[This was the day I arrived in India for the first time – the country where my Gorrie grandfather had made his living and my mother had spent the first 8 years of her life.  Of course in the 1920s there was no division between Pakistan and India and they felt equally at home in both, as I did, returning 50 years later.  The border area we drove through was all the Punjab. 

The first main stop was at Amritsar and its golden temple – the heartbeat of the Sikh religion – and a hugely impressive place.  In a letter home, I was obviously as taken with the people as the amazing temple: ‘There was a great holiday atmosphere.  Some of the Sikhs in their bright turbans and dark beards look really gorgeous!’]


Left Lahore, soon at the border.  Hours there while got through health checks, immigration and customs.  They hassled Mary [from New Zealand] over stamp on her health card and Pam and Sue [Australian] because theirs not stamped.  Two doctors very stubborn about cards.  Sue and Pam injected.  They suggested a bribe which Geoff had been expecting.  One took a foamy!  Layed on grass by a milk bar – lovely milk shake.  Nice shady trees, flowers, cooing of birds – very pleasant.  Eventually got away.

Headed for Amritsar along nice countryside – greener fields and trees all the time, fairly rich area.  Got to Amritsar late afternoon and left bus by the station – not allowed over the bridge.  Got tricycles into town – me and Neva perched dangerously on this tricycle with a very young lad peddling!  He was sweating away!  We had hilarious hair-raising journey, dodging through the mass of tongas, tricycles, scooters, bicycles – they came from all directions!  Then we all had to get off tricycles and walk up the bridge.  Coming down the other side the boy sped away overtaking everyone on a sharp corner.  We were nearly thrown – Neva said I was as white as a sheet!  Through bazaar streets, passed cows wandering oblivious among the traffic!

Dropped us outside Sikh Golden Temple.  Gave in our shoes and socks, given scarves for heads (tied like a pirate – blokes given them too).  Not allowed to take in cigarettes either.  Padded through trough of water before going through big archways.  Huge square with tank taking up most of the room with golden temple in the middle.  Marble promenade all around with white and pink arcades and various mausoleums and stalls of holy drinking water at various stages.  One mausoleum dedicated to somebody Singh who’d led attack to regain temple in about the 17th century and had fought on almost headless, only letting his head drop when reached the temple.  Temple was often desecrated and Sikhs persecuted up till 18th century – great fighters, kept fighting back for it.

Sikhism begun by Guru Nanak (15th century), bridging the gap between Islam and Hinduism – emphasis on non sectarianism.  Went across bridge to Temple – people touched stone on floor by doorway to the bridge and again at doorways to shrine.  Beautifully gold plated covering outside of temple shining in the evening light – one main dome and lots of little ones round parapet.  Followed queue into inside.  Lots of elderly women and men sitting round inside while musicians sat cross-legged beating drum and playing 2 electric pianos and singing continuously from Holy Book – all this was relayed to outside.

Dishing out free meals inside – sweet stuff served in leaf type dishes.  People giving money and bright orange flowers.  Some went upstairs where men reading out of huge big books and looking down on the scene below.  Out of second door, circled round temple – others stopping to bathe with tank water before moving on and touching 2 other doorsteps.

Amazing place – felt quite privileged to have this opportunity to get to the heart of the temple.  All so open in their prayer.  Saw fellas stripping and going into tank and immersing selves.  Sikhs put up anyone who comes to the temple and give free food – some people have misused this sadly.

Got lift back with same boy – fled downhill again – Neva tugging at him to slow down – he found this very funny and went faster.  Went with Neva and Janice to station cafe – taken by a little man in white who then serve us – had lovely coffee (though sweetened) – much cheaper than British Rail!  Vast, dark, old fashioned station restaurant.

Camped along wayside after dark – had eaten by road earlier.  Dead dog in ditch by tents – Hans buried it.”


[I recorded in a letter home that: ‘It was like coming home again to be in Pakistan after Afghanistan – could read the signs again; people are really friendly and we could have afternoon tea in comfortable seats set aside for ladies!  What’s more, we were dropped to do our site seeing by a cricket match.  It was great to sit on the grass in the sun watching cricket at the end of November!’

