Back home .....

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Well - having omitted to blog during the trip, I will make a contribution now that I am home again!

First of all - congratulations you lot for reaching Mumbai!!!  Really glad that it all went well (apart from the dents and the Langurs) and I have to say that I am insanely jealous and will have to visit Rajasthan myself, to make up for having to come back .... Good luck with the next bit and hope you get through all the formalities okay ..... And hope the Yacht Club is good (if you go) - and .... I don't really want to hear any more because life here is just not quite as exciting and much too predictable (although Barnsley keeps me on my toes... and I'm sure my colleagues would agree.)

The Gulf Air flight was fairly uneventful and uncomfortable with some okay films, but best of all they allowed me on with 10kg of excess baggage, which they didn't query.  The same was not the case for the flight to Manchester, where BMI baby made me re-distribute it into two  bits of handluggage to avoid paying an extra £70, although the whole lot weighed exactly the same ... Anyway - I got my carpets back ....

I have arrived home and taken up the usual pace of frenetic activity - with a childcare takeover which involved him leaving at 5am and me arriving at 10pm the same day.... followed by work a day later and then a trip to Glasgow to take my daughter to university.

And I must say that thinking about it afterwards, it just wasn't quite the same .... Everything was so tame.  I mean, I drove up the M6, and yes the scenery was beautiful, and I even passed the turn-off to Sedburgh (so it really does exist - wonder what its other products are like? I felt like having a look ..) but - my 1100cc car felt so tinny, compared to the Landcruisers .. I keep putting on the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator, I just don't get the feeling that things will move out of my way.  And worst of all, it was so uneventful - not a single melon was passed through my open window, nobody cycled the wrong way down the motorway, there were no cows or people to avoid, I couldn't even do a U-turn if I wanted ... no-one cut out in front of me - there were no side roads to do that ...  And when I reached Glasgow (although that definitely has potential as an interesting and friendly city), nobody jumped into my car to show me the way!  There were no taxis to follow - and noone invited us to their house (although the hotel receptionist did remind me to buy a birthday cake for my daughter, and told me where to get it) ... (I paid the same price for the hotel as we had for the Oberoi).  Though I think things were much more eventful in the student halls - someone manged to jump out of a window and break an arm .....

So - while I'm still re-adjusting, I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thank-you for all the hard work that was involved in the pre-trip preparation, especially for Steve, and to everyone else for making it such a good time ....and even for the difficult times!  It has certainly re-opened the door for a lot more travelling as far as I'm concerned and tied up some previous travel experiences, which it was good to be able to share....

Hope the Landcruisers get off okay and the blue barrels return safely too ...






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Yes, we made it !

Arrived here today after a 6 hours drive from Daman.   Since my last blog we have been to some fantastic places......   In Udaipur we each did our own thing for a day and I took a rickshaw up to see the Monsoon Palace.   Perched on top of a hill high above the city it was deserted for many years (and used as a hideout for dacoits) until the James Bond movie Octopussy when scenes were shot there and it was renovated somewhat.  Leopards still up in the hills round about.   Later I wandered round the City palace which was very interesting and huge.   The ruling family in Udaipur are one of the oldest noble families in India, and they moved their capital here after the Moghuls repeatedly invaded their previous fortress at Chitaugarh.   In the evening there was a huge festival in the town which some of us went to.   We got covered in bright pink powder which was being thrown liberally over all and sundry.   Gods on small palaquins were being paraded around town and being taken to the lakeside for a wash, before being taken back to their respective temples.   The noise, heat, insense, and music were tremendous and in one of the squares there were fire-dancers twirling flaming battons, breathing fire, and leaping through burning hoops.   Real India and fantastic atmosphere!

