Welcome from Jan

Hi there!
This blog is for those who love both books and travel. I'm starting by travelling back in time to the 1970s and the overland trail to India which I took as an 18 year old. Have a look at my daily diary entries and photos. Some of these places are impossible to visit at the moment, but I can give you a flavour of what they were like in the golden age of the hippy trail.

The experience has inspired my new mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH, which is out now as an ebook. Find details and extracts at The Vanishing of Ruth

To buy: The Vanishing of Ruth

Also take a look at Facebook Page Overlanders for more memorabilia.

Cheers, Jan.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

ROAD TO POKHARA - paddy fields, purple padded jackets, and a king next to our camp, 1976

[We climbed into the Himalayan foothills of beautiful Nepal and on to Pokhara below the Annapurna Range (with our resident rat still in tow).  The village was full of soldiers because the King was in residence in his palace, while we made camp for the final time in our orange ridge-pole tents by his stunning lake.]


"Mouse was trapped last night!  Rat still at large!
Stopped before hills at busy village - small shops in shacks next to newer buildings.

Into hills - beautiful tree-covered slopes and paddy fields below - lovely rivers.  Lunch stop by cay shop and small thatched houses with open verandas, supported by rough posts.  Beautiful big green river with big bridge over.  Little kid by me and "Little" Chris chatting away, then suddenly turned to us and said "Piss!" - well what could one say?!  Nice old woman serving cay - obviously the Granny of half the village - purple wrapover jacket.
German man very excited about fish in the river - had "very good speckles on" so he could see them!

Lovely gorges and hillside villages - lots of road tolls.  Small people - Mongolian and Indian faces - all wear coloured hats.

First view of Annapurna Range in distance!  High white peaks in setting sun, half the valley in shadow.
Pokhara full of soldiers and decorated archways over the road - apparently King here at the moment.  Went past his summer palace and nice village by edge of beautiful lake - lots of little restaurants.  Piled into one and had lovely cheese paratha and coffee.  Chris gave me fags for Dad - rhinos on them!

Camped in grounds of cheap hotel (army in usual place).  Walked round village with Di, Heidi, Shirl, Chris and Hans - no sign of Tibetan dancing.  Diane and Maree threatened with gun because out after curfew! 

Last putting up of tent! - I pegged!"

Saturday, 26 December 2009

INTO NEPAL - You say goodbye and I say hello ...1976

[We were nearing the end of the trip and our goal of Kathmandu, but running a few days late.  So two Swaggies who had planes to catch left us at this stage, though somehow we'd acquired a couple more passengers in India: Irish Mike and Norwegian Anders.  It was a time for photos and the first tearful goodbyes.]


"(Supposed to be arrival day in Kathmandu).
Janice [tent mate] and Ann left bus today - had "tent photos" - Jan, Jan, Jan and Di!  Changed places for different cameras.

Then new Norwegian took photos of the whole group in front of bus - great heap of dead cameras on ground as he worked way through them!  Janice in tears when we left! (Picked up Anders today - Norwegian - went to Amhurst Uni where Don cleaned loos! [Don is my eldest brother and did a holiday job at Amhurst, MS as a student]

Pleasant fields and trees.  Stopped near school for lunch - nice salad.  Cay stop at busy small town.

Border late afternon - coffee at cay shop where chickens wandering around - then fella picked them up and took them squawking behind a curtain - more squawking - the mind boggled as to what was happening!

Across border into Nepal without paying extra for visa.  Camped by road - 10 o'clock curfew so road closed - very quiet.

Di, Jan and me had hysterics in tent talking bout Pen Overland princess on foamies with driver's pea under them - or something insane like that!"

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

RAT ABOARD THE BUS! - Stowaways nesting under the seats: mouse, rat, ants ...?! Varanasi, 1976

[We've been on the Ganges and explored the labyrinths of Benares - and it's still only 11 o'clock!  Time for a big clear out of the bus before the last stretch of the trip to Nepal - and to track down our stowaways - A MOUSE AND A RAT!  Or is it 2 rats? And a few ants ...]

Jan and Janice amid the bus clear-out

MONDAY 13TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Three

"Had lazy morning washing and lying in the sun reading 2 pages of a book!  Bus turned upside down - all things on grass so could hunt out mouse - now spotted and believed to be a rat!  (Didn't find it - though nest was cleared from under a seat.  There was also an ants' nest under one of the seats!)

Afternoon, had coffee at restaurant on campsite outside in garden (very slow service).  Then me, Di, Frances and Sally went to look round nearby shops - sat round looking at lovely t-shirts.  Di and I went on to another - I traded sun specs for silk (80%) top.  Di wanted to change money so we went to posh Hotel de Paris (Encounter were booked in there).

Had coffee and paratha (stuffed) before supper!  Chapati type stuff with veg in.

Went out to Singh's Emporium after meal and loads of us were in there rifling through shirts, lamp shades (of string and beads) - really good time!  Back for coffee and toast before bed.

