Geoff on Dal Lake

Geoff's travels with MS - part 1

I’ve been living with progressive MS for just over forty years.

These days I have to use a wheelchair if I want to do any kind of travelling.

But back 1989 I could still walk a little with two sticks, and could carry on working. So I decided to find out how far I could travel in the body and the mind if I really tried.  

Between 1990 and 1994 I went on four different trips, to Asia and quickly around the world. These are extracts from a travel diary I made during the trips.

Sunset at Dal Lake

Srinagar, Kashmir. Srinagar is a beautiful place to fly into. First over the patchwork plain north of Delhi, then rugged teeth of mountain and suddenly an emerald valley set in a crown of mountains.  

A scooter rickshaw gets me to the landing stage of Dal Lake. At this first sight the lake is one of the most beautiful nature-things I’ve ever seen.

Later, as the daylight fades I experience fifteen minutes of the purest magic. To my right, an orange-red sunset fills the sky and silent grossups of shikharas are slow black shapes on the just-rippled surface. To my left, a full moon has risen and a silver staircase of light lies on the lake.
Dal Lake sunset

A long walk in Daksum

Daksum, Kashmir. We pile into a taxi and travel up and up into the mountains to a stream near Daksum (altitude 7000 feet or a bit more).  A beautiful day and the feeling is that of a very hot Alps/Dolomites with a bit of Crete thrown in.  However, all such comparisons recede against the sight and sound of children with sheep among the willow saplings, chanting and singing in Urdu. 

Fishing stream in Daksum

Multiple sensations

As the day wears on I get exceedingly tired from the long distance we walk, particularly because most of it is wading in the water over slippery rocks that throw my feet and stick ends all over the place.  Hard work for me, and very tricky with my special problems, but I wouldn’t have changed one single second of it all. 

After lunch, I half-sleep for a while under the fluttering green leaves of a walnut tree, with my mind drifting free. MS is almost an advantage for this practice because although I can’t walk more than a little these days, every attempt to do so is a real adventure.

I can and do still feel the touch of new natural surfaces against one or more of the skins and limbs of my body. MS = Multiple Sensations, I’m starting to discover.

Taxi driver in Agra
Daksum fishing guide

Visiting the Taj Mahal

New Delhi, India. At 6 a.m., people are strewn all over the floor of the booking hall at New Delhi. I find my coach on the long and excitingly strange ‘Taj Express’.

Sometimes we go past stagnant malarial water, always there is whirling dust through the barred train windows. Fans stir the carriage air ineffectually as the day’s heat builds.  

From a distance the Taj Mahal it looks ordinary - a restaurant wall picture.  But as I get closer I realize that it’s quite staggeringly beautiful. Shoes off, I walk around outside and in - I hope nobody notices the walking sticks, but nobody complains.

The Taj is hard to describe, and very hard to photograph, but the sense of almost-magic is strong.  I find the darkest place inside and sit down, hoping for a few noise-free minutes before the building closes, and I almost get them. 

Taj Mahal from a distance

An Indian roadside stall

A fairly common combination of functions of an Indian roadside stall is Haircutting and Bicycle Repairs. This pairing is unusual in Europe but here in India it is well recognized that untidy or over-long rider hair impedes the proper operation of a bike. Obvious really isn’t it. Isn’t it? Well maybe not.

But I begin to think about offering a prize for the silliest commercial combination in the world.  Zimmer Frame Engraving and Pet Neutering?  Too rational.

A stall in Agra

Travelling by train and taxi

The train back to Delhi is bearable but not at all comfortable. My compartment is shared with two middle-aged men in vests and pyjama trousers.

I’m very thirsty to start with, and a bit queasy from too much lunch on such a hot day, so the journey really is terrible. It also makes me conscious of how worn out I feel. It’ll take at least a week of England to recover.

Back in Delhi, I’m not at all in the mood for the second-most frightening taxi ride of my entire life. But once I stumble into the guest house, have a couple of pints of fluid, scoff some sandwiches and fruit then take a cold shower, humanity is restored.