We then drove to Chitaugarh where there is probably the largest castle I have ever seen.   It completely encompasses a huge hilltop plateau.   Just the idea of building it seems incredible.   It encloses 700 acres and would have been absolutely impregnible.   How they managed to defeat the incubent army I failed to find out (must read up on it at home).   We spent a great time looking around, and drove round the inside perimeter.   Stopped to get out and climb up onto the outer wall and as we did so a troupe of about 70 or 80 Langur monkeys arrived.   A large male got up onto the roof of the Landcruiser.   Went to the top of the 'Victory Tower' - 9 storeys high and required a rock climb to get onto the top storey.   We continued to Bijapur Palace Hotel out in remote countryside.   Beautiful old fortress being slowly converted, tastefully, into a stunning hotel.   The Raja owner, who knows Prince Charles, and had Peter Cook stay there once, showed us around.   He runs riding safaris and has 9 gorgeous horses.   Set in rolling hills and delightful countryside.

Frome here we moved on again to Dungapur and to my mind this was the nicest place of all the fabulous Rajasthan towns we had been to.   We again stayed in a converted palace which eclipsed everywhere we had seen so far.   The palace sits on the edge of a large lake, surrounded by pointed, wooded hills and exuded wealth and influence.   Sitting off from the palace,, and seeming to float on the water, was a pretty temple.   The priest rowed out each morning.   There was a large aviary with large and small birds, including Emus, turkeys, and all manner of exotic colourful winged creatures.   There were 7 or 8 dogs including boistrous Great Danes, a Boxer and some Labradors.   The swimming pool 'disappeared' into the lake and was completely beautiful with two stone elephants spouting water and its own 'temple' changing room.   Again the owner (not sure whether he was a Maharaja or not) showed us around - in his garages was a collection of classic English and American cars and wheeled cannon, old carriages and furniture in enormous heaps rescued from his old palace up on the hill.   We ate in an open courtyard which had a dining table that must be unique - it is marble with inlaid semi-precious stones and is rectangular and must be 40 feet long.   In the centre is a long pool whose water comes perfectly up to the edge of the marble surround.   Amazing engineering achievment, fascinating, and to top it all the water produces a strange optical illusion  -  wherever you sit at the table the patterns on the bottom of the pool make it look like it is deep where you are sitting but shallow everywhere else.   The large family dining room is a veritable hunting trophy room, with heads of tigers, bears, deer and wild boar.   Our rooms were delightful.   We had a day's rest at this quintessential place and in the evening took a ride down the lake towards the town.   As sheer luck would have it we had coincided with the last day of a festival in honour of Ganesh.   Large Ganesh efigies were being brought down to the lake, put on rafts, taken out onto the lake, and then sunk to the bottom.   There was a huge crowd on the shore and a noisy firework display which frightened scores of large fruit bats that flew past us   The scene was Draculainan (?)   The heat of the day had exhausted the marble clouds which stood still thinly veiling a full moon.  Indian music drifted across and I felt that in this place I had found a perfect piece of India.

We then suffered a 13 hour drive to Daman on horrible roads ending in the dark and torrential rain.   By the way did I say Dave had a slight argument with a bus and 'Silver' now has dents all down one side!


Must go I am late to meet the others for dinner.

Anyway we really have made it all the way from Wotton-u-Edge to Bombay - hasn't sunk in yet.......seems a year or two since we many adventures....wouldn't have missed this for all the world!!!



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Since Mandawa we have been to Khimsar Fort, Jodhpur, Rohet Garh, and now Udaipur.   Rajasthan is a non-stop kalaidascope (?) of colourful impressions - the women wear startlingly bright saris, the men often all in white, including their large turbans.  Camels everywhere, the landscape greener than I expected but it is like this after the rains I'm told.   Khimsar Fort was at one time a gorgeous old castle in the middle of an utterly flat plain with a large village around its skirts.   However, regretably the fort has be over-developed and the new build hotel (although of good quality) rather swamps the beautiful original castle.   There is a collection of old cars including an old Rolls Royce.  Fabulous swimming pool and a full size snooker table which looks flat but isn't.

