dr Anwer Sadeed in his Urdu Adab Mein Safarnama, the oldest discovered travel account is that of Megasthenes, the 3rd century BC Greek explorer who was ambassador to India in the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. In the 5th century AD, a Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian (also spelt Fa-Hien) visited India and wrote about his visit. About two centuries later, Xuanzang (also spelt Hsuan-Tsang), another Chinese Buddhist monk, came to India and wrote about his travel.

Pausanias, a 2nd century Greek traveller, says J.A. Cuddon in The Penguin dictionary of literary terms and literary theory, had written A guide to Greece. In the following centuries, a number of travel accounts were written in Arabic, Persian and other languages. Travelogues written by such globetrotters as Hakeem Nasir Khusrau, Al-Biruni, Ibn-i-Jubayr, Ibn-i-Batuta (also spelt Ibn Battuta) and Marco Polo are testimony that narrating the travel accounts has been popular throughout centuries, though travelogues of Ibn-i-Batuta and Marco Polo were dismissed in the beginning as ‘fiction’.

Travelogues in Urdu were written as early as in 19th century. Yousuf Khan Kambalposh’s travel account Tareekh-i-Yousufi, also known as Ajaibaat-i-Farang, is Urdu’s first travel account.

Yousuf Kambalposh left his native town Hyderabad (Deccan) in 1828 and visited major Indian cities. He lived in Lucknow for a few years and learnt the English language before embarking upon a journey to England in 1837. Written in 1843, Ajaibaat-i-Farang first published from Delhi in 1847. This being a very rare edition, its second edition published from Lucknow in 1873 is often erroneously referred to as the first one. From Kambalposh to the modern days, we have had a string of travel books. Some scholars have carried out worthwhile research on the vast body of Urdu travel accounts. A few PhD dissertations too have been written on Urdu travelogues but they remain unpublished. Aside from works by Dr Mirza Hamid Baig and Dr Anwer Sadeed, no detailed history of Urdu travelogues has been published. So analysing and evaluating a large number of Urdu travel accounts, especially the ones published during the past 20 years or so is a job still waiting to be done. Also, many travelogues need to be analysed at length.

This is why Vaheed-ur-Rahman Khan’s new book Naqd-i-Safar feels like a waft of fresh air. It critically analyses and evaluates some selected Urdu travelogues. Vaheed-ur-Rahman Khan, a scholar and humorist from Lahore, is among those upcoming researchers who, I feel, are to play an important role in the realm of Urdu research and criticism in the next few decades, though there are quite a few scholars hailing from the young generation whom I have great faith in as well, for example, Dr Baseera Ambreen, Dr Muhammad Abrar Abdus Salaam, Dr Rafaqat Ali Shahid, Dr Khalid Nadeem, Dr Javed Ahmed Khursheed Khan, Faizuddin Ahmed, Dr Pinky Justin, Dr Zulfiqar Ali Danish, Khalid Ameen and Syed Tariq Hussain, to name a few.

What I like most about Vaheed-ur-Rahman Khan is that despite being a scholar and researcher, he has not let his sense of humour slip away. He is a good humorist with a firm grip on the Urdu language—perhaps one of the most important tools of a humorist. It is often believed that a researcher’s job is so dry and drab that he or she is going to lose their sense of humour soon, that is, if they have one at all. But there are a few scholars whose works prove this theory wrong and among them are big names such as Mushfiq Khwaja, Vazeer Agha, Saleem Akhter and Anwer Sadeed. They all are scholars but have penned delightful humorous pieces.

Now coming to the book, it is divided into two parts: the first one analyses Urdu’s 10 travelogues and the second one exclusively evaluates travelogues written by Muhammad Khalid Akhter, a satirist. The first portion includes pieces on the following travelogues: Ajaibaat-i-Farang by Yousuf Khan Kambalposh, Munh val Kaaba Shareef by Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Saat Samandar Paar by Akhter Riazuddin, Nazar Nama by Mahmood Nizami, Maghribi Germany Mein Aik Baras by Muhammad Kazim, Jerneli Sarak by Raza Ali Abidi, Maqaam-i-Khilafat by Sir Abdul Qadir, and Israel Mein Chand Roz by K. Ashraf.

As put by Dr Moeen Nizami in his preface to the book, Vaheed-ur-Rahman Khan has that creative streak in his critical writing, too, and his beautiful Urdu prose makes the reading all the more joyful. Published by Lahore’s Book Home, the book would have been more valuable had the author added a few introductory lines about the printing history of each book. Although a few pieces do have such introductions, for example the book by Sir Abdul Qadir, Kambalposh’s book too deserved at least a paragraph. Otherwise, the book offers a look at some very delightful pieces taken from some good Urdu travelogues.

Rauf Parekh, “Literary Notes: Travel accounts and an analytical study of Urdu travelogues,” in Dawn, July 28, 2014. Accessed on March 1, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on July 28, 2014, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 1, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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