Charmaine Chan
Jun 08, 2008

Written by: Alice Albinia
John Murray, HK$200 ****
The tears Alice Albinia shed for Empires of the Indus were worth every drop. A book that recounts her journey from the mighty river's delta to its source, the 300-plus pages expound on not only her adventures along the way but also the lives of the delta's people and the civilisations it gave birth to and sustained. The 3,200km voyage, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, India and Tibet, takes in five millennia of history rich with modern-day significance: the Indus Valley has been the target of invaders including Alexander the Great, Afghan sultans and the British Raj. Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs consider its waters sacred - the founder of Sikhism found enlightenment while bathing in a tributary. Interspersed with the historical accounts are Albinia's intrepid exploits: she crosses the Pakistani-Afghan border illegally and travels to the source of the Indus with a guide as fond of drink as of throwing fits. Albinia succumbs to her emotions in the last chapter, which underscores the extent to which the Indus is a diminished river. "Big dams have shackled the river," she writes, although she attributes her teariness to the psychosomatic effect of high altitude. Her journey ends where the river was born, in Tibet, where she ponders when the Indus, "through mankind's folly", will be spent.

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