It must have been when she was home back in July that my daughter Sarah first suggested I visit her in India. I was a little apprehensive as I thought the heat might be a problem. I imagined we would stay in Mumbai and visit various places on day trips. How wrong can you be!? I originally gave the notes I wrote in my journal during my stay the title, ‘My Indian Adventure.’ On completion of my journey the title had to be changed! So here is my journal transcribed and added to. Enjoy!
DAY ONE – 18 October 2022 – It all begins at Plymouth Railway Station. I had booked a first-class seat and boarded the train with help from a member of staff. Another passenger arrives and he looks very familiar. It is Neil Warnock a former manager of Plymouth Argyle and one or two other teams! I knew that he still lived in Cornwall and has done for a number of years. A British Rail staff member calls in to see us and we find out that we cannot access the First- Class restaurant car from our carriage as the restaurant car is at the other end of the train! The staff member kindly heaves my case onto the platform and my new found friend and I head for the restaurant car. Only one other person in there.
The 13:15 to Paddington hauls out of Plymouth and so the adventure begins…..
Once past Exeter lunch is served and I go for the stuffed chicken breast with the cheese board as dessert. All this and a glass of red. The best way to watch the Devon countryside drift by.
I had a nice chat with Neil and he was happy to have his photograph taken. This encouraged the restaurant car ladies to ask for their photographs to be taken!
Assistance was waiting at Paddington. A member of staff met me at the carriage door and asked if I was Rod! So, it was goodbye, nice to have met you to Neil and off I went in a buggy round to the Heathrow Express!
Someone was waiting to meet me at Heathrow. Through the checkout and security very quickly. Into the Club Lounge for an hour or so. Time for a cup of tea and a sandwich all for free!
Time to go and all five foot two of young Jenny took me in a wheelchair down the long corridors and lifts that led to the departure gate. Straight to the door of the Boeing 787 we went! There was look of delight on her face when I gave Jenny a five -pound tip.
Business Class was a whole new experience. So much room in my compartment. Take off was delayed by 50 minutes so it was 22:15 before we headed down the runaway and after lift off the pilot pointed the aircraft in the general direction of Mumbai. The flight would take over nine hours and Mumbai is five and a half hours ahead of us. I rarely manage to get to sleep on aircraft despite my seat flattening out to provide a bed complete with pillow and blanket. Lunch was served just before midnight! I had Lamb Rogan Josh. Thought it was time to get in tune with my destination! Everyone has a reasonable size screen in front of them. I watched ‘Downton Abbey – A New Era.’ Nina would have enjoyed the flight not to mention the film
DAY TWO – 19 OCTOBER 2022 – Through the night we flew with the pilot making up forty minutes of lost time. He hit 599mph across the Med. We landed in Mumbai at 11:20 local time. One of the cabin staff ladies, Menushka, made sure I was first in the queue for a wheelchair. She blocked people leaving Economy! My wheelchair driver was obviously an F1 fan. Through security and baggage reclaim and out of Exit C within 40 minutes. And there as arranged my daughter Sarah was waiting for me. So good to see her.
My first taste of Mumbai traffic. I used to tell my grandson Ash when he was learning to drive to treat every other driver on the road as an idiot. Here every driver proves my point!
I have driven in the rush hour in Naples. Rome, Paris, and London and survived! I would not want to drive in Mumbai!
Safely back in Sarah’s apartment I crashed out for a couple of hours. Then we went out for a look around. A walk down by the sea to an old fort. An old church with a gallery around three sides of the interior. And a bookshop! Had Lamb Shank for dinner in the Olive and very nice it was too. All this travel involved four tuk-tuk rides. An experience one can never forget! It is most definitely a case of your life in their hands. If there is an Indian Highway Code it is long forgotten!
A Tuk Tuk under the Diwali lights. We passed him!
DAY THREE – 20 October 2022 – Had a good night’s sleep. Sarah was off to work before I got up. She is a librarian at the American School of Bombay. Being a librarian is an important job in her school as the children at the school love their books. I was washed and dressed and had my breakfast when Celestine, Sarah’s cleaner, arrived to do the cleaning. Headed out for a walk and to look for a bookshop called ‘Title Waves.’ (Great name!) Nice big shop but all new books. (I prefer second-hand shops) A café was part of the shop so sat outside and had lunch. A cheese, ham and tomato toastie with a strawberry milkshake. Very nice! Had great difficulty finding my way back having taken a wrong turning. Google maps’ roads did not quite match the locality. All solved by hailing a Tuk-Tuk and giving the driver Sarah’s address!
