ROAD TO KASHMIR – VULTURES, ELEPHANTS AND GOOD CHAI, 1976

[From Amritsar we made for Kashmir, that disputed land between India and Pakistan.  On the way we passed village India – vultures at a slaughter house, roaming elephants, snake charmer, good chai – and then rose into the hills alongside army convoys. 

In a letter home I reflect: ‘Kept thinking of Granny and Grandad as we drove through forested mountains and especially through the Punjab … the Punjab villages were fascinating – full of fried smells and cay shops; saw my first elephant eating branches off the trees …’

This landscape would have been very familiar to my Scottish grandparents (my grandfather was a conservator of forests here in the 1920s to 1940s).  Strange to think that my mother, Sheila Gorrie, would have known the Himalayan foothills of India as home, long before she set eyes on her own mountains of Scotland.]

MONDAY 29TH NOVEMBER, 1976

Woke to heavy dew, morning mist.  Lots of bicyclists with gaily coloured turbans – most of them stopped to look at us!  Trains roaring past on the other side of road; road lined with tall trees.

Soon after leaving we saw loads of vultures in field by the road.  Stopped and went over to see them – massive ugly birds with long necks; some found it hard to take off because so full!  Flocked up onto trees – looked top-heavy on branches, made trees look undersized!  Slaughtering going on nearby – skinning buffalo for skins and leaving carcasses for the vultures.

Stopped at little village (with a MacRobert Hospital, Salvation Army!)  Incredibly cheap fruit and veg eg 7p for 5 bananas.  Walked up village and saw 2 elephants!  One big one tearing down ends of branches and eating them, with little fellow next, trying to get a look in by putting its trunk in the biggun’s mouth!  Both had painted ears and top of trunks.  Big one had something strapped to its back.

Stopped for lunch at wayside – incredible amount of army trucks going by (now in Jammu & Kashmir – heavily guarded).  Wandering through a dry empty field – lovely view of fields, hedgerows and greenish dips; round cocoon-type nests hanging from couple of trees – all empty.

Countryside becoming greener, with lovely pink flowers in hedges and gradually hillier.  Went to tourist place in Jammu – very helpful and friendly.  Snake charmer by bus – pipe and 2 snakes around neck and arms!  I decided to watch from the window!
Cay stop at little village – very nice cay – water boiled up with the milk, tea and sugar.  Into hills – lovely orange sunset over hills and green gullies – green pool and waterfall; climbing up slopes covered in green scrub.  Villages full of friendly waving people.  Camped quite far up by the road – dropping away to valley below.”

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