October 18, 2017

3219359f05c373d6082edb9f8112af16_XLTravels in a Dervish Cloak, by Isambard Wilkinson

Publisher: Eland

When Isambard Wilkinson sets off to become the Telegraph’s Islamabad correspondent in 2006 the War on Terror was in full swing and Pakistan was caught up in the new, post-9/11 world. Three years later, when he packs his bags to leave, the country has gone through assassinations, terrorist attacks and political upheaval. In between, Wilkinson wanders the dusty terrain trying to get under the skin of a nation that few visit and even fewer understand.

Travels in a Dervish Cloak is an evocative portrait of Pakistan at a time of great uncertainty. Through Wilkinson’s eyes we experience the stifling heat, the chaotic streets, and the host of wild and improbable characters that exist in this former British colony. In Pakistan’s congested cities we see the clashes between conservative elements of society and those with more liberal, western leanings, while in rural areas we see another side of the country as, with “each mile the government’s control became weaker as the voluminous turbans, black beards and Kalashnikovs…became more prevalent.”

Travels in a Dervish Cloak is predominantly a series of standalone chapters; scenes that when pieced together create a rich tapestry of modern Pakistan, offering a glimpse into its traditions, people and culture. Wilkinson spends time with enticing women and corrupt officials, holy men and militant tribal leaders. In one of the more memorable scenes he travels far into guerilla territory to spend several days hold up in mountain caves with an 80-year-old tribal leader, who, his peers say, would have “rivaled Tamerlane for blood and slaughter” had he been born in another era – a few months later the leader is killed by government forces.

Wilkinson has a flair for descriptions, and the Pakistan that comes through the pages of the book is a world of vivid smells, sounds and colours, along with clashes of cultures and intense traditions. For a country that most know little about, it is a fitting and evocative introduction.