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…

The All-inclusive Trap

Searching for winter sun, an escape from the dreary, grey drizzle or the bitter winds of this UK winter means travelling long-haul. The options are: far east [Thailand etc], Africa [tried, tested and now not tempted] or Caribbean. We’ve sampled a few islands in the West Indies now, with pleasing results, Barbados and Antigua having proved particularly lovely destinations. Mexico, last year’s experiment boasted beautiful weather but was less fun in that there were few options outside of the hotel.
And here’s the difficulty. In choosing a Caribbean or most other long-haul destination you are stuck in the inevitable groove of ‘all-inclusive’ deal, as after intensive research we have found it to be cheaper than either flying and booking hotels separately or B&B. An all-inclusive deal is likely to mean a vast, corporate hotel sprawling on a coastal strip and boasting several restaurants, bars, pools, terraces, a spa, a gym, shops, ‘entertainment’, beach with loungers and umbrellas and the ubiquitous ‘buffet’.
Hotels like these are betting on the hunch that most guests prefer to stay within the confines of the hotel complex and couldn’t give a cow’s udder about setting foot outside the gate to meander in the environs and hobnob with the locals. And it is true for many, who like to get up, sling their beach towels on their preferred loungers, wander into breakfast, order a cocktail and slump then slump on their sun bed until a member of staff bearing a tray offers more refreshment. There’ll be a further stint of slumping followed by lunch…
For some with a more active schedule in mind there might be a short session of aquarobics or pool volleyball-but then it’s back to the more serious business of slumping, punctuated by propping up one of the many bars.
We can manage a day or so of this, given sunny weather and a beach walk. But after a while some ennui creeps in. This is when we need to get out.
On our recent trip to Cuba the few days in Havana was perfect. We had breakfast in the hotel, we were within walking distance of the delights of the city and had the remains of our days free, at liberty to explore. Once we’d moved to the beach hotel, however there was a short stretch of beach to walk and everything else required a taxi or a bus ride-both of which we did. In one direction lay a sterile and uninspiring marina; in the other the town yielded more sightseeing and entertainment and it was there that we avoided incarceration.
One of the reasons for avoiding cruises is the enforced imprisonment aboard a floating, all-inclusive hotel, with nothing to do but eat and drink.
Our next expedition, already in the planning stages will be very different, involving an extensive road trip by camper van. On our journey we’ll stay where we want for as long as we want, moving on when we’ve had enough of a place and opting to explore by foot or bicycle. What a pity we can’t take the van to winter sun destinations!