Denise Sloan

This is Denise's personal memories page for you to enjoy reading her stories please click on the headings below

Plans to revisit 2015 
and her offer to buy childrens dresses for you if you wish

Revisit 2013

My Oct/Nov 2011 visit to India

Adventures with Four Fat Ladies and others

February 6 2015

Denise tells us :   As I am about to forsake hearth and home for my usual jaunt to warmer climes I would again like to offer to buy smocked and embroidered dresses for anyone who wants to treat a granddaughter or two. If they can email me with age,  height and size  I am always delighted to spend time in the Good Companion's shop and the Women's Friendly Society  This sign has  gone up in Mal Bazaar beside the school which I still take an interest in. some good guitar players are emerging. I leave this Sunday but will be picking up emails  here and there.
 With best wishes from Mary Denise Sloan ( Pollard)
From: thesloans
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2015 1:30 AM
Subject: music academy
music academy

 For those interested please contact Denise direct


May 7 2013

We have to thank Denise for sending her comments and
story of their rece
nt visit to Assam

few jottings and memories from my latest travels in India ,
Denise Sloan (Pollard)

“We said we wouldn’t look back” , a favourite song from the musical salad days but reading of other visits by Koi-hai readers and realizing that the political situation had become more settled this was the year that Frances and I decided that a trip to Assam was on the agenda so after three flights here we were feeling like players in the film, The best exotic marigold hotel , arriving into Gawahati on the most hectic night of the Dussera puja, every one in holiday mood including the taxi driver from the airport. With roads closed or impassable due to all the lorries and floats on their way to the Ghats we made slow progress through the crowded streets. We had landed into the colour and noise of India at its best Our hotel called the star hotel could have been called the 101 steps but the staff were friendly, our room bright and clean and the dining room turned out to be the kitchen where the rather inebriated staff managed to put together an excellent curry without falling over each other. A room for two was about R1000 quite adequate as we were likely to be out all day and my trusty well travelled kettle and tea pot plus some biscuit bars set us up well for breakfast. I immediately fell for Gawahati ,the beautiful wide Brahmaputra in front with the little hills behind, all very pretty lit up at night .The oldest church in Assam rebuilt after an earthquake with the church land given to the state for a park All around the park were terracotta sculptures of Assamese dancers and musicians. . Boat trips leave the Ghats all the time as there is a small island shrine where devotions are made. In the evening the sun sets over the river so it’s the best time to take a boat trip

From Gawahati we hired a jeep and driver for six days, the cost including the drivers food and lodging was R 37000 .Off course you can fly to Dibrugah but then so much will be missed Our driver called Hari was excellent, no racing lorries and stopping where ever we took a whim Kaziranga tourist lodge was our first stop, too early in the season for elephant rides but due to the recent floods the rhinos were obligingly grazing near the road which goes through the park. In the morning I did see about ten jeeps crammed with sightseers going out, a far cry from my first visit to Kaziranga with our parents and the Kennewells, a dak bungalow and about three elephants on the morning ride. Sivsagar tourist lodge was our next stop after a leisurely day visiting the strange conical temples and ruins of the old city At night the temples were busy , full of pilgrims and lit by hundreds of flickering oil lights as well as the streamers of electric bulbs. My sister feeling a bit jaded decided to forgo a meal so I walked back into the town to find a restaurant , a good meal in solitary splendour probably far too early for most Indians but I was conscious of the walk back along a dark lane and wanted to be back before the temple crowds dispersed . The following day we were driving through the familiar tea country . A quite apprehensive feeling as we approached Doomdooma, so many memories of coming home. Memories, are they best left untouched ? The welcome from our kind hosts Ashish and Nita Sinha put away any thought of sadness and then to see Tara and the bungalow Order all around, the bungalow and compound immaculate , Can there be a more gracious way of living ?. Some little jealousy allowed here, to have servants around,. to be able to plan and execute the fanciest ideas for a garden and have a mali on hand for the digging unlike the mali !! Here, such grumbling as we attempted to dig the malibari , mutterings of Russian labour camp and don’t give my love to Monty if you see him ! to have the mundane chores like cleaning and washing taken care of would be such a luxury. A huge difference was to see that most of the cooking and food preparation is now done in the bungalow, the bortchi khana fifty yards away now obsolete . The high ceilings and large rooms, what space. Still plenty of clay pots around the verandas. All the bungalows have metal security grids around the verandas and the thatch has been replaced by corrugated sheets After so much exhausting mental excitement instead of falling asleep I started reading the camellia magazine so it was the early hours before I turned out the light. The internet although slow was available and every one has a mobile, also sky TV. What a contrast from the days of radio and a message sent by car. What did we do at in the evenings ? in our bungalow we played cards , played darts and read the airmail edition of the telegraph which was shared between several bungalows . Our parents always changed for dinner so bath, change and dinner took up some of the early evening As youngsters we ate an early supper with the Ayah .Club days and nights feature in most of my parents letters, what film was on, how the golf went, Mary being a regular winner of the monthly medal. A club meet and sale raised 600 rupees for Chubua hospital helped by the river boys arriving halfway through with some mahseer and wild duck to be sold towards the proceeds. Another club party ended up with two fiat cars being lifted up the steps, one to the dance floor and one on to the veranda Any wedding or impending wedding was major news . In the early sixties there were also quite a few resignations It was difficult time for those planters with children at boarding school . The company paid about the first £100 of the fees but the rest had to be found as did the boarding costs for holidays. Inflation in India was running away with any profit and bonus’s were very small compared to the fifties . The devaluation of 6-6-66 knocked a few planters sideways (off their bar stools) if their pension was in rupees.

Our stay on Tara was in late October so tea was still being manufactured . When we went around the factory we noticed many changes . high security , white hats and aprons as well as shoe wash. Every bit of the leaf is sorted and sorted I am sure there are many more grades than in previous times. the call to work is still the siren The wonderful tea aroma fills the air and time seemed to have stood still as we watched the labour lining up to weigh their baskets. I think scent more than anything else can take one back to a place or person at a particular time. Our car here is a Suzuki very nearly the same as the Suzuki gypsy very popular on the tea gardens , a very robust jeep, better in the snow and ice than many of the fancier range rovers around. Glancing through a box of my parents letters the waiting for a new ambassador car was endless, about eleven months and then the colour was as it came, no choice .My father write of his admiration of Rajendra Singh motoring to Rajasthan in his little old ford 8 .In the early sixties before the new Ambassador we had a ford V8, probably not the best car to try my hand at driving my father came back from the factory with a mock stern face “well who has been trying to mow down the labour force “.Aged fifteen I had taken the car out with the driver and thinking that I was getting on reasonably well decided to drive around the factory, unfortunately it was pay day so the place was crowded, luckily there was no injuries In another letter my father advises me not to marry a tea planter as there would be so little opportunity for travel. he suggested a diplomat . Well a farmer was my choice so for many years there wasn’t much travel . Travelling in the mind through books has always been my delight and now with face book friends, I can take an e trip through Canada ,California, Australia, India, Spain and France with a few taps of the keys. Small world indeed when my cousin in Melbourne mentioned the weather , next day a friend of a friend writes you must be in Melbourne as it’s the same temperature as we are having. Today the planters and their wives can be in daily contact with their sons and daughters by email, face book and twitter . Our dogs featured in our parents letters every week and also friends pets My father writes that he admires Alec Bruce’s well trained labrador who would walk to heel without a lead around the golf course but he goes on to add that really he likes the fighting character of our terrier who was not so disciplined and would take on any pi dog who crossed his path .

