Walking on Top of the World

Walking on Top of the World

A Himalayan Odyssey 5-22 April

It is now over a month since we returned from our first Ramblers Worldwide Holiday. The fact that it was to India is perhaps the main reason why it has taken me so long to sift through the kaleidoscope of memories, impressions and sensations, to gather together sufficient coherent thoughts and words to express just how wonderful it was.

It was an important holiday for us, marking the end of years of running a life- consuming business, and in fact the first proper holiday my husband had ever taken.

We both enjoy walking, and the Himalayan Odyssey seemed an ideal opportunity for walking in the foothills of the Himalayas, with the added attraction of visits to places we very much wanted to see.

I admit to some pre-holiday apprehension about the new experience of walking with a group, and also of how serious and competitive the other walkers would be. Coming from East Anglia I had no regular experience of hill walking (around here even those slopes which are barely visible to the naked eye are given a name!) and so I was especially nervous of the “steep descents” which seemed to crop up on the itinerary.

 

My apprehension wasn’t helped on the first evening by my eavesdropping on travellers’ tales about trips to Everest Base Camp! Everybody, it seemed, had been on Ramblers Worldwide Holidays before, which I suppose should have been a comfort, as they couldn’t be that bad, but perversely made it seem even more daunting.

I need not have worried. Being part of this particular group was one of the things that made the holiday so special. There were fifteen of us, all from very different walks of life, but from the beginning we seemed to gel together as a group and there was never any sense of cliques or of having to sit next to a particular person at meals or walk next to them on treks.

We all mixed in happily together. And I found that I was able to cope with the walks and to thoroughly enjoy them. There was no sense of competitiveness or impatience. Everyone was concerned for and supportive of everyone else. The more experienced walkers gave useful advice to novices like us.

I will now never forget to roll my socks over my laces, after a freak accident in which the loop of the lace of my right boot became caught in the metal hook on the left boot, tying my feet together and propelling me, cartoon-like, full length on the ground – fortunately on a muddy path, rather than a narrow track with a sheer drop.

The cohesion of the group was helped by an excellent leader, Jean Pierre, highly experienced and professional, but also funny and flexible. He was supported in Delhi by the representatives of Trade Wind Tours, who kindly gave us thoughtful gifts on arrival and departure.

For the rest of the trip, Jean Pierre was accompanied by the wonderful Amit, our charming, handsome and incredibly knowledgeable Indian guide, in whom we had great trust. Between them, Jean Pierre and Amit gave us the confidence to find resources within ourselves to cope with those unexpected parts of the walks that were unavoidably rather higher up the scale than Grade D.

Whilst riding horses across rushing streams or crawling under overhanging boulders, trying not to look down at precipitous drops, we had to remind ourselves that we had known all along that this was classed as a Pioneer Holiday!

Cultural highlights included the Golden Temple at Amritsar, with its stunning gold and white marble, set against a brilliant blue sky, and its incredible kitchens and dining halls, where 70,000 people are fed for free, thanks to the spirit of giving so evident among the Sikh community.

Of equal fascination was Dharamsala, home to the Tibetan Government and people in exile. The beauty of the temples and the ethos of the schools, colleges and workplaces are a tribute to the healing influence of the Dalai Lama, who was in residence during our visit, although not available to give an audience; I like to think he may have spotted us from his windows as we walked our kora (holy walk) around his residence.

There were so many other wonderful days and I’m sure that each of us would pick out something different as a particular highlight. For me, the Toy Train journey from Simla was very special, as were the exquisite little Gaiety Theatre, and the gardens of Nicholas Roerich at Naggar, which emanated the peaceful concerns of the man.

Finally, on our very last afternoon, we visited Gandhi’s house in Delhi. It was a haven of tranquillity, but also very moving. It was almost unbearable to see the representation of his footprints on his final walk to his death or to look at his very few worldly possessions in his bedroom, including his iconic glasses, sandals and stick. It seemed a very fitting end to a wonderful holiday.