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Unanticipated invitations to travel are dancing lessons from God’
Travel has been an inseparable part of my life’s journey. Childhood visits to divorced parents living at opposite ends of the country led on to boarding school from the age of eight, first in Eastbourne, then in Edinburgh. As teenagers us Fettesians who lived in or near London would race each other hitch-hiking home from the north for the holidays.
Leaving school early with a place at Cambridge secured, I spent nine months roaming around the States, which, in the mid 60’s was an incomparably good place to be for someone just released from incarceration in a single-sex Scottish public school. And once at university those gloriously long vacations were also spent travelling – hitch-hiking down through Europe to explore the roots of European culture in the wonders of Greece and Turkey.
Then, a couple of years later, came ‘the big one’ – overland to India. No mobile phones, no email, not even any Lonely Planet guides, in those days the traveller really had to haul anchor and surrender to the unknown. And by and large the going was good: you could travel through the moonscape of Afghanistan on the top of a brightly painted tribal truck squashed in with armed tribesmen, boxes of home made weapons and crates of hashish or be the first white face to have seen a local bazaar.
Schooldays spent reading travel classics such as Stevenson’s ‘Travels with a Donkey’, Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ and W.H.Davies’ ‘Autobiography of a Supertramp’ had borne fruit; the joy of discovering other classic writers of the road – Peter Fleming, Norman Douglas, Lawrence Durrell, Norman Lewis, Colin Thubron – was yet to come. I always liked Durrells’s description of his need to escape ‘the English way of death’.
Early footloose journeys were later followed by work in cultural tourism, lecturing as an art historian for the best of the high-end tour companies, the late lamented Swan Hellenic. This work allowed me to travel in pretty civilised company to the main sacred sites all over South and South East Asia – Pakistan, India, the Himalayan Kingdoms, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China – ‘teaching and learning, teaching and learning’ as the Upanishads say.
Working with Swan’s taught me how a tour should be run, as well as showing me that many tourists are motivated by a genuine and deep-felt need to expand their horizons, especially those who choose a country like India. But few have a reliable key to understand the real meaning and significance of the places they see, which, however strange, can be alive and relevant to us today, because they resonate with myths, symbols and spiritual realities which are eternal and universal. All it needs is the right angle of perspective to unfold their mysteries.
It was to provide this ‘right angle’ that I set up my own cultural tour company, Trishula Travel, in 1989. Since then, many people from different walks of life have enjoyed profound insights, personal growth and the sheer good fun that come from participating in one of these evolutionary journeys.