In tent Di and I had hysterics listening to sudden cries from this man [nightwatchman] on one side, and thuds and screams on the other coming from the bus where Hans and Adrian were hunting down the rats!  (It's now established that there's a big rat and a little one!  Apparently Paul thought he saw one on the bus in Turkey - but everyone thought he was drunk and didn't take any notice!)  Tried to stifle snorts - not with much success!"

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

DARK BAZAAR OF OLD BENARES - temple and mosque side by side, 1976

[A fascinating meander through the streets of old Varanasi (Benares) followed our dawn boat trip on the Ganges.  The bazaar was so dark and narrow that my one photo makes it impossible to distinguish the buildings where Hindus and Moslems prayed side by side - a temple and a mosque rubbing neighbourly shoulders together.  The guide's attempt to get us to buy silks and saris was hampered by our grumbling stomachs - it was five and a half hours since getting out of our sleeping bags and all we could think of was breakfast and porridge!]

MONDAY 13TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Two

"After boat trip, taken on bus into heart of old Benares.  Guide led us up small ally and into maze of very narrow dark alleys with dark shops on either side, full of cross-legged shopkeepers, and streets full of filthy kids and holy cows.  Man followed us with a range of pipes.

Taken to a balcony that looked over copper-plated Hindu temple - cow came out amid a stream of people - we were not allowed in.  Down small ally by the side - through a grate we saw flower-strewn floor been ground by feet.

Pursued by kids selling joss sticks.  Right next to temple was brilliant white mosque with silver topped minarets - only place in world to find a temple and mosque side by side.

Then taken to silk factory and sat round while they threw yards of silk scarves, saris etc at us.  Tied a sari on Heidi and Fran.  Prices high.  All impatient for breakfast.  Guide finally led us out of bazaar again.

Had porridge finally at 10.30!"

Monday, 21 December 2009

RED SUNRISE ON THE HOLY GANGES - singing, cymbals and wringing of loincloths, 1976

[Up before the dawn, "zomby-like", to see the sunrise over the Ganges - but worth every cold yawning minute.  The sights and sounds on the river bank - from the slapping of jeans being washed against rocks to a young yogi standing on his head - were a wonderful mix of the spiritual and prosaic.  As someone who associated getting up in the morning with school rising bells or a mad nautical father who woke us in the holidays with a bosun's whistle and raucous shouting, I had no idea that early mornings could be this exciting or fun.  I've saluted the sunrise ever since - if not every day!]

MONDAY 13TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part One

"Up at 5 - Jan's alarm got us up - really dark.  20 to 6 we were in bus after zomby-like confusion and off to River Ganges. Saw dawn over the river - fantastic pink sky reflected perfectly in wide river with blanket of light violet mist dividing sky and water.  Fishing boats sihouetted at water's edge.

Young lads exercising on first storey of open building.  Piled into 2 rowing boats (creaking madly we moved off!)  Passed boys beating washing vigorously in the shallow water - lots of jeans and probably Swagman t-shirts!

Still darkish and we kept being enveloped by waves of mist.  Lots of semi rundown buildings all along left bank; Maharajahs' palaces, Hindu temples, Buddhist prayer house with great noise of chanting and cymbals coming from it.

Series of steps down to the river, many big colourless umbrellas on the steps with people sitting underneath.  Quite a few people bathing at water's edge and washing and wringing their loincloths.  Priests singing, holy men with long black unkempt hair and orange cloths about them; man on veranda in white, clapping and singing while young fella beside him stood on his head.

Then a brilliant red ball of fire rose above the bank of cloud to the right as we passed a funeral pyre - one of the places "the untouchables" burn dead bodies 24 hours a day.

Boys on a punt collecting firewood off another boat.  On way back saw more clearly as the sun rose and changed to yellow then a brilliant white. 

Lots of noise and oriental music.  Monkeys swinging about roof and ledges of a big house; little boy trying to pull baby donkey away from Mum - who wasn't having it and kept pulling it back!  All sorts of animals down by water. 

Women bathing - one deathly skinny, praying by the river."

Sunday, 20 December 2009


[After Kahjuraho we headed east for Varanasi (Benares) through white tiger country.  Little did I know that a former pupil of my father's had been looking after white tigers for the Maharajah of Rewa since the 1960s.  As Equerry to Maharajah Martand Singh, Terry Walton (old boy of Durham School) helped create a wildlife sanctuary - Bandhavgarh - in the forests of Tala in Central India.  There's a fabulous book about the tigers and Bandhavgarh: Tiger Jungle by Iain Green (published by Tiger Books) with stunning photos.  http://www.tiger-books.co.uk/]


"Scenery pleasant - irrigated fields, lots of trees - through jungle area where white tigers are supposed to roam!  (Had a loo stop there!)

Interesting villages - mud huts with straw or tiles on roof - potter at work, loads of kids - (yesterday, bus surrounded and they simply roared when someone came near - one shouted after me "you my darling!")

Wild pigs running around near road - lots of road barriers at villages as usual.

At lunch, Pam, Jan and me walked on before bus caught us up - super walk in the sunshine along tree-lined road - lots of cows wandering around.

