Monthly Archives: March 2016

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh (Olwen Law writes from the Hola Mohalla ride)

It is a day of forts and getting excited about the Hola Mohalla in a couple of days’ time.

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We have been staying at Nalagarh Fort, which was built in 1421. Although the family who own it still live in the grounds, this is actually quite a large heritage hotel. We wake to rain, but fortunately it doesn’t hang around and it is dry and sunny by the time we mount up.

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It isn’t a long ride this morning with a couple of fast canters through the countryside until we come close to the ruins of Palasi Fort.

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This is an impressive structure on top of the hill. It has a small village around it, but for whatever reason, unlike Nalagarh Fort or Bharatgarh Fort where we arrive later in the day, Palasi Fort has been allowed to fall into ruin.

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Around the fort there is a small village and very soon there is a huge crowd of men, women and children crowding into the fort to meet us. They tell us that they have been expecting us for 13 days!

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It is Sunday which perhaps explains just how many people there are, but we are amazed at the welcome and since everyone has a camera on the phone in their pocket, there are many photographs being taken of us, rather than the more common other way around. We hope that their enthusiasm to meet the strange people arriving on horseback does not wain in future years.

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With the sun shining on us as we picnic under a big tree within the ramparts, there is a definite feeling of hospitality and fun. Our village guides take us to a hindu temple and we are also invited into one of the village homes. It is simple but clean and I am amazed that each bedroom (one for the children and one for the parents) has a TV up on the wall.

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I’m back on the grey horse today. Our afternoon ride is on a track alongside a huge canal. The scent from the eucalyptus trees is sweet. On the road on the other side of the canal there are heavily laden motorbikes and lots of tractors pulling trailers full of people. All are flying an orange flag. These are Sikhs either coming from the temple or going to Hola Mohalla like us. There is a clear excitement in the air and sense of anticipation.

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Our destination is Bharatgarh Fort, which was built in 1783. This is still occupied by descendants of the original family and is now a heritage hotel with a number of very comfortable and spacious rooms.

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But as we sit and have tea and cake in the sitting room surrounded by family portraits it definitely feels like we are being welcomed into a home rather than a hotel. And how many hotels would have a cow to provide fresh milk?

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 2 Comments

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens (Olwen Law writes from the Hola Mohalla ride)

The first morning of any riding holiday is always full of apprehension for me.  Am I wearing the right shirt – will be I be too cold or too hot? Will I need a raincoat? Waterbottle?   have I got everything in my bum bag that I’m going to need (lippie, camera, sun screen, tissues, a little money, a sweet or two)? Where do I put my luggage so that it reaches the next stop? Will our bags meet us at lunch? And that’s even before I start to worry about which horse I’m going to get? ….Or is that just me?

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Our horses are all tacked up and waiting for us in the dried up river bed. And judging by how they are circling at the end of their ground tethers, they are keen to get away!

Bonnie does a safety briefing – the most important one of course that we must keep our distance.  It isn’t long before we are mounted up and it is clear I’m going to need both hands on the reins – so no photographs or filming for a while as they jog along eager to be going.

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We cross and recross the stream trickling through the wide dry river bed of the Ghaggar river. This is quite a built up area and there are some huge office blocks beside the river banks and plenty of people waving and beeping from the road.

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We have to cross over the river at one point by the bridge.  The lorries beep loudly and rush past but the horses barely notice, they are totally traffic proof.

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We descend back to the river where some people are washing huge green felt tents. Seems a good source of the water, but I doubt they are using a biological soap and so I wonder who might be wishing to use the water further down stream? (unfortunately we see much more serious polution later on)

After about 3 hours in the saddle it’s a welcome sight to see the truck set up for our lunchstop. The horses are untacked, fed and watered and we relax with a cold drink and  a delicious hot lunch.

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The afternoon ride is shorter, particularly since the skies are now looking very dark and grey and there are some heavy drops of rain. In fact they come to nothing and we are end up quite hot in our raincoats.

We leave the horses to be transported across the busy town of Kalka by truck and we also continue by car to visit the Mogul Gardens of Pinjore.

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These are one of the oldest gardens in northern India, laid out on seven terraces and completely enclosed in a high wall. The history of Pinjore dates back to the days of Mahabharata who is said to have found this lovely place but the gardens in their present form were designed in the 17th century.

