Again, Tim Foate has spent the ‘Rest’ days under clients’ cars. He luckily spotted a completely parted lower wishbone joint on Jim Carr’s G4 Range Rover Sport. Jim had mentioned a ‘new rattle somewhere underneath’ and upon investigation Tim found the offending parts which required complete disassembly of the front suspension and some careful welding before rebuilding the repaired leg. Brake pads required replacement on more than one car and dear Luis Bustelo had been playing dodgems with the Mahindras’ of the district which necessitated some judicial tweaking of his hired Toyota’s bodywork! It has been very fortunate that we had three nights and two days rest in Shimla because it was not only the vehicles which needed attention. Many were at the extremities of their endurance, the quality and service provided by Wildflower Hall served to rejuvenate their failing stamina.
On exiting the perfect surroundings of the hall and just 20km from the day start was the remains of the ashram made famous by the Beatles. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram is now slowly being consumed by the surrounding forest but several people made a short break to investigate the gardens and what remains of the meditation cells; certainly Simon Dedman and his sister, Anita, are very thorough visitors’ researching every detail of the interesting sights coming into their path.
The road leading south through lovely twisty mountains towards Rishikesh with heavy foliage pressing on the road was a refreshing change after the barren wilderness of the high altitude sections; the only mishap throughout the day was a puncture for Jim Carr. The outstanding mountain retreat we made use of in the hills behind the town was a superb location to celebrate Vero Strucelj’s birthday. We dined on probably the best menu since arriving in India, our hosts made the evening very convivial and comfortable; in truth, it would have been easy to spend more time at this exceptional hideaway.
The day leading further south to Corbett National Park was, in retrospect, too long on twisty roads some of which had suffered substantial monsoon damage. Unfortunately, Simon Dedman had a coming together with one of the tiny Suzuki Marutis’ that locals invariably drive. The tiny car bounced off his sturdy Landcruiser inflicting minimal body damage to the Toyota but concentrating the full force of impact upon a front wheel. Luckily, between the mechanically minded, we got the vehicle driving again by jacking bent suspension away from the wheel and limping the hundred kilometres or so to our next overnight halt. I haven’t heard that anyone spotted a Tiger but wild elephants were seen in the vicinity as we approached the famous national park.
Day 22, the third of October, was a nice drive southwest across Uttar Pradesh through a provincial landscape farmed carefully using Buffalo and Oxen to work the ground. The Dussehra festival is a major Hindu celebration spanning ten days and signifies the victory of good over evil. It’s now in full swing and where we crossed the Ganges at one of the famous tirthas we found people bathing to cleanse their soul and immersing themselves in the holy waters. Later in the day, drawing close to Agra and within striking distance of our hotel, more parades and celebrations filled the streets making progress somewhat convoluted, I think everyone made numerous diversions in an attempt to sidestep the festivities but almost without exception we were delayed an hour or more.
Dawn is the perfect time to visit Agra’s most famous attraction, the Taj Mahal. The orange glow of daybreak rising to silhouette the mausoleum and the relative quiet before the noisy commotion of business starts gives this epitaph to love a most enduring appeal; most become somewhat spellbound and captivated whilst walking over the extensive site.
Temperatures have soared again as we return to lowland India peaking at 41°C and this combined with a high relative humidity has made it uncomfortable out in the midday sun earning the hardworking Tim Foate the new moniker of ‘‘Mad Dog’’!