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.

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."

Friday, 4 December 2009


[Between hearty houseboat meals, we Overlanders got down to some serious shopping in old Srinagar as we were lured by shikara to view the beautiful handicrafts of Kashmir: carpets, shawls, papier mâché, jewellery, woodwork, knives ...]


"Porridge and omelette, toast and tea for breakfast! 

Noor arranged a shikara to take us round the back of the boats and up canals to old Srinagar to see papier mâché work.  Swamp-like appearance - brown banks, bare trees, tall brick houses with wooden shutters, all rather run down.  Women beating washing by side of lake, kids playing around on shikaras; met men selling vegetables, chocolates, drinks, detergents etc all on shikaras. (Saw one man with bicycle being rowed across on shikara!)  Dead cow floating in lake.

Came in past dilapidated houseboats and got out by bridge.  Boss of papier mâché factory took us up to a small workroom where a man and two little apprentices were painting the papier mâché.  One tiny fellow was rubbing papier mâché smooth with pumice stone.  Then we were led further into town, down little backstreets, past a school (looked like a warehouse) went up some wooden steps and along past classrooms.  Room at the end was another workshop where apprentice boys were moulding papier mâché onto moulds.  Then we were taken to see a 78 year old man (in the business since age of 10) who was doing intricate work with gold filter on top of varnished paintwork. 

Had 2 little boys by him, practising flower designs in their books - really good.  Boss showed us ancient Kashmir vase (lovely figures and elephants on) which was on loan from America because the base needed re-doing - old man was mending it.  Then we were taken to his showroom, also up some obscure stairway.  Really fabulous goods on show - vases, boxes, egg cups, bangles, candle holders etc.  Lovely colours, flower patterns and little eastern figures.

Having bought a few presents (!) we were taken back to the shikara and made our way back past the houseboat to the main landing, where we were taken to the jewellers.  Had been round with his rings the night before - all very big with massive stones.  Went along to funny dark bank, through a mattress-type door.  Like a gambling den inside with bright light at cash desk and man behind it wearing a cap.

Back for nice lunch - meat and veg and apples.  Afternoon were taken to carpet factory by taxi to the old town.  Shown silk carpets - gorgeous green and blue carpets (thought ordinary ones not as nice as Persian - rather dull).  Smaller white hairy ones with nice coloured embroidery  - Neva got one with alphabet on.  Saw woodwork showroom - very cluttered so not the best effect; but stuff too ornately carved for me.  Also went to fur shop - wolf, fox coats and hats etc.

Taken to funny old post office to get stamps.  Hair-raising journey back in taxi - got into traffic jam - bicyclists everywhere, cars coming from all directions.  Driver had his hand permanently on horn!  Sent women scattering; was like the dodgems.

Superb meal - soup, duck and roast potatoes followed by stewed pears.  Tea served in sittingroom round the stove.  That evening, a man (friend of Noor's) came to show his gorgeous Kashmir shawls.  Kept telling us to relax in our home and view his shawls.  Lights were not working, so oil lamps lit the room.  Also had lovely tablecloths and dressing-gowns to sell.  Tried on a red dressing-gown and a green cape - must come back with money some day!  (Shawl man said I should come back for my honeymoon!)

Then man with knives came - really hideous looking carving sets in shape of fish, and other things like nut crackers.  Later on, man with jewel stones came - most of our money spent so not much trade from us.  I bought a garnet for 11 rupees (70!) - my big purchase of the evening."

Thursday, 3 December 2009

HOUSEBOATS ON DAL LAKE - chocolate, hot showers and Zorro! KASHMIR, 1976

[Into Happy Valley and houseboats on Dal Lake by Srinagar in Kashmir - this was the stuff of Paul Scott's Jewel in the Crown.  Our Housebout, the Golden Bell, had been run by the same Kashmiri family for generations and they were generous and entertaining hosts.  The boiler was antiquated, the furnishings Edwardian, the meals of meat and two veg and stewed puddings were the menus of the Raj.  Noor and his family lived and cooked on another boat moored behind ours - and a lot less comfortable.
In the 1920s, when my mother was a baby and my grandparents were trekking through the Himalayas on forestry work, she was slung on a makeshift carriage and carried through the jungle.  The world of houseboats in Kashmir in the 1970s probably hadn't changed much since those days.  I often wonder what has become of those families and businesses as civil war has raged in Kashmir ever since.]


