Booksellers may have a problem categorising Alice Albinia’s Empires of the Indus. Should it be in the travel section or the history section? Is the travelogue a vehicle for some weighty history or is the history a filler for some intrepid travel? Happily neither. This is a rare example of incisive scholarship complementing near-suicidal adventure. It should be shelved under both travel and history, prominently. Better still, its twin elements are sustained by a first-person narrative unmarred by authorial advertisement and admirable in its economy. Albinia, now in her thirties, read English at Cambridge and South Asian history at SOAS, and has since worked in India. This is her first book; it will not be her last.
Her subject is the Indus, a poor relation in the family of great rivers. Unendowed with the karma-cleansing properties of the Ganges or the navigational convenience of the Yangtze, its very existence is currently endangered by competition for its waters among the riverine states. Foremost among the barrage-builders is Pakistan,