The fortress at Jodhpur is one of the most impressive structures it has been my pleasure to see - jaw dropping, and we spent the good part of a day looking around.   So, so Indian - the audio tour was excellent in content but all the numbered stops were out of sequence and no sign posts so one spent one's time going up and down floors looking for the next number.   What a place though!

Rohet Garh was a haven of tranquility - old buildings surrounding a large, mature garden with peacocks, parakeets and chipmonks, not to mention a very naughty Labrador who chewed up the cushions in the flower beds.   The Germans always got to the swimming pool in the morning before us!

Leaving the plain behind we entered some absolutely beautiful hills to visit the temples at Ranakpur.   Again astonishing huge Jain temples built in marble.   Highly carved in fine detail - voluptous sexy Indian women writhing around pillars, huge marble elephants, ceilings that only a mathematician could have invented, and touches of the Karma Sutra in the reliefs.   No leather and no photos of the Gods themselves allowed.   Fabulous place but a couple of large Langur monkeys slammed one of our car doors on Jeremy's toes!

Arriving quite late in Udaipur our hotel lay in an old part of town and in the sweltering heat our team skills and patience we tested once again in forging our way through narrow streets full of people, motor-bikes, rickshaws and holy cows..   It was worth it - our hotel the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel overlooks the lake and is full of character!  Emerging onto the roof terrace you are confronted by black night and a shinging Lake Palace lit up and reflected in the tranquil waters.   Magical!


Must go and visit the city palace......


Bye for now.   After this we will visit some off-the-beaten-track places in Rajasthan before the final leg down to Bombay......

Steve  (miss you Seraphina, Katie, Ellie, Tara, Snowy, Willow and the goldfish too (whose names I have a silly mind-block on!)

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Hi  again,

My last blog from Shimla seems to have been lost in cyberspace - never mind!   We are now in Rajasthan after further adventures - I don't know where to start.   Yesterday we set off from Kaithal on what we thought would be a straightforward drive but it was not to be so.   To begin with when we tried to leave the town the main road was blocked and we tried to find a way through the town.   After getting totally lost we ended up in a street that got narrower and narrower until we entered an alley and blocked the tide of humanity, scooters, bicycles and animals flowing towards us.   Within minutes (I was the lead car with Jeremy) we were surrounded by a noisy crowd of friendly Indians all shouting different suggestions.   On top of this our second vehicle was offering their own advice over the radio, and Jeremy and John were outside in the street also making loud and conflicting instructions.   Finally we somehow managed to reverse and turn round and extricated ourseves before the whole town came to a standstill!   We then stopped at a roundabout and a friendly man guided us on his motorbike through the maze in the right direction.   He took us to his office and treated us to cold drinks and we met his family before we travelled on.   Lush rural countryside slowly changed to a drier terain.   We passed a terrible accident where a lorry was on its side having had a head on collision with a van.   It must have happened some time before as there was no sign of anyone there.

We carried on and towards the end of the day crossed a railway line three times.  Each time we had to wait for a train to pass, though it looked like the same train each time!

As we approached a town called Fatephur there was a monsoon storm ahead flashing with lightning.   We were soon in the storm of torrential rain, and with night falling.   The streets of Fatephur were like running rivers and again we got lost, only finding the way out when I dashed half a dozen steps to ask some men sheltering under an awning.   I was totally soaked in just those few steps.   We carried on to a bridge under the railway which was already 3 or 4 feet deep in water.   Low ratio gears and we were through and crawling up a slight incline down which poured a stream of water.   We still had 20 kms to Mandawa and if anything the storm ahead looked worse.   It seemed truely biblical, gloomy, errie, and by no means certain that we would make it through.   Upon entering Mandawa we peered through the windscreen (the wiper blades working at full speed barely clearing the rain) and wove our way through narrow streets to the main bazaar.  Luckily we found the hotel near the city gate, the Mandawa Havelli Hotel.   An old converted merchant's house the like of which I have never seen before.   It is fantastic!   Like something out of the Arabian Nights.   Frescos, intricately carved doors, fabulous wall paintings, a galleried courtyard, and a warm welcome.   We must build it into one of HK's itineraries.   After a meal in their beautiful resteraunt we crashed.

