Back in India for the thirty-eighth time, this trip was a rarity as I had company for all of it. Very good company, too, with my Irish friends, Patricia Monaghan and Mary Magee, and we will be going next year to Peru so this trip will be my last to India for a while. There's a little bit of a story about the three of us which I must recount to set the scene. Mary told me that Pat was "pea green with envy" at the amount I travel so we have now called ourselves the Pea Greens or, as it later became, the Green Peas. Mary considered herself worthy of PG1 status, Pat is PG2 and I am at the bottom of the heap, PG3 except when I am trying to take charge at airports etc when Mary drops to the bottom. So, this would be the second Green Pea trip after our visit to India a year ago for another wedding.

The raison d'etre of this trip was to attend another Indian wedding, my third. We are all very lucky to receive such invitations and, once again, our friend, Rajesh Kumar, extended invitations to all of us for the marriage of his daughter, Anshu, to Varun.

Pat and Mary left from Dublin and we all met up at Dubai where, in between quite a long transfer, we went into the city and visited the Burj Khalifa, the world's highest building and a sure recipe for a stiff neck. I had forgotten that, as our arrival day was a Friday, the metro does not start until 1pm so we took a bus there and taxi back before our onward flight to Delhi. Everything went quite smoothly but the first of the three marriage functions was the same evening but fortunately for us, close to the International Airport. Even so, let's just say that our arrival, although by no means late, was still on Indian Standard Time!
We were more formally dressed in western style having had to travel for the previous seventeen or so hours but, once again, this Sagan event the exchange of rings was a lavish event and, as always, the array of colours was breathtaking. After a sleepless night on the plane, I was pleased to finally have a good night's sleep after reaching our hotel in Paschim Vihar, the Neptune Residency, and slept through the alarm a few hours later.

Oh God, Pat and Mary had warned me of the perils of travelling with two ladies. Shopping... I claimed that I would ask for a nice, comfortable chair in the Shoppers Stop department store but Mary asked on my behalf before I had a chance and a somewhat bemused employee wondered what on earth was going on. I said that I'm a bloke, had no interest in shopping and felt happier sitting down but am happy to admit that I didn't actually use the chair and enjoyed shopping myself. Of the window variety, of course but, as I shan't be back in India for a while, I bought a lot of presents and essentials which I always bring back. It does put a premium on packing on some flights, though.

Saturday evening was free but we enjoyed some excellent food and entertainment in a Paschim Vihar street restaurant, Punjabi Zaika, who we can class as friends. More shopping on my part on Sunday followed before the evening event close to our hotel which celebrated Mehendi ki Raat. I suppose that I had my come-uppance having joked earlier in the day to Rajesh that we had arranged a horse to take Anshu to the wedding. For a moment, his face showed horror as it is the groom who goes by horse not the bride. Anyway, Mehendi is where the ladies have their arms and legs "tattoed" with henna so Rajesh asked if I would be up for it. I thought it odd thinking that it was just for women but agreed in principle if Rajesh went along with it also. Like Rajesh, I had fallen for his jape but sat out the evening without going close to the Mehendi artists.

Back to our western ways, we arrived at 7.30pm for the invitation's start time of 7.30pm and were a bit surprised to be the first there. Most people arrived at around 9.30pm to 10pm so I did have rather a lot of Mountain Dew before the evening was out but, again, it was a colourful event.
The Green Peas went straight to the Ring Ceremony after arriving in Delhi Mary after Mehendi
The Green Peas after eventually arriving at the wedding
At Varun and Anschu's wedding
Nepal's main cricket ground at Kirtipur
Our cottage accommodation at Jungle World Resort, Chitwan National Park
Sauraha sunset, Chitwan National Park
If not exactly on the high seas at Chitwan, we were impressed that the ferryman had time to make a call...
The main wedding was, unfortunately for us, a little disappointing as, due to a load of traffic, the thirty-kilometer journey to the venue, took around two and a half hours and we only arrived at 11.20pm. It must have been an auspicious day to be married as we heard that there were a staggering twenty-thousand marriages in Delhi that day. Naturally, we would have loved longer and, although it was a rush, it was lovely to see old friends and join in the celebrations. Varun and Anshu looked wonderful, the colours fantastic once again and the food superb. I guess that Anshu didn't come by horse but it could have been quicker for us! We enjoyed dressing up in traditional Indian costume and I hope looked the part. When we did finally arrive, we were put in the tented area which had played host to the marriage rituals: one doesn't like to suggest that it was an onerous marriage and I say it as a joke but we were a bit perturbed to find, on our arrival, the priest crashed out and fast asleep! It was a long evening and short night as we were only back at the Neptune at 2am and had to leave at 7.45am for the airport for our flight to Kathmandu. The taxi was also late to add to the frustration but we made it comfortably enough.

