Monday, 18 November 2013

No Chai With Charles and Camilla, William Dalrymple in Town, Mussoorie Half Marathon

No Chai With Charles and Camilla

Last week our Principal Dr Long came up to Kirsten and me and said he had a dinner invitation we wouldn't be able to refuse. Being a man with a similar wit to my own, I thought he was setting up a bad pun. But as I awaited the punchline it became clear it wasn't a joke.

It turned out he and his wife had been invited to nearby Rishikesh to attend a dinner with Prince Charles and Camilla (aka the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall), who were on a tour of India. Due to short notice and prior commitments, our Principal and his wife were unable to attend. So Dr Long said he would try and transfer the tickets over to us.

That night we started thinking about what we would say to the future British king if we met him, how we should address them (Your Highness? Sir, Ma'am? Charlie boy?) what we should wear, and how we would get there.

In the event we needn't have worried, as due to the short notice Charles and Camilla were unable to get the necessary security clearance to meet us (or was it the other way round?).

So, a missed opportunity to meet our future sovereign.

However, there was another VVIP at Woodstock over the weekend (in India there are not just VIPs but VVIPS - very VERY important persons!). See below...

Larger than life: William Dalrymple at the festival  ED BEAVAN

Author William Dalrymple in Town

As part of the Sixth Mussoorie Writers' Mountain Festival at Woodstock author William Dalrymple came to town. I have read several of his books, including From the Holy Mountain and The Age of Kali, but I'd never heard him speak.

The renowned author and India-phile lives in Delhi and has written extensively about the Indian subcontinent. He was giving a lecture based on his new book entitled Return of the King: Afghanistan Then and Now, on the first Anglo-Afghan war.

Looking more rotund than the photographs in his earlier books, he started off slightly stutteringly during his talk, but once he got onto his subject, he was simply outstanding. He had the whole audience gripped as he recounted the desperate story of the British retreat from Afghanistan in 1842, which led to the needless deaths of thousands of British and Indian troops. He also linked the story back to Mussoorie explaining how one of the former Afghan rulers Amir Dost Mohammad was for a time under house arrest in the hill station. He really did bring history to life for all of us there.

We also chatted to him a bit at a party one night during the festival, he is a flamboyant character and was certainly the life and soul of the party!

Needless to say after his talk there was a run on sales of his book, and a long queue formed of eager punters keen to get an autograph. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Sign of the times: Dalrymple autographs a book for a Woodstock student from Afghanistan    ED BEAVAN

No Pain, No Gain: Mussoorie Half Marathon

On the Sunday of the writers' festival there is the Mussoorie Half Marathon, now in its second year. Last year I wimped out and only did the 10K.

This year I was determined to do the whole thing, so I drew up a training schedule with our head of PE Steve Luukkonen. In the end though, I probably only did half the amount of training I needed to do.

At 7.30 on the Sunday morning I arrived at Mall Road ready to run. The route takes you out to Everest House, the abandoned home of Sir George Everest, the Welsh Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, the guy they named that big mountain after.

Born to run: At the finish with the chowkidars looking on (the crowd is behind the photographer)   KIRSTEN BEAVAN

Marathon Men: Ed with Woodstock's Head of PE and race winner Steve Luukkonen      KIRSTEN BEAVAN

Sadly his house is now a dilapidated wreck. It is around the halfway point of the half marathon, and up until then I felt OK. However, it was during the second 10K my lack of training kicked in. Running back to town there is a gentle incline which is a killer. I had to stop and walk some of the way, I must admit.

In the final mile there is a big hill (Mullingar Hill for those of you who know Mussoorie) which I had to walk up, as, to use a football manager's cliche, "there was absolutely nothing left in the tank".

My previous time for a half marathon was just under two hours, 1 hr 58 mins. However this was a flat course in Cardiff. This time, due to lack of training, hills, and altitude (7,000 ft!) I clocked 2:35, five minutes outside my aim of two-and-a-half hours. Still, it was pleasing to finish. There's always next year to try and clock sub two-and-a-half hours.

The aforementioned Steve won the race in a hugely impressive 1 hr 39 mins!

Cheeky Monkeys

In Mussoorie there are two types of monkeys. The rhesus are orangey brown with bright red butts, and should generally be avoided. They are aggressive towards people and scavenge food from bins around the school campus. Many of them were relocated down the valley recently, however this has had the effect of making the remaining ones even more aggressive.

Langurs on the other hand are greyish-white and a far more elegant type of monkey. They are vegetarian and eat leaves from the trees, and generally keep their distance. It's much nicer if a pack of langurs is on your roof than the rhesus.

Recently I was able to snap this langur outside our front door, and if you look closely you can see the baby langur hanging on to its mother's underside, having a drink of milk. It's great to have these amazing creatures right on our doorstep.

Drinking it in: A suckling baby langur         ED BEAVAN

Leaf off! Munching on the green stuff        ED BEAVAN

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