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, 9 January 2010

SWAYAMBHU MONKEY TEMPLE - the spiritual and then the high spirits of partying Swaggies, Kathmandu 1976

[The spirit was with me in more than one sense on this day: fantastic climb to the Buddhist temples at Swayambhunath, mixing with the monks, worshippers and monkeys - then a high-spirited evening of Nepali rum and country liquor to mark the final evening of Aussie friends Pam (my room-mate) and Sue, who were heading back home.  As ever, we ended up eating at KC's]

Buddha and me at Swayambhu


"Walked to Swayambhu with Chris and Nikki and Fran.  Coldish morning - set off through back streets the wrong way, ended up crossing mud banks and planks over river.  Lots of little people rushing around with huge baskets of earth balanced on poles across their shoulders.  Saw moving haystacks with legs rushing along underneath! - must be very strong.

Got lost among intensely cultivated fields - lovely countryside - saw boys making mud bricks; kids playing, cowpat-type things drying on walls of houses.  Walked up terracing on narrow ridges between fields and across pole over stream!  Everyone very amused at little file walking about.  At least we weren't plagued by rickshaw drivers.  "Hello, rickshaw ...!"

Decided to rest before climbed steps up to Monkey Temple - very steep!  Exhausted at top - loads of monkeys running about and whizzing down railings.  Top was crowded with little shrines - pretty filthy everywhere; spattered with white and red paint.  Saw ceremony outside shrine - people squatting, old man reading from manuscript while others poured water over flowers.

Various monks wandering round the big stupa (biggest in world) spinning prayer wheels, dressed in maroon robes, cropped hair.  Nothing doing in temple (no horns etc)  Found pie shop!  Very reasonable prices.

Wandered back across bridge and back through main way - passed loads of washing.  Got bacck and flopped on bed - went to sleep! (Shows really unfit).

Woke when Fran came in.  Sue came and said Geoff taking her out to eat instead of group farewell meal - Pam fuming - Geoff make it worse by pretending he'd done nothing wrong.  Pam calmed down.  Hans and Little Chris came in - somehow started a booze-up!  Passing round gin, rum, whisky and country liquor!  By 7.30 we were all well away - "Pissed out o' me skull" as Little Chris put it!  Don't know how we made it over to KC's!  Had great meal there - tomato soup and steak.  Managed to eat it with bit of difficulty.  Sat next to Mike who told me how he never drank anymore!

Back to room (after a "Night Life" - rum and lemon) - had great party - room packed with people.  Chris had crashed next door - locked self in, so when Hans tried to get in, we were banging and shouting and chucking things through the window - finally woke him, though he doesn't remember unlocking the door!"

Little Chris, Hans and Pam at Hotel Star party

Friday, 8 January 2010

KATHMANDU IN DECEMBER 1976 - spring rolls, Freak Street and Americans singing the Messiah!

[It's Kathmandu - spring rolls, Freak Street, braid belts, rickshaws and ....the Messiah in tuxedos?!]


"Got up and went in by rickshaw to New Road - Nepal Bank.  Driver didn't know where I meant and stopped several times - no one seemed to know where centre of town was!  9.30 got there to find not open!

Went for rip off coffee and toast in Crystal Hotel - dim lights, soft Radio 2 type music, was only one there - lots of waiters in white, all very polite.  Finally collected money so can eat again - relief because funds low.

Back to hotel (bought braid belt).  In again with Nikki to see if booked on Air India, can't find out.  Lunch in Utze with Bread and Jam (Fred and Jan) - spring roll.

People lazing on terrace at hotel.  Shared cake with Heidi at KC's.  I went into town on own again - a few back streets, then down New Road and Durbar Square (into Freak Street). Bought some cheap jewellery but on whole shops disappointing.

Early supper with Heidi, Bill and Shirley at Shangri la (lovely chicken and cashewnut) then piled into taxi and tried to get to Messiah concert at Lincoln School.  First taxi had no clue, so piled into second.  Went all over far side of Kathmandu looking for the place.  Eventually got there - Chris, Nikki and Anders already there.  Amazing to be among loads of diplomatic Brits and Yanks sitting in a school hall with choir in suits and long dresses.

Great evening, really amusing - electricity failed in middle of overture and organ wound down (we couldn't help laughing).  All men singers were painfully bad, but choir sang with gusto and the Yanks all gave them a standing ovation!

Piled into mini bus going back - absolutely chock-a-block - knees crunched up together!  Chris almost disappearing out of door.  (Di trying to engineer something between Heidi and Anders!)"

Thursday, 7 January 2010

SEVEN MINUTES IN TIBET - or at least gazing at the sentry post! Tibetan border trip, 1976

[Overland drivers were a resourceful lot and often had to supplement low wages (or no wages) with side trips until they got paid.  They held the trump card - the bus itself.  The Derek referred to in the diary was Derek Amey, another driver for Asian Greyhound whose overland trip had set off a little before ours.  I signed up for his day trip to the Tibetan border - that mysterious land under Chinese control that had fascinated me since reading 'Seven Year in Tibet' by Heinrich Harrer. 

