54. Monisha Rajesh; Around the World by Train, the Siberian Galapagos, the Death Railway from Bangkok, Fascinating North Korea and Tibetan Nuns with iPhones - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode 54
January 29 , 2019

54. Monisha Rajesh; Around the World by Train, the Siberian Galapagos, the Death Railway from Bangkok, Fascinating North Korea and Tibetan Nuns with iPhones

After writing Around India in 80 Trains Monisha Rajesh decided to tackle the whole world in 80 trains and left London on a journey that took in 45,000 miles across Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Canada and America. Stopping at the world’s oldest lake in Siberia, taking the ‘death railway’ from Bangkok to Nam Tok and meeting Tibetan nuns with iPhones she has some wonderful, inspirational and entertaining stories for you in a conversation everyone who loves travel will just love. 


On this episode we cover:

How many trains it really took to do ‘Around India in 80 trains’ and ‘around the world in 80 trains’

Not having previously been a big train fan

Living in India for two years as a child

Her Indian heritage

Deciding to travel India on her own

India’s domestic airlines covering 80 cities

India’s amazing network of trains

80 cities became 80 trains

Trains became the life blood of her writing

How India can be quite hard work

How Indian people treated her

Not seeing women travelling long-distance on their own

Being invited into carriages to share food

The upside to being an insider and an outsider

Understanding cultural nuances

Travelling some of the way with her photographer friend

Feeling quite safe yet being cautious

Hearing about a growing rape culture in India

Being mindful of where you are

Lisa filming in the centre of Bangalore and attracting a crowd

People being curious about her

The best view in India

Rajasthan, the Golden Triangle – Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udiapur

Sunrise at Jaisalmer – one of the oldest working forts

India Raj era palaces, deserts, coconut groves, the greenness of Kerala, electrifying Mumbai, snow and glaciers in Ladakh

Returning to London and working for The Week Magazine

The isolation of writing a book

Being unable to replicate what she’d done in India in any one specific country

Being daunted by going around the world in 80 trains

The thrill of going from London to Asia overland

Staying overland all the way to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam

Waking up on the trans Mongolian railway pulling into Beijing

The mesmerising changes of the landscape

Realising how linked we are to Asia

The no-mans land of Siberia and central Asia

Seeing the change in people’s faces and colouring

The food changing, packets of noodles appearing, food getting a bit spicier

How such a journey can change the way you see the world

Travel’s power to combat prejudice

How travel can be an escape but finding the similarities in people all over the world

Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris, Europe, Latvia, the overnight train to Moscow, four and a half days in excruciating heat across Siberia

The stunning Lake Baikal, in south-east Siberia, the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world

Known as the ‘Galapagos of Russia’, 

Fresh water seals turning somersaults

Hiking trails around the mountains

Feeling far away from everything

The train from Siberia to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Through the Gobi Desert

Conical hats and fisherman

The incredible feeling of arriving in Beijing in China after that incredible journey

Having the time and money to take the trans Mongolia

How the domestic Trans Mongolian isn’t so expensive

Travelling through the south of China to Hanoi in Vietnam

The phenomenal trip along the Reunification Express all the way down Vietnam – stopping in Da Nang and the stunningly perfect town of Hoi An

Trains being so cheap they could get off anywhere and come and go as they pleased

Taking the ‘death railway’ from Bangkok to Nam Tok

Allied prisoners of war being used by the Japanese to build the death railway

For every sleeper laid one man died

The ‘hellfire pass’ where the prisoners worked in excruciating circumstances

The monk who sat motionless for 8 hours on a delayed train

The special moment at sunset to the Bridge on the River Kwai

Banana pancakes by the broken down train on the track

How delays are part of travel

How you think travel will change you versus how it really does

People not talking to each other on the train in England

The journey to Birmingham on the train

The people she met along the way

The Tibetan nun on the train from North West China forever grateful to India for protecting The Dalai Lama

Visiting Lhasa, the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple Monastery

The nun with the iPhone and her zest for life

Cambodia’s lack of trains after Pol Pot used them for the killing fields

Thailand, to Malaysia, to Singapore on train

Flying to Japan and onto Vancouver

Travelling across Canada and across the US by Amtrak

North Korea being one of the highlights of the trip

How North Korea is probably the most fascinating country she will ever visit

Pyongyang being a show case city

The North Koreans being detached and unwelcoming

The ten day train tour all around the country

How tourism is a growing source of income for North Korea

America and the UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia

Referring to all Americans as ‘American Imperialists’

Propaganda about Americans and Japanese

If having children clips your wings

Watching Game of Thrones whilst the whole train bottom gets changed

Pirated copies of books in India and other Asian countries

Taking a Kindle but not reading for fear of missing things

The curious border crossings that take 5-6 hours of lifting the train up between China and Mongolia

Travelling through the American deep south listening to jazz

Whiling away hours drinking mint juleps in New Orleans

The Sunset Limited train from New Orleans to Los Angeles