Arrived in Benares this evening."

Saturday, 19 December 2009

MUSICAL MAGIC AT KAHJURAHO - stirring sitar, and pipes and drums Indian style, 1976

[Camping near Kahjaraho, we experienced an amazing sitar recital in the tree-lit gardens of a "posh" hotel which thrilled me.  The sound of a lone piper coming out of the dark in the mild Indian night to start the concert, stirred my Highland blood.  It was a "highlight" - as was using the "superb toilet" in the hotel afterwards!]

SATURDAY 11TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Two 

"At about 6 o'clock we trooped into village (dark by now) then got cycle rickshaws (tricycles) down to posh hotel - Chandalla Hotel.  In the grounds there was a sitar recital.  Little platform or terrace in middle of lawn with trees around - lit up; chairs on 3 sides and small table covered in cloth on 4th side where sitar player and drummer sat.  In front was a boy with an earthenware pot and beside him was a low ivory inlaid wooden table with bowl of pink flowers.  Behind them all were lovely pink flowered bushes.

Manager announced waiter who played great tunes on his pot - made about 3 different sounds.  Then silence and gradually a pipe was heard growing louder across the field - really beautiful; then the young waiter appeared playing his pipe and stood by the side of the others (tractor chose same moment to trundle by!  In fact added to the countryside shepherd effect of the young piper).  A great highlight for me.

Then the piper and drummer played together.  Afterwards the sitar player and drummer played together - superb Indian sounds - musician sat in yoga position - his whole self seemd to be put into performance.  We went up to them afterwards and looked at sitar and played the drum.

Went into hotel when finished and used superb toilet!  Only Chris and Nikki stayed there to drink!  Rest of us walked down to the village and sat outside a restaurant - very pleasant - Sally and Mark had competition to see who could eat the most.  Looked on enviously.
(Rickshaw boys rode beside as we walked back, asking us to try riding them.  Worried when found out Di wasn't married)."

Friday, 18 December 2009



"Reached Kahjuraho late morning - biggish village with love temples dotted around it, set in beautiful gardens.  Wandered over to corner of square - "Madras Coffee House" and had nice coffee while lunch was being made.

After lunch headed into one group of Hindu temples.  Built between 10th and 12th centuries by Rajput Kings.  Temples, inside and out, covered in sculptured erotic figures, plus elephants and hunting scenes etc.  Lovely grounds with big purple and pink flowers on the bushes; beautifully sunny afternoon.

Saw round about 5 different temples - all approached by flights of steps and surrounded by broad terraces.  We teased Shirley about taking erotic photos - she said it was for her school kids!

Caught bloke skinning up the side of a temple and balancing in an awkward position with camera - Jan took photo of him because he looked the most erotic figure on the temple!

Then lay in the shade of a big tree for half an hour listening to noise of birds, bicycles and passers by - really great.

Bargained for brass ink pot at stall by bus - thought I'd lost then Mark compared it with another ink pot on the next stall which offered a lower price - so bloke quickly relented and I got my price!

Camped early near "dormitory" - a hostel type place - had shower then lazed on a foamy and finished 'Papillon' until tea."

Thursday, 17 December 2009

HOLY MAN, SNAKE CHARMER, CAMP CUSTARD - life on the road, 1976

[As I write in a letter home, "India is fantastic!"  We were on the road again, bumping into snake charmers, fellow Swaggies and a cheerful holy man.  By night we were camping under the stars and eating custard.  Life on the trail ...]


"Late start after washing, sitting in cafe etc.  Bank stop before left Agra.  10 minute stop at village with loads of flies and a snake charmer - 2 men, one playing pipe and other handling snake.

Crossed Chambal River by pontoon bridge (ferry to the left - Greyhound group we met in Athens came off it!).  Bridge to right being rebuilt - washed away in about 1971 by floods.  Nice greeny-blue colour of wide river - sandy low ground all around.

Stopped for lunch at a bridge with little platforms and towers all the way along.  Motor boat with red flag kept zooming up and down river.  White crane-type bird in the reeds and people sitting in the water beating their washing.

Nice old holy man came up and sat on wall with us - bright orange smock, scarf and woolly hat, horn-rimmed specs, staff and long white beard!  Very friendly - put hands together in greeting or blessing.  Asked Chris for a cigarette.  Other locals translated for him.  He was carrying a silver teapot too!

Nice red sunset over the fields and lot of stars tonight (O'Ryan's about!)  Camped at Gwalia.  Ground incredibly hard - all pegs bent now.  Cooks made successful custard tonight!"

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


[The final stage of a very long and exciting day - the day I saw two Indian gems: Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal.  Judging by the number of exclamation marks in my diary entry, I was returning to the tourist hostel in Agra still intoxicated with the sight of the Taj Mahal by moonlight.  Then it was back to the hippy trail experience of coffee, chips, Stevie Wonder at half speed and hash filled dormitories.]