Lahore was where my grandfather, Robert Gorrie, went to work for the Indian Forestry Service in 1922, covering the Punjab and North West Frontier Province.  My grandmother, Sydney Easterbrook took the long sea voyage out there to join him – they were married in the cathedral at Lahore in 1923.  Yet it was only on reaching Delhi that I received a letter from Granny Sydney telling me this.  I record that: ‘I wish I’d realised that she was married in Lahore Cathedral when I was there, then I could have gone and paid my respects.’

Much of the time my grandparents (mother and uncles) travelled and lived in the mountains – Simla and Dehra Dhun – but when based in Lahore they enjoyed a rich cultural life and friends across the racial divide of the colonial regime. In 1976 there were still traces of this pre-Partition world – in buildings and lingering attitudes of some tourists – but Lahore has been used to absorbing and outlasting waves of invaders.  The result was a fantastic mix of architecture, tranquil gardens and seething street life.


A whole nomadic village watched us eat breakfast!  Hashish smokers.
Reached Lahore and drove up Mall.  After short stop, bus dropped us near mosque by cricket match!  Watched that in sun for a bit – really like an english summer – we attracted more crowds than cricketers.  Saw several wickets fall – great excitement on field; very little defensive batting!  (Probably schoolboys.  Apparently the next day Pakistan were playing an International Eleven!)

Went round second biggest mosque in world (founded in 1000s but mostly built in 17th century – Badshahi Mosque) – really lovely gardens on way in with stone summer house in middle and pools on either side.  Took off shoes at entrance – 2 typically “Anglo-Indian” types (Ronny and Adela – my reference to characters from EM Forster’s Passage to India) refused to give in their shoes and shouted at the attendent who eventually let them in – all very embarrassing.

Huge red sandstone courtyard with white dazzling walls.  Padded across this to mosque proper.  Huge red minarets and big domes – lovely cool marble floors, carpets under central dome, birds nesting above somewhere.  Me and Sally sat on steps – made friends with some women and kids (one oldish woman was breast-feeding a young kid).  Only spoke Urdu – wanted pictures taken – one woman had bright red hair and red stained fingers.  All had jewels in their noses and cheap jewellery; very colourful though grubby, tatty nail varnish.  Sally promised to send photo to them.  Then several people wanted theirs taken too!

Rushed up a minaret – good view over busy streets of Lahore and over fort too.  Felt weak and dizzy when got down – shows how unfit I am!  Then me, Jan, Rob, Sally and Fran made our way to fort.  Huge big round towers and battlements.  Went and sat under tree in pleasant garden – talked with english couple that Rob had met in Esfahan; they’d been given knives at an ammunition factory in Khyber Pass.  Lovely to sit in pleasant green surroundings – lovely flowers and trees.  Walked around central building – stood on balcony built by Akbar the Great!  (17th century, obviously beautiful pink tiles at one point.  On outside wall of fort were remains of tiles with elephants on).  View over lovely pool – fountains out of action.  Jan and I not allowed in one part – think it was a mosque.  Saw a bullock pulling a lawnmower!  Wide stairs to the ramparts for elephants and bullet holes in the wall.

Made for old bazaar – had drink under some trees, talked with a couple of travellers – one had started out with his wife – didn’t know where she was now.  Me and Fran were fired on by a bird from above!  Went into bazaar – Frances had a climb on a scabby camel – nearly threw her off; kicks and howls of protest from camel!  Attracted huge crowd.  Bazaar was incredible place – stunk of dung and hash.  Narrow streets crammed with colourfully dressed people, scooter rickshaws and tongas milling about almost running you down; no such thing as right of way!  Streams of bullocks pushing past – one in a stall spat at us!  Background rhythm of drums (as well as contant blare of horns) – several small shops making drums (men stoned out of minds with hash).  Various stalls selling fried foods and sugar cane and pomegranate juice.  Rob bought a big pipe.