Today we went for a walking tour of the town.   Amazing! and one of the best cultural experiences of the trip.   Lots of camels, donkeys (one which was painted in ocre dots) and women dressed in highly bright, colourful saris.   The town is a maze of old merchant houses dominated by a fabulous old castle.


S'all for now - must go and do some shopping!!!!!


Aged and happy Hippie in another world here in Rajasthan, Indiaaaahhhhh



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I'm Mandi - Fly me!

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What's that all about? Well, firstly we're in the bustling town of Mandi, just below the Kullu valley, where we've been staying in Manali after having to return the same way from Spiti due to the landslides mentioned by Steve in his last. (By the way, when he said we had problems getting back down the Rohtang Pass, he didn't mentioned the military style operation,headed by Dave, that was required to get us past the 2 lanes of stationary oncoming lorries blocking our way, (on what is only just a 2 way road at the best of times!) due to a blockage caused by a steepbit of muddy roadwhich the overladen lorries were getting stuck on. Using handsets and willpower (and by simply standing in their way), Dave stunned the oncoming lorry diveres into submission and wove us a path past the jam - only took 2 hours. We were greeted like old friends at the Mayflower hotel - they have even set out all our room keys in anticipation, even though we hadn't actually told them we were coming back. So a comfortable night and another chance for fabulous trout at Johnsons cafe-bar (and some interesting and very acceptable Indian red wine)and then we had a day sightseeing at Nagar Fort and the Roerech Gallery. David and Mary, if you read this, it's all a bit deja vu. The only other time I've ever been to India, we stayed in Daramashala (which we visited this time for about 1 hour due to time contraints), Manali (which has grown enormously and has better hotels than it did) stayed at Nagar Fort (which has now been restored to within an inch of its life and really best for its view and not much else, but does a good cup of tea,) visited the Roerech Gallery - (which was far better than I remembered but strangely made no reference to Theosophy - which I'm sure it did last time) and stopped in Mandi for lunch at the Raj Mahal- an old Mahararah's palace, very much falling apart but worth seeing. Well, guess where we stayed last night! Yes, restored (to a degree!) full of character and numerous muskets and strange paintings, it is now worth staying at. The food last night was excellent - I think the best so far in India and the place a haven of tranquillity in the noisy and noisome mess that is Mandi - can't say I'd recommend Mandi for anything else!

So today we move on to Shimla and there the female contingent of the party are left to make their way to delhi to get flights home (that includes me) and the chaps continue through Rajistan to Mumbai and the macho delights of getting the vehicles through customs.


Sooo looking forward to seeing my family - the hardest part of this trip - in fact the only real hard part has been missing them. They will have to come with me next time!


And happy birthday to my lovely Jo who is 15 tomorrow!)


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End of Spiti Trek

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Aged Hippie here again!   Just back from a fantastic trek in Spiti.   What a beautiful region!   Very like Ladakh with phenonemal scenery, gorges, mountains and pretty Tibetan-like villages.   Staggering monasteries.   Saw a herd of Blue Sheep, two wild foxes playing, lots of interesting birds, crossed a 15,500ft pass, visited the amazing temples at Tabo, passed through a police check post by mistake without stopping in the vehicles (had to go back and make amends).   Met all sorts of interesting people including 4 climbers from Austria who were 'bouldering in a remote valley and seemed stoned most of the time!  Were stopped from driving onto Shimla by a massive landslide which had swept away 400 metres of road, so we returned the way we had come.   Encountered terrible traffic jams on the Rotang Pass and used our low ratio gears and Diff Locks to go off road to get past the jams.  Sraped the Silver landcruiser on a lorry as we tetered past it - never mind.


Love to all my family [and yes I miss you too Ellie (and Tara and Snowy and the goldfish)]


Bye - off to Mandi now, and then Shimla tomorrow.