Out for dinner at an Indian Restaurant, Pali Bhavan, nearby. Lamb Biryani. Delicious!
DAY FOUR – 21 October 2022 – Awoke after nine. Sarah had bought in the Darjeeling tea bags so breakfast was the same as in England. Weetabix! Got myself ready slowly and went downstairs just before one. A car was waiting to take me to Sarah’s school. Met her fellow teachers and children. Sarah is very well received there. A very nice group of people.
From the school we headed for the airport and the flight to Delhi. More wheelchair assistance at both ends. The flight was under two hours and more Biryani was eaten!
We are staying at ‘The Claridges.’ My room is bigger than some peoples flats! Must be a five star. My only complaint is the distance my room is from Reception. There is a lift but a few steps down at the end of the trek. It has been an interesting day.
My room at ‘The Claridges Hotel in Delhi. And the grand staircase in the Foyer
DAY FIVE – 22 October 2022 – Down for a very nice breakfast at 8:15. Car supposed to pick us up at nine. However, for some reason the guide had been given a different name and although he was there at nine, we assumed he was waiting for someone else. Only when Sarah phoned the Travel Agency was the problem solved and off we went! Down past some very impressive government buildings and into the area of the Red Fort which was most impressive. It was here that Nehru raised the Indian flag on the day independence was declared. Then we visited a step well, Agrasen ki Baoli, nearby. An amazing construction that as well as providing water was a social meeting place for those who lived nearby. Then to the Tomb of Humayun, a Mughal Emperor. The tomb was commissioned by his wife in 1558 and was designed and built by Persian architects. A most impressive place looking from the outside. I did not go in as the steps were too steep for me. (And in 1558 lifts had not been invented!) Sarah tells me it was equally impressive inside. Lunch in a small café nearby before we made our way to the Gandhi Museum at Birla House. This comprises of the house that Gandhi visited and the garden where he was assassinated. He was a man of peace and his death disrupted the early days of Indian independence which descended into to dreadful violence between Muslim and Hindu. The fanatic who shot him objected to Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims. Tolerance was in short supply during those years. Sarah and I paid our respects at the area in the garden where the dreadful event took place. It was a peaceful place as one would expect given in whose honour it is maintained.
I was dropped at the hotel while Sarah went off to the textile market. (As you do!)
Our brilliant guide for the day was Vineet and our driver Sohan (He would be our driver for a good few days to come) Dinner in the hotel restaurant comprised of Lamb Shank curry. And most enjoyable it was too.
DAY SIX – 23 October 2022 – Collected from the hotel at 8am. And off to Agra we go. On the way we stopped at roadside café and had a cup of chai. It is a sweet tea made with condensed milk and served in a small clay cup. Checked in to the ITC Mughal hotel. Hard to believe but it was even better than the last one! Settled ourselves in then headed for the Agra Fort with our new guide Onsay. Another magnificent building with great views from the windows including seeing the Taj Mahal in the distance. The time had come for our first close up view of the Taj Mahal. We were on the opposite bank of the river waiting for the sunset. A lot of people gathered at the viewing point. We were all disappointed. The sun glowing red did indeed set but the rays were not strong enough to cast their glow on the Taj. Tomorrow would make up for it.
Back to the hotel for dinner. Just a pizza on this evening and with a pre-dawn start early to bed
DAY SEVEN – 24 October 2022 – Up at 4:40! We head through the quiet streets of Agra to join the queue waiting for the six o’clock entry. Our guide was really on the ball and led us straight to the reflecting pool and the famous bench. Most people lingered around the entrance checking the view of the Taj from there. We were able to take most of our photographs without anyone spoiling the shot. And well done to Sarah and our guide for their magnificent photographs. I could fill these pages with them! The sun came up and, slowly but surely, the Taj Mahal became illuminated in all its splendour. It truly is a magical building. It appears to shimmer in the morning light. It is a little dark inside and the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife are buried below floor level which is out of bounds. Replicas are in place above it. Considering it was built over three hundred years ago the Taj Mahal is a building wonder of any age. We spent two hours there. One ticked off the ‘bucket list!’ We visited a marble inlay workshop and then a gift shop. Bought one or two things! (From the gift shop!)
PHOTOS OF THE TAJ
Onto Jaipur and our new guide Iqbal who showed us around the Fatehpur Sikri Fort on the way there. He was younger than our previous guides and was good company. It was here that a Muslim family invited us to join their family photograph. It would not be the first time. People here are so friendly. I have been complimented on my shirts and on my walking stick! Had a really good look around and it was time to say farewell to Iqbal and Fatehpur Sikri (Akbar’s Fort).