We eventually got out by hiring a tonga – 5 of us and driver.  Skinny horse.  Incredible journey through bazaar fighting past other tongas.  Millions of figures – skinny holy man with single piece of orange material wound round him and gold dangly earring from one ear; women in tongas completely veiled in small-pleated material.
It was a real fight to get out – at traffic lights all the tongas surge from either side like a chariot race at the poor unsuspecting police, with us stuck in the middle!  (Dentist shops had huge diagrams of heads and details of mouth on boards outside).  After taking pictures of us on tonga, another tonga driver appeared and posed with us!  After GPO we went to expensive place on the Mall and had tea and patties and cakes!

Drove out several miles and camped in suburb called Gulberg, by hotel (use its washing facilities).  Di and I wandered round square looking for boiled eggs.  Ended up at grotty cafe and had cold chips and mangled eggs.  Later in evening got a scooter rickshaw into Lahore with Di and Rob and Maree – mad driver.

In cinema [The Regal], blokes came round with trays of sweets, ice-cream, drinks, crisps and cups of tea!  Hilarious trailers of films coming – “Inframan” and “Submersion of Japan” – ie will Japan follow Atlantis and what will the administrators do?!  Main film was “Man About the House” – not a good film but it was great to see a familiar series and relax to a film for once.

When we came out loads of scooter rickshaws were waiting to take people back.  Got an even madder driver – very draughty because doors were just on a small spring.  (Mark and Pam made rude noises at another rickshaw thinking it was us.  Rickshaw stopped and angry men got out – nearly got lynched!)  Contikee group were at flicks – one very nervous girl (they’d had accident and bus had rolled – two injured; drivers ok).”


Afghan fat-bottomed sheep at Bamiyan

[For mountain roads, they don’t come much more spectacular than the Kabul Gorge with its death-defying drops and smashed cars left as warnings to drivers.  Geoff our laconic driver took it all with his usual deadpan calm demeanour and delivered us safely to the mild plains below – so mild that we slept out under the stars.  Even a bloated stomach didn’t prevent me enjoying the beautiful, noisy Afghan night.]


“Up 7.30.  Packed to noises of front street below window – music blaring away.  Got Neva to help me chose another padded jacket from our little friend [for my Mum]  Then had toast and coffee.
Bus cleaned – nearly choked with dust!

Soon left plain and into Kabul Gorge!  Really spectacular cliffs and drops, tunnels and winding roads.  Dizzy feeling looking up at massive rocks.  Wreck of a van left at one corner as a cautionary tale.

After gorge went along by blue green rivers and pale mountains.  Down to valleys, becoming more cultivated.

Jalalabad surrounded by trees and irrigated fields.  Couldn’t get through border before sunset so camped on Afghanistan side.  Didn’t bother putting up tent because so mild (and ground of the peg bending type!)

Have got real gut ache – had some of Geoff’s liver salts – ugh.  Stomach swollen, can’t do up trousers!

Great lying out under starry sky – went to sleep listening to Supertramp.  Woke in night to hear dogs barking, donkey braying, someone singing in wailing voice and a guard shouting his head off (probably for lack of something better to do) and Janice snoring!”


[FOOD!  On the road, camping wild, we cooked up an awful lot of vegetable soup and stew – cabbage featured heavily and seemed to grow bigger the further east we went.  So eating locally was usually a treat – and the sweet pastries and puddings from Paris to Kathmandu were reason enough to follow the hippy trail.  I don’t think I’ve tasted such good yoghurt as in Bamiyan – and the cake in Kabul  – I couldn’t resist even when feeling sick.  Read below for a tasty idea!]


“Woke to the sound of one fella stoking the boiler and the pleasant sweet smell of woodsmoke.  People began to stir and order tea.  Had a “bolled” egg for breakfast!  Lazed around foa a while because so warm.

Then went out for a walk with Jan and Sue.

Really beautiful clear crisp morning.  Walked up by cliffs – followed solemnly by 3 sheep with huge swinging backsides.  Someone hammering in village caused an echo which sounded as if someone was working inside the cliff – really weird.
Gorgeous sun spilling over snowy mountains – a line of horses strapped to open carts, eating out of bags.
Met women and kids asking for matches – one carrying little baby wrapped in tight cloth – eyes clogged with black dust.
Went back to hotel and had a yoghurt with nuts and raisins!  Left mid morning, with extra passengers for Kabul.  Back down same road – lovely views again.  Hit a wall trying to avoid hole at side of road!  Saw line of goats coming down almost sheer cliff side.
Stopped for lunch late on, at the village on hill again – had cay at side of tiny square.  People off a bus at side of road got out and prayed.

