Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Monday, 30 March 2015

An Audience With His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

How does that song go.......?

Oh what a day. We were up at 6.45am and skipped breakfast to make our way next door to the Dalai Lama Temple for our audience with him today.

Our guide yesterday arranged everything for us, taking us to the security office to have our screening completed and our details logged on to computer before our audience permit was issued.

We were told that we could not take possessions other than a wallet and our passport. No bags, no phones, no cameras, absolutely nothing else. This would be double checked at security within the temple today. It was and security was indeed very tight, involving frisking and electronic detectors. Once in the building, it was a wait of about two hours, but then things started to happen quickly.

His Holiness spoke to me, shook my hand, and then held Jill's hand throughout, while a photograph to record this ever more rare event was taken. He then gave a talk of an hour's duration about his philosophy.

Images of today can be viewed at later today, although ours can be seen right here.

Tomorrow we have to be ready to leave by 9.00 am as our driver will collect us for the 8 hour road trip to our next destination, Shimla.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

McLeod Ganj

I have to admit that my own first impressions of this place yesterday were not too good, although Margaret and Jillian did not agree. Perhaps it was that our hotel, although described as the best in the area, is what you might also call "rustic". It is Tibetan, run by Tibetans and an overnight stay has shown me it is spotlessly clean and very friendly. A hiccup with the air conditioning has now also been fixed - a flat battery in the remote control. So all is now good. The area can also be described as "backpacker" in the mountains.

Ravi, our guide for here collected us at 10 am, and although Sunday, with most places closed, we managed a fabulous day, which included an amazing discovery. His knowledge of the area was excellent.

We visited the Protestant Church of St. John in the Wilderness, only to find it is the burial place and memorial of a distant relative of mine, James Bruce, Viceroy of India in 1863. (He is the grand uncle of the husband of my 3rd cousin once removed) or, as I prefer the brother of the great grandfather of the elderly lady we visit regularly in West Sussex, Thomas Charles Bruce. She is my fourth cousin. I hold the last will and testament of the Dowager Countess as well as many legal documents relating to the transfer and management of land on her death. When the guide found this out the information went around the church elders who were present for the Sunday service and we were made very welcome.

Another event today, which resulted from our visit to the Temple of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, which is just next door to our hotel, is that we have been granted an audience with him tomorrow! How good is that! Here is the document to prove it.

More images of the area....

Saturday, 28 March 2015

A Good Journey To McLeod Ganj

After breakfast we met our driver as arranged in the hotel lobby at 8.45 am and started our road trip towards Dharamshala.

It was by no means as hair raising as some of the road trips across India we have done in the past.

We left the Punjab at around 11.00 am and entered Himachal Pradesh on our way to our destination today, the Chonor House Hotel at McLeod Ganj, just further into the mountains than Dharamshala.

We called at a very respectable hotel en-route for a break.

Before climbing towards the Himalayas where there was now evidence of snow. Consequently the climate here at present is pleasantly mild.

Passing through the centre of Dharamshala....

Before our final destination of McLeod Ganj...

We are out of town further uphill.

The view from the room...I found these two on the balcony.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Our Final Day In Amritsar.

We arrived in the hotel lobby after breakfast at 8.30 am as arranged with Shivam last night and he was already waiting for us. Our driver was summoned as we left the coolness of the hotel to the already warm sunshine, and he appeared almost immediately from our right. In more normal circumstances this would be of no concern except our hotel here is located on a busy one way city street with the traffic flowing from left to right. This of course is quite normal in India, and we have driven on unfinished motorways, through red lights and on the wrong side of dual carriageways in the past. There appear to be no enforced rules of the road, it's every man for himself. Tomorrow should be interesting as we have a five hour road trip through rural India and mountain regions once again when said driver will collect us at 9.00 am to take us to our next destination, Dharamshala in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Our first call today was to Jallianwala Bagh, an enclosed square within the old town which was the scene of a massacre at the hands of the British Army officer in charge, General Reginald Dyer in 1919. A curfew had recently been applied under new legislation, and this was ignored by the local population who chose to undertake a peaceful meeting within the square on the day of a public holiday. Without any warning to disperse Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on the crowd, firing in excess of 1600 rounds into the crowd until no one was left standing. Many tried to take cover in a well, but none survived due to crushing at the bottom. There were thousands of innocent people killed and injured on that day, and although Dyer was removed from his post and returned to England, the case was the subject of an official cover up, (nothing new there then). Dyer was eventually killed in London in the 1940's by a survivor of the massacre, a young child at the time, who had vowed vengeance. He was himself executed for the murder, under British law of the time, but is now seen here as a martyr. Luckily the Indian people are forgiving and we walked around freely today, although just as popular as we were last night. The square is now a park with a monument to those killed. Bullet holes in the surrounding walls have been highlighted.

From there it was to the Temple again, where Shivam's presence allowed us an access all areas pass to witness the areas where an average of 50,000 people a day are fed free of charge during weekdays, rising to 100,000 a day over weekends. This has been run by volunteers for the last 200 years, every day, 24/7. We too were offered food but if we did not want to partake we were advised to simply place our hands together and smile, the polite way to say "no thanks".