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We go for coffee and a dasa (a large tasty crepe) and by the time we leave we can see the gardens at dusk with the trees lit up by coloured lights.

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A beautiful sight and well worth the wait; as was the following exciting journey by car through the busy town of Kalka. It’s not 6.30 and the town looks to be completely alive – all the shops and small stores open, though dimly lit by a single hanging bulb – a huge comparison with our nearest an English village or town which is a ghost town come 6pm. There are hundreds of people shopping, talking, and going somewhere. There seem to be no rules as to how you pull onto a main road or give way.  I would probably not get anywhere if left to drive in India.

It is dark when we arrive into camp, but plenty of time for a shower.  And the rain stays mainly on the plain and doesn’t disturb a very jovial evening and an excellent meal around a camp fire.

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 1 Comment

From Siswan to Nalagarh (Olwen Law writes from the Hola Mohalla ride)

As we wait for breakfast the heavens open – extremely heavy rain falling straight down. I’m sitting at the tiny reception desk trying to get the best wifi signal to put these pictures up but the drips through the veranda roof puts a stop to that.

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The Siswan Jungle Lodge isn’t actually in the jungle – it’s really in the middle of a small town, but behind their high walls they have done a lot of planting and created a little haven. We’ve enjoyed our short stay.

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We’ve attracted a small crowd of children (and adults) who watch us mount up and get away. These children were very happy to be photographed, albeit not too keen on smiling for the camera.

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We continue to follow the river bed, sometimes following the many jeep tracks which cross back and forth. When the river is in flood this must be a huge barrier to communication because we don’t see many bridges.

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Many people live along the river bank in very basic living conditions, but times are moving fast. We pass one shack which has attached a wire to the nearest electricity cable and has a satellite dish on the top of the shack. I wonder who made that connection to a live wire without electrocuting themselves!

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Some of the farms are now prosperous enough to own a tractor and trailer.

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Recognise this plant? I’m from a very sheltered background and didn’t recognise it by either smell or sight. Marijuana is growing wild all over the place. Apparently as well as smoking it, locals use it in tea, lassis and also in crushed smoothies but I don’t think I’ve been served any yet!

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Lunch is in a lovely shady spot near to a village. Word has got out that we have arrived and there are soon a small group of children, later joined by the adults.

During lunch we have a visit from a tailor who is measuring up all the ladies in our group for a shalwar kameez (tunic, trousers and scarf) to be delivered hopefully for Hola Mohalla. It’s all been arranged for us by the lovely Nanaki, daughter of Colonel Singh who has organised this first Punjab ride. I shall put up some photos in due course of how we look!

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One of the most amusing things has been the number of mobile phones appearing and the number of photographs being taken of us. Quite a few people have taken selfies with horses and riders in the background (the young pretty rider, at least) and I do wonder where they are going to appear on facebook. Apparently you can buy a mobile phone for about £30 and internet access is very cheap.

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As the afternoon draws on we ride alongside some huge cliffs – just think of the power of the water to cut through those.

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We cross and recross the river – fortunately never very deep – although sometimes we have to detour back and forth a bit to find a suitable crossing point.

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Up to now we haven’t seen any fences except for the small corrals enclosing the young calves or goats. Dogs are used to guard the crops at night from greedy buffalo or deer. However, we’ve started to see some farmers fence off their sections.

Have you noticed that I’m on a new horse today – her black ears actually touch.

Tonight we stay at Nalagarh Fort which was built in 1421. It is set high above the town with amazing views back over the town and towards the Shivalik hills. It is a warren of courtyards and interconnecting steps and quite easy to get lost.

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We are amused to find a film crew making a music video. The male singer has to lip sinc over and over again – for about 2 hours! (I’m certainly going to know the tune again) while a very cold looking dancer has to do her best to look interesting.

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The town twinkles below the walls of the fort.

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 2 Comments

From first camp to Siswan (Olwen Law writes from the Hola Mohalla ride)

Our “what to bring” list for the Indian rides advises bringing ear plugs in case of noisy dogs in camp.  But our camp last night is incredibly quiet, not a dog can be heard although we were woken by some noisy peacocks.  It can also be quite cold at night when camping and so we are provided with duvets, extra sleeping bags as well as the ultimate treat of a hot water bottle, but again I am pleasantly surprised and toasty warm all night.