Sohan then drove us to the Khandela Haveli Hotel. Not a patch on the previous two but comfortable enough. Stopped on the way in a refreshment area for a samosa and can of coke. (Great combination!) An early night beckons after a day that was the highlight of the tour so far.
DAY EIGHT – 25 October 2022 – Fireworks until 2am because of the Diwali Festival. Then sporadic bangs until 4am. A member of staff mistakenly rang my door- bell at 6:45am! Not impressed. Very little sleep.
Devandra is our new guide and we are allowed to call him Dev! Off to see the Jantar Mantar Observatory. An amazing place built in 1723. Large stone or marble instruments checking the sun and stars almost to perfection still. Such precision. On our way we joined the crowds taking photographs of the Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Winds façade. People think this is the front of the building, but it is actually the rear. It is a part of the City Palace and was designed for the ladies of court to observe the street below without being seen. It is only one room wide. We had another photo taken by Dev on the way back across the road sitting in our Tuk Tuk!
And on to the City Palace. Another building that looks small in size from the outside. But like many buildings in India it has the Tardis effect! Once inside it is an immense and a beautiful building. I was taken round in a Golf Buggy! The only way to travel round a palace!
Down to the tailors to order four made-to-measure shirts and a pair of trousers. That said despite my order it did not stop the staff from trying to sell me a blazer! A cup of chai while we waited for the tailor to arrive.
Another fascinating day ends with dinner at the Green Pigeon and some dancers to boot! Minestrone soup and a pizza followed by a banana split. Bella Italia!
Sarah and myself at the City Palace above. Top right our transport! Top left the Wind Palace and in the middle the Green Pigeon dancers all in Jaipur
DAY NINE – 26 OCTOBER 2022 – My 77th birthday! Cards brought from home were opened. And what better way on this day than to enter the Amber Palace outside Jaipur by riding an elephant!? Maria was her name and very slowly but surely she conveyed Sarah and myself up the slope to enter the palace in grand style! It was a great way to start the day. The Amber Palace is yet another magnificent building and I am running out of superlatives to describe these incredible buildings.
A few more steps to traverse but all well worth it. Then onto another step well. This was featured in the film ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’ and features in the scene where Sonny and Sunaina try to sort out their problems. They are amazing pieces of architecture. On the way back Sarah asked to be dropped off at the ‘Anokhi Museum.’ This shows a history of wood block printing. We parked outside and waited for Sarah, and waited for Sarah, and wai…oh there she is!
Back to the hotel for a rest. We said goodbye to Dev who had looked after us so well.
Sarah had arranged High Tea at the Rambagh Palace Hotel. And High Tea it most certainly was. The hotel is a former Maharaja’s Palace with 100 peacocks roaming the grounds. While we were there the old Maharaja turned up! We ate our way through the delicious sandwiches and the petit-four cakes aided by a few cups of Darjeeling. We had finished and were just sitting back when out of the kitchen door came all the staff with a birthday cake for me! Such a surprise. I managed to blow out the one candle! What a great day it had been… but there was more to come.
It had been a long day and we were looking forward to an early night. Into the hotel we walked to be greeted by members of staff. They had set up a table in the courtyard decorated with balloons and trimmings and in the middle of the table sat yet another birthday cake!
What a day! (Birthdays come and go but I will remember this one!)
DAY TEN – 27 October 2022 – My shirts and trousers were not ready the previous night as promised but the driver picked them up the following morning. Still 36 hours is pretty good going. It would take at least a week in England if you could find a tailor to do it?
Time to leave Jaipur. A memorable visit indeed. We are heading for Deogarh which helps break the long drive to Udaipur. The expectation was it would be a small hotel. How wrong can you be? It was a very large country house built seven years ago by a Maharaja and his wife. Another amazing building! The lady of the house greeted us on arrival. She was a very well-spoken and elegant lady. A wonderful afternoon and evening just chilling out. Dinner in the courtyard was a variety of Indian dishes. Our days have been full of surprises and this day was no different. Sleep came easy.
DAY ELEVEN – 28 October 2022 – Breakfast with the Maharaja and his wife plus two other guests. Yes, we dined with a royal family!