"Walked up hill to small village (Kud) and had coffee at cay shop looking over mountains and valley below.  Row of cay shops on raised terrace.

Lovely journey through mountains - great wooded slopes of fur trees - kept thinking of Grandad working in similar places.  Beautiful views up narrow deep gullies - eagles flying around.  Had to stop where army were pulling up a truck that had gone over the edge, quite far down.

Had really tasty samovas in small village (spicy filling in batter).  Fairly poor villages - drab clothing again.  They all go around with big coats on and fire baskets underneath - pots with charcoal in basket.  (Noor, our houseboat owner goes to sleep with his sometimes - once the bed went on fire!)

Before lunch we climbed to a pass and went through new tunnel to Happy Valley on the other side (Vale of Kashmir).  Here the mountain sides are bare.  Stopped for lunch - had super view over valley - wide and stretching into mist in the distance.  Looked over small hamlets - taller 2-3 storied houses.  Noise of meuzzin from mosques came drifting up to us.

Met by a boy from the houseboats.  Travelled down valley and arrived at Srinagar.  Trees all bare and everything very brown and dull at this time of year.  At the edge of Dal Lake, all piled out and into shikaras and taken to various houseboats.  Passed chocolate seller in his shikara - looked delicious and tasted it!  Luggage came on, on another boat. 

Me, Neva, Paul, Julie, Pam and Mark were all in The Golden Bell.  Older smaller houseboat than some of the others - run by really friendly people - Noor Mohamed and Gulam - houseboat a family concern for several generations.

Lovely hot stove in little living-room - burnt wood in it (fairly expensive).  Had hot showers!!  Stood in old tin bath - tiny bathroom.  Rooms really cold, but each given a hotty at night!  Noor put on stiff white waiter's jacket to serve on us at supper!  Had delicious lamb, potatoes and carrots, soup and stewed golden apples.  Great to sit down at a table again.  Lovely old-fashioned furnishings and pictures (Edwardian) on the walls. 

That evening we piled into a shikara and went over to Maid of the Mountain (Rob, Maree, Diane, Mary, Pam and Sue's boat) big central room.  Chris, Nicki, Geoff, Jan, Fred, Chris, Hans and Adrian all there too.  Had gin and limes, rum, brandy; then Rob organised a game of charades!  All chose a film title (2 different teams) and gave one to member of the other team to act out  in front of their group - time limit too.  Their group gave us the most obscure titles to act (must have made them up!) eg Robin Hood Maid Marion, Lust in the Dust!  I got the worst one - "The Erotic Adventures of Zorro" What acting!  I was exhausted!  Still they managed to guess it (just over time limit) but Geoff felt I deserved extra for effort!

Really cold that night.  Me and Neva had a long chat about homes, the bus etc (and how cold we were!)"

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


[From Amritsar we made for Kashmir, that disputed land between India and Pakistan.  On the way we passed village India - vultures at a slaughter house, roaming elephants, snake charmer, good chai - and then rose into the hills alongside army convoys. 

In a letter home I reflect: 'Kept thinking of Granny and Grandad as we drove through forested mountains and especially through the Punjab ... the Punjab villages were fascinating - full of fried smells and cay shops; saw my first elephant eating branches off the trees ...'

This landscape would have been very familiar to my Scottish grandparents (my grandfather was a conservator of forests here in the 1920s to 1940s).  Strange to think that my mother, Sheila Gorrie, would have known the Himalayan foothills of India as home, long before she set eyes on her own mountains of Scotland.]


"Woke to heavy dew, morning mist.  Lots of bicyclists with gaily coloured turbans - most of them stopped to look at us!  Trains roaring past on the other side of road; road lined with tall trees.

Soon after leaving we saw loads of vultures in field by the road.  Stopped and went over to see them - massive ugly birds with long necks; some found it hard to take off because so full!  Flocked up onto trees - looked top-heavy on branches, made trees look undersized!  Slaughtering going on nearby - skinning buffalo for skins and leaving carcasses for the vultures.

