There have been so many, but a few have stayed with me.
I have been lucky enough to spend time in Oman going back for more than 20 years.It’s where the beauty of mountains, desert and sea come together, the people are genuinely friendly and welcoming, and the variety and authenticity of food is superb.
Sometimes, it’s an unexpected experience that becomes memorable.For example, I needed to return to London at the end of a business trip by a very specific deadline.I was in Malé and unfortunately my original connection to return home via India was cancelled, which I discovered only after arriving at the airport.
Walking between the only two counters that were staffed at the time, I was told that no other scheduled options were available.However, a very sympathetic booking agent physically walked over to someone who looked like a pilot who had suddenly appeared, and had a word.With one of the most welcoming smiles I had ever received, I was informed that I was about to get on a flight after all.It was a hajj flight returning pilgrims from Mecca and I was about to become their surprise and only passenger on what was meant to be their deadhead flight back to the Middle East.
I had a wide body aircraft and full crew all to myself.The pilot even carried my wet and dirty scuba bag on board personally.I also learnt that it is possible to enjoy ‘certain beverages’ even in unlikely situations such as this one.I was also totally inappropriately dressed in clothes more suitable for the beach, and hopefully transited to London without offending too many people.
I am also constantly reminded of the fragile nature of the world.I recently returned from Myanmar in mid-August 2016, where my travels included wandering around the temples and pagodas of Bagan.Only days later, a major earthquake hit the region, severely damaging dozens of the centuries-old structures I had just explored.I have a photographic ‘Wall of Nevermore’ in my home, where additions are made when a place has been damaged or destroyed due to nature or manmade reasons.Sadly, it’s been growing more rapidly in recent years, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.However, this was the first time an event happened so quickly upon my return that as soon as I printed my photos, I immediately added one from Bagan to my ‘Wall’.
I have had a few ‘Forrest Gump’ moments as well, occasionally being in the right place at the right time to meet someone famous.These moments seem to happen in India.
I have met the Dalai Lama in my hotel in Bangalore waiting for my car and driver as he and his entourage were also leaving the property.He went out of his way to greet me.The staff dropped to the floor and literally touched his feet.
I was hastily ushered into the Air India first class lounge in Delhi, where the chaos outside the lounge was at a level I had never seen before as a regular business traveller to India.Once inside, I sat next to who is probably the world’s most famous actor, Amitabh Bachchan.
I was in a business meeting at a very exclusive restaurant in what was then known as Bombay. My back was to the room (never recommended) and my two male colleagues were opposite, giving them a perfect view of the other guests in the restaurant. After a while, I realised I had completely lost their attention as they were more interested in staring at Sally Field and Goldie Hawn, who were dining at the table directly behind me.