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India to England Overland 
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Elisabeth Dening's Travel Journal

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In 1979, Richard Dening (better known as Tim) and his wife Elisabeth (Betty) drove home to West Sussex in England from Delhi, India. They accomplished this adventure in an Austin Allegro station wagon.

Tim undertook the journey from the starting point in Colombo, Sri Lanka (where he had been working for the past three years) to Delhi on his own. Betty joined him in Delhi after returning from a brief trip to England for family reasons. Her journal is reproduced below.



Week One: Selsey (England) to Delhi (India)

Day 1: Wednesday, April 25th 1979
Selsey, West Sussex, England to Delhi, India

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Collected by Mr Wells*  at 6.30 a.m. leaving only 2 hours to make it to the airport. We made it easily, much to my surprise. It was a cold day, but all the spring blossom was well in evidence. Very glad to leave the U.K. behind.

Checked straight in and had 30 minutes delay. The boarding facilities as regards security were much improved, with X-ray for all hand baggage. I still seem to have acquired an incredible amount, in spite of good resolutions.

The plane was a large Air India Jumbo. My seat was an aisle seat, window side. There was an Asian man in the window seat destined for Bombay. Slept (the Asian) all journey except when crawling over me to go to the loo. Food excellent, service very good and nice listening music. Minimum of disturbance. The film was poor, about a stunt man. Read and dozed. At Rome we were delayed for 55 minutes and had to circle due to an air traffic controllers strike - correction - 'go slow'. I thought this was dangerous. These men need their minds on the job.

I worried that Tim had not got my messages and would not be there to meet me but of course this was needless. I arrived at 3.30 a.m. and there was Tim waiting in the gallery. Out with the minimum of fuss and formality. Drove into the sleeping city. It was comparatively new and marvellously laid out with very broad streets. Tim was finding his way very well by this time.


*Mr Wells was the taxi driver.


Day 2: Thursday, April 26th 1979
At Delhi

Map of India image courtesy of Wikipedia. After the drive in from the airport we crawled into bed at the Hotel Imperial at 4.30 a.m. The room was air conditioned, with its own bathroom. Large and very comfortable.

Slept until 12.30 p.m. then had lunch in the coffee bar. Afterwards, we visited the *Red Fort.


* Links to other websites will open in a new window. Simply close the new window to return to this page.


The Red Fort in Delhi It was nice and quiet and partly given over to army barracks. We had a good guide, a Hariana, who showed us the palace, seraglio and bath house.

A beautiful marble mosque looted by Nadah Shah who came from Persia and removed the Peacock Throne and all the gold and silver decorations, after a really terrible massacre.


(Left: Betty in the Allegro in front of the Red Fort)

In the evening we went to the Sri Lankan High Commission where Ashish and Joanna* were showing the Leopard film. It was quite beautiful and lovely to see Wilpattu and also the tame Nepal Leopardess. An unexpected treat. Afterwards on to Tiger Tops Delhi headquarters to meet Ashish’s brother and wife. We had supper and they were very hospitable. Home at midnight.


*Ashish and Joanna were friends of Tim and Betty’s from Sri Lanka. They worked with Dieter and Mary Plage, who were well-known wildlife photographers.


Day 3: Friday, April 27th 1979
At Delhi  

Business at the Canadian High Commission. We had trouble finding our way around the Embassy centre. Afterwards we went back to the hotel for a toasted sandwich lunch. We spent the afternoon shopping in the Circus. There was a towel, food and chemist shop. Also a good book shop where I managed to get War and Peace which was to be my reading for the trip.

In the evening we had a late but very nice dinner. It was curry - hot, but not like Ceylon. We were late to bed for a 5 a.m. start for Agra.


Day 4: Saturday, April 28th 1979
Delhi to Agra
Map here

We got away finally at 7 a.m. Had some difficulty finding our way on leaving Delhi, but then were on a good straight road bypassing the towns, eventually arriving at the Clarks Shiraz Hotel in Agra. The hotel was modern and air conditioned, with a view of the Old Fort (which was huge) with the Taj in the distance. We had a picnic lunch in our room. The temperature was around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but very dry.

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At 4 p.m. when it was cooler, we set off to see the Taj Mahal. At the gates we were offered a very old cantankerous guide with absolutely no opinion of me. He spoke to me as though to a naughty child, saying if I didn’t want to go round and listen to him, we could have our money back and do it ourselves!

As the petulance on my part was the result of having forgotten to put a new film in my camera, Tim took me back to the hotel to remedy this and we returned to the same guide suitably chastened.

The gates of the Taj Mahal.


The entry tickets for the Taj Mahal.


The guide softened up and being Hindu did not have such a holy respect for the place. He actually allowed me to use flash for the tombs (which was not allowed).

The jewelled insets and the lace-like carving on the marble are quite breathtaking. The black marbles on the fluted pillars gave a wonderful optical illusion.

It was a nice time of day to see it, in the cool of the evening with the lengthening shadows. It must be very beautiful by moonlight.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Back to the hotel for beer and dinner. The curries are peppery, but not chilli-hot like Ceylon. Nice dining room and splendid flat roof, but very hot even at 11 p.m.


Day 5: Sunday, April 29th 1979
Agra to Delhi

Went very early to Agra Fort. Very, very impressive. Vast and beautiful buildings.