Stopped at little village (with a MacRobert Hospital, Salvation Army!)  Incredibly cheap fruit and veg eg 7p for 5 bananas.  Walked up village and saw 2 elephants!  One big one tearing down ends of branches and eating them, with little fellow next, trying to get a look in by putting its trunk in the biggun's mouth!  Both had painted ears and top of trunks.  Big one had something strapped to its back.

Stopped for lunch at wayside - incredible amount of army trucks going by (now in Jammu & Kashmir - heavily guarded).  Wandering through a dry empty field - lovely view of fields, hedgerows and greenish dips; round cocoon-type nests hanging from couple of trees - all empty.

Countryside becoming greener, with lovely pink flowers in hedges and gradually hillier.  Went to tourist place in Jammu - very helpful and friendly.  Snake charmer by bus - pipe and 2 snakes around neck and arms!  I decided to watch from the window!
      Cay stop at little village - very nice cay - water boiled up with the milk, tea and sugar.  Into hills - lovely orange sunset over hills and green gullies - green pool and waterfall; climbing up slopes covered in green scrub.  Villages full of friendly waving people.  Camped quite far up by the road - dropping away to valley below."

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


[This was the day I arrived in India for the first time - the country where my Gorrie grandfather had made his living and my mother had spent the first 8 years of her life.  Of course in the 1920s there was no division between Pakistan and India and they felt equally at home in both, as I did, returning 50 years later.  The border area we drove through was all the Punjab. 

The first main stop was at Amritsar and its golden temple - the heartbeat of the Sikh religion - and a hugely impressive place.  In a letter home, I was obviously as taken with the people as the amazing temple: 'There was a great holiday atmosphere.  Some of the Sikhs in their bright turbans and dark beards look really gorgeous!'


"Left Lahore, soon at the border.  Hours there while got through health checks, immigration and customs.  They hassled Mary [from New Zealand] over stamp on her health card and Pam and Sue [Australian] because theirs not stamped.  Two doctors very stubborn about cards.  Sue and Pam injected.  They suggested a bribe which Geoff had been expecting.  One took a foamy!  Layed on grass by a milk bar - lovely milk shake.  Nice shady trees, flowers, cooing of birds - very pleasant.  Eventually got away.

Headed for Amritsar along nice countryside - greener fields and trees all the time, fairly rich area.  Got to Amritsar late afternoon and left bus by the station - not allowed over the bridge.  Got tricycles into town - me and Neva perched dangerously on this tricycle with a very young lad peddling!  He was sweating away!  We had hilarious hair-raising journey, dodging through the mass of tongas, tricycles, scooters, bicycles - they came from all directions!  Then we all had to get off tricycles and walk up the bridge.  Coming down the other side the boy sped away overtaking everyone on a sharp corner.  We were nearly thrown - Neva said I was as white as a sheet!  Through bazaar streets, passed cows wandering oblivious among the traffic!

Dropped us outside Sikh Golden Temple.  Gave in our shoes and socks, given scarves for heads (tied like a pirate - blokes given them too).  Not allowed to take in cigarettes either.  Padded through trough of water before going through big archways.  Huge square with tank taking up most of the room with golden temple in the middle.  Marble promenade all around with white and pink arcades and various mausoleums and stalls of holy drinking water at various stages.  One mausoleum dedicated to somebody Singh who'd led attack to regain temple in about the 17th century and had fought on almost headless, only letting his head drop when reached the temple.  Temple was often desecrated and Sikhs persecuted up till 18th century - great fighters, kept fighting back for it.

Sikhism begun by Guru Nanak (15th century), bridging the gap between Islam and Hinduism - emphasis on non sectarianism.  Went across bridge to Temple - people touched stone on floor by doorway to the bridge and again at doorways to shrine.  Beautifully gold plated covering outside of temple shining in the evening light - one main dome and lots of little ones round parapet.  Followed queue into inside.  Lots of elderly women and men sitting round inside while musicians sat cross-legged beating drum and playing 2 electric pianos and singing continuously from Holy Book - all this was relayed to outside.

Dishing out free meals inside - sweet stuff served in leaf type dishes.  People giving money and bright orange flowers.  Some went upstairs where men reading out of huge big books and looking down on the scene below.  Out of second door, circled round temple - others stopping to bathe with tank water before moving on and touching 2 other doorsteps.