THURSDAY 9TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Five 

"4 of us began to walk home - waylaid by tonga drivers.  Little old man in white turban and blanket cornered us.  In we got (me, Jan, Adrian and Sally).  We sat in front - something soft below feet - think (at least it smelt like!) muck and straw!  He couldn't get horse to move at first - others [drivers] laughing at him.  Then off it went.  Kept kicking its rump up at us and heading off the road - bloke had no control!  Anyway he was nearly asleep he was so doped up with hash!

Headed for every vehicle in sight!  Thought we'd had it when roads converged and a car came in opposite direction and we were on wrong side - luckily car shot around us!  We decided to pay him off at a big hotel - didn't think he'd negotiate the corner to our place!  He tried to drive in the gates of this posh hotel on his rickety tonga!

At hostel we all piled in and had coffee and chips.  Attendants tried to give disco effect by switching different lights on now and then!  (records were grinding round on turntable - Stevie Wonder's voice had dropped  few octaves!)

Tried to find a place to sleep - me and Jan were shown up onto roof - room with no glass in windows!  Or the other choice was a room next door with a couple of others, but couldn't breathe the air was so thick with hash etc!

Fortunately they opened up another room below and we dossed down on these beds (like hammocks stretched across frames).  People kept popping in and shoving more foamies in."

Monday, 14 December 2009

TAJ MAHAL BY MOONLIGHT - communing with a chief's ghost, 1976


[If I thought the Taj Mahal was romantic by daylight, I was completely captivated by seeing it under moonlight - and lucky too, for we had arrived on the final night's viewing for that month.  My Chief, Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod, (who had journeyed to India as a girl in Victorian times and who had died while I was on my trip) had filled me with expectation at seeing the Taj floodlit by the moon.  I scraped together enough rupees to go in again, and felt the presence of my chief as I stepped through the dark.  It's hardly surprising that I've used the setting in my new novel OVERLANDERS.]

"Walked down to Taj Mahal after dark - 10 of us.  From archway couldn't see any moonlight on it (this was 4th day after full moon and last night it was open).  Anyway, paid last rupees to get in!

From inner archway could see right side of dome lit by moon and sides of minarets.  Slight reflection in still tank too.  All the same, the atmosphere was really romantic and still.  Sat on steps watching dark shape in the moonlight.  Then wandered round to side of mausoleum and saw all of the side lit up by moon - really beautiful.

Several rowdy voices shouting out in the night - whole troop of tourists arrived.  So I've made it!!  (Remembered Chief's description of it when she was a girl)."

Me leaning against the Taj Mahal, 1976


[Into Uttar Pradesh: the second part of the 9th December was spent falling in love with the Taj Mahal - every bit as romantic and impressive as I'd heard but feared wouldn't live up to expectation.  An extravagant work of love, it was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his third wife Mumtaz Mahal (meaning the Chosen One) who died giving birth to their 14 child.]

THURSDAY 9TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Three

"Reached Agra and saw Taj Mahal in late afternoon sun.  First glimpsed through archway - fantastic - like walking into a film! 

Lovely long [water] tank broken by platform in middle with fountains all the way up.  A few tourists, mainly Indians.  Took shoes off, up steps into the mosque - like a church - cool, dark, echoing, high vault.  2 tombs in screen - bigger one was Shah Jahan's to the wife's right.  Decorated inlaid flowers in marble (like screen on outside too).  Corridor and marble hallways all round screen.  Then steps down to vault below where real tombs of monarchs were (exactly the same as ones on show above).

Walked round outside - river at back, tributary of Ganges.  Red gateways on 3 sides of garden leading into Taj - lovely pagoda type towers lit in evening sun, pink flowers, green trees, birds.

Staying the night at International "Hot Water" Youth Hostel.  Sitting in cafe listening to Stevie's [Wonder] 'Inner Visions', candlelit tables.  Well looked after - cooked on lawn outside."

Sunday, 13 December 2009

FATEHPUR SIKRI, INDIA - giant chess, murderous elephants, perfect pink palace, 1976

[After doing pujah with the early morning farmers, we headed to fabulous Fatehpur Sikri.  I found it a peaceful place of good vibes - though it can't have been all sweetness and light at the court of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar where female slaves were used as chess pawns and transgressors were done to death by stamping elephants.  In 1976 though, we found only a brilliant guide and tranquil musicians.]


"First stop was the deserted pink city of Akbar the Great's at Fatehpur Sikri; built because he was promised a son there by a wise man and it was granted him. (Had 3 wives but no son by the age of 30.  2 Hindu wives and 1 Moslem wife from Istanbul who had her own tiny palace - hollow underneath to that cooler in summer).

Had a good guide round the palace.  Super place - only lived in for 14 years before the water supply dried up.  Really peaceful, happy atmosphere.  All sandstone again.

Saw: camel stalls, horse stables, a chief minister's house (Akbar had 9), a 5 storey pagoda-style summer house for the women - different style pillars with storeys tapering away; the top was where the Emperor sat with his wives.  Could see the tomb of the Elephant down below, outside the city (spiky tower).

Saw courtyard with chess board marked out - king and queen sat on pedestal in the middle and the king played with the pawns i.e. the slave girls!

