There are sights that immediately tug at the heartstrings for many people, perhaps more than we imagine. To my mind, a sight of the open road is a symbol of freedom, of potential; of the choice to go or to stay, to feel that one’s personal space extends beyond the horizon. This last sensation is commonplace among native peoples the world over, but I encountered it first among the Sami inhabitants of Northern Scandinavia.
In India there are uncountable religious festivals, drawing in devotees, pilgrims and other people from all walks of life, in uncountable numbers. One such is encountered at Pushkar, in Rajasthan, a desert state. From all over India and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands gather at the full moon in November, around a temple dedicated to Brahma, the creator in Indian cosmology. It is said to be the only such temple in all India, and is sited in the centre of the village.
A tranquil rural scene in Sweden; in this bucolic setting, I formed several striking memories. The best was from the shed in the background; it was the location of a nest from where a newly fledged Pied Wagtail fluttered down and settled on my hand for a few minutes. The most surreal was to open the tent flap on a misty morning with the sun breaking through on the magnificent Harley Davidson in the picture. How it could have arrived there silently in the night was baffling, and there was no-one around to explain it. Other aspects of Tannas (in Jamtland), provided painful lessons.
“Texas always seemed so big, but you know you’re in the largest state in the Union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage”
(song by Michelle Shocked, theme to this summer, sung by Mary McCarthy)
Lumpy air buffeted the plane as we coasted over a choppy looking sea and threaded between snowy peaks toward our landing. This was the land that Jack London had brought alive for generations of armchair adventurers; land that offered promise, a sanctuary, a new start for so many, and literally a dead-end for as many more.
Podcast version here
Art and Survival in the Tassili Plateau
As I’d spent my formative tourleading years in Morocco, when one of the rarely operated tours to the middle of the Sahara came up for grabs, my managers and I both made a beeline for it.
The tour involved taking everything with me to run a trip which was centred around the charming sounding town of Djanet, pretty much smack in the centre of the Sahara, sandwiched between the mountainous region of Tassili n’Ajjer and the legendary Tenere stretching away south to Niger.
My Favourite Day of the Tour… The early 90’s was still a time when you could operate tours in Zaire, but only just. Our tours began in Uganda. Groups arrived at Entebbe Airport not only with their own luggage, but also with a pallet of assorted tinned and dried food put together by the ever hard working and multi-talented operations managers back in the UK.
The notion that working as a tour leader is one long paid holiday has in fact a proportion of truth in it, but only a relatively small one, comments Bob Cranwell. You do get to go to some fabulous places, many of which you might never have got to under your own steam. You do get an influx of 12-24 people into your life every few weeks – people who by and large, are intent on having a good holiday, seeing and doing new things. Read more . .
Hotel Sarfaraz, Madyan, Swat, Pakistan. Well, after all the humming and haaring over where to go we’ve ended up in Swat – the accommodation in Gilgit, we found out, would be too expensive, coupled with the cost of getting there – and back, probably by plane, which is highly dependent on local weather and we might be stuck for many days, eventually put us off.
Also, although the mountain scenery would be spectacular, the valley floors would be very bare at this time of year, and very, very cold. The alternative we came up with was to take the bus to Swat, costing a mere 80 Rupees (about £4.50) for a pretty interesting journey of some five hours or so from Rawalpindi.
Podcast version here