For a bibliography, see Books for the Journey.
The red threads
When thinking about where to travel in my gap year, I started off with family links: Hong Kong where my parents were married, India where my father was born, and then Canada where my first cousin Gordon and his family live. I do have family links in Africa, but thought, rightly, that after India I would be ready to go home. So that may be another journey.
It was good to make contact with Gordon, who unexpectedly offered to drive me from Nova Scotia to Boston, camping on the way. By his reckoning, it was about 50 years since we had last met.
I visited St Andrew’s Church in Kowloon, where the wedding took place. My stay in Hong Kong was in midweek and there wasn’t a service while I was there, but I took photos and wondered what it had been like for the young people they were then, to arrive thousands of miles from home, he to serve in the army, she to begin her married life. I heard a few stories, from my mother, and she made a scrapbook of her life up to the wedding, but we children could not persuade her to carry on for another volume. Someone was showing round a group of young people, and they thought it really cool that I was travelling round the world and had come to see where they got married.
My grandparents were married in Allahabad, where our train from near Agra to Varanasi stopped at 2:30 am. I woke up, but we didn’t get off the train. My father was born in Lucknow, and I planned to be there for about 36 hours, between two overnight trains. In the end, I was not fit for sightseeing, and only saw the stations, the hotel, and crowded streets and markets in between. But my grandfather was a railway engineer, so I dedicated that part of the journey to his memory.
The second “red thread” was pilgrimage, something which had been very important to me for at least 25 years. Once I read about the Kumano Kodo path in Japan, linking Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, I decided that I would use the journey as a way of exploring what pilgrimage meant in different faith traditions. The temple stay in Korea, the ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Ganges at Varanasi in India, all fitted in naturally to that theme, and so did a three-night retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Chicago. Once I started on the journey, the theme of pilgrimage cropped up in many different ways, and in unexpected places.
- 31/08 Iceland – Reykjavik, Thingveillir
- 03/09 Canada – Halifax, then drive to Boston with Gordon
- 08/09 USA – Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Yosemite
- 05/10 South Korea – Seoul, Busan
- 10/10 Japan – Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kumano Kodo walk with Walk Japan, Tokyo
- 24/10 Hong Kong
- 27/10 Vietnam – Hanoi, tour with Explore, overnight in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon
- 9/11 Cambodia – Siem Reap for Angkor Wat
- 15/11 Thailand – Bangkok
- 17/11 Delhi, tour with Exodus, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi, independent train travel back to Delhi
- 29/11 Leave Delhi for London
What I have written about each country can be found through the route map on the right, or, if you are reading this on a phone, the main menu and links on the pages for each country.
Flight tickets were researched and booked through www.bootsnall.com, and long-distance train journeys through information on www.seat61.com. I found the monastery stay in Korea and details of ferries from Korea to Japan in a free guidebook obtained at the Korea stand at the Destinations travel show at Olympia. I had booked accommodation for every night before I left home, mostly via www.booking.com, though there were a few small changes en route.
Four parts of the journey were booked through tour companies: Walk Japan, Explore, and Exodus, as mentioned above, and the bus journey from San Francisco to Yosemite and back (which does not really count as a tour). About 30% of the journey was spent with the three tour groups. This added to the cost, but enabled me to see something of difficult countries: rural Japan, Vietnam, and India. On the other hand, on the tours we were moving on every day or two, so I did not have the experience of finding my own way around as I could do on a three-night stay with no set programme.
If I were to plan another such journey, I hope I would have the courage, and the financial confidence, to be more spontaneous and have less worked out in advance.
The total worked out at about £12 000: £2 000 on flights, £2 000 on accommodation I booked myself, £ 5 000 on tours, and the rest on overland travel, food (including some not included in tour prices), and a few purchases. I did not spend much on sightseeing (there was plenty in the tour programmes) or on souvenirs, but did bring back a few small mementos and a large sunhat.