Also saw the house where he reputedly played hide and seek with 3000 "unofficial queens" as the guide put it!

Shown the public audience chamber that overlooked garden where elephant was tied up and stamped people to death (no hanging).  Private audience chamber of Akbar - 4 gangways overhead converging on central round balcony where he sat on the throne and talked with his ministers (who were at each corner).

Also saw dining room and Akbar's bedroom with huge raised stone bed.  Balcony where he sat and overlooked ornamental pond where people sat round and listened to musicians in middle of the pond.  Lastly saw round Hindu ladies (queens') summer and winter palaces.

Then went and had a look at the mosque part with white mausoleum to the wise man who prophecied Akbar's son.  Big courtyard with trees in middle with people selling flowers and cloth underneath.  3 musicians sitting on marble flagstones in front of mausoleum - drummer, singer and pianist.  Inside was an ornate screen with a tomb covered in cloths (Moslem custom).

We each tied a coloured string round the marble frame and made a wish - our guide promised it was infalable!"

White mausoleum of wise man, Fatehpur Sikri

SONG AT SUNRISE - white oxen, green fields. Rajasthan, India, 1976

[Camping wild at the side of the road in village India was one of the highlights of the trail - and waking to a crisp, pink mellow winter's sunrise with rural life already up and on the go.  The impression made by the farmers this particular morning was vivid and long lasting - that is why it reappears in fictional form in my novel OVERLANDERS.]


"In the morning, opposite side of the road, the sun was rising pink over the misty trees. 

4 men came with 6 white oxen and began working the well to irrigate surrounding fields.  2 threw big leather bags into the well; other 2 set off down small slope, riding on the ropes pulled by 2 pairs of oxen.  2 at the top then emptied the bags into a channel that fed water away into the green fields.  Cheerful young one singing away as he worked the bag.

Saw peacocks at side of the road - very shy."

Saturday, 12 December 2009


[Excitement over elephants at Amber left me without enough stamina for the pink city of Jaipur.  Built in the early 18th century by the ruler of Rajasthan, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, it became his capital instead of Amber and was India's first planned city.  Its streets were first painted pink for a visit by the Prince of Wales in the 1850s.  But the attractions of the teaming streets - flower sellers and dentists' stalls - seem to have caught my attention more than the opulent architecture.

There's a beautifully written book that portrays Jaipur and its princely family at the time of Indian Independence which came out in the 1980s: 'A Princess Remembers: Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur' by Gayatri Devi and Santha Rama Rau - highly recommend it.]

WEDNESDAY 8TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Three 

"Went on to Jaipur.  Pink sandstone city in modern layout (supposed to be famous for its jewels).  Wandered up and down a couple of streets (4 radiating from a roundabout) with Jan - didn't like to dive into narrow bazaar area.  Bedevilled with people trying to sell wrapover skirts (nice if had the money).

Felt exhausted but decided to walk up top of pink palace (18th century Persian architecture - am I right about this?) and finally found entrance archway, then headed into wrong courtyard!  When found the main stairway (which was in fact signposted to Memorial!) it was closed!  Failed as tourists once again!

Camped not far away, off the road by some haystacks.  Jan is back in our tent - the others had big boast of sleeping outside - teased me about snakes but they all slept inside tent eventually!  I was shoved behind the tent pole! 

Silly evening on bus - we've a mouse on board!"


[Next stop this December day was Amber (the old capital of Rajasthan in the 11th century) and its fabulous palace.  Anywhere that had so many elephants, my favourite animal , was going to have a strong appeal.  (I was brought up on Barbar the Elephant stories and for years as a child believed the mountain in central Edinburgh was called Barbar's Seat).  The palace was built with a special wide walk for the elephants, and for those who had the money, you could still approach it that way.  This was one of the places I attempted to use the temperamental cine camera; the result was a lot of dark shadow and the flash of an elephant for a split second.

Down in the town, I think I caught a glimpse of Ghandi's ghost ...  Barbar and Ghandi - two big influences on my life in one place.] 


"Stopped at Amber - interesting village, with superb fort and palace on top of hill (various other temples etc on other surrounding hills).  Walked up elephant walk to palace (lots of elephants with painted trunks and ears giving rides up).  Lovely gardens below and big pond with ornamental garden.

Big courtyard inside with arcades all round (some tourist shops), elephants and gardens.  Up rampart into palace proper.  Nice view from this courtyard over pond and valley below.  Lovely entrance into inner courtyard - pink tiles etc. 

Smaller courtyard with royal quarters around it.  Hall of mirrors - beautiful glass and mirrors covering walls - brightly coloured glass in form of flowers, people, animals with alabaster on top.  Remains of inlaid sandalwood and ivory doors.  Water shute and marble grate where the breeze came through to cool the place in summer (1600s).

Down to village to find a drink.  Fascinating medicine man - long unkempt black hair, very dark skin, sitting in his loincloth by a cloth spread with bottles and little heaps of something - several little boys helping him who also sat cross-legged by him.