In the 1920s my mother had been a baby carried around on a makeshift carriage through the Himilayas on my grandfather Bob Gorrie's forestry work.  A family story tells that some high up British diplomat was piqued to discover that some British baby had beaten him into Tibet!

Derek Amey, who now lives in Australia, has set up a brilliant overland website covering many trips and bus companies from the 60s and 70s.  http://www.indiaoverland.biz/]


"Up early - Derek's bus trip to Chinese border (ie Tibet).  Misty to begin with.  Lovely scenery into foothills - wooded winding gorges, green rivers; stopped at one which begins in Tibet and flows into Ganges!  Stopped at fantastic waterfall - another division between Tibet and Nepal.

Saw brown mountains of Tibet peeping between green slopes at borderBridge with Chinese guard in green sentry box at the other end.  Had passport stamped on Nepal side. [Kodari]

Stopped for lunch by river and hot spring baths (grotty concrete affair) - good KC's packed lunch.

Stopped at swing bridge for fools to rush across (ie I didn't!)  Grandmother, mother and happy kid - old woman with huge earrings in ears and big discs in nose.

Saw rice paper factory at side of road - mill to grind corn then muslin screens which woman used to sieve water and pulp mixture (bark pulp and ground corn) then left to dry in open air and then paper peeled off.

Lovely villages - mellow orange brick and dark thatch.  Women breast feeding by road.  Little kids carrying even littler kids!  Got back sixish.

Went to Shangri la with quite a few of the others - so service slow.  But nice when it came - shared a Tibetan dish with Di (like omelette) and also Buff Bean Curd (Buffalo meat) Nice."

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

BOUDHNATH, KATHMANDU - bowled over by Buddhist temple and bonny boots, 1976


"Back in Kathmandu after lunch - at Utze Restaurant - really good, cheap Chinese food and quick service.  Then out to Stupa at Boudhnath - big solid white dome with steps up and ledge round to walk on, then layered pyramid with face on and streamers of rice-paper flags strung from top!  Extraordinary.  Like a pagoda except solid not hollow.

Saw inside fascinating Buddhist temple - walked round with mouth open - up left and right were benches with four boys chanting very quickly - then banged huge gongs and clashed cymbals - very stimulating.  Pillars with strips of material hanging down; candles being lit at the back, bowls of water; golden images behind glass cases in centre and one to side full of little Buddhas; smell of incense strong (took shoes off).  Quite amazing and bewildering place.

Bought some cloth boots - rather good. 
Tickets still not here [for return home].  Had gin and orange with Pam to celebrate her sister's engagement!  Then she, me, Fran and Sally went down for something to eat.  Went into Shangri la for meal (jam pancakes!)

Talked to American couple from another tour - hassle at border - lost 4 days because some had tried to smuggle pistachio nuts into India.  They'd had good weather.  All fascinating to compare trips.  We seem to be only group who've stuck together once in Kathmandu (we're all at the same hotel!)"

BHAKTAPUR - snake gods and feisty kings, Nepal 1976

[It was goodbye to room-mate Neva who was returning home to Australia for Christmas - we'd shared many a delicious pastry and cake along the trail and a lot of laughs.  Then our driver Geoff took us to look round the amazing medieval town of Bhaktapur - vibrant, squalid, artistic and mystical]


"Neva woke early - very excited, smoking like mad!  We all went in convoy to airport (flap on because clothes not dry!)  Tearful partings then we all shouted rude things as she walked to the plane - "Can we have some more music please?!"

Then Geoff took us on trip to Bhaktapur - one of 3 capital cities - medieval town.  Big square with pagoda temple 15th century.  Old run down brick and wooden houses - ancient carvings - museum full of them (various Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses and ghosts). 

Art gallery full of rice paper paintings and wooden paintings - highly elaborate, colourful, intricate, often horrific paintings of gods - snakes with big gaping mouths etc.  Collection of paintings depicting life of Krishna; one or two modern paintings of mountains and town (good).  Old wall paintings of warrior figures - great costumes.  Several artists' impressions of Nepali kings (since 18th century) - all look the same - underneath is explanation of each one - rather interesting.  Great praise for one who repulsed British influence - worshipped as a god.

Tallest pagoda temple in Nepal was a little beyond Durbar Square in smaller square.  Very dirty and poor - dead dog covered in stones, loads of chickens, people pulling lice out of each others hair!  Saw the outside of Buddhist temple - the horse of the temple was tied up outside - statue of god and goddess by small door, so all bow when go through it; 5 small windows for Buddhas (a young boy pointed all this out to me)."