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Aged Hippie here.   I am in an internet cafe in Manali  -  drums are beating outside (some festival in progress I think) and it is late at night.

Thanks Katie for your lovely comment, and yes I miss you loads.   I have often read your wonderful card and looked at the photo you gave me.  You desperately need to improve your spelling though!!

It seems a year since we left Wotton-u-Edge - so much has happened.   Every day brings fresh adventures.   Tomorrow we get up early and drive over two big Himalayan passes on our way to Spiti.   It will be a long and exhausting day, but spectacular.   Today we have been preparing for the trek in Spiti, and I went to visit an old friend of mine, Rinzing Ladakhi Sherpa, who lives in Manali.   He was the first Sherpa I ever used on my first Himalayan expedition in 1977.   He was in good form and looking fit and well.

I helped Jeremy write one or two of his blogs so am not sure of the latest news, however since leaving Pakistan we have been to Amritsar, Pragpur, Dharmasala, Palampur and now Manali.   We crossed into India at Wagah which was shown in the Michael Palin Himalaya series where they do the famous changing the guard ceremony every day.   We had to give 'presents' to one of the border officials to avoid having the cars searched top to bottom.   The Golden Temple was amazing and I went at night to see the end of day ceremony, and I went in the early morning too - fantastic!   The drive up into the Himalayan foothills was really beautiful and we overnighted in an old Judge's Court, and also in an old palace built by the Marharaja of Kashmir.

Well sorry Katie if I didn't mention in my last blog that I miss you - of course I do silly!   I miss you all loads and hope you are reading all the blogs that go up on the site, as it will give you something of the flavour of this amazing journey.   It has/is/continues to be amazing.   Congratulations by the way Katie on your exam results.   Glad you all had a brilliant holiday in the States.   Hope Tara's leg is OK now.

I will try to add some more when we get down to Shimla.   Bye for now......


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Crossed over from China into Pakistan via the Khunjerab Pass with no problem, despite our earlier fears that the Silver Land Cruiser might overheat (absence of this may be something to do with the mods that we introduced pre-China, removing the horns that obstructed the radiator airflow). Magnificent scenery on the way down, with nomad encampments - complete with Yurts - sporadically dotted around. Passed the two huge peaks of Kongur and Mustag Ata (both 7000m +), arriving at Karrimabad,  capital of Hunza (one-time kingdom - now part of Pakistan) that day. The Hunza Embassy Hotel was very comfortable, with a terrace offering magnificent views over the Karakoram.

Next day given a guided tour around the incredible 650 y/o Baltit Fort, captured by the Brtish in 1891, restored in recent years to give a very clear idea of what it must have been like to live in this former palace of the local Mir. By chance, I happened to buy a book by an American soldier who'd lived there as a guest of the Mir shortly after WW11 as part of a personal experiment to bring US ideas and initiatives to (what he described as) 'a primitive people', at a time when the Russians and the Chinese were busy spreading there own forms of communism anongst the peoples of Central Asia. In the end he was beaten by local politics, but a fascinating insight into a 'westerner' trying to adapt to such a tough and rugged lifestyle, where - at the time - starvation and disease were a very real issue for many people.

Trying to leave the next day we were forced to turn back after finding that there had been at least 5 landslides on the road ahead overnight. Checked into the stunning Eagle's Nest Hotel, some 2000' above the Baltit Fort and at the end of a very 'challenging' unmade road! (Signs that this is to be metalled during the coming year) It was a breeze in the Landcruisers..

Carried on the next day towards Gilgit, but again had to retrace our steps for 15k when we found that the central section of the very substantial bridge crossing the Gilgit (Indus) had been completely washed away! Driving through the small towns and villages here we noticed a significant change in the characterof the communities, with very few of any women or girls being evident, whereas in the Hunza valley there were many brightly clothed women mixing socially. The local population ha als been particularly friendly. Then 2 days drive through the stunning Karakoram Highway, eventually arriving at Besham.