Little old man with loincloth and a walking stick was dashing round the village - eventually jumped on a bus."

Friday, 11 December 2009


[Swaggies roll up their foamies and set off on the road once more, heading out of sophistocated Delhi and into rural India.  Some take to camel transport ...]


"Left Delhi after a lot of fuss and milling about on the bus.  Left Fred - he's going straight to Kathmandu.

Flags out at army barracks - perhaps for Hungarian PM.  Countryside more barren - gullies and scrub.  Then plain again - lots of camels, dusty countryside but with quite a few trees (pig shooting country).

 Stopped at village - Shirely got onto a camel - huge amused crowd - all round the bus too, selling bananas.  Saw mongeese at side of the road.

Lunch stop off the road - camels leisurely pulling carts and disappearing down paths lined with tall grasses.  Watched busy paths of ants and ant hill where they were dragging bits of grass and taking grain and coming out with the husk.  Chris put them into a state of disorganisation and crisis by digging a channel across their path (about quarter inch deep!)

Saw 3 bad accidents in the morning alone - all big trucks."

DELHI CAMPSITE - no money for the bright lights but happy with corned beef and salad

[Money - or lack of it - was beginning to curb my tourist choices, and reduced me to hanging out at the campsite.  But at 18 I was easily pleased - an ice-cream, a lift on a Harley Davidson and a camp supper of corned beef seemed to be all it took to keep me happy!]

Inscription in Buddhist temple, Delhi


" They [Chris and Nicki] went off to embassy and we [Aussie Jan and me] went round emporiums of different states - nicely done up shops with regional handicrafts.  Got choker from Maharashtra and sandalwood letter opener/pen from Kerala. 

Felt really shattered, so hunted down an ice-cream shop (best ice-cream ever - strawberry flavour) then piled into a Harley Davidson to the campsite.

Had a shower, hair wash - felt much better!
Sat in campsite cafe (on raised terrace) drinking coffee and chatting with Jan, Sue, Fred.  Lovely camp supper of salad and corned beef (no money to eat out or go to Son et Lumiere.  Caberet was on!  But too far out of town! sob sob)  There was a circus in town too.

Spent evening at cafe - big reminiscence of Durham, and Sunderland at Wembley with Di (owe her a coffe at House of Andrews!)

Others came back from Son et Lumiere - good music and lighting - and British Empire bashing in last 15 minutes!  Picked up Mike - mad Irishman working in Ceylon (VSO)"


[It was chill-out time in India's capital city and then a meander through the bazaar area, Chandni Chauk, and a hot-bottom ride into Connaught Circus in central New Delhi.]


"Had a lazy half a morning - coffee and actually cleaned my shoes! 
Went into Delhi with Jan, Chris and Nicki by foot.  Walked up to Red Fort - I acted as official guide much to annoyance of real one who kept insisting he knew more than I did!  Had a coffee in the arcade.  (Red Ford built in 1600s by Shahjahan - put in prison by his third son who also bumped off his brothers to become Moghul)

Walked up to Chandi Chauk - very busy; amazing characters, people selling flowers of bright orange and yellow.  Women with baskets of mud on heads.  Great amount of drapers - cheap looking garments and loads of bright clothes.  Bazaar looked a bit too dingy.  Got scooter rickshaws to Connaught Circus - me and Jan got into a real heap - there was smoke coming up behind the seat and by me; my seat was red-hot!

Chris and Nicky took us to the Indian coffee-house up a lift - a real grotty cafe, but with waiters dressed in white with green cummerbunds and hats with parrot crest-type top.  Had 6 chips and a coffee!"

Thursday, 10 December 2009

DELIGHTFUL DELHI - Mohguls, monkeys, levitation and a Harley Davidson!

[In a letter home I wrote that 'Delhi's a super place - drove around the new part - lovely broad steets and parkland.  Had a really good guided tour of the Red Fort'.  Little did I know that I was going to see a lot more of Delhi than I bargained for once the bus trip was over - and not as a tourist.  But luckily that 18 year old was oblivious to anything beyond the next amazing marble building or crowded bazaar.]


"I cooked porridge!

Took bus into New Delhi for a tour of town.  Really lovely broad streets and parks with big meadows and trees.  Drove up main parade road (crash barriers because used for processions on Republic Day etc)  Viceroy's palace in front (hazy but impressive) and then past Parliament buildings and up Parliament Street to post office - 6 letters.

Very moving letter from Mum describing Chief's [Dame Flora] funeral and cuttings showing Dad, Don, Rory, Tom and other familiar faces.  Felt I'd really experienced it.  All of them had carried coffin.  Felt upset - Di cheered me up by letting me talk about it.

Went to Nepalese Embassy for some people to get visas.  Saw round modern Hindu Temple - fascinating, mass of colour, almost garish.  Made me happy and want to laugh all the time.  Many statues of gods and goddesses.  Next door was a Buddhist shrine.  Elephant statues in the garden.