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


[As I say in a letter home: 'we all seem to have booked in at the same hotel - apparently we're the only group who've stuck together after the trip finished!  Had a farewell dinner the second night here before Neva flew away and we had speeches and jokes and presented Geoff with a drinking cup!' 
Having been replenished with badly needed funds from home I appear to have gone on an eating spree.  The letter continues: 'The street down from our hotel is full of good eating places and thanks to the money you sent me I've been trying out lovely Chinese and Tibetan foods - chicken with cashew nuts, buffalo and curd, Kothays (things in batter) etc!  Not the least attraction is KC's cake and pie shop!  They serve such huge portions of mouthmelting creations and their coffee is lovely, so we drink gallons as there wasn't much on the trip.']


KC's great restaurant, Thamel, Kathmandu, 1976

"No one could lie in because conditioned to wakening at crack of dawn!  Had lovely hot shower.  Pam and me went to KC's for breakfast - toast and coffee!  Then met Jan at bank and so went back for more toast and coffee.  Joined people lazing on hotel balcony (ie concrete terrace where spread washing).

Not long before decided to try a KC cake - huge helpings, everything from fruit salad pie to sponge cake!  Then went in search of Yeti Travels for mail (already heard tickets not arrived from London).

Went via maze of backstreets - fruit sellers, clothes, bicycles galore, small squares, mangy dogs, smell and filth, buffalo roaming lanes; tallish brick houses with old dark carved wooden window frames and doors.

Eventually onto broad main streets and got mail - heard money come through, so relief that can live again!  Post Office with Jan - race in queue for stamps.

Gathered at hotel to discuss what giving Geoff [driver] and to order for group farewell meal.

Had meal in Star Hotel - fruit juice, steak (cold) veg (few) cake (revolting) tea (sweet)!  Apart from disappointing meal, speeches by Rob and Geoff and Fred were funny and Rob told wide-mouth frog joke (promised since Florence, Mich. Angelo campsite!)  Good atmosphere to end evening - Neva's last night."

Monday, 4 January 2010

ANNAPURNA DAWN & CONSTIPATION IN KATHMANDU - the final day on the bus, Nepal 1976

[Our final day as Swaggies/Overlanders began with a breathtaking sunrise over the Annapurna Range at Pokhara.  Then we were doing all the chores for the final time: dismantling the tents, heating up last night's leftovers, cleaning out the bus ... but not the rat!  Then is was off to Kathmandu, our final destination on the hippy trail.  Whether from nerves or excitement or strew and baked beans for breakfast, I was doubled up with constipation for this final leg of the journey and remember lying out on the seat unable to sit up listening to everyone oohing and ahhing about the view coming into Kathmandu.  I did get a look at the mountain tops though ... 

Kathmandu - a magical medieval muddle of houses and mayhem of rickshaws, bicycles and animals.  We decamped into cheap tourist hotels of the Thamel District - the Asia and The Star - and discovered the delights of KC's restaurant and cake shop!]


"Woken at dawn, shouts from outside that view fantastic, so grabbed clothes and staggered out to see pink light on Annapurna range, behind hotel!
Really breathtaking and clear, with dark wooded foothills in front and thatched huts in foreground.  Everyone clicking away with cameras.  Peak of Machhapuchhare in centre really magical - gradually whitening then disappearing in morning cloud.

Last breakfast - stew and baked beansThen great clearing and washing of bus and equipment, (rat still stowed away with us!)
Left Ian at Pokhara - lake looked glass-like as drove past with fringe of mountains around.  (Nice, cheerful, quick blind boy said goodbye to us - helped at hotel until went blind - no money for operation - Neva and Julie want to help him financially if possible).

Lovely run to Kathmandu - negotiated festive archways out of Pokhara (nearly lopping picutre of queen off), had to rush to front of bus then to back to change weight and height of bus!
Lovely valleys with rounded mountains, thick with green vegetation - deciduous trees and banana trees, paddy fields, haystacks, thatched shelters in the fields; small villages, lots of cattle and hens - with good reflexes!  People carrying heavy loads attached by bands round heads, including small kids.

Climbed up pass from Pokhara valley into Kathmandu valley.  Lovely view of Himalayan range in evening sun - paddy fields set into side of hairpin bends!  Not much room for buses!

Had incredibly painful stomach pains by this time (constipated on final day!) so had to lie down the whole time.  Could hardly walk when reached Kathmandu.

Called in at Blue Star - most people felt too expensive, so drove through city to other side - narrow streets with brick and wooden houses - got stuck trying to get round corner - great hootings from rickshaws and consternation from shopkeeper whose house we were about to take away!

Dropped in street by KC's restaurant - had look at "Asia" and "Hotel Star" - latter cheaper so most piled in there (Jan at Asia waiting for Fred who'd gone to Pokhara to meet us!)  Shared room with Big Pam and Neva (on floor). 
Went to KC's for meal (stomach relieved by this time!) with Fran, Sally, Di, Heidi, Adrian, Chris and Hans.  Good meal - I had cheese jaffle (like puffed up bread) and apple pie - soon learned about excellent pie and cakes - KC's have separate cake shop across road from restaurant!"