All over India road building is in evidence Assam will eventually have a motor way through it to the border; unfortunately cutting through many tea gardens A motor way is also under construction very much bit by bit from Kolkata to the north There appear to be so many different stages in progress that it will be a miracle if it all joins up before the first sections are due for repair Similarly here the N11 near Ballard is finally after a long delay being upgraded to a motorway.. Work has already started so plenty of excitement for the grandsons to watch the heavy machinery and progress, two years of road works ahead

When I am travelling I make time to paint , an afternoon painting the river by Duamara with the sun warm on our backs, another afternoon painting the bungalow, tea and cold drinks brought out without asking. Many painting interludes turn into portrait sessions,

Our visit to Samdang golf course was very nostalgic to see the names on the honours boards , our mother still the only person to have a hole in one on the eighth The course was looking quite serene , the sun setting over the bheal and a silver moon coming through the evening mist. If there are ghosts they were there, anyone who has played on the course will be able to recollect that special evening atmosphere . The planters club has hardly changed ,the bar is exactly the same, the library, how well I remember my father searching for suitable books for me to read when I spent a time away from school aged nine My love of reading stems from those dusty shelves .. Our mother a worthy winner of the silver scissors. followed the next year by Tunoo Buroah The billiard room, the dance floor, the club has witnessed some great social evenings. The pool which was so controversial when it was being built has stood the test of time but is only filled in the hot weather I don’t suppose the children are as hardy as we were back then. Coming from the winter in England we were going to swim where ever and what ever the temperature! 

Elephant incursions are frequent all through the tea, their old territories gradually being colonised The drive between Tara and Duamara which used to be mainly jungle is now cultivated by small land owners growing just at few cuttas of tea with supari nut trees as shade trees, two crops in the space of one. Tea plucking machines are in use on some of the gardens . Although we didn’t see them in operation . It takes two workers to handle one With the higher educational standards young men do not always feel that a life picking tea leaves like their mothers and grandmothers offers much scope for advancement , handling and maintaining a tea plucking machine can seem more skilful, disaffected youth can become the loose cannons in society.

Doomdooma town has extended but the statue of Gandhi still stands opposite the planters stores From Tara the drive to Doomdooma goes past Sookerating air strip ,Dry goods and groceries flown from Kolkata were very welcome .Then, long bicycle rides and exploring abandoned world war 2 huts. Today the airfield is operational with the Indian airforce so high wire fencing surrounds the area The road past Sookerating in to Doomdooma is as potholed as ever which made the “sleeping policemen” rather superfluous our host Ashish noted. We were sad to leave DoomDooma district, I hope to go back and explore further, the region to the north east and perhaps the newly created forest park After another couple of nights in Gawahati this time in the tourist lodge, beware the lift, usually out of order (another 100 steps) Next the train to Alipur Duars and a grandprix drive in a tuc tuc to catch a connection to Mal. We were back in the tourist lodge in Mal bazaar, twelfth year for me A visit to the school, As this trip had to be taken during the Durga puja holidays I missed seeing the pupils and staff. A new sign up this year,” Sloan Music Institution “as well as North East English School and there was music going on,,taught by Abraham on Saturday mornings. Father John Thwaytes in Caesar School is still managing as best he can, never complaining and I am pleased to say that he is now in a much more secure position and surrounded by love and well wishers Looking at his birthday celebrations in the school on you tube when the children sang and presented him with flowers it was interesting to see how wrapped up all the children and teachers were It was a very cold winter in the Dooars, no central heating or go home teachers if the mercury drops below what ever the British schools consider too cold, in other words when ever the pupils have to wear a jumper as well as their tee shirts From Bagdogra we flew to Delhi with an overnight stop in a very indifferent and expensive hotel near the airport before an early morning flight to Amritsar The smog filled the foyer of the hotel and we weren’t even right in the city . A good reason for avoiding Delhi in the winter How anyone can live with such pollution I don’t know. Amritsar couldn’t be further from the tea gardens in more ways than distance ; not a sari to be seen,, turbans of every hue and a dry dusty landscape Our first hotel booked through ipad was a disaster, unfortunately paid with the air fare in advance, after requesting an immediate clean of the room then a look at the view which was of a rubbish recycling depot. Frances had already cleaned the bathroom herself (she has a bit of a thing about loos) also noting that the bathroom wall didn’t reach the ceiling so bathroom noises and conversations would be shared by the next room we had a quick cup of tea and decided to walk the one kilometre to the golden temple, three hot kilometres later, walking along a road full of lorries under repair we reached the centre and the Golden temple, plenty of hotels so into one we went and yes they had a room with a balcony and a view of the temple . While Frances settled down with a cold drink I went back and collected our luggage, money lost but it was worth it The owner of the first hotel did ask me wistfully if I would write something nice in” make my trip” so I wont give the name of the hotel The central hotel we stayed in was the VJ hotel The staff couldn’t have been kinder and we were so near the temple complex that I was able to leave my shoes in the foyer when we went out to the temple which we did every day. The huge temple complex, busy but quietly devotional even with the loud speakers is quite awe inspiring Always spotlessly clean it was a place to walk, sit quietly and just watch the Sikh families. A guided walk around the old streets gave us an insight to how the city must have been before the traffic congestion of mainly scooters and carts At times even as a pedestrian it was impossible to move back or forth along the narrow alley ways Plenty of delicious street food and of course while we were there we took the trip to see the border ceremonies between India and Pakistan.. Great fun .One evening we were also informed by the staff that we had visitors and they turned out to be a Swedish friend who used to live in Ireland and her travelling companion It was quite a surprise and as luck would have it not only had we our evening medicine ready but had bought nuts and savouries as well ,The hotel staff were tickled pink to surprise us with the reunion. We had four years of catch up and local gossip to exchange! Amritsar is also quite a shoppers paradise, a good reason to travel with female companions . Husbands never seem to have the same thrall as two hours in a carpet shop or repeated visits to the derzi . 

Our holiday had come to an end ,The weather had been perfect, the sun shone every day, we made new friends and saw old and new places Back to a rather Indian household for me as I arrived back to find a daughter and her family had moved in so we had a winter of small children, some good company and shared cooking both son in-laws are excellent cooks but how we yearned for an ayah at times..(Also a guilt free lieback time) We had girls so Michael and I find, even now, after seven grandsons that we are still not used to their destructive powers, boys seem to want to hit or bang every thing in passing, as for three year olds playing pippa pig on I phones etc it invariably leads to disaster as the phone ends up in water somewhere. Michael took to a chota peg quite early in the evenings. Peace now reigns again . The little treasures have moved to a rented house nearer the city. I consider myself very lucky because all my family including four of the grandsons have visited India and seen tea gardens in the Dooars and stayed in Darjeeling and Kolkata So when I natter on they know some of the people and places. This has been a long winter weather wise and we are still buying meal for the sheep, lambing is over and we were lucky, its been very wet at times then very cold but we missed the snow, I still consider Darjeeling one of the coldest places to visit , the cold damp air really gets under your clothes.

The teagardens will be in full production now, Assam has more regular rain than the Dooars where they were still desperate for rain a few weeks ago. In March I was lucky enough to go on a little jolly to Istanbul as a co director of our eldest daughters children’s clothing business. A small note here is that the clothing factory was state of art, free lunch for the workers, free medical care What a beautiful and romantic city, on a little wander around the flower market I came on a seed merchant selling amongst other things sacks of tea seeds. I had not known that Turkey has a large tea industry so with most of my other seed trays sulking with the cold my tea seeds, after soaking till they sank have germinated rapidly so perhaps there will be a Ballard cuppa in the future. Even with the late spring the primroses are out in abundance which brings to mind a letter from my mother with the exciting news that she has one primrose in flower on plants brought down from Darjeeling .With all the emails and I information now available the written letter is still more precious. With 2000 plus emails sitting on the computer, procrastination sets in when ever I think of sorting and filing especially with the amount of form filling required for any farming enterprise. Photo albums also so much more fun to look through than scrolling through Cds. I include an eclectic selection of paintings and a few photos past and present

Readers of Koi-hai are most likely like myself surrounded by souvenirs and artefacts from India which makes me think that most of India’s history and heritage is probably displayed in cabinets and on mantelpieces in England, Scotland (especially) and Ireland . Cloth pictures from Kalimpong, .ivory Carvings from pockface in Digboi. Smiling wooden buddhas and the most unbreakable of all ,,ancient brass ornaments and vases. These days I search out cloth pictures in the antique shops in Kolkata, no longer made but I am still hoping to find one of the dancing Tibetan girl as displayed in the planters club in Darjeeling. Last time I was in Kolkata I bought after several visits and long deliberation including many glasses of tea, a carved tiger in a beautiful striped stone .Just before leaving for Dublin airport I dropped a ruby earring as I was taking it out . The car was waiting so the search had to be immediately abandoned. I fully expected to find the earring on my return, not so, every hoovering of the carpet has been sifted through, the floor has been examined on hands and knees . A Georgian bedroom chair has been dismembered but no luck so it’s a good excuse to make sure I head back to Kolkata on my next visit to have a replica made by Walters at which point the original is sure to turn up Do readers remember the two leaves and a bud brooches and cuff links usually made in gold on black onyx. I have the cuff links but not the earrings my mother was so concerned about in a letter of having the design right .

