That describes the fact that there were plenty of them and all with plenty as I soon gathered.
I am leading an offroad driving trip into my favourite mountains, this time the group comprises of 19 gentlemen, and I do mean gentlemen. They are a group who travel to various parts of the world together and they are pleased to be pleased, unhassled, unhurried and really very charming and I have the privelege of driving the car in front and making sure they do not stray too far!
I met them for breakfast in Amritsar, they came with me to the Golden Temple in pouring rain – wading through mud and puddles, awe struck by the gleaming gold reflecting in the gunmetal grey water, even more awed by the ‘langar’ and the hordes, eating, cleaning, chopping, cooking. All of this in still pouring rain. The fact that they were the only people wearing water proofs, while all of the masses seemed to not only, not feel the rain, they did not even look particularly bed raggled, amazed them.
The rather horrendous, loud and unceremonious Wagah border ceremony they totally loved – with it’s noise, colour and cheering hordes. They had the enthusiasm to go back to the Har Mandir Sahib again after dinner and they had only arrived very early that morning. To pack in so much in that day was what amazed me about them.
The next day we started our drive on the highway to Dharamsala. I, being used to the ‘Queens’ (large groups of Israeli women who did a series of driving trips in India), was prepared to drive at a snails pace, talk them through every truck overtaking and such like, was so pleasantly surprised to find myself being followed at a merry clip. They very competently overtook trucks, quickly followed my lead of driving on whichever side was convenient – all in all it was a great ride and their tour leader Zev is a large, easy, unruffled man to work with.
I am receiving pendants, chains and rings, caps, keychains and myriad little gifts. I drop a key and don’t need to bend – they treat me like a precious thing and I am pretty much walking on air with so much positively delicious attention.
We have driven many roads and seen much and are now in my favouritist holiday destination – Raju’s home in Goshaini. Zev, and even I, had a vague doubt as to how these rather posh gentlemen were going to adjust to Goshaini. They are so enchanted with it, that they don’t want to leave. I am so very happy – some have even expressed the desire to stay here for a month.
We have some characters in the group and the largest of them is Dr.B. He is a tall, lanky man who wears pink shorts with a red t- shirt and a blue shirt over it – his wispy white hair blows in different directions, he walks like a camel and gets lost every time we stop. He wants to talk to every person on the street. He joins the village children at their assembly and he tells long, disjointed and purely hilarious stories. He is also a brilliant cardiologist.
Then there is the delightful, tough man with such a gentle heart and a desire for peace and time to stare. He makes jewellery. How strange is it that in my life I have met two men who are hard core soldiers, tough and strong and they both make jewellery? One was in the French Foreign Legion and this one was a SEAL in the Israeli army.
A, is the man that puts his group of friends together and they travel, he has energy, zest, the charm of a hundred and the ability to win people – obviously that is why they travel with him.
There is A2, the brother of A, a magnetic person with a big aura – he does many things, enjoys diverse interests and wants all of life. A man of intense thought and passion. I have to say he draws me, there is so much I find akin to myself in him.
There are the other Doctors, lovely, lovely men – one left Argentina to live in Israel, the other, is a doctor and a lawyer – how long did the man study to achieve both? and what amazing minds does it take to not only want to do both, but to actually do so.
There are myriad others, who I am unable to list because of the exhausting day we had today. But each one of them is smart, erudite, successful and so very likeable. That they are a group that enjoys each other is evident, that they like to have fun combined with discovery is rather wonderful.
We stop for a pee at least twenty times a day and when we do, their bottles of booze come out, with these tiny shot glasses to cheer being together, seeing a double rainbow or just for the fact that they are on holiday. Then the singing starts – so every pee stop is a long halt and we spend double the time on the road, half of it moving and the other half standing still. Every interesting village needs a halt, every rainbow needs a photo – their travel is the way travel should be.
Now, I get to our drive today – up to Jalori from Raju’s, through Banjaar quite easily – up on Jalori with fog, tea and vodka – then starts a drizzle – obviously we are taking the Shuad road, since we haven’t given them any real off roading so far – so down we turn, and for an instant, it is in my mind to say – lets just take the basic route, it is bad enough. But I don’t and we go on. Then the rain comes in a deluge, the road starts to flow exposing rocks and creating little rivers, this adds up to stone stairways, mud and long, slippery stretches of following the ruts, maybe grazing your bottom, or going all over in slushy slides – thinking the edge is far to close.
All in all, I think the concentration of that road and then driving more small roads ahead exhausted everyone today. So we are rethinking the rest of this tour – lets see what develops to conclude this very interesting journey.
All we did today was that hair raising drive up Hatu Peak, which all the little Maruti’s do with complete aplomb! It was superb, the temple is complete and quite beautiful, the Pandit is a knowledgeable young man and actually said the prayers while I sat there – before all the men came in and took photographs. It is a beautiful drive to a spectacular spot and I was too busy to take a photograph.
Then we drove the highway to Kufri and took the road through the woods to the stately, decrepit, Palace of Chail. It is such a marvellously, beautiful old building, the manager is a delightful lady who tries to make it most comfortable and does, at least for me. But it is such a travesty of a palace. As A2, very rightly said, ‘this is meant to be a royal dining hall, and it feels like a staff mess!’ The highlight of the place is the monkeys, who try and get into the rooms, certainly get into your car if you leave the door open even for a bit. Are bold enough to jump onto your table, steal your food and run. The other highlight was the discovery of A3’s magic hands – he gives the most amazing massage and I was the happy benefactor of it. He is a gentle man with a lovely smile and though we are probably as akin as chalk and cheese, I like him very much.
Today was my last day with what I am now calling my gang of men. The drive from Chail to Chandigarh was uneventful, we forded the river at Sadhupul to add a little excitement, stopped to check out the small train at Kandaghat
– had lunch at Gyani’s dhaba and drove in a convoy of cars and trucks – slowly to Chandigarh. The hotel was a disaster – no twin rooms, mattresses on the floor – so much rubbish at the end of a great trip. But these are really people who know what the important things in life are, certainly not worth losing your equilibrium over a shared bed or some such, and so it was all sorted and I have had my last dinner surrounded by all my most favourite guys of the moment.
This morning I have received a heartwarming farewell – the catch to which was: though they enjoyed having me on the trip and I showed them all the lovely roads – these are meant to be all male trips and they do not want to have to explain what a woman was doing on it!! I think they should delete all evidence of me immediately, though I would be more than happy to join their gang of men. Also why they are alphabets and serial numbers.
It has been for me a marvellous trip, with so much enjoyment in meeting people who are my age and older – fit, well, smart, learning all the time – so much to discuss and talk about. The travels that they put together, the explorations they plan and enjoy – I could relate so very well. It was for me like a new discovery – so many people who like to do the things I do – the catch is – the man thing. The wonder is they are friends and do these amazing trips together. I love being a woman, but, I would like to join this gang.