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, 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."