The weeks whiz by and I hope that next November will see me back again . A school friend has already asked to come with me in 2014. In the meantime there are rows of sweetpeas to tie up, perhaps my Mali! will give me a hand. although like the young and not so young tea garden men he prefers to garden with a machine in hand , chainsaw or strimmer and of course the ride on mower , designer paths through the wild flower paddock.

A quote from plays of Gods and man by Lord Dunsany caught my eye as the preface to Somerville and Ross ‘s book, Irish memories

What is this child of man that can conquer time and is braver than love

Even memory

He shall bring back our year to us that time cannot destroy Time cannot slaughter it if memory says no It is reprieved though banished. We shall often see it, although a little far off and all its hours and days shall dance to us and go by one by one and come back and dance again.

…… It is a trick that memory can do, He comes up softly in the town or the desert where ever a few men are, like the strange dark conjurers who swing to snakes and he does his trick before them and does it again and again.

                                           Some Memory pictures


Gandhi's Statue

Sivsager Arches

Weighing Tea on Tara


November 26 2011
Denise sent me these stories of her visit to India They are not in the usual order as I normally place the last at thtop of the page

In this case the three are in order which makes a much better read

Thank you Denise

October 25 2011
A message from Denise Sloan--

Starting Off

Dear David,and koi-hai readers
A day of monsoon rain here in Ireland for which we are very greatful as the ground still remains dry in the east of the country . With luggage assembled, packed and repacked, the Dublin-Heathrow allowance being much less than the air india baggage allowance . (50 presents for the school children taking up half the case) however with one of those portable scales initial panic  was overcome when I realised that I was reading pounds not kilos, two heads are better than one when it comes to the detaiI. I think there will be a few koi-hai readers who will be envying me as as I travel out this thursday to Kolkata and the sights sounds and smells of our familiar city  . "Last orders please" is for anyone who would like me to buy  embroidered or smocked dresses in the "Good Companions" in Russell Street the dresses for children aged 1-7 are approx £8-14 euros each depending on size. as a great many of us are now grandparents these cotton dresses are the best present ,beautifully embroidered and smocked. No logos and other stuff that we all hate to see our young family members flaunting.  With seven grandsons ourselves I am only to delighted to have a good excuse to buy for others. If you would like me to buy, please email me before thursday  27th October at with age and size of girl, fat /thin, tall /short and colours preference. Happy Divali Denise



November 5 2011
Visit to Delhi and Kolkata

Thanks to Denise Sloan we have a fine description of her current visit to India:

Some on the spot impressions of Kolkata.
Kolkata today  assails the senses, both physical and mental, a teaming metropolis,  the pavements densely packed and the cars still driving like bumper cars, superb driving, an inch is as  good as a mile so why worry . Arriving in from De;lhi terminal the contrast couldn't be greater. For those of you who havn't been through Delhi in the last few years the new international  terminal is state of art, gleaming marble and glass, the shops selling the kind of goods that the new wealthy Indian or European tourist would like to aspire to,But  the acres and acres of  of brown patterned carpet and the sullen( so slow she is nearly going backwoods) attitude of the female security woman reassure that not all has changed.  Brown is still a favourite colour of all government departments especially state tourist lodges. Arriving into October heat after a cool summer back in Ireland is such a tonic , to feel the air as warm as skin without being torrid. Here I am staying in the centre so I can't admit to having seen the new Kolkata  perhaps when I return in a few weeks I'll take a tour .Chowringee is dominated by a massive fly over.  These  are springing up all over the place. Trying to keep up with the increased car ownership will be difficult but the improvement in air quality from a few years back is very noticeable. No Kolkata cough and I haven't seen any one using a face mask. New build continues apace and it is sad to see some of the grand old houses along park lane so dilapidated  eventually they can be condemmed and then the concrete jungle moves in . not all the new build is ugly . India does have imaginative use of concrete at times although surely the flat to wall windows must make the rooms unbearably hot . Seeing the old mansions with their balconies and deeply recessed windows, they were built for the heat and not just for another airconditioning unit. The big bulding at the end of Chowringee which you may remember houses the central cottage industries has had a complete face  lift and is now gleaming in white and gold. Not so the Great Eastern hotel,  although there seems to be some work going on behind the screens, wandering into the Great Eastern a few years ago I could see the remains of the central garden with the fountain still there . The place had more wires running around than was possible to imagine and the walls were covered in letter boxes, obviously still a good address. An afternoon in the Indian museum is still fascinating ,a bit like the forth bridge the u keep is endless but I found the the animal exhibits well lit and displayed. I suppose some of the stuffed animals are as old as the museum so it is no surprise that a bit of fur is missing here and there . The Indian museum has the largest collection of fossils in the world long galleries of every bone from the mammoth to a mouse it must be heaven for  a,  I wont try and spell the word but it begins with pha. The evening,s are spent like all Kolkata tourists, wandering,  a fresh juice , some street appetisers , enjoying the colour and buzz . surely Kolkata has more tailors  than any other city , how to choose?  I have shirts made by Onyx, seven shirts for the boys in decreasing sizes, trousers for Michael from Ali Bros who have his measurements .  Girls dresses are bought from the Good companions and in a week or two their winter or Christmas goods will be in Mignonette is still there  with their own make of dresses . Walters on Chowringee undertake complicated repairs  and offers better value than the new market . The New Market is a place I don't really enjoy,  too much selling and no chance to  browse. The Victoria Memorial  and gardens are immaculate and at present there is an exhibition of Kalighat pat paintings on loan from the Vand A, St Pauls likewise is kept well , Sunday communion  service has the whole service, no shortened skipped parts as we have now. Sadly the Maidan looks good from the distance but apart from  the   hundreds of simultaneous  cricket matches going on and the small enclosures kept for sports clubs the area is a sea of litter washing up like flotsam and jetsam against the edge,  is it ever cleared? or does it just subside into the ground eventually like compost, wretches who I am told are addicts abound , how they feed their addiction I cant imagine . An unexpected delight was a concert of classical Indian dance , quite fantastic . boneless limbs that are  in an instant  transformed to a rigid pose all the time keeping time with tinkling footwork. Prices are edging up, nothing to a tourist really, but noticeable all the same, juice up from IR 15 to 20 in a year. Eating out is still very cheap unless you are heading for the Grand or the Peerless . Peter Cat and Fleurys are busy and the places to be seen ,  celebrating the find and eventual buy of a Kalimpong cloth picture this morning I treated myself to an eggs and bacon breakfast in  Fleurys. A very good meal in pleasant surroundings is only about IR  400. I eat in Guptas on Free school street, any portion more than enough for one  so now I ask for the remainder to be parcelled up with a few extra  breads and give it to a street family near by.  The street families keep arriving with their bundle and their cooking pots. Reading "A suitable boy" for the second time, enough pages to last the three weeks. brings me into the reality of why so many just have to leave their village and that is describing rural life sixty years ago . . I stay in a small basic hotel in Kyd street, kind staff, tiny room but the double bed is enough to lay out my things .  bathroom is the shiny tiles from floor to ceiling with two little ledges to catch the unwary toe . the room has no window just a small louvered window in the bathroom , amazing how easy it is to become used to very simple living but with my kettle and teapot,and a  tracker bar I take my breakfast out to the large terrace and like a meerkats  soak up the early sun. Now its about time for fresh juice and tomorrow I must make the effort and move north before the weather turns cold. So as my Aussie school friend Jen leathart, ex Calcutta  and winner of all the Calcutta swimming club trophies emailed the city still keeps the memories of old Calcutta alive


