India 1998: Ladakh. The Donkey and the Dzo-

To undergo a trek in a remote region with a group of strangers can be an interesting and sometimes challenging experience. In our group of a dozen or so, most people were amenable, adaptable types-as you would expect for anyone choosing to take a hike in some of the most inhospitable landscapes the world has to offer. Added to this, our two guides, Adrian and Sonam were both amiable and fun.

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But a small group holiday is ideal for singletons and while most of us were in couples there were also some singles; a rather unfit guy, a youngish woman, a teenage boy [with parents] and two older women. One of these older women, Anna, a widow, was pleasant, open and friendly and made for a good, conversational walking companion, as I often found when falling into step with her [the two of us frequently bringing up the rear]. The other woman, let’s call her Margaret, was a bit frosty and possessed of little sense of humour, also perhaps somewhat unworldly in certain areas.

We were walking down a slope into a valley one afternoon, the bare, rocky terrain giving way to vegetation as the path flattened, when we came across some donkeys grazing. The animals were friendly, happy to be stroked as we stopped to greet them. Margaret became unusually animated by the encounter, though not as animated as the donkey, whose excitement on gazing at Margaret was expressed in an immediate erection. This reaction went unnoticed or unrealised by Margaret, who exclaimed ‘The donkey likes me!’ but was nevertheless witnessed and enjoyed by all of the rest of the group, so that most of us found it necessary to impose self control over the general hilarity that ensued.

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On another occasion we reached the top of a climb to meet a family dressed in their Sunday best, on their way to a festival in the Gonpa [monastery] at the next village-the next village being many miles away across a mountain pass. They were carrying all the essentials for a picnic-including a well-used teapot!

On our descent into Ang village we were to see the wondrous beast of burden that is a ‘Dzo’, an odd mixture of yak and cow. But sometimes our very presence at a village was as of much interest to the locals as they were to us!

At Thimmisgamm village we made our last camp, where we had to bid farewell to our lovely crew and goodbye to this beautiful place. The next day we walked back to Leh and our delightful hotel where we had one more day to get a last explore before we were to travel back towards Delhi-by coach this time-to ride over the second highest road pass in the world, among other notable experiences!

India 1998. Ladakh Trek 2

Our trek in the mountainous region of Ladakh took us close to villages and down through some. Sometimes our camp for the night would be next to one, on a flat area by a stream. Though the villages were rustic idylls during the summer months, the roofs of the homes covered in drying apricots, families working in the surrounding terraced fields, animals grazing, the long winter months would be cruelly hard. Those working in the fields would always straighten up to greet us as we passed by.  A smiling ‘Julay’, we’d hear and do our best to reply.

We were privileged to be able to visit a village house, the home of our Ladakhi guide, Sonam’s parents. We were invited inside and offered ‘butter tea’, a beverage I’d been warned to avoid if possible. The tea was presented in beautiful, painted porcelain teacups. But the trick, I knew, was to take the smallest of sips so that the rank taste was barely perceptible, then smile, nod and replace the cup in its china saucer on the table.

The kitchen was cosy, a wall of shelves holding burnished cooking pots, a black iron stove for cooking and heating. For tea we sat on colourful rugs before low tables in a room whose windows looked out over meadows, summer green; and a backdrop of towering mountains. Outside, Sonam’s father demonstrated basket-making, deftly weaving one in minutes.

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Later, at our encampment, Adrian wondered aloud if anyone would be interested in a beer. Beer? During our long hikes we’d not spotted anything resembling a retail outlet-not an off-licence, a corner shop, a mini-market, a stall or a kiosk. There were no roads-hence no roadside offerings. At our universal cries of affirmation he leapt up and disappeared, returning some time later with a crate of bottles and an air of nonchalance.

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The mystery of his providence was solved on another occasion when our route took us past some rough, wooden doors covering a rocky cave like Aladdin’s. Once unlocked, the doors revealed a ‘shop’, containing all manner of items. How the goods were transported to such an inaccessible area is a further mystery, but we did not go beer-less on our trek.

Each day when we stopped for a breather and to rest aching legs we’d open our lunch packs, provided for us by our hard-working crew. And each day the lunch would be the same: a boiled egg, a [cold] baked potato, a cereal bar. I remember that we’d fall upon these lunches that seemed the most delicious meal in the universe as we’d sit on a rock or a mound of grass overlooking the highest mountain range in the world, sometimes also getting mugged for our food by tiny pygmy goats!