Uneventful start to the following day until we came across a (our second!) motorbike accident. At (Dr) Dave's suggetsion we had, in fact, practiced in the Forest of Dean for just such an eventuality (with Debs having a very realistic thigh bone protruding through her bloodsained trousers!) and this worked perfectly in practice: roping off the accident, fluorescent jackets for the people managing the traffic (whiuch was inclined to pause & 'rubberneck' at the scene - very annoying - I now sympathise fully with the police! - so holding up traffic on the narrow mountain pass), emergency medical kite, improvised strecher etc.. The biker (who had broken his leg in two places) was, ironically, a Guide who were leading two British bikers, Mungo and Az (aka the 'Sultan of Sunderland'!), in their attempt to reach the highest point ever on a motor bike (appx 5,700m, I believe) for charity. After waiting for an ambulance for around 1 hour Dave splinted his leg and we took him down to the nearset hospital, 100 km south, at Abbottabad, 'Unfortunately' (!) that meant that there was a third 'bike to be transported down so (after much arm-twisting, Mary - I was very reluctant to do this..) I was persuaded to take it down Although only a Honda 125 the ride through the sweeping roads and towns and villages was certainly one of the most 'interesting' that I have ever experinced - the local Rule of the Road sems to be that there is none! Cars and trucks were overtaking each other on the inside , on the outside - and simulateneaously - around blind bends!

Arrived at the Hotel Margala ("Where Time Sleeps and Dreams Whisper") early evening. Despite the Presidents's resignation yesterday and rumours about what might happen, all seems to be relatively quiet in the capital at the moment..

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On Top of the World

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Kashgar - a bustling Chinses city full of minivans and electric scooters and very busy - a bit of a shock after Kyrgistan pastoral scenes. But fun for a dya.
Our liaison officer, Abdul, a mild and pleasant Uygur (they make up 15% of the popultation in the Uygur region, Kyrgis - 80% and chinese only 5%) had the unenviable task of trying to keep track of 8 headstrong and differently minded people as he gave us a tour of the bazaars and old town of Kashgar. 'Herding cats' is I think the phrase. However, he accomplished it with real gentleness and politeness and I think even enjoyed the experience. During the course of the day, more carpets/rugs were purchased, along with other interesting items because, after all, we had just had 5 days of genuine deprivation in Kyrgistan where the most exciting purchase was some bottles of beer and a swiss roll.