November 17 2011

part 3   end of the book and end of my stay 

Dear David . The end of the book, A suitable boy. Lata marries Haresh and Mrs Rupa Mehra has her sights on a finding a suitable girl for Varun ,
Last minute shopping ,with a large parcel packed and posted, lots of room for bazaar items Kolkata of the extremes as I sit here typing in the gloom cheek by cheek with all the men looking for miss perfect  India . My sight-seeing seems to fall by the wayside but every day experiences never fail to amaze . whilst painting a watercolour at the back of  the antique  shop beside the post office in Park street, permission, plus mora and water having been supplied, watched over by three guards including one with a rifle slung over his shoulder ,after fifteen minutes another chokidar , from another direction ran up,stop immediatly and leave, no painting , no sitting , no standing ,out out !!. this all in Hindhi. it turned out to be an example of disputed ownership of the building ,something I have had repeated several times to me, luckily I can paint and sketch very quiickly so the essence was captured  including rhe addittion of a very friendly shrew the size of a rat. These amtique showrooms seem to consist entirely of latge pieces of very heavy edwardian type furnitue interspersed with glass chandeliers and lamps . where the sales come from I dont know as with all the extra lacquer being liberally applied it doesn;t seem suitable for export . The Oxford book shop is as enticing as ever, especially with a post and packing service Seats are even supplied for relaxing and browsing as well as a coffee dock . such refinements are missing from  our Western bookshops . Service is so available here . my bill from Walters came to less than 200 pounds for quite complicated making and mending as well as a silver glass for the latest grandson . Mending and making which would cost a fortune even it was possible to find someone able to carry it out . Kalimpong and Darjeeling seem a world away The long bus and jeep journeys an insight into snippets of other lives . one of the nicest memories is of a man early one morning greeting a pie dog with stroking and smiles. most of the dogs around the centre of Kolkata are quite well fed but a memory I need to erase is that of an small injured  dog coming up to me wagging its tail . Malda and Farrakah use pony and carts, small tat ponies ,generally in good condition but now and then the sight of a thin worn out animal with harness sores is very distressing .  Kolkata is no place for weak ankles , I think mine must have turned to steel , up down stairs,  dodging human and animal life and the constant digging up of the pavements . . As the end of my stay draws closer I facilate between tying out the street food I hav,nt tried and remenbering that I have a long journey ahead . lunch today consisted of a box of  assorted bengali ladoos . Kolkata is so busy but  I think I spotted a koi-hai type yesterday.  There dont seem to be that many European tourists as in previous years . The Kolkata film festival is on and it is also the season for many non resident Indians to visit family. such as a beautful Anglo Indian girl I had tea in Fleurys with, over from Australia ro stock up on jewelry for her on line business  Like many many Anglo Indian families, hers had migrated to Australia in the sixties . A walking companion of recent days is the book: a jaywalkers guide to Kolkata: street by street the writer, a journalist with one of the daily papers  walked and investigated  the houses , history and families who inhabited the different areas , a more recent history than the usual guide book suggestions but relating to the times that many of the Koi-hai readers  would remenber. I did return to the heavenly beauty parlour ,  its on Chowringee lane,  well some hindhi was required  basically, bars,  phonetically speaking . I shall miss the colour, noise and warmth of the evening stroll  and I will call a cat pashmina if one turns up.

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March 9 2011
We are very grateful to Denise Sloan for writing this memory for all of us to enjoy

Adventures and misadventures with

four fat ladies and others

Since David suggested that I write about some of my travels Procrastination by Johnny Kelly, (you tube) also the light-hearted email (finishing things) seem to have been dominant. Enjoying the many stories on Koi -hai has reminded me of some of the incidents from my trips to India over the last twelve years . What is it that takes us back? is it the Ahh India adverts?, is it a book called the Romance of India? , sheer nostalgia or just a plain love of travel ?.too many sides to the equation. I think an expression that you can take the child out of India but you cannot take India out of the child is the truth. Now it's grandchildren who are writing of their experiences and us Baby boomers of the post war era are grandparents ourselves. According to Adrian Mole we should be sitting in our slippers by a mock gas fire watching the antiques road show , well all of that too but with family , animals and other commitments there seemed at one point there would never be the right time until suddenly in 1996 when a little window opened

So October 1996 there I was on Air India descending down to beloved Calcutta, my eyes pricking with tears ,a lump in my throat as it had been when I left in 1966. Those familiar palm trees, so much water and then the warm sticky heat ,shuffling through customs , the mosquitoes waiting on the windowsill of the ladies loo ,remembering how our mothers would be waiting behind a barrier on the tarmac as the Christmas holiday contingent arrived, how sallow they looked compared to our pink winter faces . After a stop at the Great Eastern it was usually off to the Dr for a good check up and some ghastly throat painting liquid for tonsils and if we were lucky we were through Calcutta before Collis Browne had to be administered. Next it was the French Tailors and summer dresses ordered, to be collected before the flight up to Assam. 40 years later with a new airport acquaintance, Mrs (surrey) Jennifer escaping a second marriage where like the first she felt her husband was hitting senility early we went in search of cheap lodgings diving in and out of various hotels , thinking a little of fire safety as we viewed room after room. We settled on Hotel Crystal in Kid street, very basic indeed, but over the years I have returned again and again There I dutifully put up a family photo but Jennifer was beyond that, her photo was a large poster of Sai Baba whose ashram gathering she was heading to in a few weeks. A month at Mother Teresa's house for the dying which really was quite a cheerful place with good care all round As a nurse I was soon handing out the prescribed medicines . A steady routine and I loved the religious notices around ,especially in the mortuary which said so simply "you are on your way to Jesus." With another few weeks before my return flight I took the train to NJP (New Jalpaiguri) and then bus to Malbazaar where my earliest memories start. Settled into the tourist lodge I was soon introduced to Boys town and Ceasar school and so began a long friendship with Father John Robert Thwaites who illustrated more than any one I have met the vows of poverty and staying on through thick and thin and believe me there have been some thin times for him. Never one to criticize he just keeps going. Now I think the waters are calmer for him ,please keep him in mind and read about his life on the boys town mal website . Long walks up the nearly dry river beds in the hot sun and blue sky brought me to a spot where a group of women were bathing. In I went, fully clothed naturally, to join them. A sudden realization ten minutes later, my money belt with my tickets ,travellers cheques and money was now soaking wet so with help from all, everything except paper money was spread out on the stones to dry ,all saved just. .Remember how flimsy tickets and travellers cheques used to be and then back in my room all the rupees had to be pealed apart and spread out under a fan to dry. Hiapatha tea estate now called Raja encircles the town and Mr Battarchargee and his family were so welcoming insisting that I went to the club for Divali celebrations. Again extreme emotion seeing the ayahs and children ,the dance floor, band stand and billiard room, all so unchanged .I felt as if friends Penny, Boo ,John ,Deirdre and I were ghosts still running and playing .Just like Ireland, strict segregation with the ladies sitting in a line and the men at the bar or playing cards . Before I left Mal I was approached by two teachers who asked if I would help them with funding for a small school they were running in a private house so began my involvement with North East English School

Back in Ireland a bring and buy raised funds for an animal sanctuary and India from which my initial donation of 50 euros bought a fan beautifully decorated with my name .

Once started I had to go back and back again and again. The school fund-raising continued with eventual purchase of a site and to date the building is up and running and a second hand Tata jeep transports children from some of the back gardens .Sadly the next trip involved taking my fathers ashes to spread, A tall man Dennis and quite a large casket. Darjeeling seemed to be the place, queen of the snows ,clean and unpolluted Many a family picnic on the road up when we were young. What a shock , traffic congestion ,crowds, broken buildings and pot holes to drown in ,no, that would not have suited our father who liked order and tidiness so in the end he was scattered to nourish some young tea bushes on Raja. A shade tree decorated with a garland marked the spot. Darjeeling meant St Andrews school , no cars beyond Chowrasta, ponies up to the school with Nepali women carrying our trunks. Games on the banks, roller skating, sweet smelling herbs and sunshine holidays when we all traipsed through the hills to a picnic in a clearing. Boarding school at five, horror of horrors how could your parents do it ! People ask these days ,well that was how things were and it may have been harder for the mothers than for the children. In my own family my grandfather was sent out to India to oversee victory celebrations leaving behind a very young wife and son. When the romance and adventure of life in India proved too irresistible and an interesting job in the forest service was available he stayed on, postponing a return to medical college .his wife joined him, leaving their only son behind to be brought up by grandparents . Apart from a long lasting ability to correspond better through letters than by any other means we mostly all survived A childhood of goodbyes and hello again was the norm and perhaps hardened our emotions a little A few blame their parents for anything in their life that hasn't worked out because of their apparent abandonment at such an early age .St Andrew's readers will remember how our letters had to start with "Dear Mummy and Daddy I hope you are well and happy. I am well and happy, A postscript to the letter from the headmistress, who in my time was the snuff taking Mrs Peoples mentions that there have been no further cases of diphtheria or some other nasty disease .The school day ended with a hymn and a prayer, God bless Mummys and Daddys ,brothers and sisters, grannys and grandpas, uncles and aunties and all kind friends and please make me a good girl/boy, and so to sleep with our woolly blankets and tartan dressing gowns, We woke to the panorama of Kanchengunga ablaze . we also knew that Kanchaengunga was not to be climbed because a god lived in the summit. and our wedding outfits would have stripy aprons like the Tibetans.Tenzing visited and we visited Tenzing at his house where he had mementoes but mostly remembered were his many Tibetan spaniel dogs.