Our farewells and thankyous said it was time to head for Udaipur the City of Lakes. Could it really be another good hotel. Good!? It was so much more. Sarah and I had lakeside rooms where the water lapped below the windows. The view beautiful. All so very unbelievable. The Amet Havelli. The day was made or so I thought. Sarah had mentioned we would be eating in another hotel but she had not said which one. We clambered aboard a Tuk Tuk and it took us round to the other side of the lake and a very grand landing stage. By now I had worked out where we were going. To the hotel in the middle of the lake! A launch took just the two of us across the darkened lake to the brightly lit hotel. Our table was located at the foot of a turret and was almost like a private room. The lamb shank was delicious and the service first class. I have seen so many photographs of this hotel and it has appeared in one or two films including ‘The Exotic Marigold Hotel,’ but to be actually eating in the restaurant inside the hotel was something I never imagined. The launch came to collect us and return us to the landing stage. A Tuk Tuk chugged its way through quieter streets and returned us to our hotel. Now our hotel was splendid, but it could not match the Lake Hotel for the location!
Another great day!
The views of my room in the Amet Havelli
Below our own dining room on the Lake Hotel. On the launch ready to return to the landing stage.
A view from our hotel terrace with the Lake Hotel in the background.
DAY TWELVE – 29 October 2022 – Happy Birthday Sarah! Presents and card handed over. Breakfast on the terrace with a brilliant view of the Lake Hotel. Then it was time to look at another City Palace. Yet another magnificent building. We got there ahead of the crowd and getting round was not too bad. When we left the place was packed and movement around the building was slow. I found a new young friend who would just not let my finger go! (See photo) Within the same complex was the landing stage for the boat trip around the lake. Our guide got us to the front of the queue. (I am beginning to think my walking stick has magical properties!) The launch had a couple of dozen people on board and circumnavigated the lake up to the Lake Hotel. We called at another island where some people got off to look round the gardens. We stayed on board to save time as it could be over twenty minutes before we were picked up. Viewing Udaipur from the lake shows you why it is such a tourist attraction. Building after building is worth a visit! A look round the shops close to the hotel and few purchases made.
For Sarah’s birthday dinner we went to the rooftop restaurant ‘Upre’ of the Lakeside Hotel. More great views. Someone decided to let off some very loud fireworks close by which we could have done without! Still the grilled fish went down quite well with a glass of wine! Time for a slow walk back to our hotel nearby.
Sorry to repeat myself but Sarah’s Birthday was another great day!
DAY THIRTEEN – 30 October 2022 – Time to leave Udaipur. What a lovely place. Friendly people, lots of small shops and views to die for! A final breakfast on the terrace by the lake as the morning sun sparkled on the water. One last look around by me as Sarah did some last- minute shopping. (I have to confess; I have never known her do any first minute shopping!) Our driver Sohan took us on one final journey to the airport and it was time to say goodbye. He has driven us so many miles and was very patient and informative. He possessed the three qualities required of an Indian driver; Good horn, good brakes and good luck!!!
My new found friend in the City Palace. He would not let go of my finger! Sarah and myself at the restaurant on the rooftop of the Lakeside Hotel
The flight to Mumbai only took around two hours and wheelchair assistance was on hand to take us to Sarah’s booked taxi. Back in the apartment and time to reflect on an amazing nine days. We have seen so much and yet only a small part of this vast country.
DAY FOURTEEN – 31 October 2022 – October rolls to a close. Early in the month I was worried my visa would not arrive. Here I was fourteen days into my Indian adventure. I think I will change the title to ‘My Amazing Indian Adventure.’ For that it surely has been.
A quiet day updating my written journal and listening to Elvis. Sarah back at work
Birla House in Gandhi’s room, birthday cake back at the hotel , another friend!
DAY FIFTEEN – 1 November 2022 – Out on tour again This time on my own. A five hour tour of Mumbai with a guide and a driver. First stop the Railway Station. Great exterior, similar to St Pancras. Unfortunately the interior is something of a disappointment. Not a patch on New York Central Station which remains my favourite railway station. Onto the Gateway to India built by the British in 1924. An amazing piece of architecture and even more amazing is that various Indian governments have let it remain standing. Facing the Gate is the majestic Taj Palace hotel. One of the worlds great hotels. We had a wander around the foyer. Another world!
Not far from the railway station are a number of book stalls out in the open. More books than you could imagine. From there to the house where Gandhi lived from 1917 to 1934. We had lunch at the Café Leopold. Back in 2008 the Leopold, the Railway Station and the Taj were all attacked by terrorists. You can still see the bullet holes in the wall at the Leopold.