Amazing place - felt quite privileged to have this opportunity to get to the heart of the temple.  All so open in their prayer.  Saw fellas stripping and going into tank and immersing selves.  Sikhs put up anyone who comes to the temple and give free food - some people have misused this sadly.

Got lift back with same boy - fled downhill again - Neva tugging at him to slow down - he found this very funny and went faster.  Went with Neva and Janice to station cafe - taken by a little man in white who then serve us - had lovely coffee (though sweetened) - much cheaper than British Rail!  Vast, dark, old fashioned station restaurant.

Camped along wayside after dark - had eaten by road earlier.  Dead dog in ditch by tents - Hans buried it."

Monday, 30 November 2009


PLEASE HELP ME FIND THESE FELLOW PASSENGERS from the Asian Greyhound bus trip that left London on 26 Sept 1976 bound for Kathmandu.  Our driver was Geoff Lawrence and his helper was Fred Fisher.

Swaggies taken in front of bus at Varanasi campsite

For list of passenger names go to:



[I recorded in a letter home that: 'It was like coming home again to be in Pakistan after Afghanistan - could read the signs again; people are really friendly and we could have afternoon tea in comfortable seats set aside for ladies!  What's more, we were dropped to do our site seeing by a cricket match.  It was great to sit on the grass in the sun watching cricket at the end of November!'

Lahore was where my grandfather, Robert Gorrie, went to work for the Indian Forestry Service in 1922, covering the Punjab and North West Frontier Province.  My grandmother, Sydney Easterbrook took the long sea voyage out there to join him - they were married in the cathedral at Lahore in 1923.  Yet it was only on reaching Delhi that I received a letter from Granny Sydney telling me this.  I record that: 'I wish I'd realised that she was married in Lahore Cathedral when I was there, then I could have gone and paid my respects.'

Much of the time my grandparents (mother and uncles) travelled and lived in the mountains - Simla and Dehra Dhun - but when based in Lahore they enjoyed a rich cultural life and friends across the racial divide of the colonial regime. In 1976 there were still traces of this pre-Partition world - in buildings and lingering attitudes of some tourists - but Lahore has been used to absorbing and outlasting waves of invaders.  The result was a fantastic mix of architecture, tranquil gardens and seething street life.


"A whole nomadic village watched us eat breakfast!  Hashish smokers.
Reached Lahore and drove up Mall.  After short stop, bus dropped us near mosque by cricket match!  Watched that in sun for a bit - really like an english summer - we attracted more crowds than cricketers.  Saw several wickets fall - great excitement on field; very little defensive batting!  (Probably schoolboys.  Apparently the next day Pakistan were playing an International Eleven!)

Went round second biggest mosque in world (founded in 1000s but mostly built in 17th century - Badshahi Mosque) - really lovely gardens on way in with stone summer house in middle and pools on either side.  Took off shoes at entrance - 2 typically "Anglo-Indian" types (Ronny and Adela - my reference to characters from EM Forster's Passage to India) refused to give in their shoes and shouted at the attendent who eventually let them in - all very embarrassing.

Huge red sandstone courtyard with white dazzling walls.  Padded across this to mosque proper.  Huge red minarets and big domes - lovely cool marble floors, carpets under central dome, birds nesting above somewhere.  Me and Sally sat on steps - made friends with some women and kids (one oldish woman was breast-feeding a young kid).  Only spoke Urdu - wanted pictures taken - one woman had bright red hair and red stained fingers.  All had jewels in their noses and cheap jewellery; very colourful though grubby, tatty nail varnish.  Sally promised to send photo to them.  Then several people wanted theirs taken too!

Rushed up a minaret - good view over busy streets of Lahore and over fort too.  Felt weak and dizzy when got down - shows how unfit I am!  Then me, Jan, Rob, Sally and Fran made our way to fort.  Huge big round towers and battlements.  Went and sat under tree in pleasant garden - talked with english couple that Rob had met in Esfahan; they'd been given knives at an ammunition factory in Khyber Pass.  Lovely to sit in pleasant green surroundings - lovely flowers and trees.  Walked around central building - stood on balcony built by Akbar the Great!  (17th century, obviously beautiful pink tiles at one point.  On outside wall of fort were remains of tiles with elephants on).  View over lovely pool - fountains out of action.  Jan and I not allowed in one part - think it was a mosque.  Saw a bullock pulling a lawnmower!  Wide stairs to the ramparts for elephants and bullet holes in the wall.