My enthusiasm for India meant our second daughter Stephanie and her boyfriend were with my sister and I on the second trip After six months travelling they were to meet us in Hotel Crystal. After only a few days in Calcutta we were already feeling quite hot and dishevelled and there they were, sitting cross legged on the bed , two immaculate blonde travellers Their requests were unpacked , Cadburys chocolate and a twelve pack of Tayto Irish crisps to be washed down with some Guinness . After travelling north to South and west to east they still say that West Bengal was the best bit . the friendliness of the people and the absence of persistent tourism. A book title by JJ Ballard comes to mind "The kindness of women" short fleeting friendships founded on long railway journeys . Small hotels in out of the way places. They went on to Sikkim leaving me with their extra luggage , Frances had flown home earlier. no problem except my journey involved a wish to visit Berampur in Murshidabad Taking a tightly packed night bus after rather too long standing in the sun , not feeling the best, it was with dismay that I observed my army seat companion sipping alcohol and then commenced five hours of continual what is known in India as eve teasing, What a nightmare .Part of home life here has a Sunday school group where we meet after Church dissect the sermon, debate the choice of hymns and then after Coffee and sticky cake recount jokes and travellers tales , For some reason I have often be asked tell it again ,men!!. With arrival at Berampur at five am, by now I was feeling quite ill and with very little cash I felt it was better to keep going by the first available means to Calcutta. After a short sleep in the dormitory room of the local tourist bungalow and with a raging temp, looking quite frighteningly hot and ill a rickshaw got me to the station where I had to queue for the Calcutta train ,trying to keep track of the extra luggage not so easy in a five abreast queue . A very high temp knocks out reason so it was some hours before I came to my senses and started swallowing paracetamol, such a quick fix commonsense came back sufficiently to get me to Tolly where such luck a room was available and the most welcome bed I have ever slept in was waiting. Tollygunge club with its swimming pools, a riding school where all the stables have individual fans An eighteen hole golf course which seems to have a record no of hole in ones, no luck for me there inspire of the ever helpful caddies who insist on teeing up the golf ball on a twist of grass at every opportunity. Beware the Tolly trots as the saying goes . Luckily I have never been afflicted and to me the place is the oasis of the city.

