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. 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…