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Our camp is overlooked by a large Sikh temple, which is known as a Gurudawara. We shall be visiting one later in the week when we reach Anandpur and the Hola Mohalla festival.

This is really glamping Indian style. The tents are spacious with two beds, table, mirror and a floor covering. There are two large shower cubicles and a plentiful supply of hot water for our bucket shower. Is there anything more refreshing than an open air shower after a hot sticky day in the saddle?

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The kitchen truck supplies an excellent breakfast.

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We have cereal, bananas, grapes, followed by tasty omelette and toast. The food cooked by our camp staff at breakfast and for lunch is a highlight of each day.

We mount up at 9.30 and continue to follow the river bed, with occasional detours through small hamlets but managing to avoid traffic most of the day. There is much to see as we ride.

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We pass a busy brick kiln. Women are working hard carrying bricks to and fro – but the bigger piles of bricks are being moved by tractor. No donkeys working in this brick kiln. While we see some ponies and cart and an ox cart as well, there are not as many as I remember from a previous visit to Rajasthan. That is probably partly due to passage of time and partly because the Punjab has a more developed agricultural industry.

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The principle form of energy for cooking and heating for the rural people is still dried cow pats and these are piled up in very regular constructions to dry.

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We pass a large group of camels – not a problem to our Marwari horses used to seeing them in their home state of Rajasthan. These camels are being used to bring timber out of the forests.

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Nomadic people, with their herds of water buffalo, have set up semi-permanent homes right in the middle of the river. In just a few months, they will move on and their homes will be washed away as the river floods (when the snow melts in the mountains and the monsoon rains arrive).

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But there are also much more substantial farms, like this one, on higher ground and probably safe from all but occasional high floods. Their corrals, homestead and collection of animals looks like something out of a medieval history book (or a film set).

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We set up our lunch stop in the grounds of a small house surrounded by green barley fields. They would apparently normally be harvesting the barley in about three weeks (in mid April), but this late crop still has to ripen.

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In the distance we can see the mountains and some hill stations. Shimla is just beyond the range we can see.

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Our horses on this ride are the beautiful Marwari horses from the Dundlod Stables in Rajasthan who have been trucked some 400kms to the Punjab. The Marwari horse is of course most notable for its curly ears which can almost touch at the tip and rotate almost 180 degres. It is sometimes difficult to know when they are back and when they are forward.

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I think I should aim for all my photographs to be through beautiful ears like this, belonging to the stunning grey mare I am riding. Having come from the deserts of Rajasthan,  crossing the many streams and little gullies of water on this ride has sometimes been a challenge for her and she has to think twice before putting her dainty toes into a stream. But I was taken completely unawares when, at the last minute, she took a massive leap across a 6 inch puddle which must have contained a huge dragon. I managed to stay on, only to find that my stirrup leather had completely snapped. But the support vehicle provided a replacement within about 3 minutes, so all well.

Tonight we stay in the Siswan Forest Lodge, which is a small guesthouse set in lovely gardens, and have yet another tasty dinner.
Later I’m wondering if I should use those ear plugs because a huge construction site is doing some kind of dredging work just outside my window, or should I feel sorry for the poor fellows having to work the machine in very gloomy lights this late into the night. But fortunately it all shuts down at 11pm and total silence reigns (OK there is at least one barking dog!)

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 1 Comment

From Delhi to Chandigarh (Olwen Law writes from Hola Mohalla ride)

Five and a half hours’ time difference feels a little odd. I’m tired from the lack of sleep on the flight but restless throughout the night and then find myself in a deep sleep at 9am when I’ve said I’ll meet the others for breakfast. But most of us are moving slowly and we have plenty of time to enjoy a superb breakfast at the hotel before we have to checkout. With an extensive cold and hot buffet to choose from I decide on a delicious made to order omelette.

Delhi is actually amazingly green.

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There are trees alongside all the roads and in some places beautiful planting of colourful flowers. Our guide tells us that the authorities are very strict about maintaining the trees. If you need to cut down a tree because its roots are affecting the foundations of your house then you must pay for saplings to be planted somewhere else.

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We don’t encounter heavy traffic and are soon at the airport. The airport is kept sane and comfortable because only people travelling are allowed into the building but we have the assistance of a representative of the hotel who has special airport clearance and he proves to be very helpful. Internal flights in India have a strict 15kgs weight limit for check in bags. It’s possible but not easy to keep to that limit since we are going from Delhi at 30ºC to Shimla at 9ºC, with some camping nights and the possibility of rain – and a few of us have over weight bags.  But we pay our dues and are soon moving through security.