Occasionally there would be an option to clamber up to a higher point while others rested, Adrian leading; an option that Welsh Gareth was always keen to choose, fit as a flea on his chocolate and bread diet and sometimes we would follow, burning muscles a small price to pay for such amazing views.

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India 1998: Ladakh Trek

At breakfast, taken in the beautiful garden of our Leh hotel before we began our trek, I discovered that some members of our group had taken preventative medicine for altitude sickness. I’d wondered why I’d been the sole sufferer of our group to have succumbed to this debilitating condition! But I had rallied and was now feeling up for a trek. We were used to vigorous exercise at home, being habitual daily runners.

This second tour group consisted of several couples [including ourselves], a couple with a teenage son and some singles; a couple of older, single women [one rather type-cast spinster and the other a charming widowed lady who I walked alongside for much of the route], a somewhat unfit looking, younger man who’d brought walking poles, a youngish woman. One half of a Welsh couple, Gareth had the most extreme eating phobia I’d ever witnessed [including the fussiness of my own children as toddlers] and seemed to exist solely on bread and chocolate, a tragedy in a country such as India. Despite this he was the fittest of all of us, with calf muscles like beer bottles and an ability to run up a mountain slope faster than a goat.

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While the mountain scenery was often stark and unmarked with vegetation in the higher levels there were stunning views as well as encounters along the way. On our first day we paused on meeting a group of schoolchildren making their way to school, an arduous hike they must make twice daily. They were cheerful and friendly, wanting to show us their exercise books, shaking our hands, their warmth shining from their smiling expressions.

Further along we caught up with a lady whose sheep had escaped and who’d clearly had to track the animal for miles across the peaks before capture, so some of our group [Husband included] gamely took turns to carry the sheep for her. The creature was extremely smelly, which resulted in a transfer of aroma to Husband, of course.

At the end of each day’s walk the bathing facilities on offer were a small bowl of warm water or a bathe in the snow-melt stream using eco-friendly mountain suds. Most chose the freezing water after a sweaty hike up and down slopes but it needed to be undertaken quickly while the sun was still up because, as is typical in mountain terrain the daytime temperature was hot, the nights cold. Toilet provision en route consisted of ‘behind the nearest large rock’ and in camp there would be a small tent over a hole in the ground, which was filled in on our departure.

Our tiny, 2-man ridge tents would be up and ready by the time we got to camp, also the the dinner table. The pack ponies would be set free of their loads and be enjoying a well-earned graze. Then we’d sit together at the long table and enjoy a meal prepared by our crew.

India 1998: Ladakh

Before I ever experienced altitude sickness I’d assumed it meant breathlessness, struggling to inhale and chest problems. How wrong can you be? I first suffered mountain sickness on a trip to Peru and Bolivia, succumbing to a debilitating headache and accompanying nausea, so I knew when the tell-tale signs grew that I was heading for another bout there in Leh.

As we travelled back to our hotel, following our visits to some local Gonpas my headache became worse and I needed to exert some strict control over the nausea that overwhelmed my system. Once back in our room I began throwing up and continued to do so throughout the night, kneeling on the concrete floor of our little shower room, grateful for this small luxury, at least.

Our tour guide, Adrian was aware of my problem. As we were due to go rafting on the River Indus the next morning he explained that I’d have to miss out on it, which did nothing to lighten my mood. Worse still, if I didn’t improve there’d be no trekking either. The walking would be hard, with some steep climbs and long days at altitude. I missed out on dinner and tried to sleep. Maybe I’d have rallied by the morning.

I did manage to sleep, waking next day and feeling wrung out but much improved. When I begged to go on the river trip Adrian relented but instructed me to ‘sit at the back and do NO work’, meaning I wasn’t to take an oar but was allowed to do some light baling, using a plastic bucket. In the event the rafting was quite tame, the rapids mild and we all survived intact. The Indus here was monochrome, sepia, without vegetation and flanked by steep, rocky peaks.

As I’d no ill effects and seemed to be acclimatising it was decided I’d be ok to trek. We gathered to meet Sonam, the Ladakhi guide who was to accompany us, a slim young man about Adrian’s age with a charming smile. We’d be visiting his parents’ home along the way.