We returned to our hotel at 10.30 am for a welcome rest, before Shivam collected us again at 3.00 pm to be taken to witness the nightly ritual border closing between India and Pakistan at Wagha. Passports are required here, which allow us as foreigners the privalige of VIP seats. No bags are allowed either, so travel light to this event which attracts daily crowds akin to a Premier League football match at home.

See you on the other side of our road trip tomorrow. That was another very special day.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

That Was A Busy Day!

Getting to bed at around 3.00 am after arriving at the first hotel, we were up again for breakfast at around 8.30am.

We had the whole of today to ourselves, so off we went once refreshed, for a walk around the locality.

First, an image from the hotel roof terrace. Two elephants can be seen working for their living amongst the busy traffic.

Then it was off for our walk, re-learning the skills required to cross the roads and arrive at the other side, rather than in hospital or worse.

Once we had remembered how to do this - it is just a matter of walking into the traffic with your hand up, weaving around the vehicles and hoping they stop, (although don't attempt this in front of local buses as they tend to have no working brakes)!

We decided to walk around the block, before returning to the hotel for some more rest and a cool down - the weather is hot and sunny.

Here is another contender for the Amritsar branch of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel...

Again an old colonial building, now in ruins and just abandoned, that once must have been a spectacular property.

After our afternoon siesta we chose to eat out. We looked at the Lonely Planet website and found that one of the very best rated restaurants in the area was just down the road. A short walk brought us a welcome greeting from the friendly door staff. We ordered authentic Indian chicken curries, with rice and garlic naan and the reviews lived up to their name. We followed our main course with the house speciality, hot sizzling chocolate brownie with ice cream. A spactacular hot plate arrived at the table which true to its description, sizzled violently when the hot sauce was poured on. Delicious, although the image doesn't do the real thing justice, particularly as I almost forgot to take it and missed the best bit.

The ladies had sweet fresh lime sodas to complete their meal, while I treated myself to two Kingfisher Premium beers. The total cost of all this, for the three of us? The equivalent of £20 all in!

After tea, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our evening tour to the nightly ceremony at the Golden Temple. Right on cue our guide turned up in the foyer and introduced himself. As we walked out he summoned our driver, and off we went. We drove through the old walled town before arriving at the Temple where Shivam explained what would happen, and all the history behind the Sikh Religion. We were not expecting the spectacle of the evening, but I will let the images tell their own story.

One thing that struck us about our visit tonight is that we were treated like Royalty by the locals. Every time we stopped for a briefing from our guide a large crowd gathered around us, children touching us and parents asking if they could take photographs of us with their children and relatives. Our guide told us we were an unusual feature of the evening, just as much a spectacle to them, as their Temple was to us, as not many Westerners are usually seen in the area, even though it is such a tourist destination. We were certainly the only ones there tonight. A very strange feeling, but pleasurable just the same.

If my memory serves me correctly the Sikh religion was founded in 1606, and this has been going on nightly ever since. Without going into too much detail, it is a ceremony to put the holy book, or Guru away for the night. The Temple itself is constructed of white marble and inlaid with coloured floral designs in much the same way as the Taj Mahal in Agra, (which incidentally is a mausoleum not a temple). However, the walls here were later clad in spectularly embossed copper, to replicate the designs it was to cover, which was then covered in 93.5 kg of real gold leaf. The effect is stunning, especially when floodlit. All aspects of the temple are meticulously cleaned daily by volunteers. The Temple is open 24/7 and also provides daily cooked food, free of charge, for anybody who requests it.

Tomorrow will be another full day with the same guide and driver, commencing at 8.30 am, immediately after breakfast - which for me today was eggs and toast, yoghurt, fruit juice and coffee. I might partake in the "full English" tomorrow if it is to be such a busy day again, (a full selection of breakfast curries are available too).

Our First Few Days In India

The journey here went like clockwork, leaving Manchester at 8.00am on Wednesday morning, travelling to Doha on a Qatar A330. Our daughter departed Heathrow, London at the same time, and we all met up at departure gate B7 to fly on to Amritsar.

Once cleared through customs, and by now around 1.45am local time we walked out of the terminal building to be met by a representative of our travel agent in India and his driver. Our luggage was placed into the back of the ubiquous 7 seater Toyota Innova that is so often used for tourism transport in India, and off we went on the 20 minute journey to our hotel, the Country Inn and Suites by Carlson.

After check-in it was off to bed at 3.00am, with breakfast scheduled between 7.30 and 10.30am the next day.

This is the view from the hotel window, a beautiful colonial style house, with a date stone from 1932 over the front entrance, and as in many cases throughout India, in need of a little TLC. Could it be the next Super Marigold Hotel I wonder.

Today we are free to roam the locality ourselves before being collected by our driver and guide this evening to witness the nightly religious ceremony at the Golden Temple. Tomorrow our guide will collect us after breakfast for a city tour, and a daytime visit to the Golden Temple followed by the Wagga Border closing ceremony in the evening, and then off to Dharamshala for the next leg of our trip the day after. My next post should include details of our activities while here in Amritsar.