It was quite surreal to arrive in departures and find a smart new M&S and a WH Smiths with exactly the same book offers as was in Heathrow.  And very clean loos (which if you have travelled through an Indian airport more than ten years ago you will remember was definitely not the case in the past).

It’s a short 1.5 hours flight to Chandigarh, the capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana. This was the first planned city in India post-independence in 1947 and is one of the wealthiest in India. But we don’t actually see much of the city as our bus drives through the outskirts and heads out of town for about 20kms to our hotel – Fort Ramgarh.

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350 years ago when the fort was built this building must have really stood proud on the hillside, but now it sits on quite a busy road in town.

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The entrance is spectacular and the Indian welcome warm, as we walk across a little bridge towards a huge wooden door which, at 37 ft, is apparently the world’s tallest door.

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A little sign tell us that the doors of forts and palaces were exceptionally high so that rajas sitting on elephants could enter without dismounting!

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Four inch spikes (now safely blunted) on the outside of the doors were so that they could not be broken by charging elephants of an attacking army.

I love Heritage Hotels like this – each room is different and there are interesting things all around reminding us that its also a home. OK our room doesn’t exactly have a power shower, but I can live without that.

We meet Bonnie and Colonial Singh who are going to be our guides on this first ever ride in the Punjab.

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Tomorrow we meet the horses and set off riding.  We will be camping tomorrow night so hope that the rain stays away.

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 1 Comment

These boots were made for riding

At In The Saddle, we really love our Ariat boots. We’ve taken them everywhere with us, from Ecuador to the Azores, Kenya to Mongolia!

The endurance-type boots (such as Terrain and Telluride) are a perfect hybrid of a hiking and riding boot.

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Lucy in Spain – Terrains are great if you have to do any leading on foot

These boots are comfortable for long days in the saddle, but tough enough to withstand everything an adventure might throw at them – from wading through the floodwaters of the Okavango Delta, to the humidity of the Pantanal or the ferocious winds of the Cotopaxi National Park.

 

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Chris sporting her Terrain boots in Mongolia

Country boots are also a great option and last really well. Sarah from In The Saddle has taken her Ariat Grasmere boots all over the world; Kenya, Botswana, France, Spain and South Africa.

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Sarah with her trusty steed and her Grasmeres in Kenya!

For an instructional holiday you might be more comfortable in a tall boot like the Volant, or perhaps a paddock boot/gaiter combination.

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Abbie in Portugal – tall boots are perfect for instructional holidays

Then of course, for a ranch holiday you might want to look and feel the part in a Western boot.

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Western boots for Western riding at El Bronco (ITS recommends you wear a hard hat)

We love our Ariat boots and take them all over the world with us. But we’d love to hear from you too. Is there anything you take on riding holidays with you that you just can’t do without?

Do feel free to like, share or comment.

Categories: Dressage, ecuador, Equestrian Travel, Horseback safari in Kenya, riding botswana, riding holiday brazil, Riding Holidays Portugal, Riding in Spain, Riding Okavango Delta | 2 Comments

Arriving in Delhi – day 1 of the Hola Mohalla Ride, Punjab – Olwen Law writes from the exploratory ride which starts today.

Olwen Law writes from Delhi on Day 1 of the new Hola Mohalla ride.

It has been over ten years since I’ve been to India and initial impressions are that a lot has changed. The airport was very efficient with about 50 desks open at immigration and so our queue was minimal apart from a slight problem when the machine scanning our finger prints wasn’t able to cope with ever so slighty sticky fingers.

But from landing to checking into our very lovely Jaypee Vasant Continental hotel was under an hour which cannot be bad by anyone’s books.

Of course roads around the airports are usually slightly better maintained and while there was litter around, there has clearly been a concerted effort to clean up.

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After a lovely lunch in the hotel café we set off for our afternoon city tour. Some of our group had been on the Christmas Ride 9 years ago and were thrilled to recognise our guide – the lovely Ruby (and I remember her from a trip even earlier than that).

Everyone says Delhi traffic is bad and it certainly was. We crawled along and took almost 1.5 hours to get to old Delhi. Noticeable were lots of new clean cars and not many of the ramshackle vehicles I remembered. There were still lots of people on mopeds and motor bikes seemingly with a death wish as they weave in and out of the traffic but now at least the majority were wearing helmets and I saw only a couple of the “whole family on a bike”.