Made for old bazaar - had drink under some trees, talked with a couple of travellers - one had started out with his wife - didn't know where she was now.  Me and Fran were fired on by a bird from above!  Went into bazaar - Frances had a climb on a scabby camel - nearly threw her off; kicks and howls of protest from camel!  Attracted huge crowd.  Bazaar was incredible place - stunk of dung and hash.  Narrow streets crammed with colourfully dressed people, scooter rickshaws and tongas milling about almost running you down; no such thing as right of way!  Streams of bullocks pushing past - one in a stall spat at us!  Background rhythm of drums (as well as contant blare of horns) - several small shops making drums (men stoned out of minds with hash).  Various stalls selling fried foods and sugar cane and pomegranate juice.  Rob bought a big pipe.

We eventually got out by hiring a tonga - 5 of us and driver.  Skinny horse.  Incredible journey through bazaar fighting past other tongas.  Millions of figures - skinny holy man with single piece of orange material wound round him and gold dangly earring from one ear; women in tongas completely veiled in small-pleated material.
It was a real fight to get out - at traffic lights all the tongas surge from either side like a chariot race at the poor unsuspecting police, with us stuck in the middle!  (Dentist shops had huge diagrams of heads and details of mouth on boards outside).  After taking pictures of us on tonga, another tonga driver appeared and posed with us!  After GPO we went to expensive place on the Mall and had tea and patties and cakes!

Drove out several miles and camped in suburb called Gulberg, by hotel (use its washing facilities).  Di and I wandered round square looking for boiled eggs.  Ended up at grotty cafe and had cold chips and mangled eggs.  Later in evening got a scooter rickshaw into Lahore with Di and Rob and Maree - mad driver.

In cinema [The Regal], blokes came round with trays of sweets, ice-cream, drinks, crisps and cups of tea!  Hilarious trailers of films coming - "Inframan" and "Submersion of Japan" - ie will Japan follow Atlantis and what will the administrators do?!  Main film was "Man About the House" - not a good film but it was great to see a familiar series and relax to a film for once. 

When we came out loads of scooter rickshaws were waiting to take people back.  Got an even madder driver - very draughty because doors were just on a small spring.  (Mark and Pam made rude noises at another rickshaw thinking it was us.  Rickshaw stopped and angry men got out - nearly got lynched!)  Contikee group were at flicks - one very nervous girl (they'd had accident and bus had rolled - two injured; drivers ok)."

Sunday, 29 November 2009



"Woke to find selves sleeping on a thoroughfare!  People almost walking over us - very curious standers-by watched us - difficult when came to dressing!  Long wait while Afghans searched bus, roof, boot - opened some cases - found bottle of whisky in each one!

On Pakistani side were hassled by money changers.  Very dirty border village; big wicker benches (like hammocks) outside cay shops.  Neva and me had dry cake thing - one of those eating days.

Exciting drive through Khyber Pass - not officially allowed to take photos, so had to balance at windows without truck behind seeing us - probably only get a blur!  Very barren, rocky mountainsides with dusty houses perched on slopes and in valley.  Winding road, very narrow pass at one point; quite easily be ambush or battleground areas!  Lots of pack ponies around, looked after by fierce little boys.

Stopped at village in middle of pass (highest point of pass - Landi Kotal).  Very dirty with rather tall buildings - looked unusual.  Fascinating bazaar set down almost under cover and very narrow.  Great hunks of dripping meat, knives sellers, deep open drains, dead rat, hashish peddlars, men with guns slung over their shoulders - Pathan country!  (Disappointed that haven't seen very many swaggering Pathans!)

Stopped at Peshawar at a fruit and veg check point.  Man came on bus and slit our fruit from Afghanistan - chucked some away.

Countryside soon levelled out - real surprise and relief to see green trees and semi-green fields again - some of the scenery was really quite english.  Fascinating market towns, throbbing with life and colours again.  Drove late after stop for supper where locals almost fell in the stew they came so close.  (Crossed Indus River by Attock Fort)."