We were to carry day-packs, small rucksacks packed with our water [minimum 2 litres], small items we’d need, and our picnic lunch, made for us firstly by the hotel and thereafter by our crew. The crew consisted of three guys and a string of small, hardy ponies who were to carry our main luggage as well as the tents, the cooking gear and all of the food we’d need for the next few days while we were tramping around in the foothills of the Himalayas. These brilliant guys went ahead of us, taking our luggage, pitching our tents and preparing our evening meal whilst we trudged up and down mountains and hills experiencing some of the most extraordinary scenery the world has to offer.

 

 

India 1998: Leh

To follow a tour of India’s Golden Triangle by travelling to Ladakh, in Northern Kashmir feels like stepping away from the set of ‘Ghandi’ into ‘Lost Horizon’. First of all it is high altitude, earning its title of ‘Little Tibet’ and secondly it is the least populated area of India. Many of the inhabitants [40%] are Buddhist and much of the area is cut off for many months of the year.

Before leaving Delhi we met our new guide for the new tour, Adrian, who was as unlike Paratha as Obama to Putin. A few of us were leftovers from the first trip. Others were new. At our first gathering, the one where protocols are explained, he asked us about Paratha and was shocked to hear how she’d led the tour, exploiting her status and behaving in a controlling and condescending manner. This behaviour, he told us, is at odds with the company’s philosophy. They’d be unhappy to hear of it. Whilst I had no wish to lose Paratha her job I thought it best that subsequent tour groups should not experience the Golden Triangle in the way that we had.

Having had the team talk: be sensitive when taking photos, be mindful about altitude sickness [about which, more later], carry plenty of water, leave nothing but footprints etc, we boarded a flight to Leh, the largest city in Ladakh, flying up above snowy peaks to the highest airport in the world, one that also provides the fewest and most basic facilities, as we discovered when disembarking and needing to use the toilets.

To begin with we’d spend a few days in Leh, to look around and to acclimatise to the very high altitude before starting our trek. I looked forward to this second tour with a little trepidation, having had altitude sickness before, in Peru and Bolivia. I knew how nasty it can be but hoped that this time I might escape it. How wrong could I be?

We were charmed by our hotel, whose accommodation was basic but full of rustic character, with a beautiful garden and rooms furnished with chunky wooden beds and spartan, concrete shower rooms.

 

As advised, we took it easy walking around gorgeous Leh, but it was hard to restrain the urge to rush about looking at everything, since everything was either beautiful or interesting or both.

 

For our second day in Leh we took a trip out to view some of the more accessible and picturesque monasteries [‘Gonpas’] that were dotted around in the mountains. This is a landscape that is both dramatic and outrageously magnificent, the monasteries themselves built into the sides of the mountains as if they’ve grown there and carved and painted in ornate and beautiful designs and frescoes, with none of the formality of mosques but with life and expression.

To visit the Gonpas we needed to dress modestly and cover up extremities. I’d had the presence of mind to add a light sarong to my daysack that morning [a habit I’ve become accustomed to], meaning that Husband was not left bare-kneed. There is a gentle, homely atmosphere in the gloomy interior of each Gonpa and as the monks go about their daily tasks they greet tourists good-naturedly, sipping tea and nibbling a biscuit or two as they pray!

In order to view the buildings we needed to clamber up and down steps in the thin, cold air, which proved more arduous than the previous day’s sightseeing in Leh. Sometime during the afternoon I began to feel the onset of a headache, something brewing up, becoming more painful as the day wore on. Before long it was accompanied by a powerful nausea, then I knew I wasn’t to escape the mountain sickness I’d experienced before in Peru…

India 1998. Taj.

It must be safe to say that the first iconic sight anyone thinks of in relation to India would be the Taj Mahal. It is, of course a large mausoleum, built by hundreds of workers over many years by emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a fact that spoils the romance a little in that she was not, exclusively his wife. A terrific novel, Taj, [Taj] tells the story of the building of the monument and Shah Jahan’s relationship with his wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child.

In my memory, Agra as a city was not a stunner. It may well be now, but then, as we entered the conglomeration by coach, it did not immediately reveal impressive buildings or elegant streets. We became entangled in a traffic jam, as usual, which allowed us time to study the mesmerising spaghetti of electric cables that crowned every roof corner. The jam, we learned,  was caused by a demonstration by primary school teachers…

We checked into the Hotel Ammar, modern and featureless, otherwise fine. Next day we would visit the Taj.

Our transport to this jewel in India’s crown was by camel cart, the animal amenable and well-behaved despite its arrogant expression.