Drove to Connaught Circus and stopped for lunch.  Went and found a milk bar with Heidi and Di - dim lights, posh enterior and expensive prices - so had half a sandwich and a coffee for lunch!  Dodged back among bicyclists and richshaws. 

Taken to "Ivory Palace" where we saw men stitching gold and silver thread on black velvet and carving intricate ivory pieces.  Lovely showroom of gems, evening bags, metalwork and ivory chess sets, jewellery, elephants etc - ivory sofa, chairs and screens that took 25 years to make by 2 men.  (This was near big Mosque).

Went to Red Fort (Di, Sally and Fran).  Got a guide who was very interesting about fort - Lahore Gate, "umbrella" bazaar, barracks, gardens, drum house and parade to audience house where Moghul Emperor sat on huge marble throne and listened to petitions etc. (used to be a marble way covered with canvas, lined with people).  Tiles behind throne of attractive birds taken by British but returned by Lord Curzon.  Lots of little chipmunks running about in the gardens.  Lovely marble buildings - delicate archways, inlaid jewels in shape of flowers etc.  Peacock throne base was in one of them - but throne now in Tehran.  Used to be a silver ceiling, channel of running water and big fountain in shape of lotus leaf.

Balcony looking over parks where Emperor used to say good morning to people.  Looked over this side of wall and saw a boy beating time while monkeys danced and jumped - threw him some "baksheesh".  Then two boys doing levitation trick - one beating while other rises up under big white sheet.

Saw women's winter and summer baths and a private mosque of the family's.  On the way back were taken into a jewellers and I bought a little jade elephant (student's price!).  Got a Harley Davidson back to campsite (motor bike had big carriage behind and above - very open).

Went shopping for dinner with Chris, Nicki and Di.  Couldn't find any veg or rice (dark by now).  Man kept trying to sell us sandalwood necklaces in French!  Tried to get through to him and friends that wanted vegetables - they thought we wanted sandalwood tables!  Finally got through to him, so he took us off down dark narrow lanes, crowded out with kids and people and animals eating in the road.  Got to veg shop (men ironing in the back and veg in the front!)

Cooked for 20 - only about 13 around."

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

EMERALD PUNJAB - palms, crocodiles, milk bars, bright green parrots!

[Now back in the Punjab after Kashmir, I was excited by everything I saw and aware that my grandfather Bob Gorrie could have been responsible for some of the trees planted 50 years previously.  One of his areas of expertise was the problem of soil erosion.  Trees were crucial in stopping this erosion from hillsides and from silting up fields and river courses.

His photo shows where 'a big dam of earth and sand has been built by 14 villages each doing their share of the digging and carrying.  It is to keep a river in its proper place and stop it cutting away villages and fields.  It has since been planted up with a lot of trees which I had to arrange for.']


"Geoff on the rampage because us cooks had slept in!  Lovely sunrise and ball of fire through the trees.  Locals watching but at a discrete distance.  Puffer train went by.

Interesting day's drive - oxen pulling ploughs in greeny-brown fields - some green quite emerald in colour.  Palm-like trees among the others.  Big hay stacks and smaller cone-like grey ones.  Bright green parrots flew across road.  Plenty of horn blowing at slow oxen and carts and public buses.  Stopped to shop in village.  Medicine man sitting with bottles and baby crocodiles!

Next stop at a milk bar by a very pleasant garden - lawn and lots of flowers, 2 coloured umbrellas - part of a new dairy complex (project mostly in Punjab and nearby state).  Really nice cold milk drink - supposedly pineapple but tasted like the last one which was chocolate!

Stopped for lunch at cay shop - great little fellow collecting cups - big smiles, great concentration for job!  Builders nearby - wooden rough logs as scaffolding.  Very dark skinned workers.  Bill got left behind - Shirley only realised quarter of an hour after we left!  She suddenly shrieked "Where's Willy?"!  Bill drove up in a truck a few minutes later!

Interesting countryside - little mud huts.  Great crowd by the road and going along parallel railway - great collection of trucks by side of the road - probably a local village fair - people streaming in on the area.

Reached Delhi after dark - through old city - great bright lights everywhere - big circus and old bazaar lit up.  Cooked on compound of campsite in middle of town.  Great meal!"
[My cooking team was Chrispin, Nicky and myself]

India Gate, New Delhi

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BACK TO JUNGLE INDIA & ROUGH CAMPING - "Drive slowly your family needs you."

[My letters home had been full of 'the great hospitality aboard the Golden Bell' and the 'superb meals' cooked by Noor's father, but now it was back to reality - the bus and camping rough and watching out for reptiles in the long grass!  I obviously wasn't adapting well, as that night I went to bed without supper - I assume it was my choice and I wasn't banished for inferior cooking]


"Left houseboats early - given pack lunches - father came through for tip.  Noor saw us off.  Nice morning - sunny when leaving of course.  Felt like beginning of term to get onto empty bus again!

Valley looked nicer in sunlight.  Snow quite low down - fallen since we'd come.  Passed huge army convoy all having a pee at side of the road!  Climbed up to pass again.   Lovely gorge on other side - trees again on steep sided mountains.

