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Published: November 24th 2007
I am now back in the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehra Dun, having completed the first stage of my Indian adventure. A brief description follows:
The trip started with my flight to Delhi on 20th September, followed by a full-day, totally hair-raising drive to Dehra Dun, during which on several occasions I thought my days were over! The driver congratulated himself at the end on having got me there faster than he’d ever managed it before - not my priority at all!
I was greeted by Dr G S Rawat of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), who has incredibly kindly organised everything here for me. I was taken to the Forest Research Institute (FRI), a magnificent building completed in 1929, and put up in the Scientists’ Hostel there. The following morning I was received by Dr S S Negi, the Director, who organised a tour of the premises for me, and I was shown the former office of my great-uncle, Prof. Sir Harry Champion, who was Head of Silviculture at the FRI in the 1920’s and 30’s. It was moving to see an enormous photograph of him hanging in the main entrance.
Welcome at Dinapani
A welcome ceremony at Dinapani. Photo by Denise Horn
a couple of days in Dehra Dun, Dr Rawat and I set off on a long car journey up into the Himalayas, stopping en route to meet Mr Rajiv Bhartari, Director of the Corbett National Park, in whose residence we had lunch. He was interested in having some of my grandfather’s photographs of tigers and other animals which were taken in what is now the Park in the 20’s and 30’s for an exhibition that he is setting up on the work of both Jim Corbett and F W Champion.
We finally arrived in Almora, a town on a ridge with a magnificent view of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. My friends also joined me here, and we moved into the Circuit House, a formerly splendid Victorian house with beautiful wood pannelled ceilings. Unfortunately, I made my first strategic blunder here! Thinking that as the “leader” it would be diplomatic of me to offer the best rooms to my guests, I found myself being shown to an annexe building which turned out to be a totally filthy, flea-infested dive, the consequences of which I am still scratching! It was also a mistake, because as the “VIP” of the
Sunset at Binsar
A Himalayan Oak silhouetted against the sunset
group, I was apparently expected by the staff to take the best suite. You live and learn!
After a couple of days’ acclimitisation here, including a press conference (we ended up on the front page of the newspapers, sharing the lime-light with a picture of Sonia Gandhi!!), we had a very interesting visit to my grandfather’s former office (he was Divisional Forest Officer for Almora District in the 30’s), where we met 2 Foresters whose fathers had worked with my grandfather. We also had an amusing but rather unsuccessful visit to the State Bank of India to try to change money - not much luck there, but we were sat down on a sofa, provided with tea and local sweets, and entertained royally for over half an hour by a charming bank clerk!
We were looked after in Almora by the Uttaranchal Forest Department, and I never expected that we would receive such a welcome. On one occasion we were preceded into a Forest Rest House by a piper and 3 drummers, then garlanded with flowers and received by the entire local staff!
It was here that our real mission began. The aim was to retrace the
Sharing bathrooms takes on a whole new meaning!
steps of my grandfather, grandmother, father (then aged 8) and father’s governess Kay Perry, who trekked in October 1936 to the Pindari Glacier at 3800 metres’ altitude in the Kumaon Himalayas. Kay documented the journey in a diary and took many photographs, and we tried to take shots from exactly the same spots, as well as staying in the same places as they did precisely 70 years before to the day. In some of the bungalows, it seemed that nothing had been cleaned or maintained since 1936!!
We managed the strenuous parts of the trek well, considering our lack of training, and after 5 days we finally reached the glacier, which we were shocked to find has receded by more than half since 1936 due to climate change, and many of the other smaller glaciers were also far less extensive than they had been back in 1936. However, it was not all gloom and doom - we passed through some excellent forest on the way, and even met the grandson of a Mr Gopal Singh, who had guided my grandfather’s party; we were shown a battered register that Mr Singh had kept, which included a lengthy entry made by
2 cows meet, Jageshwar
An unusual meeting between 2 cows at Jageshwar. Photo by Denise Horn
F W Champion, commending him for his excellent service!
We finally returned to “civilisation”, and had a more relaxing stay in the Forest Rest House at Ranikhet, a beautiful hilltop military cantonment town, headquarters of the Kumaon Regiment.
However, the relaxation was to be short-lived, as our respective car journeys were something to record! My friends’ car to Delhi arrived as planned, but firstly it was too small to take the passengers and their luggage, so some complicated squeezing had to be done, but finally they were in. Then, only half an hour after leaving Ranikhet, the car crashed! Luckily nobody was hurt, so they finally continued, with the driver very grumpy, but then he asked for a map as he did not know where Delhi was!!!
To cut a long story short, after 8 hours they reached the capital, but then the driver couldn’t find the ICFRE Guest House, so they spent 1.5 hours driving around searching, until the driver stopped and phoned somebody. After a while, the somebody appeared and drove them to the Guest House, leaving the original driver abandoned by the roadside!
My journey was equally eventful! I left Ranikhet at 0930,
Cooking at Garanath
Cooking never was my strong point, but here it was challenging indeed! Photo by Denise Horn
and by the time we reached Naini Tal, I was feeling totally carsick (very rare for me), as the driver had been squealing around the more precarious bends at extreme speed. As he didn’t speak English, he had asked one of his friends to accompany him, but during lunch this friend consumed a bottle of vodka, and once back in the car, he became very amorous! He had been eating chicken in a particularly pungent liquid sauce, and he then proceeded to kiss my hand! I could feel his bristling, sauce-covered moustache against my skin....and there was nowhere to wash!
But the worst was still to come.......while the driver was negotiating an especially difficult section of busy Indian road with trucks bearing down from all directions, the drunk friend suddenly lunged across, grabbed the driver and tried to kiss him on the mouth!!!! I thought again that my days were over, as we swerved into the teeth of the oncoming traffic! Luckily, the gods were with me and we survived, but it was not until we dropped the drunkard off in Haridwar 4 hours later that I was able to breathe more easily!
I am now having a
Pindari Glacier, 7 October, 1936
A photograph of the Pindari Glacier taken by my grandfather on 7th October, 1936
couple of days’ respite before my parents and cousin arrive for a 3-week tour, during which time I will probably again be out of contact. Then it’s tiger-watching and hopefully film-making, so there will no doubt be plenty to tell about that in a future installment!
All the best to everyone,
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