• How to spend a long haul flight

    View from a plane window of the Altai mountains
    Gazing down on Central Asia

    I find the thought of long haul flights intimidating. The prospect of 13 hours of reading time is mammoth even for me. I’ve no interest in the films or in sleeping, so it’s all about the plane meals and the reading. 

    Read about somewhere you fly over

    Before my flight from China to the UK, I happened to find a short novel called Jamila by an author named Chingiz Aitmatov in the local charity shop. 

    The fact that the back cover claimed he was Kyrgyzstan’s most famous literary figure gave me a thought. I was pretty sure my flight would pass over Kyrgyzstan – so why not read about it?

    Watching real time maps

    The other thing I love to do in a plane is look out of the window. Anyone who is obsessed by maps will find a particular delight in air travel. It provides real life maps that you can gaze on for hours, spotting features you knew only from atlases. 

    As we flew, I interspersed gazing down at the Kyrgyz mountains, the foothills of the Altai range and the Kazakh steppe with reading Aitmatov’s little novel. I hadn’t realised it was old, but soon understood that it was written about the Second World War period. 

    In fact, Jamila was published in 1958. Gazing down at Kyrgyzstan as Aitmatov’s story gazed back into Soviet history gave me an extraordinary sense of time and space. The story itself is beautiful and simple, the story of life and love in a Kyrgyz village. 

    Next time you travel in a plane, pick a country en route, the smaller the better. Then go and search for its greatest novelist and see what you find…