As a first timer to such a trip, I honestly did not know what to expect. I was travelling with the 'Great and the Good' of the profession. There was a lot of apprehension especially as certain members were given titles, such as the Master, the Guru and the Queen (you would think this is an episode of Dr Who). Not to mention the warnings regarding food and water, such as 'you eat from less savoury outlets, YOU DIE! And if you don't drink bottled water, YOU DIE!'
It all begins at the Business Lounge at Heathrow on a Friday night. I was travelling with Ruby Austin, 'the Guru' and was being showered with knowledge from the moment I picked him up. It was here the introductions were being made and one would not believe that after a few days friendships would be forged. Before long we were on the plane, and Air India Business Class lived up to its reputation: my seat was broken, the entertainment system was broken and the food ran out. It's worth noting that thanks to so much litigation in the profession, I instantly asked to see the complaints policy and to be directed to the complaints manager. None of this mattered as I was with Dr Rashmie Patel, 'the Queen of Class'. I understood why this title was bestowed when she asked for her Champagne to be served in a flute. It also became clear why royalty don't fly Air India, when the steward informed her that the Champagne was very good as it came from France, and if she would be so kind to clarify what a flute was.
Many of us were taken aback at how modern Delhi Airport was; it may well be a legacy of the Common Wealth Games. Once baggage was collected we were met by our tour operators who whisked us to the modern Hilton Janakapuri Hotel. According to the itenary this was the day of leisure so many were making the most of it with sightseeing and shopping. I however decided to have a lie down as seven hours on a broken seat had taken its toll on my back. After a little rest and a good dinner it was suggested that we sample the nightlife.
The following morning it was up for an early breakfast, Monik Vasant was half way through his coffee when Raj Rajarayan, 'the Master' suggested he be the scribe for the conference. Before he could respond the 'Guru' very kindly pointed out no one says no to 'the Master'. So you can imagine my response when the very next second I was informed that I would be the scribe for the tour. The conference was at the Maulana Azad Institutes of Dental Sciences and for more about the day you can read Monik's report. The day ended with a black tie event for delegates from both sides of the globe which included sensational food and a cultural dance. National anthems were sung and for some, there was the revelation the British National Anthem had more than one verse! As is customary at these events the business card swapping began and the party continued in the Hotel Bar till last rounds were called.
It was an early start the following day with baggage down by 6.30am and after three black coffees, it was off to the airport and on to Khajuraho. The flight was the perfect opportunity to power nap and three hours later we arrived at the smallest airport I had ever seen. Before long we were greeted by drums and garlands at the Taj Chandela Hotel. We were informed prior to the trip that here we would meet Mr Bedi, the local tailor who would be measuring us up for our wedding garments.
More about the wedding later on. The 'Queen' managed to organise matching out fits for the Guru and myself and then went on to design outfits for our wives. This was an impressive achievement when you consider she has never met my wife. The evening ended in a Village themed dinner and a folk dance show where our Faculty Dean demonstrated his approach to multiculturism by introducing a few western moves on the dance floor. There were bangles for sale, mehndi stations, head massages and an astrologer. The Astrologer informed the Guru that he would be famous for being old. Those who know Ruby will understand the genius in that statement.
It was an early start the next day as it was a four hour journey to Chitrakoot. We stopped at a local coffee shop for breakfast and the brave amongst us went on to have tea and something to eat. I however couldn't get the Master's warning about eating and drinking at local eateries out of my head. 'YOU EAT, YOU DIE!' Chitrakoot is best known as a major historic religious centre of the Hindu faith and as a centre for pilot studies in self reliance based on the Deendayal Research Institute. There are 500 surrounding villages with a total population of over a million, all struggling with extreme poverty and an almost total absence of health care.
The following morning we visited the famous temples in the area. One thousand years ago, 85 extraordinary temples were constructed near Khajuraho under the patronage of the Chandella kings who ruled from the 9th to the 14th century. The remains of only 25 of these temples survive over an area of 21 square kilometres around the village and constitute one of the most alluring temple sites in India. The erotic sculptures, the subject of numerous interpretations, are the best known but these only form a small part of the total wealth of the site. After an afternoon at leisure it was into our traditional Indian outfits with turbans on. Our President was getting married, again! He was going to ride on a horse in a ceremonial procession to the adjacent hotel where the bridal party were waiting.
We lost some of our group the following morning as they were going on to other places in India. The remainder of us took a Jeep ride to Ken's Lodge located on the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountain Ranges where we had lunch at the Tree House Restaurant. Ken river with its fresh, clear water, flows through the ravines of the Vindhya Range and sustains the varied wildlife including the crocodile and the gharial. Some of us braved the crocodiles and had a boat ride while others just gazed at the mesmerizing ken from the Tree House. The town of Panna spreads across the Chhatarpur districts in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and is renowned for its Tiger Reserve so we decided to take a trip into the National Park. Unfortunately no tigers were seen as it is a matter of chance but regular sightings have been reported.
The trip was drawing to an end, and the following day it was back to Delhi and on to our flight home. I am fully aware that all good things have to come to an end, but not before telling our President to book me onto all future AOG trips. Those who are fans of Doctor Who will know he travels with a companion that only stays awhile, and as Heathrow approached, I was left wondering how I could be part of this AOG 'Greater Good'.
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