The Indigo flight was fine and, had I remembered, I might have asked for seats on the left-hand side of the plane as those sitting there had decent views of Everest. Pat and Mary's first impression of Nepal might not have been favourable but, as I soon learnt, not much bothers them which makes them such excellent companions. I had that sinking feeling when the car from the hotel we were due to stay at, the Blue Horizon, wasn't there. Someone called the hotel and they did collect us but, when they thought that they were collecting someone else, I thought that our chances were slim of finding our reservations intact. I was right. Anyway, rooms were found for us in two other hotels close by and it was far from being a problem and we went out shopping. Well, I ought to say that the one shopping was the one who had made such a fuss about it but, being honest, I enjoy it as everything is cheap and it's quite fun to haggle!

Last year when I stayed in the Blue Horizon which, incidentally, is a very nice place and in which the following day we were all accommodated, I had used the services of a Gobinda Shrestha, who drove me around at a very reasonable price and carefully. Gobinda's brother works in the Blue Horizon and, when I knew that we would be returning to the Blue Horizon, I asked if Gobinda would take us around. He did and it was a pleasure to see him again as he is a gentle man and gentleman, safe driver and tells us about places which we were passing. His card says that he is Nepali, a driver, a guide and a friend and it couldn't be more accurate.
Gobinda took us to the Nepal international cricket ground at Kirtipur in the afternoon and it was a treat. ( I was happy to tell Gobinda that I got it wrong last year. I had asked him to take me to the ground which is called the Tribhuvan University Ground thinking that, as the airport is also called Tribhuvan, it must be close by. As we were going in another direction, Gobinda said that it was quite a way from the airport but I suspected that he didn't want to go there! I was completely wrong). There was a game on and the Nepalis and there may have been one or two of the national side playing were most welcoming and we spent a lovely half hour there. Within the University campus and with mountains in the background, this simple ground is captivating.

Having had two nights in Kathmandu, we moved on by Greenline Tours bus to Chitwan National Park. The journey is long but there is an included early lunch available en route which, like last year when I went to Pokhara, was excellent. The road condition to Sauraha was appalling: my knee hasn't been ideal since a steep walk in Switzerland in August and, to alleviate the discomfort, I sat in the back seat so that I could stretch my leg but maybe the suspension at the back of these coaches leaves a lot to be desired. Anyway, the following day in the jungle, the paths there were better than this main road.

We stayed at the Jungle World Resort which was wonderful. Met at the bus park, we took an adjoining cottage with two separate rooms and, whilst basic, were very comfortable and I found a novel way of having cold beer without a fridge. A cupboard in front of the air-conditioning unit did the trick perfectly. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and, set in its own area, the place was most tranquil. I had been in touch with the hotel about arranging a jeep safari and Anish Sapkota had been most helpful also. Although the cost of the jeep was quite expensive for the three of us to hire it meant having seven spare seats Anish nonetheless came along with us the next day and gave us information as he is also a certified guide.
The joys of Nepali roads



Wonderful sunset at Nagarkot



A glimpse of the Himalayas whilst the cloud briefly lifted at Nagarkot



Our friendly taxi driver, Gobinda Shrestra: a gentle man and gentleman



The Green Peas with Oasis Bhaju, owner of the End of the Universe Hotel, Nagarkot
Oh dear, I learnt a lesson one evening whilst trying to talk to my mum over Skype. It was quite an epic getting a connection in most places but, when it did work, the connection was so intermittent that we got hardly anywhere and certainly not quickly and my behaviour became fractious and my language, well, not good. I don't know whether it was worse finding out that my mum, unbeknown to me, actually heard all the profanities or whether it was hearing the Green Peas singing from within their cottage. They were horrified to hear that I could hear, being pretty deaf I was amazed that I could hear and whether a shared bottle of beer for them over dinner caused them to sing for around two and a half hours, I don't know but it did teach me that laughter or singing can be the best remedy. Maybe they had heard of some new talent contest?

