Beginnings

This whole idea started almost 10 months ago on a dusty road in Burma. We are all born with that impulse to travel and I felt it most keenly after a year working in Australia. On a rickety bus ride an archeologist told me stories of a friend who had ridden the West coast of India on a trishaw and that was all it took!

The idea of riding up the West coast didn’t immediately appeal but the Silk route did. If I was ever to do something like this then now was the time. However, the idea still didn’t fit. How was I going to travel? But then it hit me – horseback. It would also be sufficiently difficult to warrant raising money for my other passion which was education. However it wasn’t until I was in NE India that I began researching education. I travelled widely across the state and found that many of the problems that I’d encountered in Nepal were prevalent in Assam. For example most children drop out from school before Grade 5 to work in Assam’s tea gardens. Through a combination of intuitive thinking and sheer determination the Assam Gov’t, (along with ActionAid), has substantially reduced the dropout rate and children now enjoy a brighter future than one of stagnation in their current social group (i.e. labourers, farriers etc…). ActionAid was one of the few charities working in the NE and actively helping the Government to make a difference.

Training

Armed with my determination I then spent the next 4 weeks in Darjeeling, West Bengal. I spent time learning Hindi and riding out along the tea lined ridge tops of the Himalayan foothills. I began work on my website and continued researching education across India. After a brief trip to Bangladesh in June to extend my Indian visa, I travelled over to New Delhi where I spent the next 4 months organising this ride.

The next four months were extremely busy and at times it felt like I never left the computer. I contacted many organistions incl. the LRG, Indiginous Horse Society of India, who all provided advice and the expert backing I needed to get R4E started.

I spent several weeks at Delhi race course watching and learning how to groom and look after horses. Race horses are notoriously difficult and extremely powerful. They took pleasure in troubling the poor grooms, and at times me, by kicking, bucking and biting to show their frustration at being shut away during Delhi’s Summer months. The racing season starts in September/October as Summer temperatures in Delhi begin to recede from 45 degree highs.

I bought Rosie from dubious one Mr. Tashneem Singh of Sirsa in Haryana. Initially I rang all of the vets in the Yellow pages until I found Dr. Arun Kumar Sharma. He initially thought I was buying a house and gave the all sorts of funny answers to my initial questions. How much land do you want? How much are you expecting to pay? Finally he realised I was buying a horse not a house and several visits up to Haryana later and we found Rosie. Through another friend I was put in contact with Mr. Vikram Sodie, a well respected polo player and personality of Delhi, who agreed to keep Rosie on his farm on the outskirts of the city.

As September rolled around, the final pieces of my ride seemed to slot into place. Via some earlier newspaper articles, the Brooke Hospital for Animals had come to hear about my ride. Our goals were similar and they proposed a working relationship. Later I was approached by another major partner in R4E. Twenty Fifth Frame Productions had extensive experience in making documentaries and so my ride finally took shape. On the 27th September with much help from ActionAid India, we formally announced R4E to the Indian Public. Both Brooke and 25th Frame Productions attended and the day was a successful one.

October was a pleasant time of year in New Delhi. The climate had finally begun to cool and shawls and jumpers were appearing on the streets again. I wrapped up my horse-riding lessons Captain Kundan Singh’s Delhi Riding Club and finished buying the last pieces of equipment for the coming ride. Rosie took well to the new saddle from Kanpur and the only trouble we had was in fitting the saddle bags to it. They had to be specially arranged to accommodate a video camera on the horse but we eventually managed.

To be honest, if it hadn’t been for all the help of the LRG and various other horse lovers, life would have been much more difficult. There is a bewildering array of saddles, bags, materials, riding gear etc… to choose from and to the non-experienced rider it can be really confusing. Transworld Trading (New Delhi/Kanpur) sponsored my bags for me, the Brooke provided me with a med-kit for Rosie and notably Friendicoes SECA gave no end of continued on hand help in preparing Rosie to leave Delhi, from replacing horse shoes to helping us film around Delhi to fixing the bags to the saddle).

The LRG contains the biggest repository of long distance ride info in the world. Not since Peter Fleming rode from Peking to Srinagar in 1935 has anybody attempted this ride. This is the first time in the world anyone has ridden from Delhi to Beijing on horseback via Pakistan. Which has only increased my efforts to be the first person in the world to take a horse from India to Pakistan.

If anybody was looking for me during my time in New Delhi I was probably in one of three places; the Pakistan High Commission, the DGFT (Directorate General of Foreign Trade) or the Animal Husbandry Commission. I had applied to the Pakistan Government in mid-August for permission to take Rosie into Pakistan. I heard nothing back from them despite numerous phone calls and visits to the High Commission. At the end of September I obtained the quarantine regulations listing the diseases that Rosie had to be free of to enter Pakistan. I admitted Rosie to the Animal Quarantine Centre at Delhi Airport and she was cleared of all major diseases. However…

Despite all the efforts of the Pakistan High Commissioner, Mr. Aziz Ahmed Khan, and many several other well-respected individuals in Pakistan, we were unable to finally obtain the permission needed. I learnt that permission would be granted but “it would take time.” Even though Rosie was clear of all major diseases as clarified by the Government of Pakistan, another obstacle fell in the way. Because Rosie was a native breed of India (i.e. a Kathiawari mare), they wouldn’t allow her out of the country anyway – and especially not into Pakistan! I tried in vain by appealing to the DGFT and eventually the Animal Husbandry Commissioner himself, but despite lots of sympathetic nods and assurances the final answer was… “no.”

By November the table was set and it was time to leave. On the 05th November 2004 I was sat on Rosie outside of the, Red Fort, New Delhi. The Red Fort was one of the main masterpieces left over by the Mogul empire in 1665 (check date) and trade between Delhi and Lahore flourished. Both India and Pakistan share a common history, so in keeping with the spirit of friendliness between the two countries, I set off from the old ‘Lahore Gate’ in India and I will purposefully ride through ‘Delhi Gate’ when I enter Lahore in Pakistan. No two countries with such a common heritage and nature should have the enmity as these two do. In whatever small way, I hope my ride helps to promote friendliness between these two nations.