A good day. Out in the evening to a restaurant just round the corner. Steak at the Silver Beach
The railway station, Taj Hotel, Gateway to India, lunch at the Leo, Books! (For anyone asking my shirt was made to measure by a nice lady in Ghana ten years ago. Still fits!)
DAY SIXTEEN – 2 November 2022 – The Mumbai tour part two. A quick trip to the flower market. So many flowers and all sold during the day. The marigold remains the favourite flower of the Indian people. You see them on stalls all around the city and during Diwali thousands of them are sold across the country. But the national flower of India is the lotus.
Then onto Dhobi Ghat. For those of you reading this who were in the services during the fifties and sixties dhobi will be a familiar word. And this is where it originated. Simply put it means laundry. Here in this place over 100.000 items are washed, ironed and delivered every day. Hospitals, police forces, hospitality staff all their uniforms pass through Dhobi Ghat. An amazing production line!
Just as amazing was the dockside where the fishing boats were tied up. Here in the fish market tons upon tons of tuna and mackerel are unloaded, iced and delivered to the restaurants and shops of Mumbai. Every day! The ice crushing machines work on through the day as the never- ending line of fish boxes are packed. And all the fish are found in the Arabian Sea. Goodness knows how many fish there must be out there? They are never short of fish in Mumbai!
Another food site was the pick-up point for the Lunchbox Project. Customers packed food boxes are collected from their accommodation and are then taken to a central distribution point. From here another team deliver the boxes to partners, family and friends at their place of work. It happens every day and has been a major success.
Still with food it is on to Crawford Market. Named after Arthur Crawford who was the Municipal Commissioner of Bombay back in 1869 when it was built. In 1882 it became the first building in India to be served by electricity. After independence it was renamed Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai market. Bit of a mouthful that. Everyone calls it the Crawford market! It sells mainly fruit and veg but there is a pet store inside. Parakeet anyone? Or perhaps a lovely cream coloured Labrador puppy?. Tropical fish or goldfish? The odd general stall but the same hugh amount of fruit passes through here every day. In case you had not guessed it Mumbai is a very large city! The second largest in India after Delhi and home to 23 million people at the last count! We had lunch at the Sea Green Café on Marine Drive. I can recommend the iced mocha!
Finally, to Banganga Pond. Fed by a sacred stream Hindus believe bathing in the water cleanses their spiritual well- being. And not to mention out there in the middle some very large Koi and Catfish!. And so, time to head home across the new Worli Sea Link bridge that forms a semi-circle across the Bay of Mumbai. Jathan has been a great guide and Arun a very patient driver. Yet another great day finding out about how the citizens of Mumbai are served by their food providers.
We ate in tonight. Scallops and eggs in a joint effort of cooking.
Dhobi Ghat, The fish market, Bangang Pond and yours truly with my guide Jathan
DAY SEVENTEEN – 3 November 2022 – A rest day. Took a stroll around the local area of West Bandra. Numerous restaurants and coffee shops and any number of small shops. Plus the hustle and bustle of Indian life and cars and Tuk Tuks sounding their horns and vying for spaces on the roads. Fascinating.
Then spent the day reading and writing this blog. Elvis in the background! Out to the nearby Woodside Inn to try Fish n Chips Mumbai style! Not bad, not bad at all. And they do make a good milk shake around these parts.
DAY EIGHTEEN – 4 November 2022 – Up bright and early. Taxi to the airport at 5:30am. Not too much waiting around. The aircraft was on time and we set off for Bagdogra . A three hour flight which passed fairly quickly. More rice as the in-flight meal. Ate the lot! A car waiting to take us on the three hour drive to Darjeeling. And what a drive! S bend after S bend. It made the Swiss mountain roads look like autobahns! As we came into Darjeeling we could see the Himalayas in the distance. What a welcome! So much traffic negotiating Darjeeling’s narrow roads. And mainly 4 X 4’s! We made it to the Windamere Hotel. The description of which can only be ‘Quaint!’ We were upgraded to two very large rooms. Sadly there were 21 steps to the first floor. I could have done without that. Sarah had pre-ordered a high tea for us on arrival. Not quite on a par with the previous high tea back in Jaipur but the scones were nice. And in front of us a roaring fire! The outside temperature about the same as it was in England. I had brought a jumper with me!