We enjoyed some trundling along, sitting in the cart then, never one to pass up an experience I embarrassed Husband by taking up the driver’s offer to sit and ride the camel.

Before long we’d arrived at the Taj Mahal. And there it was, just exactly as it is in every photo, a perfect white wedding cake perched behind a rectangular pool. Except the pool was empty.

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Some work was being undertaken at the monument. The pristine lawns were being mown and some decorative panelling restored.

The Taj is not, in fact, perfectly white. Up close it is covered with an intricate tracery of pattern on each and every surface and it is this, rather than the shape of the building which takes the breath away.

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The interior holds the two tombs, of Shah Jahan and of his beloved[ish] wife. These, too are encrusted in ornate designs.

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The Taj is built beside the River Amuna, which provides a stunning setting, especially at sunset.

For the duration of this first leg of our India adventure I’d been seeking the ‘Holy Grail’ of naff shelf discoveries and had thought it would be found somewhere in the Golden Triangle. [The Naff Shelf]. At this time I was still swapping keepsake atrocities with a friend. And so it was, following the Taj Mahal visit, amongst the jumble of gift stalls peddling all manner of tat, I found the best horror of a souvenir I have ever seen, before or since. Regrettably I have no photo of it; a replica of the Taj, nestled in a small perspex box decorated with pink swirls, flanked by two miniature Christmas trees. Two wires protruded from the base of the box meant that it could light up!

Flushed with success, we boarded the bus, but my pride in my purchase was lost on a few members of the party whose sense of irony was not so well developed.

Back in our hotel room with Steve and Jane it was decided we should try out the electrics and see the mini-Taj illuminated, so in the absence of a plug Steve suggested we should jam the wires into a socket and ‘see what happened’. The experiment was not without result, as there was a crack and a flash, then the hotel’s electrical system was caput, everything dark and quiet [without air-con] including the model Taj, which we never did get to see lit-up.

In the morning we left Agra to visit a deserted city called Fathepur Sikri, beautiful and a little melancholy, we the only visitors, then on to ‘Akbar’s mausoleum’ which appeared to be run by monkeys.

It was time to return to Delhi. We’d seen a wealth of iconic sights and were ready for a change of terrain, climate and activity. And we’d need to say goodbye to our tour friends, Steve and Jane, who were returning to the UK rather than embarking on the second tour as we were. For we were to meet a new tour guide and fly up to the highest airport in the world-in Ladakh!

 

India 1998. Hot!

We completed our visit to Jaipur with a look at its Red Fort, perched high above a lake in a picturesque setting and more impressive for it than Delhi’s Red Fort. Since access to the fort was by an ascent of a steep hill-and in searing heat, we were treated to elephant transport, climbing up to a scaffold and waiting to be loaded on to the howdah [a seat strapped to the elephant’s back which accommodates several passengers]. Once we were installed on the howdah our elephant commenced its stately, swaying saunter up the hill, accompanied by numerous peddlers of gifts and goods, who called up and gestured to us en route.

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Husband’s attention was captured by one of the traders, who was keeping up with us whilst carrying a large selection of hats. Husband is prone to buying wide-brimmed summer headwear and continues to expand his hat wardrobe to this day, littering the house with them, bought from varied sources and countries, so as we continued swaying up the path to the fort he negotiated for a hat he fancied, finally reaching a satisfactory price and having the hat tossed up to him where he sat.

We disembarked on to an identical platform at the top, the fort entrance and went to the interior, which was ornate and beautiful, with mirror-inlaid frescoes and intricately patterned ceilings.

Afterwards, waiting  for our coach we were entertained by watching the off-duty elephants bathing in the lake with their mahouts. And as we stood, the mahout, astride his elephant, approached us and gestured for us to place a rupee note on to the end of the elephant’s trunk, which we did, delighted as the elephant passed the money back to the handler. A cunning trick, and the kind of activity that Paratha frowned upon, but by now we’d had enough of her control freakery and were opting out of some of her rules, at one point asking the bus driver to let us off on the way to yet another of her factory outlets.

Next day we were off on the coach again, this time to a bird sanctuary where we were to take a tour of the reserve by rickshaw before spending the night in the custom-built hotel.

The temperature at the bird reserve was uncomfortably hot-and exacerbated by its humidity. This was a damp, marshy piece of land, a haven for birds but an endurance trial for tourists. Enthusiastic as we are about wildlife we wilted in the sticky, cloying heat. We took our bicycle rickshaw tour, accompanied by another rickshaw carrying Steve and Jane.