The chronology of journeys muddle up but next year "four fat ladies on tour" can never been forgotten It could have been eight fat ladies if all those expressing an interest had come too, but four I think is enough to travel with in a disorganised way as opposed to an organised tour. Beryl, (Kenya and Hongkong ),Janey (stateside traveller), my sister, Frances and myself set out from Heathrow , Beryl naturally met friends at Heathrow. If Beryl went to Timbuctoo there would be someone she knew around the corner. Travel essentials included; an electric kettle , teapot ,plastic screw top mugs, head torches, hair drier ,plastic half litre bottles of the real stuff, some gin and Pursie, Wally and Kitty?. Pursie Wallie and who? . This was a system for sharing expenses and responsibility. Wally ,The wallet held the tickets ,Pursie ,The purse held money for hotels Kitty, no explanation needed was for running expenses such as chai ,coffee, entrance fees, taxis and tips. Videos from the time generally show one of us rummaging in a capacious bag looking for whichever of the three was our responsibility for the day A couple of nights at the cricket club in Chennai, here Beryl who generally phoned reception before the bags arrived looked for poolside sunloungers, Madam , we think we are brown enough without sitting in the sun, Thank you VJ and Preeti for your welcome and hospitality. Next onto the Ideal beach resort, yes Roy, this was not exactly character building but it was warm and relaxing with good food and a beautiful clean swimming pool .The Chennai beaches look wonderful from a distance but they shelve steeply and only strong swimmers should go out .The plucky fishermen with their frail craft surf the breakers , a crocodile sanctuary nearby boasts the longest and the most hungry for human flesh of any croc , a clean and shady place also a fascinating research dept for extracting snake venom. Not to be missed is nearby Mamallapuram surviving from the seventh century with its intricately carved temples . The area resounds to the sound of stone masons ,all day long ,chip, chipping away, creating huge statues of Hindu Gods, Elephants and Catholic saints . Generations of the same families through the centuries . It is now possible to email a photo of a pediment or other piece of stonework to India .The granite or other stone will be matched and work will start immediately on a replica and be shipped back in less than the time it took to decide on the repair. Next the church vestry will take longer on discussing how to suitably age the new art work . A mixture of cow dung and yoghurt seems to be the preferred method. Four fat ladies also like to shop, and talk, three hours in a car we never ran out of something to talk and laugh about. "Same as my wife" ,our driver remarked, "she goes to the bazaar, sees her friend she saw yesterday and still has more news and then is late home " , dressing in a hot climate means nylon underwear is not the best so seeing an array of colourful cotton bras Janey decided to purchase "madam what size "?Janey, who really hardly fitted the fat lady category gave her usual measurement, imagine our suppressed hilarity when the stall holder, eyeing her up, seriously cupped his hands a short distance away and said quite solemnly "no, no madam bigger. Much bigger size The resulting bra with its pointed tips would have done Madonna proud. Calcutta saw us all in Hotel Crystal and the girls introduced to Chowringee, Beryl and myself caught in a terrific rainstorm after Sunday service in St Pauls .St Pauls the Anglican cathedral in Calcutta was devastated by an earthquake in the mid 19th century and the spire was rebuilt with the generosity of a Hindu Business man as was the building in Kalighat donated to Mother Teresa for her home for the dying .Most tour itineries thinking of a Bridge friend at present on a tour of Rajasthan seem to take in every fort and Palace , taking time to visit churches and cemeteries brings home some of the 19th century history very poignantly. .Next the night train up to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) .Malbazaar, distribution of presents, always many more children turn up than on the school rota A school concert prize giving, singing and speeches ,a trip to Jaldapara forest reserve ,an armed guard sitting with us in the evening .It turned out that a poacher had been shot the night before.. Jeep to Darjeeling, Janie with her eyes closed most of the time, it being foggy as usual with visibility barely the width of the road, the air becoming raw as the cold mist swirled in so much so that the poor little agi wallah dressed in the thinnest of clothing snuggled up tighter at which point Beryl wandered if she would have to adopt him. An early morning jeep ride to Tiger hill to see the sun rise on the Himalayas and the tiny pimple which we were assured was Mount Everest . The classic viewing building in disrepair with broken glass and rubbish everywhere . Freezing cold with ice on the ground ,but waiting, a welcome multitude of ladies who get there before the tourists with their giant coloured thermos's . Photos show us wrapped up to the ears with each clutching a plastic cup of tea. Dear Darjeeling with all is its pollution and water shortage , The reservoir built for 15000 now with very little improvement has to service over a million so many hotels only have water for a few hours a day. Not so the planters club it remains creaky and unpolished, hot water bottles, coal fires, furniture straight out of a fifties Noel Coward stage set In fact last year we just missed a Noel Coward play being performed in the Planters . Opposite is Keventers, bacon, sausage and egg , Keventers cheese and Kalimpong lollypops and the best hot chocolate .Until a couple of years ago the teapots were classic, the worst pourers in history dating from pre independence times. The terrace full of hearty souls in thick socks and climbing boots especially since parts of Nepal became Maoist dominated. Glenaries restaurant down the road serves all kinds of gorgeous squishy cakes and buns but a vegetarian restaurant on the same road is a match for fast food anywhere in the world.. Ponies now in excellent order trotting round the mall. Next a trip to the Sunderbans in the luxury !!West Bengal tourist boat with a floating population of some of the biggest and boldest cockroaches ever seen. Here is another world , a self sustaining world where the muttee tanks excavated for brick making become ponds for fish and prawn farms Again over fishing and population demands are straining age old activities I have been to the Sunderbans three times and every time I have missed the tiger by "just ten minutes madam". The Sunderbans can be truly enjoyed in a small group with time and quietness to bird watch as we found last year with a two hour rowboat in the evening A brilliant young guide with eyes that could spot a cobra on the mudflats from a long way off .Where are your husbands ?we were frequently asked and what does he do ? a well built woman suggests still a successful husband . For mine, he was at home counting sheep and watching the five nations rugby by a comfortable warm fire with a glass of paddys in hand but good things can't go on for ever . Eventually he was inveigled, ,quite willingly, he assured me, to join me on further trips, long suffering and resignedly patient, he endured squashed bus journeys, knees hurting, sports injury, why I wonder do men only have sports injuries whereas woman must suffer housemaids knee . Eating prawns in a road side café near the Sunderbans not a good idea . "I told you so" not a good idea either which reminds me of three sisters we met in Tolly .Their father died in the comet crash in the bay of Bengal and they had come back to visit the memorial. At dinner one night while we all debated over the chinese menu one sister keeled over quite unconscious, one of the other sisters looked over and without batting an eye or even lowering the menu said "I told her not to drink the gin ". Bearers were summoned who carried the still unconscious lady away. Next day I am glad to say sick sister was up and about visiting the sights .We met again in the tea where greeting us as we stopped our car to wave one member of their party stepped straight into a tea nullah and quite disappeared, same thing happened to Michael as he strode forward to acknowledge waves and greeting from some pretty girls having their tea break, . The Tourist Lodge in Mal Bazaar, where there always seem to be more staff than guests is one of my favourite resting points , The same staff have been there for years and they are kindness themselves and saving me from 7am visitors Recently the Lodge has undergone refurbishment The little balconies gone, incorporated into the room and the worn carpet replaced with marble , health and safety where are you ?. I have never stayed anywhere in India where a marble floor hasn't been the greatest danger. With the usual wet room shower the room becomes a skating rink which usually means drying oneself with a flannel while the only towel has to move around as a safety bathmat. Without the little balcony I miss sitting out in private watching the light go down. The short evenings in India are some of my magical moments .From a long way back I will forever treasure the sight of women carrying water up from the river near Doomdooma with that globe of a red sun bathing the scene in gold dust, crickets, bazaar lamps being lit and the chokidar going from room to room, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh with the flit can, night owls calling like temple bells, at night jackals coming nearer and nearer, howling and howling, drums beating. Digboi such a boring concrete place in daylight was transformed at night, dinner in the Chinese restaurant over the cinema ,with a curtained cubicle with the coloured lights reflected in oily puddle water of the refinery became quite glamorous I can picture clearly, leaving the restaurant one evening, and seeing, sitting cross-legged and meditating on a charpoy a white clothed figure .Who was he? what was he doing there so late at night? was he the lama from Kipling,s book Kim ? ,through out my travels certain figures remain . A young girl on a country railway platform, leaving home with her new husbands family but tears slowly falling down her pretty face , A majestic shepherd with his flock in Rajasthan. Everywhere in India the sound in the daytime must be for me the sound of sweeping ; floors , pavements , lawns, someone will be sweeping ,steady and rhythmical ,also the slip slop of sandaled feet, crows in Kolkata and java sparrows under the thatch in Assam. As the days get hotter the brain fever bird becomes more persistent .Bungalow memories , the sound of a manual typewriter, my mother typing early in the morning or father trying to get the test score in the evening, a few damms and blasts because of Chinese interference The quietness of early afternoon. The scent of Jasmine on the evening air and sandalwood soap .Mysore Sandalwood soap is now available by post from the Thank heavens ! A years supply did weigh down the luggage! Everyone's memories are unique ,brought vividly home in a play called "Memory of Water" by Shelagh Stevenson .For me, lie back time meant slipping out to the ayahs house ,combing out her long hair, pulling out any stray grey strands then combing through coconut oil which had been set on a stone in the sun to soften . Eltie a khassi Ayah singing to a flat piano like instrument she strummed with one hand , Assam, also was cycling all over Sookerating airstrip with the air crew huts covered in creepers and flight notices on the walls . My father ,Dennis Pollard always keeping a lookout for wild boar. Good food ,food cooked and presented well. , (a note here, so intent am I on typing, cutting, and pasting that I have just burnt three trays of volevents for a bridge party tonight . It will have to be sandwiches!) Thinking of food, Fleuries in Kolkata still has the most exquisite cakes as does Kathleens. Letters from St Andrews always came with the news of whose Birthday and what the cake was , Cakes from Firpos , always lavishly decorated with Marzipan figures were the must have for every child.

When travelling alone I have been lucky, trust and confidence have stood me well. Care too, always knowing where my documents are ,carrying as little money as is possible, my remnants of rough garden Hindi coming through when English Failed . The kindness of strangers. when crossing the Maidan one afternoon I sat down on the grass to listen to a Bengali womens choir giving an open air concert ,with a wave to me the conductor then started up a song in English .The kindness of strangers, a planter Mr Roy singing Tagore with a song which translated roughly as I think we have met before .Meals eaten as an honoured guest with the extended family watching and tempting me to all varieties of local specialities

Big birthdays come every decade, so, for my last big birthday I was in Mal bazaar tourist lodge. The bearer came up "madam some one to see you" twice I dismissed him, "Well they must wait, Mr G has business we must talk about" until not able to wait any longer around the corner came my sister "Surprise Surprise "then said "and I have three friends with me" and there were our three daughters somehow they had managed this trip in absolute secrecy . What a present especially when it was the first trip to India for two of them They were in time for a school concert where they sang "down by the riverside" to great applause, visited the bungalow and saw a tea factory , a few days in Kolkata shopping and sightseeing . The following year several merchants on Chowringee were asking ,but where are your lovely daughters? (especially Walters) After they left Michael and I travelled on to the West .February in Jodpur is the wedding season so from our little balcony we could with glass in hand watch the many groom processions with the trumpets and decorated horses, not only did we witness the four weddings but we also were voyeurs to a funeral , cries and lamentations from a courtyard across the narrow street . A wealthy business man had died suddenly The cries of the family and the widow running hither and thither so sad to see and to hear. After the sightseeing the desert was calling so a two day camel ride was in order, just four of us, a young Austrian couple from Salzburg (who had never heard of the sound of music) we all sang under the stars . If there is any way to sit comfortably on a camel for a novice I would love to hear of it . No stirrups was the main problem so ones posterior whether well covered or not just bounces . After two days in the saddle the best cure is a massage, declining offers from all our hotel staff where they assured me that they were the best masseur around I set off to the town where an hours restorative massage cost all of about three pounds . Some like them and some wont go near them .My feeling is that as I am unlikely to ever meet the masseur, man or woman again, just relax and enjoy. A massage, pedicure and a facial at a price that doesn't make you wince is one of the delights of travelling ,beats temple visiting any day. From a Roman bathhouse in Cyprus and aruvedic in the Andamans to Mrs Moon in School street Kolkata I put myself in their hands ; Mrs Moon's young girls will revive the tiredest of feet and paint the nails with the loudest of colours. Time spent in Varanassi crowds , cremations ,gurus, pujas, enjoyment and life going on for ever , the river flat and sluggish. it is a place to return to. Every one does it, hire a rowing boat light, a candle and say a prayer for someone who is in need ,remember friends, be silent and listen to the town quietening down for the night before the pujas start.

