On return from Chamonix, we stayed for a day in Grenoble before taking a train to London. I told my hosts that I would return after few weeks for a more thorough visit to French ski resorts and also to go to Austria and Poland where I had been invited.
My friend wanted me to cross the English Channel on a hovercraft. It was supposed to be exciting than a plane trip or taking a ferry. The train from Grenoble brought us to Paris very early in the morning. From Paris there was a special train-fare up to London which included a train journey up to Calais, then hovercraft ride to Dover and from there to London again by train. We bought tickets and boarded the train around eight in the morning. The train was not a fast one and we reached Calais after two hours or so. From here we walked a couple of hundred metres to the place on the beach where the hovercraft was parked. I saw a number of cars driving straight up into the hovercraft.
The hovercraft had seats like an aeroplane and we had lovely view of the sea. However, the hovercraft is very noisy and there are lot of vibrations unlike a plane. We did get some snacks during the journey which lasted about an hour. We disembarked on the beach near Dover. I could see the cliffs of Dover. The travel across the Channel reminded me about the umpteen war movies I had seen about the Second World War. So much fighting and bloodshed had taken place on these beaches on the D-day. The flotilla which had gone across to French coast was massive. All that had gone now and there was peace and serenity. One could see only ferries and hovercraft moving to and fro with people and goods. I wish we too in the sub-continent had over come the mistrust and opened up the borders! However, that possibility may remain a distant dream.
From the beach we had to walk some distance to get the train to London. The train to London reminded me of the chug-chug of Indian Rail! We reached London in the evening and went straight to my friend’s house. The house was cold as it had remained closed. My friend put some coins in a box under stairs to start the central heating on gas. It was interesting to know that the gas company kept the coin box and one could use the gas when needed. They would come to collect the money at the end of every month. The house warmed up soon and we had a quick dinner. I was keen to meet my college days friend Bashir. I phoned him late in the evening and let him know that I had arrived in London. He did not believe it. He asked me where I was staying and wanted to pick me up immediately. I told him that I was with a friend but tired and he should come in the morning.
Next morning at about seven when the daylight had just broken, Bashir rang the bell. I went down to open the door and got a shock! His hair had all gone grey! I was seeing him just after seven years or so. The life in London had been hard for him. He was married and had two daughters. He had grown old quickly. He told my friend that he would like to take me to his home. He had a council flat in Bancroft House on the other side of London. We took almost an hour to each his home. His wife Dilshad was very happy to see me as Bashir had been talking about me all the time. That night we talked almost till early morning. We had spent a lot of time together and meeting in a foreign land after seven years or so we had many stories to tell each other. Bashir told me that I had a permanent home in London and I could relax and plan all my visits to Europe and within England. The first thing was to learn about the mode of transportation. In London the easiest and cheapest is the underground and the red bus. The ideal way is to buy a weekly or monthly pass depending upon one’s plans of stay. So for a start I bought a weekly pass.
Bashir accompanied me for a couple of runs on the bus and on the underground to familiarise me. It is very easy to use the both. One has to know the bus numbers and the nearest underground stations. I felt it to be the best way to move around. Going in a car is getting stuck in traffic. The uppermost thing in my mind apart from sight seeing was to meet my mountaineer friends. Next came in priority people from BBC some of whom I had met in Kashmir. Another task was to visit the British Museum Reading Room and study some references about Kashmir. I was also keen to visit the Outward Bound School at Ullswater in the Lake District. I started with my mountaineer friends. Lord John Hunt, the leader of the first successful Everest Expedition had met me in Darjeeling during the International Mountaineers Meet held in May, 1973.
He had asked me to contact him whenever I happened to visit London. He was delighted to get my call and invited me to Parliament House. He asked to me to meet him at the reception of the Parliament House on a day when the House was not in session. It was a privilege to be shown round the Parliament House by Lord John Hunt. He showed me the place where the Queen sits and the entrance from which she enters. The inside of these houses has been excellently done in traditional style. After taking a round we had tea and snacks. Lord Hunt wanted me to call on Charles Wylie who was then the Chairman of the Outward Bound Trust. Lord Hunt wanted me to see one of the Outward Bound Schools. Accordingly, I gave a call to Charles Wylie who invited me to his office. Lord Hunt too had spoken to him. He told me that I should join one of the Executive Courses in the Ullswater School in the Lake District. The course would be taking place after a few weeks. He called Squadron Leader Lester Davies, the Warden of the School and asked him to reserve a seat for me. The course would be paid for by the Trust. I decided to go round London and meet other friends in the meantime.