My thirty-sixth trip to India also included, at the beginning, my first to Nepal in what turned out to be another memorable visit.

After another extremely nice flight from Gatwick to Dubai with Emirates, I took a Flydubai flight to Kathmandu which was helped by Emirates checking my bag through from Gatwick to Kathmandu. The onward flight was fine and on time although the captain’s somewhat alarming words that there might be turbulence which never helped at an airport such as Kathmandu didn’t help and, in a way, I was happy that I could see nothing when we landed as it was already dark.

The Blue Horizon Hotel in Kathmandu seems to be a well-known place and, after they kindly collected me, they also gave me an upgraded room which, as I later found out, was terrific as the wi-fi worked better in this room than it later did in a lesser room. I should add here that a new tablet pc had threatened to cause chaos between my mother and me as I had hoped to call her using Skype from this tablet without ever being hopeful that we would manage it. In the event, she did brilliantly and the only hitches which we encountered came through the woeful lack of electricity in Nepal usually for several hours in the afternoon/evening. For us to cope with Skype so successfully was an achievement of seismic proportions!
My friends, Karen and Paul Rolfe, who had spent their honeymoon in Nepal and India, had suggested the Pashupatinath and Boudhanath Stupa as excellent places to visit and very correct they were too. At Pashupatinath, the largest Hindu complex in Kathmandu, I had dutifully taken off my shoes before advancing to the temple only to be told that there was no reason to do so because, as a non Hindu, I wasn’t even allowed in. Boudhanath, the largest stupa in Kathmandu, was a remarkable place: the famous picture postcard site of Kathmandu with the Buddha’s eyes obvious from all directions, this area housed this stupendous stupa as well as many shops encompassing this big area. Another awesome sight was Durbar Square, home to many temples and birds. Yes, as a tourist spot, a lot of hassle also but, if I am to take one memory away of Nepal, it was that the Nepali people wanted, in the main, to make conversation without any favours being asked at the end...

I continued on to Pokhara by Greenline buses whose depot was extremely convenient for an early morning departure from the Blue Horizon. The bus was comfortable and the US$20 single journey included an excellent early lunch at a hotel in the beautiful surroundings of part of the Chitwan National Park.

The Lakeside area of Pokhara is, well, geared up for tourists and so it’s best to expect a fair deal of attention. I was a bit surprised to be asked what price I wanted to pay for a bottle of beer and the shop owner was a bit confused also when I asked to pay the going rate... I stayed at the excellent Noble Inn: friendly people who again picked me up and terrific views from my room and the top floor of the famous Fish Tail mountain, Machhupuchhare.

Lake Fewa was a delight with fantastic views and I mostly enjoyed a four hour walk around the lake until my woeful sense of direction reared its head again and I ended up in two homes where the surprised families welcomed me but the resident dog didn’t. I was forced back towards the first house where, somewhat humiliatingly, a little boy of probably no more than five years of age, calmly told the dog to desist so that I could continue my walk. I met another one later on whilst being in the wrong area still having traipsed over a family’s field and, after the four hours, ran out of path so had to take a boat back to Pokhara. It’s fair to say that the first part of the journey was the less fraught.
Pashupatinah Temple, Kathmandu
Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Pashupatinah Temple, Kathmandu
Lake Fewa with the Annapurna mountain range, Pokhara
Machhupuchhare at sunrise
Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu
My £9 accommodation in Nagarkot
The spectacular Himalayan mountain range at Nagarkot
My return to Kathmandu saw a busier Greenline bus and some fantastic views of the Annapurna range of mountains. Arrival into Kathmandu was at a different bus stop from the departure but still close to the Blue Horizon. I moved on the next day to Nagarkot after the usual bargaining over the taxi fare but I was satisfied with the price as I combined Boudhanath with the thirty kilometre ride to Nagarkot, famous for its awesome vista of the Himalayan skyline which includes, in the distance, Mount Everest.

I stayed at the rustic and very peaceful Sherpa Alpine Cottages and took a cottage there – eventually. It was a shame to have to wait for my cottage for five and a half hours after being told that I would have to wait until the previous incumbents had moved out. It became so long that I had to ask for an interim room and, when I did finally get in to the room, it was one which hadn’t been used by the late departing guests! Further fun was that, by this time, it was dusk and the usual problem of electricity had taken hold so I was reduced to candles. I may also have had the lovers’ cottage if the scrawlings on the wall were anything to go by. Whether real, imagined or plain bravado, they made interesting reading with one example being “ 8 month’s (sic) anniversary, 1st day of our marriage, N we reached our 319 times of making love”. One poor soul didn’t get that far as due to “my foot fetish, I couldn’t stop vomitting” (sic), whilst another unfortunate person, Baba, presumably according to an acquaintance, “loves Kanchu” but, “Kanchu doesn’t love Baba”. I got the impression that, however cold Nagarkot was at night, I had a better night’s kip than previous inhabitants...

I flew to Delhi the following day with SpiceJet and everything went smoothly so that I was in the Neptune Residency at Paschim Vihar an hour and a half after arrival which was very good considering the journey is 20 odd kilometres and still in the rush hour. The main reason for coming so early in the year was to go to the Republic Day celebrations which had long been a dream which had until now not become a reality.

