A lifetime’s ambition Travelling India
Julie Darby visited India with Cox & Kings and fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition to see the Himalaya.
Two episodes in particular from my trip to north-east India in November 2012 rest clearly in my memory. Flying east from Delhi on a brilliantly clear day I suddenly saw to my left what I took to be a line of fluffy cumulus clouds; then I realised that they were snow peaks, among which a towering mass could only be Everest. Totally unexpected, and curiously moving. In my late 70s, and therefore not before time, I was fulfilling a lifetime ambition to see the Himalaya – much more was to come. My destination was Darjeeling, and I arrived at dusk after a mind-boggling drive of more than three hours up a winding and pot-holed narrow road through the forested Himalayan foothills.
The next morning was the first of many which saw me up before dawn, heading 11km out of town to Tiger Hill. The hilltop viewing cabin for the favoured few was at about 2,600 metres, above a terrace crammed with well-clad and happily chattering Indians. It was still dark, but after a while the sky began to lighten, and one could make out the bulk of Kanchenjunga slowly emerging in the grey pre-dawn light – the world’s third highest mountain, only about 15km from us. I will admit to a brief moment of disappointment, but suddenly a spot of pink / orange light touched the top of the peak – and the chattering momentarily ceased… Slowly the giant was transformed, and in the incredibly clear and unpolluted light we could even see the dawn-lit tops of Everest, Llotse and Makalu more than 50km away. After what was for me an unmeasured amount of time, true daylight appeared.
My next stop was Diphlu Lodge in the Kaziranga National Park, in Assam, and again the flight was to show me something on a scale I had not expected. As we banked on approaching Guahati I saw an immensely broad swathe of shingle and sand kilometres wide with river channels winding across it, splitting, re-joining… I knew the Brahmaputra carried vast quantities of water and silt when in flood, but even at low water the scale of the channel was deeply impressive. Houses at low levels within 5km or so of the river were all raised on stilts, including the cabins of Diphlu Lodge.
On each of my four days in the park, I was up before dawn – elephant-back rides starting each day. One could approach very close to the rare one-horned rhinos, which were used to the presence of wild elephants. One early morning was very misty and it was unnerving to suddenly come upon the massively powerful beasts. Later that day, in the sun, a 4×4 took me to the banks of the Brahmaputra – yet even from the top of an observation tower, I could see no trace of the far banks.
(It is very sad that – writing in March 2013 – six rhinos in the park are reported to have been killed recently by poachers, for their horns.)