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Lots and lots of noise. Our driver said that to drive in India it was essential to have “a good horn, good brakes, and good luck”.
Our destination was “old Delhi” where we were going to ride on rickshaws through the bustling narrow streets. It is a perfect vantage point because being slightly higher on the rickshaw you can see everything that is going on and the driver keeps us moving through the crowds.

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This is where people come to buy and the streets were organised by product.  Lots of fabric shops – apparently this is where you come to buy a wedding sari if you are the parents of the bride or to buy saris for all the family if that is part of the dowry.

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Then we moved onto shops selling all the trimmings, then to the jewellery stores although they were mostly closed because of a dispute over excise duty and finally to the stores selling gifts for the wedding couple.

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Look at these monkeys in amongst all the trailing cables. If someone’s power goes off I wonder how they could ever work out which cable was the problem?

We leave the markets just in front of Jama Masjid mosque, which is the largest mosque in India.

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Around 25,000 people can pray in this huge courtyard at any one time. We, as well as lots of Indian families and children were enjoying the sunshine but would have to leave just before 5pm when the call to prayer sounded.

We have to cover ourselves with these huge gowns and take off our shoes.

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Which does make us quite an attraction for some local girls who wanted to have their photo taken with us.

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A very exciting first day in India. The weather has been perfect. Some recent rain has removed all the dust, the bourgainvillea is blooming and this tree about to burst forth into bloom.

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Tomorrow we fly to Chandigarh in the Punjab and meet our guides for the riding section.

You can read the blogs from the rest of the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:
From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, in the saddle, riding in india | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adventures in Ecuador

In this feature, Vincent Obbard tells us about his recent trip to Ecuador to take part in the Andean Adventure ride.

“We had a GREAT holiday.

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Our adventure started in the Antisana foothills, relatively gentle these hills are good grassland for cattle and afford super views of the Andes beyond. My mount was small but full of energy. Our accommodation that first night was a characterful hotel perched on the side of a hill. The hospitality was warm and the food was wonderful.

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Joining us on the ride were 4 Finnish guests, a Dutch lady and two other Brits. We were all experienced riders and so had a great time together.

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For the next portion of the ride we moved on to Pinan, a remote mountain village of only 200 inhabitants. Then followed an exciting few days of riding through staggeringly beautiful scenery, on lovely horses. Conditions in Pinan were poor; the villagers don’t own their own land despite appeals to the Government. The remote lodge we stayed in was clean and we enjoyed wonderful hospitality.

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Pinan was a magical experience; the village nestling in the valley with its friendly villagers, its thatch, its animals, its community, its hospitality.  We came away having enjoyed time with the people and shared a little of their way of life. We rode the villagers’ horses which were willing, strong and loved.  The ornate harness and reins were made by someone I had the privilege to talk to.

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Our circular ride around the lake in the Pinan region was a real experience. After a long but thrilling day in the saddle, we returned to the lodge for a special celebration dinner with the villagers.

CA & VV northern lake & riders

Leaving Pinan by a different route we were surrounded by staggering views of distant mountains, ice and cloud. Soon we were descending deep into a second valley still covered by tropical rain forest, complete with tree ferns, bromeliads including orchids and dense vegetation.

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Our next night’s stay on Ivan’s coffee plantation was good and really informative. No cup of coffee is ever going to be quite the same after learning how the beans are grown, harvested, roasted and ground!

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For the last part of the ride we explored San Clemente and the pastoral Zuleta Valley. Here we enjoyed excellent hospitality throughout and lovely horses.

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All of it was fantastic, but the best bit was visting Pinan. It was ecotourism at its best; truly a remote area, a seldom visited village. We were privileged to be there while the idea of visiting this region is still fresh. It was really a great experience. We have been on a few trips, but this was one of the very best.

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We are already talking of going back to South America!”

Many thanks Vincent, we have really enjoyed reading your blog. Do you have an exciting riding adventure to tell us about? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Please email abigail@inthesaddle.com  with your travel stories.

Related posts:

Abbie’s blog on the Colonial Haciendas ride

Perfect Ecuador extension – the Galapagos

 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Riding Holidays, riding in ecuador, Riding in the Andes | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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