Signs on roads like, "Drive slowly your family needs you"!  Made good time - reached Kud again where ate picnic lunch at cay shop on terrace. 

                                                                                                                              cay shop at Kud

Hills smaller, trees more dense.  Hydro-electric station.  Lovely purple hedgerows.

Drove quite late and camped on bit of old road - tents all in a row (Charge of the Light Brigade style!)  Geoff said keep out of long grass - snakes!!  Went to bed early without supper - so tired."

Monitor lizard found in my grandparents'
 garden in Indian foothills, 1930s

Monday, 7 December 2009


[Me and Noor on his shikara]

[Life on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir might have been an echo of the Raj but we were seeing it in the bone-chilling winter.  I recall wistfully in a letter home that 'it must be idyllic in the spring or summer drifting around the lake in a shikara ...!'  As it was, the monotonous brown of bare trees and dead vegetation was relieved only by snow covered peaks and the blue flash of a kingfisher.  After an hour of sitting freezing in an open boat, we aborted a trip to the Moghul Gardens across the Lake, and asked to be taken home.  Noor, our host, abviously thought us a bunch of wimps and declared us 'artificial'.  Only the familiar and welcome cry of 'chocolates! macaroons!' and the sudden appearance of the chocolate seller's shikara, lifted morale.
I observed in a letter home: 'you can get everything off these passing shikaras from shawls to vegetables.  I think some of them are telepathic, because you just had to murmur that you'd fancy a chocolate and they'd be there outside the window!']


" Porridge! Omelette

Taken by shikara to woodwork factory deep in middle of the Lake past slummy looking houses - very quiet up narrow canals - lots of vegetables growing.  No carving being done because still a holiday - very ornate carvings of dragons etc. 

Loads of us in little shikara on way back - one fella carrying bits of mutton - cut them the first day, give them as presents the next.  [This was still the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha] Taken to bank, then me and Neva had a short walk up to bridge - most of shops closed.  Lovely lunch of fish, tomatoes, chips, carrots followed by apple in pastry (very smoky taste).

Very cold trip in shikara to see Moghul gardens  Stopped at post office on a houseboat on the way.  Really freezing, so asked them to stop at small floating restaurant (government owned) and had cup of tea.  (Saw Maharajah's house in distance, old king's dwelling on mountainside and fort away in opposite direction.  Snow on hills in front.  Got them to turn back.  Had a go at paddling!  Stopped the chocolate man and had macaroon!  Noor said we were "artificial" for not wanting to go on (but would have been caught in the dark if had gone all the way).  Saw 2 blue kingfishers on fence by water.

Thawed out by stove.  Hot shower and good meal - felt better.  Noor pestered me to sell him my shorts for 5 rupees, so finally agreed.

[Neva and Julie in shikara]

Women wear great head gear - veil pinned at back of head and hanging quite long."

Saturday, 5 December 2009


[Our Overland stay in Kashmir coincided with the three day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) that marks the end of the Hajj to Mecca.  It commemorates the trials of the Prophet Abraham who was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Sheep are killed and the mutton shared out with family, friends and the poor.  There is much visiting and we called on our houseboat hosts and shared macaroons.  In a rather Scoto-centric way, I likened this to First Footing at New Year.]


"Moslem festival - killing of sheep for each family; like their Xmas.  They have a three day holiday.  Had lie in till 9, then as well as the usual 3 course breakfast, we were presented with cake and macaroons by Gulam's little girl - very solemn kid with lovely brown eyes.  Today they'd been made up and she was in a wide green dress with a hanky pinned to the front and little red shoes. [a letter home reports that 'she was a big friend by the time we left!']

Had a really lazy day sitting around writing letters and postcards.  Outside heard them all singing in the mosques - place deserted until 11.30; all go to mosque (only Noor left).  Saw the father going off in shikara.  Watched them all streaming back from mosque - festive air, fire-works (bangers) going off all the time.

Lovely Kashmiri meal cooked by father - 2 different cooked dishes of mutton in lovely masala sauces, cauliflower and rice.  Followed by banana and custard.  Had cold beer when Geoff and Fred popped in.

Went to see Noor's father and Gulam's wife and son in houseboat behind ours - really cold and bare - each room exposed to the outside - big open windows.  Rocked a lot.  Proudly shown each room (4 of them) then a fire at the far end and kitchen area at the other.  Pointed out Koran and photos. (Noor showed photos of his wedding - him in turban with a necklace of rupees.  Loads of family.  He had painted nails which showed he was married recently).  Apparently family visit each other during this festival (like New Year First Footing).  In kitchen, dangerous looking contraption - electrical wires in a bucket of water.

Later on we went and called at Geoff's boat and had tea with Ian - the only one in.  He'd been ill and not out at all.  His news was that fares going up at home.  Went to "Pandora" - Chris, Nicki, Shirl, Bill, Janice and Ann.  Saw Nicki's lovely rug.  Big argument about how much to tip the houseboys - Shirl believes part of their job to receive a tip.

Had another jeweller in that night - no business.  Hot shower."