The hotel is a throwback to the 19th century. As in the days of Empire dinner is never served before seven. (When I lived in Singapore and Penang unless we were going out we never ate before seven.). Sorry to say it was not worth waiting for. A piece of steamed fish not much bigger than half the size of a playing card and almost as thin! Two small new potatoes, two stalks of broccoli and few pieces of beetroot. That said the staff were very friendly and the view from the terrace beats just about any other hotel you care to name. There were some steep slopes to navigate down to the Mall, the main shopping area. It was worth it as there was a lot see. It was the getting back up the slopes that proved hard going. It had been a long day so early to bed.
Arriving in Darjeeling, the view from the terrace and yours truly at a tea plantation, with some large mountains in the background!
DAY NINETEEN – 5 November 2022 – English Breakfast it said on the menu. Again meagre portions. Not sure which part of England has mashed potato for breakfast!?
Our guide arrived at 9am. Off we went to see a Tea Plantation in operation. Or so we thought. The workers only work from 5 to 9 on Saturdays. And the few people who were there in the office seem puzzled by our arrival despite the visit being booked. We were not shown around by anyone. And this was backed up by a sign on the wall! There was a small tea tasting ceremony that seemed pointless as they were both Darjeeling from different times of the year.. We wandered into another part of the building to look at the machinery. Our guide was approached by two people we had not seen before. To say they were hostile is too strong a word but they were far from polite. Apparently they were worried we would discover their secret formula! You heard it here first…Rod Pickles Tea Spy! We had a look at a machine separating green and black tea. Then we departed without anyone speaking to us. Not impressed with them given that every other person we have met has been as friendly as you like. We drove round to the far side of the plantation and took some great photographs with the mountains in the background. It was another tick on the ‘bucket list’ for me. Having drunk Darjeeling tea for over forty years it was just great to be where it is grown. And the Himalayas in the background! As the visit had been much shorter than anticipated we had plenty of time before our train left the station. The guide took us to Tibetan Refugee Centre. Sarah had been there over 20 years before when the place was a hive of activity. Sadly it now looks rather forlorn, but for a good reason as a lot of the refugees were given permanent residence in other countries. Whereas the Weaving Shed used to be a busy place there were just two old ladies spinning yarn. Sarah and I spent some money in the shop. It seems the place may close within the next few years and the site put to use by another charity.
Time to catch a train! On our way to the station we stopped off for a cup of tea/coffee and a muffin. One of the great feats of British Victorian engineering was the building of the Darjeeling railway. Confronted by steep hills and little room for manoeuvre the engineers designed a zig-zag system including the Batasia Loop which enabled the engineers to overcome the gradients. Building began back in 1879. There have been various problems since then with the threat of closure thirty years ago. It is now a thriving enterprise and the trip to Ghoom and back was a great experience. Good to hear the clickety-clack of the rails and listen to the steam engine make its way through the narrow streets. Someone on Trip Advisor complained about the noise. The whole point of going on a steam train is the noise that brings back memories of days long ago and far way. Highly recommended.
At the station, All aboard!, Sarah enjoys the railway, not sure what I am pointing at!
A short rest at the hotel then down to the Mall to carry on our search for a Darjeeling mug. We decided not to wait for the 7pm dinner time at the hotel and ate in a restaurant on the Mall. Larger portions! Still no mug! All round it had been another great day, despite the people at the plantation.
And another early night!
DAY TWENTY- 6 November 2022 – One thing about breakfast is the great views of the hills and mountains in the distance. A few cups of Darjeeling and plenty of toast and we were ready to face the day. We were due to leave at 11 so while I read my book on the Terrace Sarah decided on one last walkabout. With thirty minutes left on the clock she finally located a Darjeeling mug!
The car was on time and so began our three hour drive to the airport. Great views of the mountains as we started our descent down the foothills of the Himalayas. On the way we stopped at a lovely place called Margaret’s Deck where we had our final cup of tea in the Darjeeling area. And the shop sold Darjeeling mugs! Just had to buy one. It takes my mug total to 82. Three hours gone and we were back on the hot plains of West Bengal.
Margaret’s Deck – the last cup of Darjeeling in Darjeeling!
A couple of hours wait for the plane and off we flew to Mumbai. A chicken tandoori sandwich was our food supply on the flight. Different! Wheelchair assistance was waiting at Mumbai and our taxi was waiting in the car park. We were back in Sarah’s apartment by 8:30pm.
It was a short visit to Darjeeling but so very memorable. Tomorrow is my last day here. Where has the time gone?
