Dear Friends and Colleagues September 10, 2021
I trust that in spite of the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, you all have had a good summer. And, to my friends living south of the equator; I’m sure you must be looking forward to the upcoming spring and summer months. If you are wondering why you did not receive this letter last week as per schedule, it’s only because I took time off on Friday and made my last long-weekend holiday of summer 2021 an even longer one!
We all have our favourite memories of summer, past and present, and over the years of travelling around the globe, I find it hard to select from the very many that I have had the good fortune to gather. However there are a couple of incidents that stand out more than others.
Back in 1988, I had the pleasure of escorting a small group to India & Nepal. Following a spiritually enlightening visit to India’s holiest city Varanasi (Banaras), we flew to Kathmandu to spend a week in Nepal, and to this day, Kathmandu remains my most favourite city in the world. On the third day of our visit we set off early in the morning (at 4:00am!) for our drive to the small town of Dhulikhel. It was almost 5:30 when we arrived and climbed up to the viewing platform at the shrine of the goddess Kali. Although we were in the summer month of April in Nepal, I have vivid memories of that morning being in 9⁰C (48⁰F), bundled up in a woolen blanket, sipping hot spiced Nepali tea from a glass and my eyes glued towards the far horizon. Witnessing that sun rise over the spectacular Himalayan mountain range is etched in my memory forever and it probably is one of my most memorable moments in all my travels. If you haven’t been to Nepal, please add Kathmandu, Dhulikhel and Nagarkot to your bucket-list. It’s an experience you should definitely not miss.
I am a product of ‘boarding school’ having had to spend school years away from home. Back in the 60’s, boarding schools had a reputation for discipline and rigorous routines, but it was also fun and great camaraderie. Our school-years began late-June and ended in March. Officially, March in India is still spring weather, but the summer heat is prevalent everywhere and temperatures could easily reach 30⁰C (85⁰F) in heavily populated cities. I distinctly remember finishing Grade 11 in 1967 with a momentous train journey from Poona to Bombay to Delhi to Agra. Three young schoolmates in their teens were riding the rails with nary a worry in the world! India’s railway network is massive and travelling on trains in India is not just a journey, it’s an experience, especially when you travel third-class! The people we met in those crowded compartments and the conversations we had in various dialects were simply beyond words. Just about every dialect spoken in the country is on the trains and the stops we made en-route were special, made famous by the food specialities they serve from their little trolleys on the station platforms. I remember sampling everything from pao-bhaji to kanda-poha to channa-chat to chutney-sandwiches, to vada-pao to chhole-bhature and sliced-n-spiced fresh cucumbers. Even had the delicious gulab-jamun, ladoo, sweetest alphonso mangoes, and of course the famous custard apples. We would buy tea, almost at every station and almost always served to us in dainty little ‘matki’ - earthen clay containers. The fun of drinking tea from the little matki to the very last drop, then to toss the matki out the window on to the fields to see them explode into pieces as the train chugged its way toward the next station. Indeed, those were the good ol’ memories!
That trip to Agra was my first ever experience of the Taj Mahal. You may see a thousand photographs of this mausoleum, but let me assure you that standing in front of this marvellous wonder of wonders is bound to take your breath away. Nothing prepares you for that first sight as you enter through the Darwaza-i-rauza, known as the Great Gate and indeed, nothing prepared me for the sight of my life, as there she stood in all its magnificence and glory, a stunning beauty in white marble that apparently took 20 years to build. The beauty of the building combined with the colour combination of the surrounding landscapes is a delight to admire in ever-changing tints and moods. I simply did not want to leave.
And then there’s one that occurred in September of 1991. I was staying at a luxury camp in the Masai Mara, and following my routine of taking a dip in the pool, one early morning as I got ready to take the plunge, I find that a wild hippo had beaten me to it. He was happily wading water. My scream must have alerted the staff as the scramble was on to get this 3-ton semiaquatic mammal out of the pool and back to his native river. A team of naturalists administered heavy tranquilizers, and a heavy-duty crane eventually lifted him out, safely wrapped in strong tarpaulin sheets. What I also remember was the sadness of having missed my breakfast that morning!
Until next time