We went our separate ways the following morning: Mary on an elephant, Pat on a canoe and I stayed in until the afternoon and got jumpy over what I considered the biggest ever wasp that I'd seen. I had someone move it but it steadfastly refused to move far away presumably lapping up the sun and re-appeared in the evening much to my distress. Early-morning wake-up calls had been offered and, when I mischievously asked for one, was told that I wasn't leaving until the afternoon so, reading between the lines, was told politely to sod off... Mary and I went off to the jungle in a jeep and, whilst we didn't see too much, Anish proved to be excellently informed and made the afternoon entertaining. Canoes were required to ferry people over a small stretch of water and, for those a little dubious on their feet, it made concentration recommended especially as there was usually quite a captive audience waiting to be ferried across or back.

We moved back to Kathmandu the next day by Greenline and were back slightly later than scheduled to find the ever-efficient Gobinda waiting for us. He got us up to Nagarkot, the scene of the most magical Himalayan mountain views, just in time to take some photos of the wonderful sunset before taking us to the pricelessly named End of the Universe hotel. I suppose it's not named for those contemplating self-mutilation or worse but it is the most remarkable place with a series of different style rooms and cottages set on a basically very large embankment. We had chosen more expensive rooms around 10 to 12! with views of the Langtang stretch of the Himalayas. Frankly, I hadn't expected that much reckoning that there must be obstructions in the way of the mountains but was delighted that I did have an uninterrupted view from my bed. Wonderful: lie in the bed, draw back the curtains and there you go... The only shame was that the next morning it was cloudy...

The End of the Universe has a nice, cosy restaurant and the owner, the very affable and pleasant Oasis Bhaju, played the drums whilst his children sang along. Yes, we would have loved longer there but it was a treat staying there albeit for one night. Gobinda returned and took us to the tower at the top of Nagarkot but disappointingly the cloud hadn't lifted and, although we did get glimpses of the magnificent Himalayas, it wasn't anything like the magnificent views which I had enjoyed last year. It happens in the mountains. Other than someone lying in the road briefly and blocking our downward route, we had a decent journey back to Kathmandu where I was deposited at the airport and Mary and Pat to the Blue Horizon for some, I suspect, serious shopping.

I had forgotten how grim I had found Kathmandu Airport last year and it was quite an epic even getting into the terminal. There were long queues and, although safety is naturally and understandably paramount, I have been through easier and friendlier airports. I tried for a window seat with the mountain view and, despite the efforts of three staff, I got one and an emergency exit at that but could have screamed when they gave me seat A rather than F which I had asked for. I could see how magnificent the views were. The cloud had also lifted.

In Delhi again for the last twenty-four hours, everything went very smoothly. Back in the Neptune at 5pm, it was like the old times with Rajesh watching cricket and having a beer which was something I had missed for almost two years due to his busy schedule with his offspring's marriages during my last two visits. He managed to commandeer my room the following day until 5pm which was excellent news: my flight wasn't until 9.20pm and I didn't really fancy having to check out at midday, have a long wait and then travel for several hours before going back into the office within hours of my arrival. Not ideal but I had run out of holiday time but at least had managed to keep enough time for a long weekend in Slovenia at the end of November so it was worthwhile.

As it happened, I turned up at Heathrow comparatively fresh and, after a couple of hours kip, went into the office and didn't wilt really. Mind you, it was with some relief when 5.30pm came...

So, next year, Peru and possibly Iceland beckon for the Green Peas and plans are most definitely afoot after this excellent trip.