With the school building going up it seemed expedient to visit in August one year . The beautiful warm rain .Even when it stopped raining and the sky seemed clear still plips of water came down, seeing the rivers in full spate, the Teesta looking so treacherous ,landslides and rock falls on the way to Kalimpong The air in Kalimpong so moist and balmy it felt as if no effort need be made to breath .As that trip was extreme low budget the night bus up and down from Kolkata was my transport, soft sagging seats and good ear plugs to drown the video and music, An open window for the night breeze meant the drive up was not too onerous. Coming back, a rush to load luggage , ticket exchanged in booth. No open windows, Bother and blast this looks like air conditioning. August in West Bengal there is no need for any warm clothes so I was in very light cotton, a long skirt and top . Within five minutes of the bus lurching its way out of Siliguri I knew I was in serious trouble

I can truly say that I have never been so cold in my life .an air condition unit above me on a top bunk , The only thought going through me for the first few hours was I am going to die in India in August from hypothermia, unhitching curtains trying to wrap up in something, looking enviously as Indian men wrapped around each other huddled up to keep warm. Calls of ac bung karro fell on deaf ears, the should I invite someone up to share my bunk ?perhaps not, memories of the another bus journey came to mind , at the first supper stop I demanded my case from the hold." chubbie nai hai was the answer at first but eventually my case was extracted after threats from me as to how much trouble the bus driver would find himself in when he had one dead elderly white woman tourist . So the rest of the journey passed in just tolerable comfort after I had managed to struggle into any extra layers of clothing I could find, not easy in a lurching top bunk . Sleep was impossible but an electrical storm for a hour was better than Guy Fawkes night.

Another good time was had with Penny Delamere and Frances where we travelled to the south-west .Alleppi, Coimbature ,the blue mountains and a few nights in "jungle retreat" ,quite an up market place where travellers (definitely not tourists) stand round the bar and swap travellers tales .The wenwe bird can be found in abundance . The best and biggest elephants and on an elephant ride , flying squirrels ,porcupines accompanied by the sound of endless woodpeckers . A long walk up the dry boulder strewn hill side reminded me of my grandfathers tales of the country around Ramnager, Jim Corbett's time and leopards in abundance And his difficulty when a leopard leapt on a young boy who had gone too far ahead when he was following up a wounded animal. Leopards are plentiful in the tea , brought home by reports of a leopard killing a child in the Dooars region only a few months ago The Western Ghats show another side of India where the wealth accumulated by working in the middle east can be seen by the lavish house building going up along side the bustie dwellings. now that the work has crashed to a halt I hope those labourers have not found themselves with huge unpaid borrowings. Our first serious hiccup occurred before meeting Penny in Chennai. "Don't worry" we said, no contact necessary, we will be there and so we boarded the train in Howrah . A churlish moment of disquiet that the passengers opposite didn't look like tourists, tourist quota carriages are a part of Indian rail travel otherwise it is near impossible to get a sleeper birth at short notice . As my sister was putting up the luggage and I was paying the porters, in a matter of seconds the three opposite were up and pushed past us . A moment, and then the awful realization, my sisters shoulder bag was gone, passport, money tickets, travellers checks, camera, so classic, so quick. Be warned, that comforting moment as you are just about to settle in to the journey after the rush and bustle of taxis and porters is also the most dangerous . Porters all gone, we struggled up the long platform with our luggage, a shrug of the shoulders from all rail authorities ,specially railway police ,remember these tourist tickets are very sort after, so off to the local railway police station .The night moving on . Most genial kind police who dictated a letter for Frances to write, miscreants a word that crept up often. .large photo albums of miscreants brought down to look through , another sound of India comes to mind here the slap bang as legers or files are brought down from dusty shelves . Khakki room with a green topped table ,tea , marrietta biscuits brought out and a great deal of regret spoken, no hope of recovery but forms must be filled in triplicate, whilst all this took place in a quite surreal scenario a beating was taking place behind hessian curtains we could see the lathis as they rose up. the unfortunate, pleading and crying out. Stopped when three women slip slopped through the room to view the miscreant, not their son, just as silently they left at which the beating continued .this really happened it seems hard to believe . Tolly being full .no room available, the only phone no I had was for the Kenilworth in Russell street not somewhere I have stayed only visited ,a large grand house, classic Kolkata portico and sparsely furnished brown rooms . another stage setting as if a Agatha Christie play was about to unfold . However with no reply the kindly policeman said he would look up the no in a current directory and yes there was room .Sufficient to say as we were waiting on our taxi in came a young American in tears. Same thing, luggage stolen just as he was settling onto the Delhi train, it must happen every night The Kenilworth we found as we arrived was the New Kenilworth, credit card rates , with the distress and strain of the evening Hotel Crystal was deemed too basic, so instead of sunning ourselves at Goblepur-on-sea as planned the next four days were spent running from one end of Kolkata to the other cancelling and rearranging new visa, passport etc What a little trainspotting creep was assigned to the British embassy, unhelpful must be his middle name, Moments of such giggles involved sorting out the new visa . All this time Warren travels were marvellous holding out on plane tickets time and time again .When all was just in order and we headed for the last possible flight to Chennai ,behind us barriers were going up, we were the last taxi through before a senior statesman arrived for a visit and I thought all the flags and waves were for us . Such relief as we took off from Dum Dum so we made it as arranged. Plane travel must be the most stressful mode of travel becoming more so every year .Train travel is so much more comfortable and fellow travellers help to pass the time away I am lucky to remember the boat journeys, what a holiday they were beef tea until through the bay of Biscay and then ice-cream . We children once we were too old or obstreperous to go to the nursery ran wild so much so that one day the captain, well he said he was the captain ,held one of the boys over the deck railings and threatened to drop one of us overboard if we didn't behave . It was the water pistols In 1965 I sailed out on the last voyage of the Circassia . She creaked and groaned, rattled and shook for the first part of the journey but the band played on .Then we were through Suez and into the warm waters of the Arabian sea. flying fish and the white wash streaming far behind the ship and at night the stars , such stars, never to be forgotten .A time for romance and to quote a mid 19th century family letter writer to be "of an age when the senses are easily fascinated before the judgement is matured" this same letter writer, a spinster aunt writes of the Indian mutiny and family involved but also expresses sympathy for the sepoys.

West Bengal sees its fair share of senior travellers . Ex headmistresses of schools, tea planters and their descendants , mountaineers and hill walkers .A great many travellers I have met have had some previous connection with India. The Kennilworth was memorable for two reasons firstly I can never forget probably the most beautiful and glamorous Indian lady I have ever seen ,She shared the lift with us. Earlier hurrying through the street we had been caught in a sudden rainstorm . In Kolkata after months without rain the water that drips off the trees is black and so we were, black spotted faces ,wet hair and soaking spattered white blouses facing this serene and utterly beautiful lady. Secondly the no of aid workers from a well known charity, initials WV having a good time in the hotel Everywhere it is always possible to spot the major charity's aid workers by their new shiny white 4x4s . There is a good book out on Kolkata a slim volume entitled the human face of poverty ,worth reading.. Kolkata for me is a second home, I know those pavements well. the Oxford bookshop, Fairlawn for an expensive beer and where the admirable Sam will sort out any requests Ramadam or not Ramadam and Violet Smith long may she reign The English tailor for women's clothes and the Ali bros on Park street for men's, not forgetting a shirt maker who copied boys shirts for all the grandsons in miniature pinstripe poplin. Siraz at the top of park Street for Muslim dishes, and of course for every woman ,first port of call has to be The Good Companions, quite unchanged and still as exquisite as ever. In spite of having six grandsons I always come back with at least half a dozen smocked dresses and several embroidered table cloths. Grubby Sudder street with its drug peddlers .The call to prayer for me, another sound of India finds me on the roof top of hotel Crystal with a little something in a glass and my water colours and sketch book .Water colours and sketch book are my travel companions from postcards to portraits I have painted my way around India . Please madam will you paint my wife /my child The delicate question of colour arises with little girls, "why have you made me look a little bit brown"? ,very difficult with the limited time and palette As I write this so many memories and precious moments are before me, a sunset over Jodpur sitting beside the high rampart of the fort drinking a cold beer and seeing the sky dimming with a hundred black kites way up above us and the sounds of life coming up clearly from the plain below, so clear that individual words seem to be audible .Travelling at times on quite a tight budget all I need is a room with a loo and preferably a small balcony for the necessary refreshment to be enjoyed in the evening . A sensible precaution for a woman travelling alone is never drink alcohol in public.