We had our tastebuds re-awakened be authentic and excellent chinese food on several occasions - my stomach didn't know what to do with all the fresh vegetables - after weeks where the speciality was shashlik (kebabs) when they had any, that is, it was wonderful.
Our second night we ate in a restaurant in the former British embassy - now a hotel, but not as nice as the one we stayed in - in the old part, which is over the top Edwardian splendour and was where Shipton - mountaineers may know - lived and worked in between trips up mountains.
Then off to the border vis the start of the Karakorum highway.
On the chinese side, the highway runs through a flat plain bordered by high mountains. There is pastureland all around and all the way along, groups of yurts and families pasturing their animals, all Kyrkis. We stopped at Kara Kol Lake, about halfway to the border town, for lunch and had fresh baked nan, clotted cream and salt tea in the house of a local family, watching the mother sew one of the traditional felt rugs.
Our last night was in Tashgurgan, where we were to leave Abdul once he had seen us through the customs formalities. At dinner, he produced 2 bottles of Tibetan wine, which he had purchased for us, because he knew we were interested in trying anything local and he had asked a friend to recommend something - we were really touched. The wine, which Roger intends to introduce to the Wine Society, proclaimed itself to be 'Tibetan Barley Ice wine" and was very interesting and very drinkable.
Chinese customs wasn't too bad - Abdul smoothed it all through, though there were mutterings about us having to stay with a bus because of border troubles, which in the end came to nothing - though they again checked us all with a machine to see if we were harbouring any deadly diseases, or lice!
Then on with the road and wound our way gently up, through some check points and suddenly we were at the top of the pass and saying hello to some well spoken Pakistani border police. And no-one down with altitude sickness and no vehicle over heated or with brakes failure.
Then the descent and how amazingly different on the other side. On the chinese side, the mountains remained still at a polite and awesome distance right to the top. Once over the pass, they crowded in and we were in precipitous gorges, water roaring by, the very image of the Karakoram. The road surface deteriorated immediately and though I'm sure this is partly due to chinese efficiency and industry, it has to be said they have the easier job. This side rock falls affect the road all the way down and they have teams constantly working to clear them Apparently a 2 year project to upgrade the road is due to start soon, bringing in 10,000 chinese workers.
Through Pakistan corder control and customs with the help of Ali, a rep from Walji's, the company HK has links with here - including a medical from to complete confirming we don't have AIDS, bird flu, SARS etc and not suffering from a headache, cough, snivels (!) etc. The got to Karimabad, a town perched on the side of the valley, with green terraces reaching down to the thundering river below and views of snow capped peaks.
Today, one way and another we've all been to see the 13th century Hunza fort at the top of the town - some of you will no doubt be getting a postcard of it - it forms part of the entrance ticket. The guide who took me round with Sally, Dave and Ann-Clare was brilliant - an economics student in his summer vacation doing the job for love of it, a local guy, with an absolute passion for the area and its development. I learned more about Pakistan in an hour than I've ever known.
After that, strolling around town, into the surrounding fields and - yes, I'm afraid. yet more carpet buying - couldn't possibly say who or what, but there had better not be too many more buying opportunities, or I'll have to get a bank loan.
We continue on down tomorrow, passing by Gilgit - we haven't made a decision about stopping there yet - apparently there has been trouble at times and it's not recommended. I wouldn't mind a look just to say I've been there - it was a major name in 'The Great Game'. but we'll see.

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Oh Dear!

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The Road to Hell .., as they say, is paved with good intentions - and I did have such intentions to keep an up-to-date record online of our journey, but what with travelling, sightseeing, keeping a journal, working on the machines, the (very!) odd bit of painting, writing (by snail mail - probably quite literally from this distance..), etc.. it just hasn't happened. Sorry folks! I'm afraid you'll just have to rely on Debs no doubt very comprehensive and accurate (unless it says anything adverse about me - in which case I fully reserve my right of reply!)

As will no doubt have been recorded elsewhere, we have had so many incidents / happenings that it would fill a modest book already. I look forward to sharing these with everyone when I (eventually) return home - some may be on a Pay-per-Tell basis - to be negotiated!

Anyway, for me the real highlights of the trip so far (since Mariupol, when I last did a comprehensive blog), have to be (and again, perhaps not in order, as I don't have my journal to hand!):

