In the mid 1990’s a company I was working for as a tour leader wanted to capitalise on the Channel 4 TV series “Beyond The Clouds”, the name referencing a mis-translation of “Yunnan” (South of the Clouds), a province of southwest China. I would be the first person from the office to visit the area and therefore there was no tour leader manual, save some pages photocopied from the Lonely Planet China guide for the region.
I had completely forgotten that my name might arouse some amusement, to say the least, when I went on a trip to Central Asia. Bob, you see, means a bean in Russian (also Hungarian for that matter), and a polite but wry smirk crossed the face of every Intourist guide and receptionist for the next few weeks.
The predominant images of China are dominated by its huge population, by the dramatic pace of urbanisation and industrialisation, but vast areas of China tell a very different story. Southeast China in particular has spectacular mountain scenery around the Yangtse River and south to the border with Burma (Myanmar) there are many isolated but self sufficient ethnic minorities with characteristics very different from the Han majority.
We were on a tour through Ethiopia soon after the summer rains, and much of the country we saw was covered in a green pointillist haze for the time being. We were in Bahar Dar, a substantial town on the edge of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. A normally wide and shallow outflow within walking distance of our lakeside hotel allowed us a view of the waters at the start of their long journey through Ethiopian gorges until debouching onto the lower lands of Sudan, at Khartoum, where our Nile joins the White Nile, already well travelled from Lake Victoria. From there the combined waters would irrigate an intermittent strip of habitation until reaching Egypt where the population crowded around the river as far as the Mediterranean. Read more . .
The early morning train left Old Delhi station soon after six in the morning, thankfully containing myself and all of my bleary-eyed charges, writes Bob Cranwell. Alarm call, then after a brisk coffee and bus ride, there followed the inevitable crocodile of rolling suitcases and imploring porters through the tumult of the station, heaving like a fractured termites nest.
Podcast version here
Over the years that I took groups up to Anton Svatisdal’s small patch of heaven, recalls Bob Cranwell, we had some glorious hikes up to the glacier, and also up the side valley that led toward the pass into Blakkådalen, as well as nightly barbeques and campfire chit chat. Read more . .
Svartisdal, for Bob Cranwell, imbued a sense of place.
I was so lucky to learn this little part of history at a time when so much of it was still open to my enquiry. I was on my first trip of many driving a 10 metre bus on camping tours in Scandinavia. I’d started in Oslo, driven North through Sweden and a limb of Finland into Norway’s Finnmark.
Podcast version here;