DAY TWENTY-ONE – 7 November 2022 – Sarah long gone to work by the time I opened my eyes. Started rounding up my possessions ready for packing. Went out for one last stroll around the district getting a wave of the hand from the security man as I left the building. Called in at ‘Title Waves’ for lunch. Cheese and Tomato toasties and a strawberry milkshake. Delicious. I shall miss ‘Title Waves.’ Back to the apartment and started packing. Case feels rather heavy but hopefully it is within the limit. Sarah home earlier than usual. For our last night together we decide to return to the ‘Olive’ the restaurant we visited on my first night. A taxi took us there and our table was almost where we sat three weeks ago. I ordered the Sea Bass and it was delicious. Their tiramisu is the best I have ever tasted. And so to bed….
DAY TWENTY-TWO – 8 November 2022 – Up bright and early. Sarah has to work today so she is getting her taxi to drop me off at the airport on her way to school. And there I am once more at Mumbai airport! A hurried goodbye to Sarah, but knowing she will be home for Christmas not too sad.
I check in straight away as there is no queue. Within a few minutes a wheelchair plus driver arrives to take me to the BA Club lounge where I eat my second breakfast of the day. At eight o’clock my wheelchair returns and I am whisked away to the loading gate and am presented at the door of the airbus. Not the double-decker version though. And who should be there to greet me but Minushka!!! You really could not make it up. She remembers me and escorts me to my seat to make sure all is well. Business Class is full but the way it is laid out each passenger has plenty of room. And it most certainly beats ‘Sardine Class!’ We pull off the hub at 8:50 and within a few minutes Mumbai is there below us in blazing sunshine as I say farewell to India. Breakfast is served and that makes number three! Fortunately all of them were fairly small portions. Number three was a very nice omelette freshly cooked. Not many films that take my fancy. I settle for Top Cruise in ‘Top Gun – Maverick.’ It passes the time but is not a film I would have paid to see. Read my book on Richard III by John Ashdown- Hill. Interesting subject and after over 500 years still controversial. We are due to land at Heathrow at 13:15 UK time. But before that lunch. Very nice chicken and trimmings. Endless cups of tea and biscuits are offered during the flight and the cabin staff really do look after us. For the middle part of the flight the lights are dimmed.
Farewell to India
I looked at the travel map on the screen in front of me and saw we have less than an hour to go. Make sure I have all my various bits and pieces back in my bag and as we approach Heathrow a sense of where did those three weeks go takes over. We landed ten minutes early and started to taxi towards our arrival point. We come to a halt on the taxiway. After a few minutes the pilot comes over the speakers and informs us that because we were ten minutes early we do not have a place on the hub. If we were only ten minutes early why then were we stuck on the taxiway for thirty minutes? We get to the hub but only the economy walkway is pushed up to the aircraft. So as I was at the front of the aircraft from being first in the queue to disembark. I am now last.
On leaving the aircraft not a wheelchair in sight. I am told by one of the ground staff to wait at the top of the walkway. After waiting there for ten minutes I gave up and started a slow walk towards baggage reclaim. The aircrew and cabin staff take a different route off the aircraft and so it was that I crossed the junction where the aircrew came out and found Minushka in front of me! She was puzzled to see me and when I told her there was no wheelchair available, she started organising people to chase up the wheelchair. I sat down and waited and it turned out two other people were also waiting for wheelchairs. The Captain of the aircraft appeared and told us he had been on the phone and hopefully the wheelchairs would arrive soon. Well not quite. A Heathrow staff member arrived to say he could not find any spare wheelchairs! Back went the Captain to make another phone call. At just after 2:30 my wheelchair arrived. And who should be pushing it but five foot two Jenny! And so to baggage reclaim.
It was now 2:50. My train would be leaving Paddington at 16:04 (Don’t ask!) No baggage had been removed from the aircraft. All those who rushed ahead of me were waiting around the carousel and across the other side there was Menushka and her friends. I shouted a thankyou to her. At around three o’clock I finally recovered my case and Jenny pushed me towards the Heathrow Express. An hour to go; plenty of time? Another five- pound tip for Jenny and a young member of staff loaded my case on the train.
And we waited. An announcement told us this was the ‘Heathrow Express calling at Heathrow Central and London Paddington.’ Five minutes later the announcement was repeated. The train was getting rather crowded. It was now 3:25 and I was starting to get worried. Five minutes later the driver of the train announces there is a problem and she will have to do an electrical reset. This means the lights will go on and off and the doors close and open but we must not worry! Easy for her to say! Finally, at 3:35 the train pulls out of Terminal Five and heads for London Paddington. But first it has to stop at Heathrow Central. It is two minutes to four and I can feel the train slowing down as we approach Paddington. I barge my way to the door area so I will be among the first to get off. At 16:02 we come to a stop on Platform 5 and out I tumble with help from a Japanese lad who heaves my case off for me.