  • Astrakhan - the faded gentility/mysticism of 19th Century Russia - sadly fast disappearing beneath some possibly over-enthusiastic 'restoration' work
  • Camping in the desert once into Kazakhstan underneath a jet black planetarium of stars, having off-roaded over the dunes to put a sufficinet distance between ourselves and the former Silk Road to China
  • Aral Sea - witnessing the catastrophic consequences ascribed to Stalin's project to create a cotton growing industry to compete with that of the US, resulting in the desertification of vast areas of Kazakhstan and meaning that the former shore of the Aral (once the worlds' 4th largest Sea) is now 100k distant from what remains. As a consequence the fishing industry that had existed for centuries (if not millennia) in that area, has completely ceased to exist, along with entire communities. Horrible and very depressing..
  • Nukis - where we saw the amazing Museum of Modern Art, which was established during the era of Soviet occupation and formed a haven for those avant-garde artists of the 20' and 30's in aprticular who found their works declared 'un-Soviet' and counter-revolutionary. Indeed, even as recently as 1960 one well-known painting - 'The Blue Bull' - so enraged the newly appointed Museum Head that she ordered it's removal on precisely these grounds! (The artist, incidentally, was imprisoned in a mental asylum for 18 years shortly after its production).
  • Khiva -a World Heritage city which has been restored to pristine condition (ok, again, there might be a degree of over-restoration in places), but overall it gives the uninformed - like me - a very good idea of the development of this former slaving centre ( a trade which incidentally extended here well into the last century) over the past 2,500 years. The feeling of tranquility which existed throughout the City, which extended all day and night, was truly magical and a very striking contrast, I'm sad to say, to so many of our town and city centres back home..
  • Bukhara - further along the desert road and again a regional centre which in former times contained a separate (and competing) Kahnate. Larger than Khiva and more vibrant, but still containing some amazing mosques and madressas (universities). Had a massage here in vaults that had been used for such a purpose since the 16th Century.
  • Samarkand - larger still. Here we spent some time sorting out the vehicles. Purely by chance I was invited by a young Uzbek (who had been living in Bristol for the past 7 years who his wife and two young girls, gaining a postgraduate degree in molecular physics) to join him and his large family - there were seventeen of them in all - for lunch in their courtyard garden. It was a wonderful experience and, again, another reminder of the genuine hospitality that is the rule, rather than the exception, in this part of the world.
  • Osh - staying at the Osh Guest House, which is just over the border in Kyrgistan. Lovely place, set up principally to help an NGO develop a scheme to help local farmesr diversify and modernise their businesses. Lovely place with every facility & modcon (unlike the horrific Hotel Khokand in the town of the same name, where we stayed the night before. Too grisly to put down in print, but I have the pictures!)
  • Sary-Tash - up at about 11,500 ft, where we again stayed at a Guest House, although this time one with rather fewer facilities and a Yurt thrown in! Nonetheless, it was expertly run by Elizabeth, a native of this remote Kyrgh mountain village, who spoke 6 languages fluently and was just about to depart for Germany (Hamburg) on a years 'exchange'. Sadly, the UK (where she would have much prefered to come) does not offer such an arrangement, which I can't help feeling is a huge mistake given the very evident commercial opportunities that exist in this part of the world.
  • Kashgar - the first major town over the Chinese border, where we spent the day today. I have to admit that I was staggered (entirely due to my own ignorance, I concede!) by the vibrancy and modernity of the city, which boasts every convenience that one would expect to find in the West, but combined with the informality and cheerful chaos of the East - e.g. 3 or 4 adults/children astride (or even 'side-saddle!) a motor scooter - without helmets, of course! The Old City was magnificent, with each street being given over to some trade or craft. In one, for example, every open-fronted workshop revelead a balcksmith's forge & bellows, with men hammering furiously to create some axe or knife. Other streets contained shop after shop offering spices and herbs that one would never see in the West. This evening 7 of us dined in the private dining room of the former British Consulate where Eric Shipton, the great explorer and one of Steve's all-time heroes, was Consul General early in the last century. In the courtyard was a 124 year old elm tree, planted during the construction of the building, that brought it home to me how very few (if any) elm trees we see nowadays back home. Presumably this one is sufficiently far distant from any others to escape the dreaded Dutch disease?

As we approach the halfway point of our trip, with India and Pakistan (both entirely unknown to me) still to come, I cannot believe how much I have learned. I already have a 'books to be read' list as long as my arm and can only begin to imagine how the journey that we have underrtaken will change my views on the various regions through which we have travelled. Certainly I hope I will be slightly better informed (and more inclined to seek out additional information) if nothing else.

Finally - should anyone read this - I must confess that I am missing Mary, Laura, Tobs, Jo, Rachel (aka Bleut) & Addy (aka - no - I'll spare his blushes!), The Pips (with all its animals/reptile/invertabrates & birds) as well as family, friends and colleagues, more than I can say. The expedition has and will continue (I hope) to be incredible - but so will the homecoming..

Love and very best wishes to one and all

Jeremy / Dad

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