The reserve was home to, among others, weaver birds, who’d woven their tiny basket nests and suspended them from the pendulous branches of palm trees.

The hotel was a modern, concrete, two-story block. We were allocated a first floor room flanked by a wide balcony that ran the length of the floor. As dusk fell this balcony gathered a covering of beetle-type insects so thick we couldn’t walk anywhere except on the top of them. It was a thick, crunchy, beetle carpet and the air and every surface crackled with them. Walking into our room was like entering a steam oven. We would never be able to sleep inside it. We contemplated hauling the mattress on to the balcony and quickly pushed the thought aside when we looked at the beetle layer.

But we were lucky. Our friends’ room was directly below and many degrees cooler. Would we like to sleep on their floor? We didn’t hesitate and hefted our mattress over the rail.

Next morning we were to travel to the last point of the Triangle. Agra!

India 1998. Part 3. The Pink City.

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Jaipur. Of all the world famous sights and sites in India’s Golden Triangle this was to become my favourite. I began to fall in love with The Pink City as we drew into its centre, past the beautiful Palace of the Winds and on towards our hotel, The Bissau, a grand old merchant’s house in an inauspicious side street. It was comfortable enough, with an ancient but serviceable swimming pool and within walking distance of the city.

Along the street camel carts and tuk-tuks jostled for position and cows wandered unperturbed amongst the teeming traffic. As yet we’d had no chance to wander unsupervised, to peruse the street stalls or to take a ride in a tiny, noisy, careering tuk-tuk and we couldn’t wait. Paratha, though had other plans. On no account were we to fraternise with locals, eat anywhere other than the hotel or purchase anything other than in an outlet of her choosing.

With our co-conspirators Steve and Jane we announced that we wouldn’t require a hotel dinner that evening as we’d find a restaurant of our choosing somewhere in the town. Paratha baulked, telling us that ‘nowhere would be open’. We said we’d take a chance then we set off together to explore the delights of Jaipur, exiting the hotel and taking care to step over the sheep’s head that lolled in a puddle by the roadside.

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Jaipur was not closed. It was as open as it is possible for a city to be, a riotous conglomeration of traffic, stalls, shops, shrines, animals and commerce. Steve and Husband declared that they’d like to visit the barber’s, a swanky, gleaming grooming parlour for men where Jane and I sat, enthralled while the men were liberally daubed with foam and shaved with terrifying cut-throat razors, swathed in hot towels, trimmed, primped and burnished, after which they must have felt wonderful in the searing heat of the afternoon.

We explored the colourful streets, marvelled at the goods on offer, bought things. We got our white-knuckle tuk-tuk ride, screeching with pleasurable terror as we tore round roundabouts and buzzed along in clouds of noxious fumes. As evening drew on we went to the jewellery quarter where items were sold by weight, and like a child in a sweet shop I was spoilt for choice, buying earrings and necklaces, still my beautiful and much-loved, favourite accessories to this day.

Later we found a restaurant and had dinner together, just the four of us, enjoying local cuisine and a cosy, non-hotel ambience.

Next day we were due to tour Jaipur’s Red Fort, accessible by elephant-and who could argue with that?

India 1998. Part 2. Unrest in the Ranks.

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I have no record of all the members of our Golden Triangle tour, but inevitably we palled up with like-minded souls, our particular tour buddies being Steve and Jane, a jolly and irreverent couple whose feelings about our tour guide matched our own.

Again I failed to record the lady’s name, although I do recall that it began with P, the reason for my recollection being that amongst ourselves we started calling her all manner of Indian items beginning with P, including ‘Paratha’. Aficionados of Indian cuisine will be familiar with parathas, which are a type of Indian flatbread. I’m not proud of our puerile behaviour but Paratha was a control freak, hellbent on pursuing her schedule in spite of us. She’d laid down the rules already: no fraternising with locals, no eating anywhere except of her choosing [this meant meals in the hotel only], no purchases except from the commercial outlets she’d somehow contrived to fit into the ‘schedule’.