Earlier I mentioned that four was probably enough to travel with ad hoc, two years ago our eldest daughter her appetite and enthusiasm wetted by the birthday visit of the previous year announced that they ,all six of them would be joining us . An entourage indeed, plus ayah for the two year old twins plus driver and drivers friend plus any one else who could squeeze in, travel Indian style , nine flights in three weeks, not one delay ,not one breakdown up This was the fifth generation of my family falling in love with India an Irish word for love is Gra not meaning I love I want but a more subtle meaning ,a heartfelt love of something ,this I think sums my feelings for the country. Four children, and four adults, tea gardens, motor bike riding with four on the bike naturally sticks in the older boys memories , Jaldapara ,Darjeeling, The children up on the ponies trotting off fast round to the gymkhana club . Rugs ordered from the Tibetan refugee centre, admired by every one who visits .My search for some more kalimpong cottage industries cloth and paint pictures has only yielded one such picture in all these years , not made any more except for some very rough black card copies Still India is the place to see craft work at its most sublime, real craft from goldsmiths working in a one metre square place, men forging iron tools over a small charcoal fire in the earth at a haat bazaar to embroidered mirror work from Rajasthan . Hence our bedspread with twelve hundred mirrors all reflecting on the ceiling with the morning sun .Darjeeling has had a small facelift in the last few years, a little bit of paint here and there and the promise of more restoration Small amounts of money can go a long way . Money is needed to fence and repair the old cemetery in Darjeeling. St Andrews Church struggles, still kept immaculately but in need of funds to repair some of the windows . Opposite the church an enormous edifice has gone up, headquarters of something major, remembering that Darjeeling is still in the earthquake zone as many older shop keepers reminded me, there was very good reason for not allowing high rise building in the past.. I foresee a nightmare scenario when the hillside can one day no longer hold up the weight of concrete and half the town slides down the hill

"I travel as a tourist enjoying new sights in some of the out of way places. Although I say no looking back, family and friends are around me , a sense of past time and place can invade ones consciousness , walking up the hill to find St Andrews school and all is changed, the town stretches up the hill on every side, no grassy paths. I came to a turn in the road ,I knew I had been there before even though there were buildings around , I stopped, looked around and there hanging from a tree was a rusty sign for St Andrews School. I walked around the school. The iron beds still there ..The balcony where we had to dry our hair brushing it out in the breeze, perhaps somewhere the tin tubs we all had our twice weekly scrub from the ayahs were stacked .

The Andamanns in the Indian ocean are India without the crowds and our family group headed there after Kolkata although we were there in high season we stayed in a large newly built hotel as the only guests , apart from a broken collar bone we all kept well it was not Crystal hotel living more like four and five star thank heavens we got that trip in before the economic collapse although it was a narrow squeak for our son in law who was up in the high court here days before we set off ,also for my husband who tore a ligament in his shoulder avoiding a charge from one of the rams. Against Drs advice we carried on as porters would be plentiful. It would have been difficult to stay on the farm without working and surprisingly or not he played some good golf in Tolly (couldn‘t lift his elbow) .He is now finding cramped travel and so much walking going out of his pleasure range so I think it will be myself and strong women from now on. The clear turquoise water and white coral sand was picture postcard perfect even the washed up and bleached tree trunks on the beaches were picturesque . paradise is not without its snakes and here it was young bored men who pestered on a lonely beach posturing and continually picking up the children This brings to mind the problem of pests. all counties have them, drink encourages them and I fear for lovely Mal bazaar tourist lodge now that it has upgraded its dining room and bar and I hear that a foreign liquor shop is to open at the bus stop beside the tourist lodge it will inevitably become unsafe to walk into and back from the town at night .Am I getting older or am I becoming more nervous One horrible encounter with someone worse than a pest has made me realise that I have taken too many risks , a tea garden in the middle of the day with a short walk to say good bye to the spot where we scattered our fathers ashes turned into a nightmare We all read of girls being accosted on beaches and night spots in places like Goa but perhaps knowing Indian morality we say to ourselves ,well shorts or Bikinis may be provocative but when a middle aged woman dressed for Darjeeling is accosted something seems changed .Some blame seems justified attached to ease of internet access. The increasing political unrest from the various factions is hardening attitudes ,I have noticed this in the last few years friends cease to be friends because of association with the "other side" A fertile ground for the Maoists to move in .

I have met many tea planters over the years and with one accord they all say how much tougher the tea industry is now. Wives are still many hundreds of miles away from their home and families many preferring to leave the tea garden and afraid to stay in the bungalow on their own. Still the winter flower garden is full of the most wonderful summer bedding ,rows of terracotta pots line the verandas but the chick blinds are replaced with steel grids . The easy going winter days of sport and maintenance are gone, all day long the phones ring. Huge irrigation systems mean a longer season but they also cause consternation with the tank water supply, wells must be dug ever deeper. The rainfall has decreased dramatically and still the tide of humanity keeps growing will India be able to pull back the runaway carriage I hope so. One of my favourite people in West Bengal says it is India's success which is also its downfall just as Kolkata finishes more and more concrete flyovers so the car ownership goes up and up. two and a half hours to get to Dum Dum is not unusual But last year the air pollution in Kolkata was considerably improved tackled by taking off all vehicles over fifteen years of age very noticeable when we realised we weren‘t coughing as usual, Sadly now there are no non-stop flights to Kolkata from London. What will those mosquitoes feed on ? There are still so many places to visit As my husband says India is cheap but you do end up spending a lot of money ,some of the towns and cities we have visited include Delhi ,Agra, Jaipur, Jodpur ,Coimbatture ,Alleppi, Chennai, Malluparum ,Kolkata ,Malbazaar, Mirik Berampure, Murshidabad, Jaldacca, Darjeeling ,Kalimpong ,Taptipani (where the hot spring slowly fills a bath the size of a rugby tub) and Cherampur where the sea goes out for five miles and its not unusual to see a spent rocket in a compound .So many new areas till to be explored

I thank my parents and all the friends who gave us, the baby boomers such a wonderful childhood These men and women ,adults straight back from a world war, many as my father, only months out of Prisoner of war camps they arrived back to an India which within months would be independent and just got on with life, not knowing until they arrived who had made it through and who had died , many married in haste, girls, they may have met years earlier or even on the boat coming out , Before the War Home leave was every five years initially for planters and no marriage allowed for the first tour because the salary was too low to keep a wife. My father Dennis Pollard was away from England for ten years These planters rarely talked about their experiences in the last war. They knew they were the lucky ones so kept their doubts and nightmares to themselves. What a contrast to today when there is help at every hand. The changes that I have noticed in the last few years have really centered around the technology of; the mobile phone ,ATM machines instead of travellers cheques, not as easy as it seems because of the frequent "load shedding" of electricity and still only available in major towns and tourist places and increasingly internet access in quite small places. The last couple of years there seems to be a proliferation of little cars around but I am glad to say that the Ambassador still reigns supreme in Kolkata . Still the best sprung car for long journeys. The density of population can seem overwhelming to a newcomer but along with the building frenzy there seems to be genuine effort on conservation for some of the grand buildings . I liken Kolkata to Oriental Baroque and its such a welcome pleasure to see the old style house still cropping up here and there amongst the chaos of new build and extra build. The weather must be quite perfect just now, warm sun every day, not too hot the juice man we always go to searching out his customers amongst the throngs. "pineapple and orange" he has the juicer running before I sit down. This year I have to postpone my visit until the autumn ,farming and cold weather means this has been a busy winter the reward is that this year I am here to admire and walk around the garden with its thousands of snow drops , I can sow my afghan tomatoes and other seeds early and dream of what a wonderful garden I would have if there was just a Mali or two around.

. Salaams to all and many thanks go to all my friends who have given time and money for the school and especially to Anu and Shabnam Vasisht Anu's life story has been written by her daughter Shabnam "Anu The Raj years" and "Anu "The nomad years" these two books are available through the internet and I am now in suspense waiting for the next volume. If any reader would like further details on some of the travel places I have visited or would like to read a short story "The rattle tin" please email me through Koi-hai These jotting are just a few of the many good times . there is still so much to see and so many other places to visit. These boots are made for walking and that's just what I hope they will continue to do . Denise