I cannot go too fast but I do my best as an announcement tells me the Plymouth train is on Platform 4 and just about to leave. There is a massive queue at the ticket barrier, Platform Four is to my right. I give the barrier a miss and duck under the black and yellow tape. As I come on to Platform 4 the guard has raised his right hand. However, there is a door open and the young lad just about to board sees me waving my walking stick and runs towards me yelling at the guard at the same time. The guard keeps his hand high above his head not yet releasing the driver. The young lad grabs my case and tells me to get through the door. He follows me in heaving the case ahead of him. The guard blows his whistle and jumps on board. The 16:04 to Penzance hauls out of London Paddington. Whew!
The young lad (he looks about 12) is called Freddie and is the Restaurant Manager for the First Class carriages. It transpires the seat I booked is in the next coach along. Freddie sees me to my seat and stows my case. The guard passes by and I apologise for holding up the train. ‘No problem,’ he replies, ‘We left on time.’ Freddie comes round serving complimentary food and drink. A hot chocolate and a piece of fruitcake calm my shredded nerves! I feel hotter than I ever did in India! Have a good chat with Freddie throughout the journey and soon we are coming to a stop at Ivybridge station. There is a first time for everything! I text my grandson to let him know we are on time and will arrive at 7:20. And we do!
He takes me first to see my daughter Alison (his Mum!) whose birthday it is today. I hand over her birthday presents and her India presents and it is time to go home. I am out on my feet. Ash unloads the case and carries it into the house and makes sure I am settled in. It has been a long day and a very fraught afternoon! Sleep comes easy. I awake the following morning to see the proof that I am back in wet and windy England! My journey is over.
The Summing Up: Where do I start? The trip exceeded my expectations by a million miles. The sights, the sounds, the friendliness, the vibrant life of the towns and cities, the colour, the noise, the smells of food, incense and flowers intermingling.The tuk tuks, the mad drivers. What word could I use to describe it all?
Kaleidoscope is the best I can do.
There have been so many great sights but top of the list would have to be the Taj Mahal. It is an amazing building and seeing it at sunrise and beyond was a magical experience. Just behind in a very close second place is the Himalayas. The setting as a backdrop to Darjeeling was astonishing. The mountains are over eighty miles away yet so large are they that they look enormous even at that distance. They were never on my bucket list but have achieved a retrospective place! I loved Darjeeling for its hustle and bustle and the sight of a train running alongside the shops! But my favourite place has to be Udaipur. Our hotel was just in the right place to enjoy this city. The view from the breakfast terrace at the hotel. Our trip to the Lake Hotel for dinner, the City Palace, the boat trip on the lake. Enchanting.
I have probably seen less than half of Mumbai but enjoyed Sarah’s local area and the two tours I had of the city. Three weeks have never gone so fast. BA were fine until they landed at Heathrow when everything went pear shaped! The cabin staff were great on both trips. The greatest praise I can give is I would do it all again. Many thanks to Emma Horne Travel of Delhi for providing the itinerary, booking the hotels and providing the guides and driver who were all most polite and helpful.
To end I can give nothing but the highest praise to my daughter Sarah. Her organisation, her relentless energy and her enthusiasm have helped make it a memorable holiday. Without her I would have found myself stranded at certain times.
I commend India to you. It is a place well worth visiting.
And finally, a word from Sarah…..
I feel so lucky and blessed that Dad could come out and visit, see where I live, share some of my favourite parts of India and finally see this amazing country for himself. Dad had always wanted to come to India but hadn’t because Mum had never wanted to come, too worried about witnessing the poverty. I was very thankful that I could finally make Dad’s dream come true. We had an extremely special holiday and created some unforgettable memories. Between Diwali, Dad’s birthday and my birthday, we really had a special celebratory week. We were so fortunate with the weather – when I was in Darjeeling in 1995 all I saw was mist and fog, no mountains! It also wasn’t too hot. (If you think that was hot Dad, come back in April!)
I was worried about the heat, about all those steep steps in the forts and palaces, but Dad was amazing and was so resilient, doing his best and also knowing his limits (those hills in Darjeeling really were steep!) India is an incredible country and so worth at least one visit in your lifetime, if not more! I feel so lucky to call India my current home and have so many fantastic and diverse places to visit and such warm people to meet.
Thanks for coming Dad! So glad you had an amazing time!
P.S. Udaipur is my favourite place too!