Neil Bryant, Himachal Pradesh 1996

My first impressions of India…

New Delhi at dawn; fumes, vehicles, noise, a veritable assault on the senses and we were only 10 metres from the airport!  “Thank heavens it’s Sunday and there’s not much traffic,’ announced Judy Arpana, our pilgrimage pilot, as we thundered through the city in our Mercedes bus/van/thing, exercising the only road rule that seems to exist in India – Biggest Rules!

This was the first of many times I was to be grateful for having Judy as our ‘Fearless Leader’. Left to my own devices, I would still be at the airport curled in the foetal position, whimpering softly and pleading to be left alone. Not for us the 15-hour wait at the bus station, or that undignified screaming match with the unhelpful, smiling bastard at the railway booking office. We had only to make really earth-shattering decisions like should I have ginger tea or chai, or where should we meet for lunch?

This was not a tour for tourists – heaven forbid!

There was a wide choice of activities, but 99% of the time I found myself with Judy and the others doing really boring stuff like meeting and having dinner with the Tibetan State Oracle, or drinking chai with Nuns and Lamas in their dwellings on the side of spectacular mountains, or watching the sun rise over the Himalayas from the roof of the Nechung Monastery while the monks prayed and chanted at their morning puja.

The whole trip was an incredible learning experience. I met some holy men who didn’t do a thing for me, and a leprous beggar who taught me volumes with a nod and a smile.

The main point for me was that we were able to experience India without having to be concerned about travel arrangements or accommodation dramas and could just absorb and enjoy.