It most certainly didn’t disappoint either. Reliving India’s independence in 1950, a great show of the military marching from the Government Buildings to India Gate – my favourite area of India – along with bands, outfits depicting various states and a commentary with stirring words made it an atmosphere to savour. The commentary was understandably biased towards the great Indian nation and why not? The British may do pomp and ceremony brilliantly but this event would easily match anything we can produce. We? As a Britisher with Indian cousins, I love India but, despite my connections and, I had liked to think, my many Indian friends, there’s no way that the Embassy will give me a long term visa: as they told me, I need to be a fully-fledged Indian so I can still only obtain a six month tourist visa. Anyway, I digress: I loved it and it was a remarkable ceremony. A real tour de force, rockets and missiles were proudly paraded; camels hosted one band and the sheer colours and decorations of some of the participating bands and military were fantastic. The King of Bhutan, the world’s youngest king, was the chief guest of honour. I am in no way deprecating the event but I shall forever remember the chap at the end deputed to clean up after the camels... Sadly, photography was not allowed and the vast majority of people obeyed this but the memories will live long with me. There were plenty of white faces and I would highly recommend anyone and everyone to attend. The most expensive ticket is Rs300 ( just over £3) which become available two weeks before the parade from various places in Delhi.
Rajesh had wanted to go to Dharamsala so I gladly agreed to go and we had an excellent time. My first journey in the AC three tier train carriage was better than I had expected partly as the three berths were in the larger portion of the carriage and I had a side upper which was one of only two on the side which was more comfortable. We continued on by rickety bus to Dharamsala and a word of advice here: if possible, try not to sit at the back of the bus as, when it does get up to or over 40mph, the suspension tends not to be great and a peaceful slumber can quite quickly become distinctly uncomfortable. Breakfast or at least something to eat is also recommended. We put up in the friendly and comfortable Pong View Hotel: it’s not ideally situated being between Dharamsala and Mcleodganj but the views from my room over Dharamsala were terrific.
India's trophy at Dharamsala after beating England 3-2 in the ODI series
Rajesh and I within the Dharamsala cricket pavilion
The highly impressive Dharamsala cricket ground
Some might say that we were foolish to miss Dharamsala’s first international match by just two days but, as Rajesh had to cover the match for various media outlets, he had realistically to work from home. Tickets might also not have been easy to arrange. He did, however, ask to see the man in charge, the most genial and friendly Col. Manhas, who, despite his work commitments, freely and kindly gave of his time and allowed us to have a tour of the pavilion which was not otherwise open to visitors. What a place it was too. Much was rightly made of the ground on the TV and the views of the Dhauladhar mountains behind the brightly coloured ground makes it surely one of the most imposing and impressive international grounds in the world. The most recent international ground is also India’s forty-third ODI venue, the highest international ground in Asia and the fifth highest overall. It was a treat to not only go in but to be shown around and we were tremendously grateful to Col. Manhas.
The other reason for visiting Dharamsala was to go to the Dalai Lama’s residence. I had been nine years ago and attended one of His Holiness’s lectures which was one of my greatest travelling highlights. This time, His Holiness was in but not teaching and therefore more of the temple and monastery was open to visitors. This was also a very considerable highlight and the views over Mcleodganj and the mountains from the monastery were again breathtaking.
Within The Dalai Lama's monastery at Mcleodganj, near Dharamsala
View of the Dhauladhar mountains from within The Dalai Lama's monastery
Our return to Delhi the following day was long but worked well generally. Rajesh had booked us into the Sleeper Class which was quite an experience. I was surprised to have a bunk – a side upper again so could comfortably read my book but, having gone down with a cold, was probably not the greatest travelling companion. It was the noise, though, which was memorable with plenty of vendors plying the corridors which, in itself, is far from unusual but I have to say that I hadn’t experienced regular beggars either. Maybe I have been mollycoddled in the AC Two Tier compartment but, for £3 for the eight hour journey and a berth included, I certainly wasn’t grumbling.

The dreaded Delhi mist descended and my heart sank when getting up on the day I was travelling to Bangalore. Fog can be a bane for anyone travelling by air from Delhi and Northern India suffers quite badly during the early months of the year and it has caused inconvenience to me before so I wasn’t expecting an on time getaway. By the time I reached the airport at 10am for my 12.15pm flight, the backlog had just started to clear so, it was with some disappointment that I saw that my flight was delayed until 5.45pm... It improved to a three and a half hour delay but generally meant another wasted day although the fog in this region is something that has to be taken into consideration as it has a knock-on effect for the vast majority of the day.
The reason for going to Bangalore was to see my favourite friend, Pooja, who had just moved into a very nice flat in a quiet area of Bangalore and we spent my last afternoon there and with her friends who have a seventeen year old dog - which needed attention as its sight and hearing have gone and it had a habit of leaving their first floor flat which could have led to trouble - and a pet pigeon... Pooja loves animals and has taken on many dogs, given them to her family in Lucknow to look after but, as all vacancies have now been exhausted, she has two of her own in the flat. She also ensures that the stray dogs are looked after with food so she does seem to be a bit of a St Francis or India’s answer to Battersea.

My last day in India was an early start for the flight to Dubai where, later on, my friend, Shailja, kindly fed me up with an excellent Sunday roast in one of the restaurants at The Address at Dubai Marina. It is a lovely hotel and was nice to catch up with her during my brief stay in Dubai.
Pooja points to the friendship bracelet she gave me with her name on it
Pooja and friends with their 17 year old dog, Nathu - there's also a pet pigeon in the picture...
The Emirates Business Class cabin on one of their Airbus A380 double-deckers
I am once again very grateful to Emirates for further superb flights. I have now been on their A380 double-decker eight times which is a remarkable aircraft and very comfortable. With the excellent food, entertainment and bar on the upper deck, it's actually quite difficult to fit in time for a sleep but, with Dubai to Heathrow, at around seven and a half hours, taking an hour long than Heathrow to Dubai, I did manage to fit a couple of hours in before the early afternoon into a cold Heathrow. Mind you, I can't say that it hit me as I had been predominantly used to the cold on this trip in the mountains.