Back to Mustafa hotel for welcome shower after dusty ride – still coughing from dust.  Went with Diane and Marie to Sigis Restaurant – nice setting around an open courtyard where a huge game of chess under floodlight was set up.  Sat on floor at tiny tables listening to Cat Stevens and Deep Purple.  Nearly deserted – were eventually only ones left – turned off heater too.  Had rather cold omlette.
Then went to Istanbul Restaurant for sweet.  Had gorgeous big chunk of cake (sponge with chocolate type topping with raisins and grapefruit segments)  Two musicians playing away with waiter contorting his hands!
Felt sick (did before meal).

Back to hotel – listened to Dylan in dining room before went to bed (cup of coffee).”



“In the daylight we could see quite dramatic cliffs behind us and a little village close to tents.  The usual crowd of spectators gathered (some on bicycles) to watch the morning ritual.

First stop was at a fabulous swimming pool, made from a fresh spring – beautifully blue and clear with trees round it.  Six of us decided to brave the cold water – me, Nikki, Chris, Mark, Rob and Diane.  Cold at first, but stayed in quite a bit because so refreshing.  Then sat around in the sun.  Talked about Rose Street [in Edinburgh, famous for its pubs]  Diane had worked for 6 months at the Tankard Lounge (Paddie’s Bar).
Next stop was in a little town – kids swarmed around bus – could hardly get away.  Mary [a very independent New Zealander] got left behind!  Apparently there’s always hassle there.  Had sandwiches (butties) outside town.
Saw Qanats

-outer signs of underground irrigation systems –
mounds of earth with deep shaft in the middle.

[Iranians have been digging these ingenious water tunnels for over 2000 years and this traditional method of water supply is still very important in these desert regions.  They also feature in my novel  THE VANISHING OF RUTH]

Scenery becoming more and more barren and dry.  Tried to shop in Neyriz but couldn’t even find any bread – must close down for siesta time.

Climbed up terrible mountain road, bit like Suardal [family home on Isle of Skye – see my memoir BEATLES & CHIEFS for tales of a 60s childhood] track in places  (except the hairpin bend variety!)
Great view over a lake; mountains spectacular too – sheer rock faces and jagged peaks.  On other side, road riddled with channels and some under pools of water.  Got stuck in one channel!  Back of bus wedged into bank – all got out and pushed.

Came across group of people sitting by side of the road – women swathed in black – obviously a bus stop!

Camped on rocky ground again – inside of tent like a series of mole hills – so many bushes under tent!”


[The trip up to Bamiyan was one of the most memorable of the whole journey.  We glimpsed Afghan village life among stunning mountain gorges as we climbed up 11,000 ft to the valley of the giant Buddhas.  Having stood for thousands of years, they are now gone – destroyed by a puritanical Taliban regime in retreat.  But we saw them in more tranquil days in the dazzling winter sun.  It made a lasting impression.  My novel THE VANISHING OF RUTH begins in Bamiyan when two passengers go missing from a bus trip …]


Up early – left packs at hotel and left for Bamian.  Wearing all our winter clothes!  Left tarmac road fairly soon and too to dirt road – incredibly dusty.  Wound way along valleys by mountain sides – really beautiful striking scenery, with dark green fast flowing rivers, delicate skeleton trees, some still golden. 
Stopped for breakfast at little village – went up to cay shop – small pot each (about 4 glasses worth) for about 8p.  Locals sitting about on the raised platforms covered with carpets – big stove with boiler above in the middle.

Stopped at another village further up valley and walked through it; busy workshops – meat, bread, drapers etc.  Food mostly big mounds of grain and nuts.  Me and Jan took “ethnic shot” of men weighing something on mansize scales!

Walked up hill beyond village – good view back down of mud type houses set on mountainside.