Agra Fort in the distance. Agra Fort Gate
Agra Fort outer walls Shah Jehan's quarters.

Shah Jehan was imprisoned in his daughter’s suite. There were a chess board and fishing pool for his amusement. The chess board was laid out in marble on the floor (above right).

Tim Dening looks out over the Taj Mahal. There was a view of the Taj Mahal across the river.

The fort had massive fortifications. Although it had been looted, it was in a very good state of preservation.

Flower insets in the marble pilars in Agra Fort. There were some lovely flower insets in the marble pillars. Also a very imposing series of moats. The first one was filled with water, then elephant and lion.

Again only a quarter of the place open to the public. The rest was in use as army barracks.

We headed back to Delhi after losing our way and wandering through the Bazaar. Not so colourful and people less interesting to look at than in Ceylon. It was a very good fast road - the first good bit Tim said he had struck in India.

Saw the Moghul sign posts on the way and lots of heaps of lovingly made dried cow pats for fuel.

Moghul sign post. Cow dung for sale!

Back to the hotel and the same room. We went to dinner with *Christopher Peries’ sister and brother-in-law. His name was Lance Fernando. He was a medical doctor, but here with I.L.O. (International Labour Organisation). We had a very pleasant dinner, after first having called in to see Joanna and Ashish to say goodbye and give them a letter for the **Plages. They were off to Sri Lanka and ***Yala to film elephants.

At dinner we met a retired Air Chief Marshall who lived in the flat underneath. On taking us down for a drink, he found he had locked himself out. His servant had of course disappeared, so we had to burgle the flat to get in! We had a good Western dinner and so back to the hotel and bed.


* Friends from Sri Lanka
** Dieter and Mary Plage - wildlife film makers, also friends from Sri Lanka.
*** Yala is a wild life reserve in Southern Sri Lanka which is famous for its elephants.


Day 6: Monday, April 30th 1979
Delhi to Karnal

India map courtesy of Wikipedia. Left the hotel at 7.30 a.m. hoping to avoid the morning rush hour. We found our way by aid of a map and a little trouble onto the Grand Trunk road. We have long since discovered it is a waste of time to ask the way. By some odd quirk of eastern thinking it is downright bad luck to tell anybody the right directions. If you do ask and get told, go in the opposite direction.

It was very hot and dry. We left via the bazaar, the people again looking very much poorer and less colourful than in Ceylon. The main highway was good tar and we made good time to Karnal, where we are to spend the day and night in the research station rest house. The power supply was very erratic and the air conditioning dicey, but it was a nice building and the cook was adequate, although with hind sight he nearly poisoned the pair of us.

Tim’s water filter is marvellous and a great asset, but I had no idea it was so expensive (£87). However, water in this heat is the most vital thing and a good supply you can trust is essential.

At 3.30 p.m. we went out on a visit to a nearby village stock scheme overseen by the research station. It was most interesting, for it was a real village which as a tourist one would not often see. It was very poor. There were many cow pats drying and two weddings in process, as this was the season. Lots of music and dancing. One old woman kissed my feet and thanked me for coming. A chastening experience. Their way of life is a thousand years from ours, but none the worse for that.

Back to the rest house. One Englishman also staying there. Ate unwisely and unwell to early bed for an early start to Simla tomorrow.


Day 7:   Tuesday, May 1st 1979
Karnal to Simla

India map courtesy of Wikipedia. Left at 6.30 a.m. It was cool and lovely.

We travelled on N.H.1 until the Simla turn off at Ambala. After that there were problems; bad roads, obvious winter frost damage and no warning signs. Wild, white roses were everywhere with dramatic rhododendrons and a purple wild heath.

Simla itself was a nightmare. A 1,000 ft pedestrian precinct. The bottom through road was very congested and not really even two way, although it was used as such. I saw my first hill people - flat faces, noses studded both sides, small build, incredibly tough and all with back packs.

The prospect of staying in Simla did not appeal. None of the hotels seemed to have garaging for the car or space to park and after one effort, we decided to push on and look for a more rural setting. We were given the name of Wild Flower Hall as a tourist guest house. We fought our way out of Simla and got into the most fantastic traffic jam just when we thought our troubles were over. At least 100 lorries in a solid block of chaos. The road was already narrowed with pipes and only one bloody minded lorry was causing this jam. Two hours passed before Tim very cleverly manoeuvred us through a gap caused by the eventual arrival of police reinforcements.

Our troubles were not over. Wild Flower Hall was at an altitude of 8,500 feet. The car could not make it up the drive until we unloaded everything half way. Tim took a run at it from the bottom and just before the top, met a car coming down dead centre. He nearly went spare, but eventually was pushed to the top. Meanwhile a gentle hill man arrived with rope and put our 3 suitcases (150 lbs) on his back and set off with me puffing like a grampus, carrying nothing.

The view from Wild Flower Hall Pine forests near Wild Flower Hall

We had an early evening walk in the forest. There were charming flowers, including wild violets and wild strawberries, with a grass undercover for magnificent Pines. My last time of feeling well. I have collected a stomach upset from the coffee water at Karnal.

Wild Flower Hall was built in 1910. It used to be Lord Kitchener’s summer residence (1889). The room was gloomy and small, but the bathroom huge, tiled and palatial.


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İE.G.L. Dening
Images and text are copyright E.G.L. Dening 1979/ 2008