Following our gruelling endurance trial of a Delhi tour we were loaded on to a bus for a trip to Sariska National Park, to stay at the Sariska Palace Hotel and get a tiger sighting. The roads took us on a picturesque journey through villages and past many enormous Hindu statues, dotted around in the countryside. The hotel was originally built as a hunting lodge by a Maharajah. Who would not want to stay in this impossibly romantic and picturesque palace, situated on the edge of the park and boasting unbeatable sunset views from its huge terrace? The fact of its down-at-heel decadence did nothing to dim its glorious appeal. Even the beautiful swimming pool had its own palatial pool house, the bedrooms vast and majestic in their faded glory, though somewhat spartan. We, the four of us, swam in the luxurious pool and partook of cocktails on the terrace as the sun dipped.

After dark we sat in the grounds and watched displays from whirling dancers, tumblers, jugglers and a daring fire-eater, whose gasoline-swallowing provoked alarm. What could it be doing to his insides? Meanwhile hordes of audacious monkeys swarmed everywhere, hoping to snaffle tit-bits.

Next morning we were loaded into land rovers for an exploration of the national park, where we’d been assured we’d see a tiger. There was certainly plenty of wildlife-and no shortage of monkeys, but although we were shown tiger tracks, [at which Husband remarked that someone had been around with a tiger foot stamp-pad] we had to assume it was their day off. There were no commercial outlets and nowhere else to eat but the stupendous hotel, whose catering was at least adequate.

Our next destination was to be Jaipur. By now we’d had enough of the carpet factories, gift emporia and jewellery outlets selected by Paratha and were longing to strike out into a city and find our own restaurants or sample delicious-looking food from the stalls that lined every street, rather than sitting around in hushed hotel dining rooms. Paratha was fond of her food and had an imperious manner with the waiting staff that we found distasteful. Clearly she was collecting a commission from the factories she took us to. Was she also receiving a percentage from the hotel dining rooms she insisted we ate in?

But we were not obliged to tow the line. At Sariska we had no other options. In Jaipur the city would be ours to explore…

 

India 1998. Part 1.

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Following a successful and eventful trip to New York in 1997, Husband [though not Husband at that time] and I must have decided we could endure one another’s company for long enough to make a substantial visit to India. Pre he-who-was-to-become Husband’s entry into my life I’d been planning to visit a friend who had taken a teaching job in Indonesia, but it wasn’t going to work out for dates over the summer, so we plunged into booking two, back-to-back tours in India with the travel company, ‘Explore’.

We chose a ‘golden triangle’ tour [Delhi/Jaipur/Agra] followed by a trekking exploration of Ladakh, in the north.

On this occasion I did not keep a travel journal, so my memories must rely on photographic prompts, but at the time I was in the habit of collecting all manner of holiday-related items such as tickets, labels, maps and menus and constructing elaborate albums on my return that included all this collected junk. Nowadays of course photo albums have become virtual and keepsakes have shrunk to one sought after artefact per trip for our naff shelf [of which I have written].

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I can see that we flew out from Heathrow to Bahrain, initially and then on to Delhi. I also have the itinerary for the first tour, called ‘Moghul Highlights’. This time, rather than blundering along following our own, hopelessly inadequate plans, we’d have the benefits of a tour guide and all planned ahead. This is a regime that many people enjoy, but experience has demonstrated [as it did on this occasion] that tour guides can be double-edged swords. We were to discover the drawbacks quite early in the adventure.

We arrived into Delhi early on a Saturday morning, feeling the effects of time differences compounded by long flights, together with that shock of heat and fumes that you get when stepping out of a plane into a hot climate. Then we were gathered up as a group and ushered on to a tour bus to our hotel. By the time we arrived we were in need of first, rehydration and second, sleep, neither of which was forthcoming! We had a few minutes to deposit bags and must assemble for a lecture, followed by a day’s sightseeing.

Too feeble to protest we duly gathered for the talk, delivered by our guide, a proud Indian lady who was champing at the bit, wanting to get started on showing us her city. So, no water, no sleep, no time to waste-and no currency either, as I’d hoped; we could have sneaked a purchase of a bottle or two en route.

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In retrospect it was madness to comply. We should have collectively protested. We’d all had long, dehydrating flights and were now embarking on a day’s sightseeing in unaccustomed, searing heat. The guide was lucky that none of us needed to be hospitalised!

Despite the deprivations of that first day I was able to follow, listen, look and photograph as we took in the major sights of Delhi, the huge Jami Mosque, the Red Fort, the Ghandi Memorial and cremation site. At this early point in the tour we did not yet realise that our guide’s insistence on strict adherence to discipline was to become a problem but it was not too long before a minor rebellion in the ranks began to germinate…