Three years later, when he packed his bags to leave, the country had gone through assassinations, terrorist attacks and political upheaval. In the intervening years Wilkinson wandered the humid 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. Through Wilkinson’s eyes we experience the stifling heat, the chaotic streets, and a host of wild and improbable characters. In 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: ‘with each mile the government’s control became weaker as the voluminous turbans, black beards and Kalashnikovs... became more prevalent.’
This is predominantly a series of standalone chapters; scenes that when pieced together create a rich tapestry of modern Pakistan. Wilkinson spends time with enticing women and corrupt officials, holy men and militant tribal leaders. In one memorable scene he travels far into guerrilla territory to spend several days holed up in mountain caves with an 80-year-old tribal leader, who his peers say would have ‘rivalled Tamerlane for blood and slaughter’ had he been born in another era. A few months later the leader is killed in a shoot-out with 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. It’s a fitting and evocative look at the country.
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