It had been a holiday of extremes.
Altitude, temperature, bleakness, beauty, exhaustion and spirituality: all had played their parts.
We visited a far-away, alien culture and were greeted with friendly innocence and hospitality.
It was a truly amazing experience which I will never forget.
Main picture taken in Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. All other pictures taken in Cochin Airport, Delhi and Ladakh.
Then, almost suddenly, our amazing tour of Ladakh was over.
It was time to say thank you and goodbye:
to Norvo, our supremely unflappable driver;
the kind staff at our “base-camp” hotel in Leh;
and to our excellent peripatetic cook.
It was also time to rest.
Picture taken in Delhi, on our way back to Cochin.
On certain streets in Delhi “doctors” ply their trade.
What they lack in qualifications is hopefully balanced by experience.
Many of the poor cannot afford to see a registered physician, so there is considerable demand for this cheaper alternative.
Alongside the doctors, unqualified dentists offer extractions and dentures.
It’s a thriving business and certainly an alternative to socialized medicine:
the logical outcome of an unregulated healthcare market.
Picture taken from our cycle-rickshaw, on the streets of New Delhi.
Having decided to head for the extreme north of India, our journey from Kerala entailed an inevitable stop-over in Delhi.
Due to bad weather, the plane from Cochin was running two hours late: we landed at Delhi airport after midnight.
Fortunately, the driver appointed to meet us was still standing patiently outside the arrivals hall. Rather touchingly, he held a placard bearing just my first and middle names .
Shortly after one o’clock in the morning, we were delivered to our hotel.
Formalities such as showing passports and signing-in were mercifully postponed until morning. We were guided to our room, asked when we would breakfast, then left to sleep,
“perchance to dream…”
Picture of a bicycle-rickshaw and its rider taken in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi.
And so, despite the amazing wonders of the Taj, we returned to the capital.
Delhi is different.
It hosts the seat of national government, innumerable Moghul wonders, British curiosities, more than two thousand years of history, and a lively cultural scene.
Ravinder negotiated the hazards of our return from Agra with skill and patience.
We were initially under siege by heavy rain.
Then, each time we stopped at major junctions, by teams of aggressive child-beggars, who thumped vigorously on the car, demanding our attention.
This “professional begging” is always disturbing. It’s something I have never seen in Kerala.
But with Ravinder to carefully shepherd us, we finally reached Delhi.
The sun had not yet set and there was still time to explore the Qutb Minar complex before returning to our hotel.
The following morning we met with Ravinder for the final time.
Having said our goodbyes, he left us at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport.
Our next stop, the Himalayas.
All pictures were taken in Delhi.
I had visited Delhi once before,
In January 2006, when I travelled to India for the first time.
That holiday was not my idea: I was more than a little averse to the plan.
But my sister was determined that she and her husband would go
And just as determined that I should accompany them.
It was an experience which changed my life.
But that is another story..
My earlier visit to Delhi coincided with Republic Day and the Red Fort had been closed to the public.
This time security was still prioritised:
But in a more relaxed fashion.
Meanwhile Robin, my kind travel-buddy and helper, experienced and enjoyed Delhi and its Red Fort for the very first time.
All pictures taken at the Red Fort, Delhi.
My journey to north India had its roots in staffing issues.
Kerala’s biggest festival was approaching and I had promised Anu, my resident house-boy, he could celebrate it at home with his family.
Shaji & Dalila, the loyal husband & wife team who have catered and cared for me since I bought this house some years ago, would still be here from 8:30 in the morning until 5 pm.
But a relatively large house has certain drawbacks.
The idea of serving my own evening meals, making my own early-morning tea and generally rattling around alone every evening for the twelve hours of darkness, had limited appeal.
Taking my cue from “Slumdog Millionaire” I phoned a friend, and asked if he would like to take a holiday.
We decide to head north.
Our travels would begin in Delhi,
over two thousand kilometres north of Kerala,
capital to the Mogul Empire, the British Raj and modern India.
The first day of September kept Das, my driver, busy.
He delivered Anu to the railway station, then Robin and I to Cochin airport.
The Indigo Airlines flight to Delhi landed punctually at 10pm.
But I am not a night person.
The relief at spotting my name on a placard was considerable.
Ravinder, our driver, was waiting beside the Arrivals gate.
He would guide and shepherd us for the first five days of our travels.
The hotel was not far from the airport.
In less than an hour I was in bed, asleep and dreaming..
Picture of Indigo Airlines ramp taken during our travels.