Traffic jam further on!  Small bridge over river had collapsed slightly under weight of a big truck.  Villagers all gathered round watching truck being hauled upright again – very precarious position.  (Later we heard that the truck had gone right over into river the day before and had been there until we arrived!)  Had a lunch stop while we waited – nice grass bank by bus with houses above – women sitting around on small platform by house;

lots of inquisitive kids sat with us and demanded their picture – “Mister! Mister!” to the girls as well.  Lots of dead sheep piled up at side of river.  Finally big cheer and truck pulled out of the way.

Road began to climb after that to the Shiba Pass – hairpin bends, very dusty tracks.  One hair-raising moment when bus couldn’t make hairpin bend because slipped on ice!  All piled out and pushed because bus going nearer the edge all the time!  Not too bad after that.

Passed Red Fort in the evening sunlight (sacked by Ghengis Khan), some of mountains so brown and creased, looked like huge sand dunes.  Reached Bamian late afternoon.

Had wander up village as it closed up – little lamps outside each shop, shimmering through the dust.  People here had marked Mongol features.  To one side were the big cliffs with the big and little buddhas (175ft and 115ft) and the caves of the buddhists, and to the other were trees and snow capped mountains.  Really lovely clear still atmosphere.

That night we all piled into one of the “hotels” – really a cay house – and sat around on carpets with shoes off, with a stove in the middle of the room that kept the room really warm.  Various other Western people in too – off the local bus.  We all ate in there – went through gallons of lovely yoghurt – some with raisins, honey or apple.  (Had nice Kurie Kebab too).  Drank lots of cay.

We spread out foamies on the carpets and all slept in the room – boiled because of the stove!  (Outside freezing – Heidi’s contact lense liquid froze!)  Some people got bed bugs!  All very friendly at the hotel.  Some classic signs: “Please dont smoke hashish in this room” and “To the very good toilet.”


[Today’s entry on haggling in Kabul’s shops conjured up the Life of Brian episode where the prospective buyer just didn’t get the hang of it!  I ended up with leather soled socks that reeked of animal till their dying day.  Our meal with the students that evening was one of those golden moments on the trail where you stumble into the local life because of the friendship of strangers]


“Felt better!  Had hot shower, heated from old boiler.  Jan, Pam and I dashed around looking for open bank.  Got money eventually (tried apple pie – not very good).

Went jumper hunting – instead bargained for thick leather soled socks from barrow in the street (didn’t really want them but boy was so aggressive I was determined to knock the price down!)  Then helped Jan knock down price of carpet saddle bag from 600 afghans to 340.  Still felt we’d been ripped off because they seemed so pleased and sat us down, gave us cay, chips and sweets!  Somehow I don’t think we’ve got the haggling touch.

Went back to buss and met Fred – went to hotel for coffee and lunch.  Neva bought 2 nice quilted jackets, so dragged her out to help me buy one.  Went to shop in Chicken Street – Neva had had an argument in there already with stroppy little boy – tried to buy one but he wouldn’t bring down price.  Then he got other boy in different shop to refuse us entry too!  Really sick of this haggling lark! – some of them don’t seem to want to even sell their stuff.  Went to arcade by hotel and got one there!

Paul, Julie and Neva had met 2 Iranian students the night before who had arranged to meet them next evening.  They asked for another girl and so Julie asked me.  They took us in this taxi, quite far out, to a suburb of Russian built flats, where one of them shared a flat with a medical student.  Sat us down in small bedroom with carpets on floor and fed us grapes and pistachio nuts and cay while they cooked an Iranian meal for us.  Both very lively.  Third one came in later.

Hassan taught us this card game.  The meal was lovely – kebab meat (delicious) with chips, cauliflower and raw onion (medic said that it was an anticeptic to prevent bad stomach) and beautifully made rice – they burn top with oil.  More cay.  They were very amusing practising their english with us – medic was the translator.  Hassan positioned Paul so he could see out of the window at Afghan girls in opposite flats.  Others teased Hassan that all he did was watch girls – he’s in love with the medic’s sister!

They walked with us until we got taxi (driver was wrapped like a monk – blanket over head – Hassan said it was a woman driver!)  Drove like a maniac – passed a crashed taxi and truck!

Had sticky cake because Neva was fed up with their comments about being fat – so made her feel like eating more!  Coffee in hotel then went to bed.

