A Passage to India

Article excerpt

Byline: By Mike Smith Western Mail

Climbing 4,500 stone steps in sweltering heat up the side of a mountain to visit mystical Jain temples and gasp at the stunning views across Gujarat is an achievement.

Those feelings of exhilaration and achievement start to fade with the small matter of the 4,500 steps down again.

But knowing a few hours later you will be enjoying dinner after a refreshing shower and even more refreshing cocktails while watching the red orb slip into the Indian Ocean gets those feet moving again.

Admittedly, the day spent climbing the holy Mount Ginar was to be followed by a day at sea and I had already booked my massage, facial and pedicure - well deserved after 9,000 steps.

Cultural exertion followed by complete indulgence. Maybe that could be the new theme for Swan Hellenic's unique approach to cruising.

'Discoveries of a Lifetime' are how the company describes its tours around the world and our hike was the culmination of our journey of discovery around the vast sub continent of India with a couple of days to visit Sri Lanka as it recovers from the Boxing Day tsunami.

Although that day of lazing in the sun beckoned before our final destination, Mumbai, only a smallish intrepid - or foolhardy - band opted for the Mount Ginar expedition.

As we climbed up, a mass of pilgrims who had spent the night at the top of this extinct volcano, some 10,000 steps - yes, we only went less than half way - were on their way down.

On the way up we encountered monkeys and near-naked holy men smoking cigarettes that would be banned in Britain, porters bearing barrels of water and over-flowing litter bins. The Jain temples at the first level were cool halls of delicate white stone with statues of all the Jain tirhankaras at every turn. It was a magical slice of Indian life and gruellingly hot.

By sunset, we were back on board our boat with a cold gin and tonic watching the sun drop through the horizon. Tomorrow, we would be in Mumbai, ready to sample another completely different side of India.

Southern India is so fascinating and totally different to the well-trodden cities of the Golden Triangle but travelling the vast distances by land would sap the will and enthusiasm of the most tireless traveller. …