(Graveyards in Afghanistan – rough stones, many with big poles over them with coloured flags at top – purple ones supposed to denote violent death – lots of them)”


[A queasy stomach and a letter from home telling me that my chief, Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod had just died, combined to make me feel blue and missing home.  I had visited my nonagenarian chief in Scotland before leaving; she had lived in India as a young woman and was excited about my trip.  You can read more about her and my childhood trips to the Isle of Skye in BEATLES & CHIEFS]


“Headed for Kabul – felt really sick.  Stopped at small village – wandered up wide main street, hailed by breadmakers, so went in and saw bread being made in dark boiling room. Several of them making it; slapped loaves onto side of oven (set in the floor) and picked off before they fell into cinders.  Gave us some to taste, asked for photos as usual.

Reached Kabul late afternoon – low lying houses up side of river, with houses up side of hills either side of river.  Fairly grubby tatty town – more Western dress than in previous places.  Drove past prison – terrible looking hole (people die of exposure, dissentry etc. – where drug pushers end up).

Our hotel (Mustafa) was near Chicken Street – tourist bazaar area.  Settled into hotel (3 letters).  Went out in evening to wander round.  Freezing cold.  Went into fur shop with Heidi and Di – had great time drooling over coats, hats etc – given cay and cake (but I felt too sick to have any).
Went into clothes shop further up – very friendly.  (Clothes etc looked nicer at night, shabbier in daylight).

6 of us went to steak house – very cheap, lots of bus tours etc use it.  Couldn’t touch any of food.  Went back to hotel early – electricity off, so room dark and freezing.  Sally and Fran slept on floor of our room.
Felt homesick and unwell.”

Retro look at the world – photos from India: 1920s Himalayas to 1970s overland travel!

In 1923 my granny left Edinburgh and went out to India to marry my grandfather in Lahore (now in Pakistan). They spent the 20s and 30s living and working in the Punjab and foothills of the Himalayas – Bob Gorrie was a forester.

Over 50 years later, I followed in their footsteps by going out east on an overland bus …

Retronaut – 1970’s Overlanders

Anyone interested in the pictorial history of these times, should take a look at an interesting site called Retronaut, which provides time-capsules of ordinary people’s experiences through old photos and film.

My two capsules are on there, and there are dozens more – a treasure trove for the writer or researcher!

Retronaut – 1920’s India


[We stayed an extra day in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan – Pakistan’s biggest province.  In a letter home, written in Quetta though not posted until Rawalpindi a week later, I give it the thumbs up. “We reached Quetta yesterday – fantastic place – funny mixture of Eastern and old-fashioned British …” 
I remember feeling that the town was strangely familiar – after the kebabs and flat breads and Persian script of Iran, Quetta had omlettes and milky tea and English spoken in the shops and cafes.  After the desert dust, it buzzed with life and colour and commerce and noise.  I had a curious sense of homecoming.  This was on the fringe of the old British India where my grandparents had lived and worked – my grandfather was employed by the Indian Forestry Service – and where my mother had spent her childhood.  I was drawing nearer to all that.  And shopping for hippy gear in the bazaars – that was my kind of shopping!]

FRIDAY 19TH NOVEMBER, 1976VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Lie in !!!  (10 o’clock).  Had leisurely breakfast at Metropole after taking 1 and half hours to get up.  Lovely omlette and chips.  Had mad time in clothes shop looking at embroidered waistcoats and tops – in one shop about 6 of us had half the stock out to try on – turned shop upside down – I bought a gold velvet dress!
Saw a lot of men praying in lines outside mosque in bazaar, between 12 and 1.  Lot of stalls close down then.
Wandered through cloth market.
Tonight went to Liberty Cafe for meal (I only had tea and pud) Others had curry.
The Pakistanis from last night came in again – apologised for any offence.  Tried to get involved again but we left (Dr gave Sally prescription for voice though).  Waiter rushed out after us, very flustered, trying to tell us that they were bad men!
Hurried home past armed guards!
Adrian had tried to get some hash – had nearly asked 2 men who turned out to be plain clothes policemen!  When he finally got some, no one was interested in smoking it!”

[Quetta features in my mystery novel of the hippy trail, OVERLANDERS – it plays a pivotal role]